Many suggest that the modern church no longer values the public reading of Scripture. There are a variety of reasons for this, from a lower view of the authority, sufficiency, and value of Scripture to the sad fact that when the Bible is read, it is often read poorly. The very word of life (Phil. 2:16) is read in a way that suggests it is the word of boredom or, worse yet, the word of death.
Jeffrey D. Arthurs’ book, Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture, seeks to both address this and correct this by way of providing a helpful training resource for those who read Scripture publicly.
Arthur’s introduction illustrates the necessity of his work by stating that while the “Word of God is bread for our souls” and that “we are fed when we hear the Word well read,” the sad fact is that the public reading of Scripture is often done poorly. He goes on to write,
“Unfortunately, when it is not read well, listeners do not ingest it. Scripture reading is often the low point of an already lethargic service. Surveys of church members rank the public reading of Scripture as one of the dullest portions of the gathering.”
Again, Arthurs’ vision “is to increase the quantity and the quality of Scripture reading in church services.” Sadly, I would agree that in “many churches, public reading of the Bible is little more than homiletical throat-clearing before the sermon.” Ouch. For those of us who have a high view of Scripture, this is a doubly troubling issue. Do we really believe in the primary authority of Scripture? Does Scripture actually function as an authority in the ways we worship together?
Perhaps you are not convinced that Scripture reading is as important as assumed by this review (and countless numbers of Christians throughout history). Arthurs’ first chapter makes five arguments in support of publicly reading Scripture. They are as follows:
- We are commanded to read the Bible publicly (cf. 1 Tim. 4:13).
- God transforms us through the Word.
- When we read the Bible publicly, we do what the people of God have always done.
- The Bible was meant to be read aloud.
- Hearing the Word is different from reading it silently.
Each of his five arguments are well reasoned. The historical evidence for argument 4, while somewhat overwhelming, is only the tip of the ice berg! It is ridiculous to make suggestions that the public reading of Scripture has not always been a central aspect of worship for followers of Jesus. Arthurs articulates the importance of good public reading by writing that “words written are caged, but when performed well, they soar.”
The second chapter is concerned with preparation. How can public readers prepare themselves to read well? Arthurs suggests that readers need to understand what they are supposed to be doing, what they shouldn’t be trying to accomplish, and how they can properly prepare on a practical level, emotional level, and spiritual level (all connected together). He also have comments on choosing a helpful translation, preparing a helpful introduction, and practice.
Chapter three would be helpful for anyone who becomes convinced that they need to “devote themselves to the public reading of Scripture,” yet is in a church context that has not previously valued this principle. Since “last-minute, unpracticed, unpolished, mispronounced, mistimed, perfunctory and obligatory reading of the inspired Word are the norm in some churches,” we are often talking about changing the culture of our community. How can this be done? Arthurs suggest several ways, including teaching leaders the importance of public Scripture reading and start a team of quality readers.
The fourth and fifth chapters deals with the manner in which we read Scripture out loud. The author covers how mannerisms can be distracting, gestures, posture, movement, facial expressions, eye contact, projection, phrasing, pauses, pace, pitch, punch, and putting it all together. Yes, that’s a lot of good content to be addressed when discussing public reading. Much of these two chapters is very helpful and I largely agreed with all of his advice. My only observation is that his advice is conditioned somewhat by a Western approach to public communication, though not completely. I’ve observed in my travels to Nepal and eastern Africa that there are a few differences in public communication. This doesn’t affect readers who primarily minister in the United Stated, Canada, and much of Europe, but it may be only partially helpful for those in other countries. This, of course, could simply be based on a concern that I have for contextualization, but I think it still stands. An example would be related to the advice concerning pitch.
Anyway, for me, the most important subject that Arthurs addresses in these two chapters is concerning the use of pauses. He writes,
“The pause may be the most effective form of vocal emphasis. When we break the cadence of speech with silence, the ear is magnetized to what follows.”
This truth is obviously assuming that the other issues are done well, but there’s something very powerful in the use of the “pregnant pause,” as gifted communicators well know.
The next two chapters, six and seven, are on “adding some spice” to the public reading of Scripture. I enjoyed both of these chapters because the author helpfully provides some creatives ways in which churches can help “add some zing” to the reading of Scripture in your church. Arthurs wisely understands that not all churches will embrace the creativity provided, which is why he writes,
“The “spices” are arranged in roughly ascending order from the common to the remarkable. Few churches will shy away from the methods at the beginning of the list, but you will have to discern if the methods at the end are too spicy for your culture. Don’t try to force these on your congregation if people prefer a plain diet.”
Excellent caution. I would encourage most “conservative” churches to stretch themselves and to incorporate the arts into their expressions of worship and “add some spice” and for more “spicy” churches to remember that the Word of God can stand on its own. But that’s for another discussion.
Finally, this book has some very helpful resources to help increase the quality of public reading. The final section of the book includes sample scripts for you to study, get ideas from, and perhaps use. Yet that’s not the best resource that comes with this book. Apart from the wonderfully helpful substance found within the pages of this short book (137pp.), there is a DVD that includes tutorials as well! Not only can you read helpful advice on improving public Scripture reading, you can watch how.
Would I recommend this book? Absolutely. In fact, I plan on encouraging several people I know to this read book, not because they are horrible readers but because I believe it can help improve their reading. It certainly has helped me.
*I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review*
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.