For teenage girls, the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John closest to their hearts may be guys at school, not the books of the Bible. But one publisher is aggressively trying to change that.
Transit, the publishing arm of Thomas Nelson Inc., has produced Revolve, a complete New Testament that's printed in magazine form. It bears a striking resemblance to popular teen publications such as Seventeen and CosmoGIRL. On the cover, three ebullient young women, framed by bold-colored stripes, flash their pearly whites.
Think of it as the Holy Writ in hip new clothing. The words of the New Testament (New Century Version) are all there, but they're packaged around eye-catching sidebars of relationship tips, advice on a variety of topics of interest to 12-to-17-year-old girls, and teaser headlines - including "Are You Dating a Godly Guy? and Other Quizzes" and "Beauty Secrets You've Never Heard Before!"
Other editorial extras include bios of women in the Bible, a Learn It and Live It feature on applying Bible verses in everyday life, and calendars that include suggestions to pray for "persons of influence," i.e. celebrities. There are also top-10 lists, which offer, among other things, ways to have fun on a date or to be a Revolve girl ("Revolve girls don't call guys").
"What we wanted to do is show girls that God is all about meeting you where you are," says Laurie Whaley, an editor of Revolve.
To that end, Revolve is casual in its presentation, but its approach is clearly evangelical. "Your job is to introduce [a friend or acquaintance] to Jesus" is a consistent message. And in sections called Blabs, the editors answer questions such as "Can someone who has sold their soul to the devil be a Christian?" and "I have a friend who has a friend who doesn't believe that once you are saved you are always saved and don't have to do it again. I was wondering if you could tell me where I can find Bible reference for that."
The magazine, which sells for $14.99, was reviewed by teens, mothers, and pastors.
Eventually, the entire Bible may be published in installments in this format and this New Testament version would be placed on a redesign schedule in which it would be given a fresh cover and notes every 18 to 24 months.
Since it looks, feels, and reads like a magazine, Revolve lacks the permanency many readers associate with the Bible.
"Putting the Bible into a pulp form could actually be detrimental in the long term if it's seen as something you read and then put in the recycling bin," says Philip Goff, director of the Indiana University Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture.
This temporal quality may undermine some of the dignity and reverence that Christians traditionally afford the Scriptures, observes Tom Bergler, an assistant professor of educational ministries at Huntington College in Indiana. "It implies that Holy Scripture is somehow on the level of CosmoGIRL, which is very ephemeral," he says. "No one builds their life around an issue of Cosmo, or if someone does, we look at that person as kind of strange."
Revolve was largely sold in Christian bookstores at first, but because it has been popular, major bookstore chains are beginning to carry it, too.
The jury is out on whether Revolve will reach many girls who aren't already familiar with the Bible.
"If I had a teenage daughter and this got her to read the Bible, I would be happy," Dr. Bergler says. But he wonders if the packaging, rather than the biblical text, ends up becoming the dominant message, a message more about marketing hipness than inspiring holiness.
"I'm doubtful that it's going to make a big splash," Dr. Goff says. "It's sort of a way to shore up the net, to keep from losing so many teenagers during the years when people often leave the church."
A boys' edition of Revolve is scheduled to hit the stands next spring.