Book Review: Unleashing the Word

“Unleashing the Word: Rediscovering the Public Reading of Scripture” by Max McLean and Warren Bird

Books about reading Scripture aloud are few and far between. I certainly have never read one before now, but I sure picked a good place to start! Unleashing the Word has given me a new perspective on Scripture reading, whether in corporate worship, family devotionals, or private study.

The book’s basic premise is that public Scripture reading has become a neglected form of corporate worship, taking a back seat to other elements such as music and preaching. From the book’s introduction: “When a congregation gathers for worship, various spiritually minded people bring skill, training, and rehearsal to the music and teaching portions; why not do the same to the Scripture reading as well?

The author, Max McLean, has made a career of bringing the Word to life through reading and reciting Scripture in an engaging way, and training others to do the same. He has memorized and “performed” large portions of the Bible as a one-man play, including the entire books of Mark, Acts, and Genesis. I recently posted some videos of his recitation of the first two chapters of Mark, and highly recommend you check them out! You can easily navigate through the videos of all sixteen chapters of this Gospel by following the recommended links at the end of each video.

This book is exceedingly practical, offering everything from philosophical reasons for improving the quality of Scripture readings to rehearsal and breathing techniques to how to use a microphone (and get along with the sound person). At every point, though, McLean avoids coming across as overly technical or overly spiritual. Rather, he writes on a very personal level, engaging in conversation with the reader while communicating a passion for the Word of God.

One thing I certainly did not expect from this book was how many parallels it would have with facing the unique challenges of music ministry. The chapters on breathing and recruitment (for a team of readers) were particularly great in this area. At just about any point I felt like I could have replaced the word “reading” with “singing/playing” and made a direct application to the work that I do with our church’s music ministry.

The real strength of this book, though, is the emphasis it places on the ministry of the public reading of Scripture. The Bible is replete with examples of this being done or commanded (Exodus 24:7; Joshua 8:35; 2 Kings 23:2; 2 Chronicles 34:30; Nehemiah 8:1-8,13:1; Jeremiah 36:10; Luke 4:16-19; Colossians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27). In Paul’s first letter to his protegé Timothy, he told him, “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Timothy 4:13), yet in most churches it seems that the Scripture reading is relegated to being merely a transition between the music and the preaching. There is no expectation of the Holy Spirit ministering to the hearts of Christians through the Word itself. Instead, we tend to “tune out” the reading, waiting for the pastor’s exposition to explain it to us.

As a result, the reading tends to be flat or lifeless… a far cry from Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” By contrast, says McLean, a good reading will lead the congregation to “engage the Word with their heart, mind, and soul as they hear it being read aloud.”

The author builds a strong case for layperson readership of Scripture during worship services. Even in situations such as in my own church, when the teaching pastor is the primary reader of the Word and does it excellently, McLean advocates what he calls the “isolation factor”, which emphasizes and elevates the reading of the Word by making it a completely separate element of the service. Furthermore, since public reading and preaching rely on such different skill sets, in many cases the teaching pastor may not be the person in the congregation best suited to reading the Scripture in such a dynamic way.

The end of the book contains helpful advice for other types of public reading (weddings, family devotions, marathon reads, etc), as well as rehearsal techniques for strengthening your own abilities as a reader. A DVD is included with examples of public Scripture readings at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, NY, McLean’s home church.

I would consider this book a “must-read” for anyone involved in preaching or worship ministry, or for those gifted in the dramatic arts, but any believer will benefit from McLean’s expertise in this area. Buy it here.

2 comments on “Book Review: Unleashing the Word

  1. […] Unleashing the Word: Rediscovering the Public Reading of Scripture, by Max McLean and Warren Bird […]

  2. […] Scripture readings such as this one, I highly recommend checking out Max McLean’s book, Unleashing the Word: Rediscovering the Public Reading of Scripture. Published […]

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