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Are There Skate Parks in Heaven?

The Bible-zine for teens is here, but who's buying it?
by Maura R. O'Connor

Everyone knows that magazines are teenagers' bibles. But who could have guessed that the Bible could be a teenager's magazine? That's right: believe it or not, a bizarre confluence of Christianity, pop culture, and marketing wizardry has produced the Bible-zine. According to the Thomas Nelson publishing house, there are a lot of young Christians out there who find the Bible to be “too big and freaky looking,” and Bible-reading among the young has plummeted. So in order to put America's youth back on a more Godly track, they recently published Refuel and Revolve, for boys and girls, respectively. Clocking in at a Vanity Fair-ish four hundred pages, these two Bible-zines have the graphic quality of Teen People or CosmoGirl, which means the only thing setting them apart from the other rags on the newsstand is the virtuous lack of skin displayed on their covers. Otherwise, Refuel and Revolve are replete with all the slickness, cunning cover lines (“Are You Dating a Godly Guy?”), and pop culture references that make a teenager's heart sing. What's more, they've conquered the bestseller lists, occupying first and second places for the most Bible sales in 2003.

The actual text of the zine is the “New Century Version” translation of the New Testament, created in 1987 to keep even adolescents with the shortest attention spans interested in the story of Jesus. But what's the real key to their success? They're saving their readers the work of poring through the Bible to find answers to all of teenage life's pertinent questions. “Are there skate parks in heaven?” Did Jesus ever “sport any tattoos?” “Why did God make weed if he didn't want people to smoke it?” You'll find answers to these questions, and hundreds of others, in the sidebars and blurbs strategically interspersed throughout the text.

Both Refuel and Revolve follow a similar format, with cleaner-than-soap stock photography and sections like “Do's and Don'ts” and “Radical Faith.” But the content varies dramatically between the two, betraying some rather stereotypical ideas about gender roles and interests. Whereas Refuel is chock full of Christian rock music reviews, for example, Revolve has beauty secrets: “Make sure you keep your speech pure. Imagine putting on 'spiritual lipstick' every morning in preparation for the day's conversations.” Refuel offers intelligent advice to guys about what to do when lust comes knocking: “No real-world woman can compete with the airbrushed perfection of soft-porn beauties. But God has something better waiting for you—a unique, genuine, 3-D woman. Wait for that gift.” On the other hand, Revolve's tips for girls on “how to have fun” with girlfriends are glaringly old-fashioned: “Get creative and make a wedding cake together.” “Make flower arrangements and leave them at strangers' doors.”

Refuel's and Revolve's attempts to create a moral context for teens are worthy ones, especially in light of the fact that the majority of twenty-first-century youth are growing up in a virtual moral desert. However, it's hard to ignore the regressive nature of their underlying message. How effective can promoting an Ozzy and Harriet sensibility be, when millions of teens are tuning in to Sex and the City? . . .


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This article is from
Our War vs Peace Issue