Saturday, March 16, 2013

Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture: A Book Review

A friend of mine (named Brian) can read Scripture in a way that makes you hungry. He reads God’s Word with the similar level of care and passion that a chef labors over every detail of food in a dish, from preparation to presentation, topping it off with a sensual savoring of the results. My friend has since moved away, but I always can hear him in my mind relishing every word coming across his lips. It makes me want to be a better reader of Scripture too.

This is why I jumped at the chance to review Devote Yourself to the Public Reading of Scripture by Dr. Jeffrey Arthurs, Professor of Preaching and Communication at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. The book is accompanied by a DVD for illustrative purposes.

It only took a few pages for me to be rewarded, as Arthurs borrows his outline from one of my heroes, Eugene Peterson in Eat This Book, who “compares Scripture reading to preparing, serving and eating a meal in community” (p.11). Arthurs adds to this metaphor wisely by unpacking a doctrine of Scripture that helps build the appetite and invite hearers to the table.

Indeed, this book felt like one half doctrine of Scripture and one half public speaking text. I had not considered all that goes into a public reading of any text, let alone the sacred text of Scripture. My favorite chapter was chapter 6, “Adding Some Spice,” which was a chapter on creative methods. I don’t consider myself a creative guy, so I am amazed at all the possibilities that Arthur includes here! Using a group of readers, using lighting, sound and movement to enhance not only the hearing but understanding and application of the text – these wonderful examples are what makes Arthur’s work so strong and valuable.

The accompanying DVD is very helpful in showing exactly what Dr. Arthurs has in mind with the practices he is describing. I found it helpful (albeit a bit boring) to sit through the examples. Nevertheless, I felt it was an important addition to the book, though not essential (which is really the only negative thing I can think to say of this book!). I found myself saying several times the maxim, “Reading is interpretation,” meaning that the reader communicates a particular type of interpretation by the way a text is read and embodied.

Anyone concerned with a high view of Scripture, particularly in the public life of the church, will welcome and seek to implement the wealth of wisdom that Arthurs provides. One can only imagine what growth in breadth and depth could occur in God’s people if they were more mindful and intentional of the practice of Bible reading! As for me and my house, we will be. I still hear the voice of my friend describing God’s grace through Jesus in a New Testament Epistle with the same care and attention that one might describe eating a bowl of fresh strawberries in the heat of summer. All you can say is, “Yum!”

Thanks to Kregel for a complimentary copy of this book, so that I could give an unbiased review.

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