15 September 2008

The Bible as a Fashion Accessory

by Phil Johnson

ere are a couple of items that have been in my "maybe you want to comment on this" file since last December.

One is an article about Zondervan's "Bible Bunker," where publishing executives find ways to trick out the Bible and boost its market appeal. From the article: "Zondervan plans to keep stoking demand by making sure God’s word looks hip, sounds relevant and is advertised all over, including in Rolling Stone magazine and Modern Bride, on MySpace—even on a jumbotron in New York City’s Times Square."

To be clear, I have no problem with advertizing the Bible "all over"—including jumbotrons and magazines aimed at popular secular markets. I don't seriously object to patent-leather or neon Naugahyde® on Bibles. The cover on Crossway's calfskin leather Journaling Bible is what motivated me to buy one, and I love it. If some teenage girl wants a Sanrio-inspired Bible cover, good for Zondervan.

What disturbs me is the way "making sure God’s word . . . sounds relevant" is casually thrown into the marketing strategy. (I was also annoyed by Zondervan's executive veep's offhand description of the Bible as "one darn book," but that's a slightly different topic. Only slightly, though.)

I've complained many times before that "marketing" in this era is never merely about "advertis[ing] all over," but it actually starts with fashioning the product to appeal to market demand. That's why marketing the church, marketing the Bible, or marketing a sermon series is a dangerous strategy. Church marketing experts never seem to own up to the reality that the medium and the message necessarily impact one another, and the more stress the marketer puts on the medium, the more the message is relegated to second-place status. Soon they're not just "marketing" the church, they're pimping it.

Thus we have Biblezines, which overlay the Bible with silly and superficial self-centeredness in order to make it seem "relevant" to people who have no clue what relevance is truly about.

Which brings me to that other item from my December file. It's the next step in pimping the Bible: "The Green Bible"—a Bible promoting the eschatology of Greenpeace, the morality of treehugging, and the Five Points of "Global Warming." Radical environmentalism is one of secular culture's favorite substitutes for belief in God. It's not easy to make the Bible ride that bandwagon. But Zondervan's parent company, HarperCollins, is trying hard.

I'm going to borrow a copy of the Green Bible, just to see what it does with the Noahic Covenant: "While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease" (Genesis 8:22).

But . . . wow. Is there no end to this kind of foolishness?

Once more: Brethren, we need to get back to the gospel. And I'm talking about proclaiming the gospel we find in the Bible, not remodeling it to make it blend with all the latest fads.

Phil's signature

Bonus: If you're not in the habit of looking at the "Where I Am Right Now"® links in the right sidebar, be sure you check the first entry under today's "Links that made me groan" column. It seems our Anglican friends are issuing a formal "apology" to Charles Darwin, and they are also set to launch "a Church of England website promoting the views of Charles Darwin" today.

I really do hate the mentality that dominates the Church of England. (Have I mentioned that before?) I don't want to sound curmudgeonly or anything, but after 400+ years of successfully resisting the Reformation, the Church of England is a worse hive of apostasy than it ever was, and the problems go straight to the top. There is not a single atheistic or humanistic dogma that hasn't received support from one official or another in the Anglican communion.

I realize there are still true evangelicals in that body—most of them in the southern hemisphere. But it's past time for them to cut the tie with Canterbury. They begin to look like Norman Bates—unable to let go of Mother, even though she is dead, decayed, and cruelly abusive.

46 comments:

dac said...

. . . advertising, at least in the United States, is the most powerful educational agent extant. Those who write the advertising copy probably do more to determine the way the average person thinks than the school and church combined.

A.W. Tozer

Carla said...

Phil,

as you well know I'm sure, the power of advertising is phenomenal. Whatever is hot, whatever is trendy, whatever the latest fad or newest popular guy or gal on the block is saying or doing, is what savvy ad agencies often jump all over - and quite successfully.

This quote here "Zondervan plans to keep stoking demand by making sure God’s word looks hip, sounds relevant and is advertised all over..." Doesn't surprise me at all, in light of this quote here:

"Also, he said, he would like to "bring a breath of comedy and hipness to what can be an otherwise dull religious discussion." "

The second quote is from evangelicism's most popular, controversial and highly influential young pastor - none other than Mark Driscoll. (source)

It's pretty clear that in the minds of many, the Christian faith is in need of an overhaul with hipness, relevance and a slick, shiney new package. Many Christians have bought into it as well. Hook. Line. Sinker.

What I find ironic, is that when Zondervan intends to be "hip" folks will jump to criticize (and rightly so). When Driscoll states the same thing however, for the very same purpose (to spice up an "otherwise dull religious discussion" in reference to his now defunct Seattle Times column on religion where he intended to "connect the life and teachings of Jesus with contemporary issues and problems"), folks tend to go out of their way to defend him.

