Tuesday, September 9, 2003

“Revolve” comes in cool magenta, rust orange and periwinkle blue and looks like an especially thick “Mademoiselle” or “YM.”

Headlines splashed across the cover include “Beauty Secrets You’ve Never Heard Before!” “Are You Dating a Godly Guy?” and “How to Get Along With Your Mom.”

But unlike other teen mags, this ‘zine isn’t loaded with anything R-rated. Because it’s not really a magazine. It’s a Bible.

But it’s not your mom’s King James Version. Rather, it’s “Cosmo” meets Christ for only $14.99.

“Revolve” is the New Testament in the New Century Version — geared toward a fifth-grade reading level — with added magazinelike features. It’s the latest hip effort to reach teenage girls, with Scriptures sculpted to look like a magazine anyone can stuff in her backpack.

“As you apply your sunscreen,” Revolve advises young readers in the midst of Matthew 3, “use that time to talk to God. Tell him how grateful you are for how he made you. Soon, you’ll be so used to talking to Him, it might become as regular and familiar as shrinking your pores.”

Then there’s “Blab,” a column interspersed with the holy writ.

“I’m nearly 14 and I have never even had a boyfriend,” one question reads. “Am I the only one? All the people in my class must think I’m pathetic!”

Another question: “What about replacement curse words? My church and my parents don’t believe in saying ‘Gosh, darn or dang.’ Is that wrong?”

Calendars also appear in the text. For Nov. 12: “Grace Kelly’s birthday. Be extra feminine today!” For June 30: “Pray for a person of influence. Today is Mike Tyson’s birthday.”

But May 18 — Pope John Paul II’s birthday — is not noted.

Does it sell?

“Not really,” said the saleswoman at a local Family Christian Bookstore that stocks the item. “People really don’t know what it is.”

But Thomas Nelson Publishers, the Nashville, Tenn.-based company that produces “Revolve,” says more than 40,000 copies have been shipped and 50,000 more have been printed since July. On Labor Day weekend, it was No. 47 on the Amazon.com list.

“The market is not your traditional evangelical teenager,” spokeswoman Laurie Whaley said. “Girls are buying this who have no former affiliation with the Bible. They find it fascinating that something seemingly archaic can be so relevant and modern.”

Barnes and Noble Booksellers and Borders Books & Music originally didn’t take “Revolve,” she added, because it was neither a book nor a magazine.

“Now everybody is ordering it,” Miss Whaley said. “Stores are selling it out the moment they get it in.”

But Os Guinness, author of the new book “Prophetic Untimeliness: A Challenge to the Idol of Relevance,” says efforts like “Revolve” shows Christians aping secular culture.

“Never have evangelicals tried so hard to be relevant and never have they been so irrelevant,” he said. “There are so many versions of the Bible, at the end of the day, they all mean less. This is a triumph of marketing over mission. Niche markets are death to taking the Bible seriously.”

But niches appear to be taking over. “The Answer,” a Bible for an older clientele, includes devotionals in brown ink from a Who’s Who of 20th century evangelical Christians, including San Antonio author Max Lucado, motivational speaker Zig Ziglar and quadriplegic author and speaker Joni Eareckson Tada.

The Catholic Rainbow Study Bible has literally every verse shaded a different hue. Purple stands for God, silver stands for history and blue represents salvation. Not to be outdone, the Extreme Teen Bible comes in purple ink.

Other choices include Today’s Parallel Study Bible, the Devotional Bible, the Women’s Study Bible, the New Spirit-Filled Bible, the Women of Faith Devotional Bible, the King James Giant Print Bible, the Edge Devotional Bible, the Youth Walk Devotional Bible, the Men of Integrity Devotional Bible, the NIV Backpack Bible, the New King James Version Bible on compact disc (narrated by Cliff Barrows) and a software package called Bible Explorer 3.

A Starting Point Study Bible sports “Want to Get Back to God? Start Here!” screaming in orange and electric-blue type from the cover. A Metal Bible comes encased in a metal cover about the size of an eight-track tape, coupled with the word “thirsty?” on its cover and the imprint of a flip top.

The Bible glut is evangelicalism’s attempt to popularize religion, said Nancy Pearcey, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute.

“On one hand, you can’t help but admire the ingenuity in doing whatever it takes to reach people,” she said. “On the other hand, if you dumb down religion, the question is whether you’re ever going to bring it back up. You can find a lot of evangelical churches today where the only songs are simple, repetitious choruses of a kind most of the congregation probably learned in junior high youth groups.”

None of these gimmicks come cheap. A Sports Devotional Bible, with the admonition on its cover to “Get in Great Spiritual Shape” costs $49.99. The hefty price comes from the expensive leather covers — basketball orange or football brown.

Paul Caminiti, vice president and associate publisher for Zondervan, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based publisher of the sports Bible, reports that one of the Dallas Cowboy chaplains gave a copy to one of the players, a new convert.

The man “touched it like it was gold and was still looking at it in the locker room 30 minutes later,” he said. “This man would not have been looking at it like that had it been a black leather book with ‘Holy Bible’ on it.

“The Bible may be a life-changing book, but if it doesn’t initially engage people, it’s just black ink on white paper.”

Zondervan earned $62 million last year from sales of 7 million Bibles. Recently, Wal-Mart ordered 300,000 copies of Zondervan’s new line of “Italian duo-tone” Scriptures.

“We have hundreds of letters telling us that, before these contemporary Bibles came out, Bibles were completely inaccessible to people,” Mr. Caminiti said. “These people were interested in the Bible before, but just could not break the code.”

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