In some local bookstores, teen boys can find a glossy publication filled with music reviews, top 10 lists and advice about dating. Its photos show pretty girls, skateboarders, guys with cornrows and teens cruising in convertibles.
But it's not a magazine. It's a Bible. Or actually, what its publisher has dubbed a "biblezine."
Titled Refuel, it was recently released by Thomas Nelson, one of the nation's largest Bible publishers. Refuel has the complete New Testament written in the company's colloquial New Century translation. But the Scriptures are printed in columns like a magazine story and are surrounded by, among other things, pop-up bubbles containing suggestions on how a fly teenager can also be a good Christian.
This ain't your grandfather's Bible. Smack in the middle of 1 Corinthians is a list of the coolest things God has made, including dogs, pterodactyls, facial hair and ocean waves -- with girls at the top of the list. Refuel also reports the results of a survey asking girls what they look for in a boyfriend: guys who show them respect, open doors for them, spend time with their parents and worship God freely.
Youth pastors say they welcome anything that will get teens to read the Bible. Publishers like Thomas Nelson say they are providing teens with Bibles that address issues specific to them, much like adult devotional Bibles, with short lessons on applying Scripture to modern life.
"We live in a biblically illiterate culture," said Laurie Whaley, Thomas Nelson's manager for the biblezines. "We wanted to show teens that reading the New Testament can be as easy as reading an issue of Cosmo."
Refuel is the second biblezine from the company. The first, aimed at teen girls, is called Revolve. Each costs $16.99, considerably cheaper than Bibles with both Testaments and leather or hard covers. Whaley said Revolve sold better than the company expected: 350,000 copies have been shipped since its release in July 2003. The company has sent 80,000 copies of Refuel to bookstores and churches since its release in March.
Revolve's success, and requests from youth pastors, parents and teens, prompted Thomas Nelson to create Refuel. The company, , headquartered in Nashville, plans to release an Old Testament version of Revolve this fall and a version for adult women called Becoming later this summer.
Nicholas Coleman, an 11th-grader from Orange, goes to services at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove each week with his family. He attends the mega-church's high school. Although he is surrounded by people who share the same faith, he still isn't comfortable carrying around a thick, leather-bound Bible. He thinks it might make him look like a dork.
So, he borrowed his friend's Refuel.
"I think it's cool," said Coleman, 16. "It's really good for people my age. It's applicable."
There are blurbs warning against pornography, date rape, partying and premarital sex -- all issues on a teen guy's mind, Coleman said. It's also a paperback, with glossy pages that smell like a freshly pressed issue of a secular men's magazine.
"The Refuel brings in the secular, making Christians feel like they're still part of the world," Coleman said.
Sam Abbott, a seventh-grader at Crystal Cathedral Academy, owns a copy of Refuel. Before that, Abbott, 13, owned a small, leather-bound King James Bible his grandmother had given him. He said he would read that Bible only in Sunday school. Now, he brings Refuel to youth meetings and to Sunday classes. He said he'd even show it to nonreligious kids in his Santa Ana neighborhood.
"It tells us stuff the other Bibles don't," Abbott said. "It helps me understand the Bible more."
Refuel has lists of do's and don'ts. It suggests that boys do ask themselves, "Would my mother want me to do this?" It cautions them not to step on people to get to the top. It assures them that girls really do like guys who are kind and who don't try too hard to impress them. Many of the blurbs have no Scripture attached to them.
But if the sidebars get kids to pick up the Good Book, that's half the battle, said Jeff Slack, junior high school youth pastor at the Crystal Cathedral.
"It's not our parents' Bible. It's not even my Bible," Slack said. "As youth pastors, we're always looking for a way to engage kids." Some of Slack's students helped Thomas Nelson choose the artwork and titles for its biblezines.
The biblezines are not the first attempt to radically repackage biblical texts to suit teens. Zondervan, another large publisher of Bibles, located in Grand Rapids, Mich., has printed various teen versions for years. The company's latest model for boys is called Revolution. The black leather Bible, embossed with futuristic graphics, looks like something out of the similarly titled third "Matrix" movie. However, it's more conservative than Refuel. It contains the Old and New testaments in the scholarly New International translation, and just about every blurb is attached to a biblical verse.