While your post wasn't about particular personalities within evangelicism, there are certain personalities within evangelicism that are going out of their way to promote the very things you wrote about today.

In at least this case, the influence reaches far and wide.

markG said...

I don't see a problem with the "Green Bible", after all Revelation 7:3 does say, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees."

Mesa Mike said...

The medium is the Message.

dac said...

re: Carla's statement on Driscoll: folks tend to go out of their way to defend him.

I suppose that occurs in some circles - I might observe that people go out of their way to criticize him.....

Dan said...

One difference I would say between Mark and Zondervan is best summed up in the word...cash. Mark is doing because HE IS hip and wants to see changed lives. Zondervan wants to force it to change lives AND to make a profit.

Marketing is needed when people have forgotten that the gospel isn't popular and that the path is narrow.

Solameanie said...

Oddly enough, whenever I see things like this, I can't help but think of Israel's high priest, who would have to have a rope tied to his leg when he went into the Holy of Holies. The reason was that if he did something untoward while in the presence of God, he'd be struck dead and they'd have to drag his corpse out (they couldn't go in and retrieve it or they'd be struck dead also).

Somehow, I think such events might have inspired just a bit of reverence, unlike today's jocular, thigh-slapping form of worship.

Phil Johnson said...

MarkG: "I don't see a problem with the 'Green Bible,' after all Revelation 7:3 does say, 'Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees.'"

I assume you're making a joke, and I smiled at it. On the off-chance that you are being serious (or in case any readers take you seriously), here's the context of that:

"To the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, "Do not harm the earth, the sea, or the trees until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads" (Rev. 7:3-4).

donsands said...

You can't serve God and mammon.

God's Word being marketed needs to be done with a heart of fear: And a heart of love for God, and his truth.

Jesus said, "Beware of covetousness".

donsands said...

One more thought on Rev. 7:3, if I could.
Rev. 11:18 says, "...Your wrath has come, And the time of the dead, that they should be judged, ... And should destroy those who destroy the earth."

I've never understood who these who destroy the earth are.

Chad V. said...

dan You said;
"Mark is doing because HE IS hip and wants to see changed lives.

That's no difference at all. The fact that you consider Driscoll hip in the first place is a very bad sign. Christians are not called to be hip. The are called to be separate from the world. If the world thinks your hip you've got a problem.

Whether or not Driscoll want's to see changed lives is irrelevant. Every apostate pastor wants to see changed lives and so does every other false religion from Islam to Buddhism. Besides, who says that Zondervon Doesn't want to see changed lives. The fact that they are not hip and Driscoll is does not validate Driscoll and invalidate Zondervon.

Driscoll gets a kick out of the fact that his gutter mouth and his methods offend Christians. Listen to any number of his sermons long enough and you will hear him say "that ought to give the bloggers something to write about." Topping that off he gives out right dangerous and blasphemous interpretations of scripture. He preaches that when Christ called Peter "rock" He was joking. In his sermon series Vintage Jesus he attempts to uphold critical doctrines the whole while achieving nothing more than to blaspheme the name of Christ in a vain attempt to be relevant.

The only demonstrable difference between Driscoll and Zondervon is perhaps that Zondervon is pushing sales and trying to earn money at the expense of godliness and purity. Driscoll attempt to win people to Christ at the expense of godliness and purity.

SolaMommy said...

He he he..."Gothpel"...

Stefan said...

Re the Church of England's announcment that they're going to "apologize" for their stand against the theory of evolution: this is a joke, right?

The church's announcement mentions Rome's opposition to Galileo. The difference (duh) is that the idea that the earth goes around the sun is no longer merely a theory, but quite clearly an observable phenomenon (observable with technology that wasn't available in the ancient world).

I feel like a dinosaur stating the obvious (by the world's standards, we are dinosaurs), but after 150 years, evolution is still merely a hypothesis—just one that has never been convincingly disproved to the majority of scientists (nor yet has it actually been incontrovertibly proved).

stratagem said...

Let's see... this is the same Zondervan that is owned by HarperCollins, which publishes the Satanic Bible, correct?

caveat emptor

NothingNewUnderTheSun said...

The 'Green Bible'? I thought the Bible was about saving people, not saving the earth.

While I think people should respect God's creation(s), we should never bow down before them as an idol.

Rick Frueh said...

Aren't apologies to the dead "too late". This reminds me of when the Roman Catholic Church removed Luther from ex-communication status. He is now free to enjoy communion.

