Where are teenage girls turning for advice about fashion, dating and getting along with their parents? Would you believe, the New Testament?
After years of trying to sell Bibles to one of the nation's savviest, most cynical consumer groups, Bible publishers at Thomas Nelson have developed a new way to snare adolescents' interest: turning the sacred book into a magazine.
Revolve, the new Bible for girls between the ages of 12 and 17, offers the complete New Testament in a fashion magazine format, replete with images of stylish, smiling young women, quizzes and celebrity birthdays (sorry, no horoscopes).
Gushing effusively over Revolve, Brooke Nichols, 15, of Nashville, Tenn., could only think of one flaw: the omission of the Old Testament.
"When I have to use the Old Testament in Bible study I have to pull out my other Bible," she said.
Nonetheless, Nichols said Revolve has been a big hit with her friends at public school.
"My friends, they don't like to read the Bible, but once they saw it they were like, `I'm going to have to get me one of those,'" she said.
Laurie Whaley at Thomas Nelson publishers said the idea for Revolve developed after market researchers discovered a shocking truth about teenagers: they don't spend a lot of time reading the Bible.
"We've made a great industry out of selling Bibles to teenagers, and they're not reading them," Whaley said. "The intent is to both make the Bible more interesting and to attract girls who would never pick up a leather-bound bible but who would certainly pick up Revolve."
The magazine format was intended to appeal to media-saturated teenagers, said Kate Etue, the managing editor of Revolve.
"A lot of times, we've put the word `teen' on something and thought that would be enough," she said. "Even kids who come from a Christian subculture are very media-savvy."
To meet discriminating adolescents' standards, Thomas Nelson brought in Thor 5 One, an Irish firm that designs the album covers for the rock band U2. The result: a glossy cover photo of three smiling teenage girls with glistening teeth and glowing skin, under florescent pink and blue headlines promising beauty secrets, quizzes and Q&As.
"They're great because they don't make things look church-y or Christian-y," Etue said of the designers. "They have a real fresh perspective on Christian products."
When the product suits them, adolescents have proven to be avid Bible buyers. The Extreme Teen Bible, which Thomas Nelson published in 1999, sold more than 800,000 copies in four years. The average Bible sells 40,000 copies a year, said Etue.
Study Bibles and other Bibles directed at teens account for 25 percent of all sales at Family Christian Stores, a chain with over 315 outlets nationwide that recently started selling Revolve.
Mark Beyer, Bible buyer for Family Christian Stores, said he has seen mixed reactions to Revolve.
"There are some people who look at it and go, 'What's that?' and other people look at it and get it," said Beyer, adding that he was sure the product would be a hit when it was deemed "cool" by his 15-year-old daughter. Since its release last month, Revolve has already exceeded sales expectations, said Whalie, who would not provide exact sales numbers.
Mike Hollifield, a youth pastor at the Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tenn., said he had reservations about Revolve at first.
"My first reaction was, 'Wow, I'm not really sure about this, what are we doing to the gospel?'" he said. But once he flipped through a copy, he decided the publishers had "taken God's word and tried to make it relevant to a young lady."
But while some applaud efforts to make the Bible more attractive to teenagers, others have voiced concerns that tailoring the Bible to appeal to a particular group might send the wrong message.
Russell Dalton, author of "Video, Kids and Christian Education" and director of the Religious Communications program at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, said he worried "niche Bibles like Revolve might encourage kids to look at the Bible in a myopic way.
While discussing issues like pregnancy, relationships and tattoos in the context of Christianity might be helpful for adolescents, sidebars such as "Are You Dating a Godly Guy?" might "make it seem as though the Bible is just talking about their concerns," Dalton said.
"The danger there is that they're not reading the Scripture for itself," he said. "Having those sort of statements next to the Scripture change the way they read the text and what they think they're reading it for."
Parents who ask their teenagers what part of the Bible engaged them most might be surprised to hear them cite the sections where "guys say what they like about girls." Would that be Peter's letter advising women not to braid their hair, decorate themselves with gold or wear expensive robes? No, it's "Guys Speak Out," a serial sidebar in Revolve featuring teenage boys' thoughts (alongside their handsome mugs) on how girls should dress and behave.
"As long as they're biblically based and not too frivolous, there's no harm in highlighting such issues," said Daniel Akin, dean of the School of Theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
"If it addresses the issue of how a woman should dress modestly, I think that would be a good thing," Akin said. "If it has the potential to make teens look at the Bible in a frivolous way, then that's a bad thing."
© 2003 Religion News Service