There are a lot of variables to fiddle with on this subject. We tend to assume that reading out loud while a room full of people listen is a valid activity for 21st century believers. But most of these people are used to sitting and watching a screen whether TV or computer and they process information much differently than people did even fifty years ago. So as much as I am an advocate of public reading I can see the strength of an approach that is more multimedia and interactive.
Another variable is of course the lack of recognized authority. If the pastor told you something in the good ol’ days he had a lot of authority behind him. These days he is just one voice of millions and post-modernists are going to be using the pastor’s message as one element of their own solipsistic truth construct.
Finally, there’s quite a retro impulse in a lot of modern spirituality so I can imagine that KJV/ESV can exert a strong attraction because of their foreignness. The human heart hungers for holiness and KJV oozes it.
Now I would plead innocent to the tendency to assume that public reading is the way to present scripture, though most of us will find ourselves reading at least a few lines publicly at one time or another. Personally I have tried combining this with PowerPoint and also using some of the multimedia scriptures prepared by the American Bible Society. But I’m not really that good at creative presentation.
I like to hear the Bible read aloud, and I like to read it aloud. I frequently read it aloud during my own devotional time. Sometimes my wife and I will read passages to one another. It helps me in study.
Now notice the use of I and me in that previous paragraph. My wife, while she indulges my desire to hear scripture read, is less enthusiastic about it than I am. She is much more visual. She is much more likely to be impressed by a multimedia presentation or a drama that presents the scripture. That doesn’t mean she never wants to hear it read; it just means that there are other means that work for her.
I have tried asking these questions in classes on Bible translations or Bible study, and it’s interesting to watch the responses. In one class I had perhaps thirty people divided pretty evenly along generational lines. The older group wanted to hear more scripture read, and they wanted to hear it from the KJV. The younger group was OK with hearing it read, but after hearing me read from several versions during the class, they preferred something like the CEV.
But there was a minority in both groups that heard a different question, one I was ready to present explicitly, but which I hoped somebody would notice. And in that class, somebody did. What about seekers who come in off the street? What is going to reach them? And that is another matter.
This is where Philippians 2:4 comes in. We each need to think about what other people need. How does someone like me, who is not oriented toward video and multimedia, and who is just a bit old fashioned, learn to reach other people? Well, I can think of a few ways. Drama, multimedia, more interactive presentations, and so forth. But the real way to work is to ask the folks you’re going to work with just what it is that they want to hear.
What is a good time for the service? Ask the people you hope will attend.
How should the scriptures be presented? Ask the people you hope will attend.
What type of music should be played? Ask the people you hope will attend.
How much preaching should there be? Ask the people you hope will attend.
Now there is a place for education, for expanding people’s horizons. But very often if you listen to the answers to these questions you can create a worship service, a class, or an event that will both attract people, and also present the content you believe needs to be heard and understood.
It does no good to present good material to an empty room, or to a room filled with people who are not the ones who need it. Just as I argue that inspiration must include a consideration of both the human and the divine side, good teaching has to consider both the teacher and those taught, and may often confuse or even practically erase the categories.