Foolishness indeed.

Charles Taze Russel pioneered the "market your own Bible" phenomenon. I'm waiting for the "UFO-Alien Bible" to come out.

The Doulos said...

The catchphrase for current American evangelicalism:
"Trendiness is next to godliness."

Re: the Anglican's apology to Darwin - I wonder how he will respond? Partly because he is dead, but also because he somewhat refuted his own theory prior to his death, admitted there was no real evidence, and was sorrowful for the anti-theism it had caused even in his day.

markG said...

yeah i was kidding, thanks for correcting me though (seriously)

naturalsystah said...

For those who are in the Church of England and who lament the latest antics - "come out and be ye separate"!

Randy Talley said...

Another notable difference between Zondervan and Driscoll - one of them is a business... and the other appears to be a racket.

And on this particular topic, they're both dead wrong.

MarkG - Like Phil, I hope you were joking. If so, it worked! I had a chemistry teacher in high school who tried using Genesis 1:29 to justify using marijuana. The man was definitely not (a) in a pre-fall state or (b) Adam, and he proved it regularly.

Paul Wilkinson said...

As a bookstore owner, we are not amused, either. We tend to continue stocking the basic bonded leather editions in black and burgundy. If someone gets too excited about a DuoTone edition in trendy colors, they are buying a Bible for the wrong reason.

Jugulum said...

Chad,

"The fact that they are not hip and Driscoll is does not validate Driscoll and invalidate Zondervon."

Well... It does matter. If a minister puts on a show of acting "hip" in order to be liked by the world, that's one thing; if he acts in a way that comes naturally to him, that's another. If he's putting on a show, then there's a problem even if there's nothing intrinsically wrong with how he's acting.

So... It's not abundantly clear to me that "hip" means "worldly". I don't know why "The fact that you consider Driscoll hip in the first place is a very bad sign," as you say. That's only true if there's something intrinsically wrong with his hip-ness.

Where do you see the problem in "hip"? If you see the problem in "seeking after the world's approval", I agree. But I doubt that's what dan meant by "hip".

Jugulum said...

One other thing.

The other dimension of Driscoll's comment is that he wants to "bring a breath of comedy and hipness to what can be an otherwise dull religious discussion." There's more to that than just acting in a way that comes naturally to you--there he's starting to seek the world's approval. Or... He's at least in danger of it.

That sentiment could maybe be ok... If he means something like this: Religious discussion has been unnecessarily dull, so why not change that?

Chad V. said...

There is nothing dull about scripture properly preached. And where in the whole of scripture is it ever taught that preaching should be more interesting? (c.f. 1Cor 2:1-5)

If it needs to be jazzed up then the flesh is the only thing being satisfied. Only the infantile and perpetually adolescent need to be constantly entertained. And pandering to such as that will never cause growth in godliness and knowledge of Christ.

Chad V. said...

Oddly enough, it is precisely the need to be constantly entertained that drives things like biblezines and Green Bibles. There is a severe lack of thirst for righteousness so the companies fill the bellies of the people with what they're hungry for, the world and innovation.

dac said...

I love this thread -

Randy - "Driscoll...appears to be a racket". Nice use of "appears". Now that you have accused a pastor of being engaged in some type of organized crime, do you have any evidence?

Paul W - while restricting bibles to "basic bonded leather" is certainly your choice (and better than restricting it to the KJV), what do you think that Phil's decision to purchase the Crossway's calfskin leather journal? He did say "the cover...is what motivated me to buy one".

Chad V - so, all those of examples in the bible of people teaching others through, say object lessons, is in fact not a permissible way to teach the truths of the bible today? Only words hold any value to us, not methods used?

Chad V. said...

dac

Where did you ever get the idea that I thought that teaching through object lessons was bad? How could you possibly infer that from anything I've ever said anywhere on any blog?

Chad V. said...

Saying things like the book of Genesis is the quintessential redneck trailer trash story is not an object lesson. It's just idiotic and unworthy of the preaching of the word of God.

dac said...

Chad

And where in the whole of scripture is it ever taught that preaching should be more interesting?

MJ said...

Well, while not defending Zondervan and their marketing tactics, I have to admit that being a girl, I really like my new handy-sized mint green ESV. Is that wrong?

Randy Talley said...

DAC - "organized" might be a stretch in an emergent context... humanly speaking anyway. On the "crime" end, how about his preaching, writing, and other public statements as compared to the biblical role of a pastor? Maybe it won't land him in jail, but if Paul said "Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel", there's good reason to think those who abuse the position will be held accountable.

Dave .... said...

