The first time Max McLean narrated the Bible to a live audience, he says, people were a little overwhelmed. They had read the Bible. They had heard it delivered to them in sermons. But they had never heard it read, word for word, in a theatrical presentation.
"They didn't know what to do with it. It was like, 'My goodness, this is too overwhelming.' It was almost scary," McLean told Christian Headlines.
McLean, 69, is one of the best-known Christian actors worldwide, partially because of his voice – he's narrated five audiobook versions of the Bible and read it live, too – but also because of his theatrical work playing C.S. Lewis. Most recently he starred as Lewis in a movie, The Most Reluctant Convert, which is now on home video.
But as McLean acknowledges, "more people know my voice than anything else."
Initially, McLean's voice was recorded on audiobook Bibles in order to be sold in CD sets. Today, though, those recordings are featured on popular Bible websites, including BibleStudyTools.com.
McLean, who became a Christian as an adult, said he was looking to involve his faith in his career.
"My background is in theater, and when I came to faith in Christ, I really was trying to figure out a way to integrate my faith with my work," McLean said. "And in the early days, there was a little bit of momentum for drama in the church – but I wasn't really motivated in that direction.
"I was really motivated by great literature, great ideas, great thoughts and at least the way I was trained – and I was trained in England – the role of theatre, the role of acting is to use one's voice, one's mind, one's body to articulate great literature, great words, great thoughts. So I thought, boy, the Bible certainly qualifies for that."
McLean's first reading of the Bible, though, was not for a CD recording. It was for a live audience. The reaction from attendees, he said, was positive. People were enthralled.
"It was like an event waiting to happen," he said.
The live presentation, McLean said, allowed audience members to experience the Bible in a new way.
"Lewis [says] in Mere Christianity, he says, ideas and thoughts about the gospel – they're not the gospel, they're thoughts about the gospel. That's what a sermon is. That's what theology is – theology is trying to explain something. But it's not it. The gospel is the gospel. It's the story. It's the event itself. And so, in doing reenactments of the Bible – it was almost the closest thing to telling the Gospel story itself. That was very, very motivating. And I saw it in the way people reacted to it."
After the live presentations became popular, McLean recorded an audio version of the Bible.
"But the recording of it is a different art form, too, because it's almost like radio – you're talking to one person. So you try to make it as intimate an experience as you can."
McLean acknowledges he often felt intimidated by reading Scripture – particularly when he didn't know how to present a particular text.
"But then I thought to myself, well, preachers have the same problem," he said. "So, in one sense, I knew I was dealing with being a finite being dealing with infinite thought. All I could do is approximate it. And that's what art does. That's what any kind of art does, is it extends beyond as far as you can ... allow people to begin to perceive. It's never that we 'get it,' you know. It's we approximate it. And sometimes we approximate it better than other times."
Photo courtesy: ©Alex Barker/1A Productions
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.