New Bible-like Books Worrisome to Christian Educators

( [email protected] ) Jun 14, 2004 06:03 PM EDT

Christian educators are deeply concerned of the negative influence that the new Bible-like books impose on youth as the number of such Bibles is growing.

In effort to attract more young Christians, Christian market has turned to publishing materials that would fit the taste of teens such as Bible-like magazines that talk about pop culture and the easy-to-read Bibles that are written in slang terms.

While some publishers, authors and religion professors say those supplemental Christian materials satisfy the spiritual hunger of youth at some level, critics say that Bibles like “Refuel,” one of the popular Christian teen magazines, convey the wrong messages to youth.

Dorothy Patterson, a theology professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, took note of the possible danger that the Gospels look like a magazine could bring as people treat the magazine as they do other magazines.

"If you put something in such a category that it can be thrown away and tossed, you have already downgraded the importance," she said.

Some say the market is at a saturation point as publishers produce dozens of Bibles targeted to specific demographic groups. Today different Bibles targeted only to men, to women, and even to babies are available at the bookstores. One publisher contemplated a Bible for Elvis fans, Patterson said.

The number of Bibles targeted to specific demographic groups is growing. A "Refuel"-style "biblezine" for women, called "Becoming," will be published in June whereas man’s Bible, called “Every Man’s Bible” is already available through Tyndale House Publishers of Carol Stream, Ill. In March, Christian publisher Zondervan released "The Discovery Study Bible," with more than 750 "culture clues," footnotes that explain ancient customs to provide insight for modern readers.

"We're going to get ... to the point of, here's the Bible for widowed people over 80 who live in Florida," said Arie C. Leder, professor of the Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich.

However many criticize the new Bible-like books because of its misinterpretation of the Scripture. "Refuel," which hit stores in April, uses a 1978 translation of the New Testament called the New Century Version, which is considered easier to read than the King James Version. The problem that critics see is that the book has its real emphasis on the visual presentation rather than the Scripture itself.

"What we're observing in the culture right now is a huge shift from how much we value the written word to how much we value the visual image," said Sarah Arthur, author of "Walking with Frodo," a devotional book that explores Christianity through the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy.

"I began to think there's something going on with this generation, that it's more than just entertainment for them," she said. "They're hungry for more of whatever this is."

The professors are also concerned of the new Bibles that are rewritten in the easy-to-read format. For example, “TruthQuest” by Broadman & Holman Publishers, includes study guides and pull-out sections such as "Noah's Biography" that go beyond the ark, the flood and the rainbow. One section of Noah’s bio reads, "You might say I invented the process of fermentation….I lived on a floating zoo for 121/2 months."

Whereas the publishers defend the new Bibles by saying that they merely reflect the church of today and address the issues and topics that most pastors don’t mention, Patterson, who is working on a more scholarly Bible, said she sees other motives for publishers.

They are "sometimes driven by greed and by doing something new," she said, "I don't think every crack has to have a Bible in it," she said. "I like things that are classic."

Garrett, the Baylor professor, was part of a Zondervan study group in January with other authors and pastors who was asked to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of different Bibles.

One Bible he examined, "The Street Bible," rewrites Genesis through Revelation in British slang by performance artist Rob Lacey. In that version, the beginning of Genesis says, "First off, nothing. No light, no time, no substance, no matter. Second off, God starts it all up and WHAP! Stuff everywhere!"

Bill Leonard, dean of the divinity school at Wake Forest University and a church history professor, who is skeptical of the easy-to-read notes and commentary, wonders whether younger people, unfamiliar with the Gospels, will confuse the commentaries with the Bible's text -- especially because the commentaries are often fun and eye-catching.

Leonard pointed to Zondervan's teen-guy Bible "Revolution," a New International Version Bible that includes "100 of Satan's Favorite Lies." It says:

Lie No. 37: "Real men have sex every chance they get.”

Lie No. 63: "Some day -- when you have enough stuff -- you'll finally be happy."

"I can see where you'd read commentary without jumping into the text and the messiness of the text," Leonard said.

Publishers explain that they get ideas from other mass media, such as television, as they try to reach a new generation.

"Just as MTV has pulled off the boxing gloves and is being very bold and nothing is sacred, we felt like we needed a Bible that was edgy as well," said Paul Caminiti, associate publisher of Bibles at Zondervan.

However Greg Garret, a Baylor University English professor offered different reason to why publishers are targeting older teens and young adults: They're the trendsetters, and they have money to spend. As with fashion, music and movies, if the 18- to 45-year-old crowd buys into a vogue Bible, a big chunk of the culture will follow, said Garrett, who wrote "The Gospel Reloaded: Exploring Spirituality and Faith in the Matrix."

But pop references have a limited shelf life, Garrett added. And even when they're well-timed, these trendy Bibles can be seen by Generations X and Y as "trying too hard to be cool," he said.

"I think right now it's 'Let's put a cool cover on it and see if anybody comes,'" Garrett said.