Personally, I'm done buying from Zondervan. Anything they have, I can find better elsewhere, or in the worst case, used. I will not send the money God gave me to that corporagogue of Satan.

Mike Hoskins said...

And if you're wondering what your "relevant" Christian message/promo will look like in say 20 years or so, take a peek at these ahem examples...


Warning: may contain materials embarrassing to people "hip" 20 years ago.

Chris said...

I may get in trouble for this, but...

I don't care what you think about Mark Driscoll, but he had absolutely nothing to do with Phil's post, and bringing him into this discussion only illuminates the peculiar determination some people have with grinding their own little axes.

CR said...

Thanks Phil. I know that you didn't send this to get people ROFL, but I laughed very hard and sent the link to others. I'm still laughing. The Green Bible with Green Letter Edition...that's a good one.

Noticed that foreword is written by Desmond Tutu and it's in the NRSV - oh yeah...

Rick Frueh said...

There is a Pavlov's dog principle here as well. When we harness people's response by marketing techniques through the physical senses, they slowly but surely transfer their responses to those techniques and not the substance of the "product".

Astronomers listen for any communication from outer space, and if they heard even one faint sign they would be ecstatic. But we as believers have the full, authoritative, and dynamic communication from the Creator of this universe and we need marketing techniques to draw interest?

What's wrong with this picture??

David Rudd said...

The cover on Crossway's calfskin leather Journaling Bible is what motivated me to buy one, and I love it.

Hah! I knew we'd find something we agreed on, Phil!

David Rudd said...

I will not send the money God gave me to that corporagogue of Satan.

hmmm. where will you send your money then?

can you buy groceries?
go to restaurants?
watch cable tv?
yada, yada, yada...

i have no great love for Zondervan, but i'm pretty sure we could tie just about every place you spend your money back to the prince of this world...

Chad V. said...

David Rudd

Agreed.

When given a choice I will oder a book from Reformation Heritage over say a place like Amazon, but I'm more worried about the content of the book than the publisher. Besides, some Islamic nation is likely going to get the proceeds from the gas it takes to deliver it anyhow. That's just part of being in the world.

To clear up any possible confusion about my previous remarks; I think that it's fine that people choose a bible because they like the cover etc. I have several bibles that I chose for that very reason. It's one thing to market a bible to show it's quality of manufacture and make them attractive and nice to have. It's another to market your product to promote false religion (The Green Bible) or to pander to worldliness (biblezines).

Dave .... said...

"i'm pretty sure we could tie just about every place you spend your money back to the prince of this world..." David Rudd

Good point. I was imprecise. My qualms with Zondervan have to do with the content of what they sell and their godless approach to the sheeple of God, and all while claiming to be a Christian publisher. I have a large bone caught in my throat over the NIV/TNIV translabominations. The "products" highlighted in Phil's blog post just made the bile rise a little higher. There are a number of good used book stores that handle gently used Christian books. I like ABEBooks.com - they front for hundreds of individual stores and it's completely searchable, down to the individual store most times.

Paul Wilkinson said...

Dac,
I thought about that dynamic as I was writing. I would hope that the cover was just the final factor that kicked a long-standing decision over the goal line. To just walk into a Christian bookstore and suddenly impulse-buy a Bible because you like the cover is -- I'm sorry -- just wrong. On so many levels.

However, I've seen this before. I'm not saying this applies to Phil, but I've seen people who are "Bible-philes." They collect them and they love them. (Some even like the smell of them!) Problem is, we don't worship a book; we worship God. Or put another way, the Bible is the frame, but Jesus Christ is the picture. Excited about translations? Yes. But book bindings?

Joanna said...

I do agree that Biblezines are an area of concern. Some of them the content is simply awful. But even if the additional content was good they would still be a bad way to read the bible for most people. This is because the additional content is usually brightly colored and the bible text tends to be plain. Your eye is naturally drawn away from the bible text to the other material that is of less value. Not good

SavedByGraceAlone said...

Not having time to read all of the earlier posts I apologize if this is a repeat statement...

Regarding the "marketing" of the "Word". Is not the Holy Spirit the only true salesman? After all Christ said: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him..."

Rose said...

Another thing that bothers me about all these hip bibles in that a lot of the fancy covers are being made with cheap labour in China. I had an email dialogue with Zondervan a couple years ago about this and asked them if they ever publish reports from outside auditors to confirm that their factories are ethical. Their response was that would give their competitors too much of an advantage over them. It ticks me off that their unwillingness to guarantee ethical business practices doesn't give their competitors an advantage. Modern Christianity is so backwards.

Polycarp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Letitia (The Damsel) said...

Ah, let's remember that such a practice is very, very American.