Good or bad idea? New teen Bible has looks of fashion magazine

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--It's billed as the first Bible "designed to look like a teen fashion magazine," and it's selling.

Transit Books released "Revolve: The Complete New Testament" this summer in hopes of getting more teen girls to read the Bible. To do so, they interspersed the books of the New Testament with items normally reserved for teen fashion magazines.

For example, one page contains most of Luke 21, along with a graphic showing a guy describing the "ideal girl." A few pages over and a few inches from John 3:16, teen girls can read tips on plucking their eyebrows (begin by "placing a warm rag over them").

Supporters say the colorful design will get more teen girls into the Word of God. Critics say that while the intent is good, the publication ends up trivializing Scripture.

Even the cover looks like a fashion magazine: Three young girls laughing it up, having a good time. Teasers on the cover attempt to pull the reader inside: "Are You Dating a Godly Guy?" and "Radical Faith: What Scripture Really Means."

A promotional section on Transit Books' website proclaims, "The New Testament gets a makeover," and so far, teen girls are buying them. Thomas Nelson -- which owns Transit Books -- has shipped some 40,000 units to stores and is scheduled to have another 60,000 in inventory in late September. It has climbed into the top 200 on Amazon.com's list of best-sellers -- not bad considering the online store sells thousands of books.

The idea for the publication began some two years ago when Thomas Nelson research found that teen girls weren't reading their Bibles. They were, though, reading magazines.

"That was really where the idea ... was birthed," said Laurie Whaley, a company spokesperson. "What if we could take the Bible and make it look like a magazine?"

She said those working on the project "felt like this was a way in which we could show teen girls the Bible is relevant, the Bible is engaging, the Bible is applicable to where you live today."

The response has been mostly positive, Whaley said. Still, some evangelicals are asking: Is this such a good idea?

Mary Mohler, wife of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President R. Albert Mohler Jr., said there are several "worthwhile" publications in the Christian market dealing with "beauty, dating and growing up in general." The Bible, though, should stand alone, she said.

"The notion that Scripture should be repackaged to stand alongside issues such as these and be put in a tabloid-style cover with the words 'New Testament' printed randomly amidst the catchy topical headlines is deplorable," said Mohler, who serves as director of the Louisville, Ky., seminary's Seminary Wives Institute.

Instead of depending on a fashion-themed Bible, teen girls need to be mentored by older women, Mohler said.

Dorothy Patterson, professor of theology in women's studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, said that while she believes specialty Bibles are okay, Revolve's "emphasis is wrong."

"What we want to emphasize in Scripture are timeless principles," she said. "We don't need guys speaking out to tell us about that. We don't need tips for dating."

The Bible, Patterson said, "should be high and lifted up in the sense that it is apart from all literature."

"It is not something we go to to find more of what we would find on the newsstand or the bookshelf," she said. "We go to the Bible to get a word from God."

But others believe the publication is a good idea.

Dennis Dean, director of high schools at Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla., believes the colorful cover will serve as a "door-opener" to get teens girls into the Bible.

"That's a huge piece of the puzzle of sharing the Gospel," he said. "... The Word of God is living and true and it will change somebody's life if they'll read it, and this is another avenue to get them to read it."

Susie Shellenberger, editor of Focus on the Family's Brio magazine, told Family News in Focus that Revolve can be used as a witnessing tool.

"I see mostly it being used as an item or as a tool for teenagers to use with their friends who are not believers," she said.

The publication has some 10 categories of special features sprinkled throughout its pages. "Bible Bios" tell about famous women of the Bible. "Beauty Secrets" give practical beauty tips a spiritual twist ("You need a good, balanced foundation for the rest of your makeup, kinda like how Jesus is the strong foundation in our lives.").

"Promises" and "Radical Faith" deliver short devotionals. In "Guys Speak Out," teen boys answer questions ("How serious should high school relationships be?"). In "Blab," experts answer questions ("What do you think, as teenagers, that the age gap between people dating should be?").

Revolve, which uses the New Century Version translation, takes conservative stances on several biblical issues. It condemns homosexuality and embraces chastity ("Wait for marriage to open that precious gift."). It warns against spreading rumors and tells teen girls to obey their parents. It even tells girls that guys should take the lead in the relationship.

The publication's opinions on dating are varied. While one "Blab" answer tells girls not to date until they're "ready for what it leads to, marriage," much of the magazine gives guidance to those who are dating. One of the guys describes his ideal date ("dinner, and something where we can really get to talk, get to know each other").

To ensure that nothing was over-the-top, the publication's content was tested with teen girls, mothers, pastors and youth pastors, Whaley said.

Feedback thus far is showing that the special features serve as a hook to get teens into the Bible, she said. Her e-mail inbox is full of teen girls telling her, "You have made the Bible so exciting to me," she said.

Responses have been so positive that a boys' version is set to be released next spring. It will focus on several issues: sex, girls, dating, cars, outdoors, sports, music and money, Whaley said. Additionally, a girls' version with Psalms, Proverbs and the Wisdom books will be released next spring.

When the second edition is released this fall, it will have a few minor changes. One of those, Whaley said, will be the elimination of several pictures. While one of the "Blab" experts criticizes midriff-baring shirts, several pictures show models wearing them. One page even has a photo of girls in bikinis. Such pictures will be gone, she said.

In the Q&A sections, Revolve consistently takes conservative stances on modesty, at one point telling girls not to "make yourself out to be an object of some guy's lust."

Consistent with the magazine's theme, most of the models look as if they could have graced the cover of a mainstream fashion magazine. That concerns some.

"You have to wonder about the seeking teenage girl who does not have the looks of a movie star," said Russell D. Moore, assistant professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary. "Is she somehow of less value and worth?"

Whaley, though, asserts that the magazine consistently preaches the importance of inner beauty. One full-page quiz asks girls, "Do you have a healthy body image?" and then tells those who fail the test: "Come on, girl! Don't you know that God created you, and he calls your body a 'temple for the Holy Spirit'?"

"We want them to understand at this crucial time in their life," Whaley said, "that inner beauty is very, very important, and the world focuses on teaching you how to be externally beautiful. Quite frankly, you can't be beautiful on the outside if you don't have an inner beauty."

Moore said he appreciates the fact that the publisher is trying to reach teen girls, but said he believes Revolve ends up trivializing Scripture.

"The biggest problem is the confusion of authority," he said. "When you have the Gospel of John interspersed with beauty tips and an advice column and the random opinions of teenage boys, it's hard to see the authority of Scripture in all of that silliness," he said.

"This Bible seems to reassure teenage girls that they should continue pursuing the kind of worldly aims of external beauty and affluence. And I think Scripture is calling them to something completely different."

Whaley, however, believes that Revolve meets teen girls where they are.

"I think we've elevated it to a new level of showing its relevance," she said, adding that Thomas Nelson made a concerted effort to differentiate Scripture from non-Scripture.

"The actual Scripture is black and white, and everything else is in color," she said.


With reporting by Greg Tomlin. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: REVOLVE.

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