Until I get there, make sure to devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, and to teaching. – I Timothy 4:13
If you come from a fairly evangelical background like me, you may not have much experience with the public reading of Scripture. I grew up first in an Assembly of God church, then a Baptist church. In college, I joined an Evangelical Free church for a couple of years before making my way back to the Baptist fold. In my overall experience, Scripture was read aloud when part of something else, like the sermon, but rarely just for its own sake (Christmas being the main exception to this rule). Reading Scripture was a personal thing, and something really meant for you to tackle on your own time individually. According to Jeffrey Arthurs, professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, that is just not enough.
Arthurs’ work, Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture, is centered on five arguments:
1) The Bible says to read it publicly
2) God changes us through His Word
3) God’s people have always read Scripture aloud
4) The Bible is actually intended to be read aloud
5) Hearing God’s word is different from silent reading (in a good way).
He cites loads of Scripture, Church history and theological studies to support each of his main tenets, and he makes a convincing argument. Having become friends with those from the Orthodox and Anglican communions over the last few years, I have seen first-hand the impact of reading Scripture together, out loud, on a regular basis. While many things have changed regarding technology and the availability of books, I think the overwhelming love of radio and television have proven that we are still a very auditory people. Arthurs’ book is a timely piece, and offers a positive method of overcoming Biblical illiteracy for many congregations today.
The bulk of Devote Yourself is practical. Arthurs offers examples of traditional and non-traditional approaches to reading Scripture aloud. His doesn’t just describe them in great detail; he goes so far as to include sample scripts of just how to implement certain methods that peak one’s interest. As if that was not enough, the book is accompanied by a DVD tutorial, which walks you through many of the practical matters discussed at length in the book. This is of course evidence that Arthurs takes his own advice. Rather than simply give you something to read, he equips you to engage audibly with the Scriptures through a lesson you listen to. Brilliant.
Overall, this book a wonderful guide to reading Scripture in a group. While many of the suggestions Arthurs makes will seem old hat to someone from a liturgical setting (or perhaps someone like me with significant teaching experience), everyone can learn something from Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture.