the word on the street. a bible for youth?

Christian culture affects the faith lives of our young people. I’m afraid that the way that we market Bibles for young people leaves them with a distorted view of Christianity and without the ability to personally grow as disciples.

I’ve been looking for a slim-line, faux-leather, publication of the NRSV as it is the translation that I use right beside the NIV. I don’t use it exclusively and I don’t think others should either (there are some textual issues: note the differences between Matthew 16:24 in the NRSV and the NASB, for example). The NRSV’s that I have are big, hardcover, and impractical to carry around. So I’ve been in everybook store that I pass looking for it. I can’t find a single one. Not a single one. (there is this one, but it’s 3 times taller than it is wide!)

But I have found a lot of other relatively helpful publications of the Bible: The Message, and the Word on the Street, and the Sportsman’s Bible, and the Leadership Bible, the Prophecy Bible, etc. I didn’t realize that there were that many Bibles–or is there just one and someone is making quite a bit of money…. Notice that this doesn’t concern the mass inventory of KJV, NKJV, HCSB, NIV, etc (though my mind is still out on the ESV–I need to look into that more). I hope that we don’t forget that the Bible is the Bible and these things are all commentary, artifice, or well-intended interpretation. There really is no Bible particularly for Men, Women, Teens, Fisherman, Leaders, etc; there is the Bible and these things can be used as tools to make the Scriptures accessible to different styles of living.


The thing that strikes me as I peruse the Bible section is to see things like the Word on the Street, by Rob Lacey sitting right next to KJV, NIV, etc.

This isn’t about critiquing the Word on the Street as much as it is a critique on how Christian culture affects the faith of our young people.

I first came upon the Word on the Street when some one handed it to me and said “this would be perfect for the youth!” I opened it to the beginning and saw this:

First off, nothing. No light, no time, no substance, no matter. Second off, God starts it all up and WHAP! Stuff everywhere! The cosmos in chaos: no shape, no form, no function– just darkness … total. And floating above it all, God’s Holy Spirit, ready to play. Day one: Then God’s voice booms out, ‘Lights!’ and, from nowhere, light floods the skies and ‘night’ is swept off the scene. –from Genesis 1, The Word on the Street

How do you feel about that? Heavily interpreted. Heavily. Granted, the description on the book and in most online retailers is that this is a “retelling” of the Bible. However, even major Christian publishers such as Zondervan have this book in the Bibles for Youth category! Despite the claims that it makes for itself as a “retelling” it is being marketed as a Bible for youth, among other things. The cliche argument comes up: “well at least it gets people into the word of God.” Does it? A work such as this that doesn’t even include the entire canon of scripture, by its own nature, creates a theology of its own that is apart from the Scriptures themselves. So does it get people reading the Word of God? The real question is: is this kind of product the best way to get young people to read the Bible?

If the scriptures contained in the Old and New Testaments contain everything necessary for salvation, what kind of role does a “bible” like the Word on the Street need to take in the Church? Do we need to pass these out to students or do we need to teach them? Do we need to paraphrase the Bible and call that a Bible or do we need to teach students?

My personal stand: Though this may be a tool to get people started, I don’t think we should recommend resources like this and not do some extensive follow up with accepted translations of the scriptures. I will invest my time and energy in studying the Scripture in English translations that are accurate, peer-reviewed, and affirmed by the Church so that I can teach students to read, understand, and enjoy the Scriptures as they come to us in their cannonical form.

Though resources like Word on the Street may be tools to get people started, I don’t think we should recommend resources like this and not do some extensive follow up with accepted translations of the scriptures.

What do you think?


8 responses to “the word on the street. a bible for youth?

  1. Pingback: Teenagers and Christian Culture: have we gone to far? « The Greatest Story Ever Told

  2. i think marketing works that are intentionally paraphrases of scripture as scripture is risky.

    (i’m differentiating between ‘translations’ and ‘paraphrases’)

    i think that people live in a sound-bite world and have an attention span of 15 seconds (arbitrary example) and don’t want to / won’t listen if it requires longer than what is immediately comfortable.

    so, well intentioned people, who so much value the message of the gospel, want to share that message with as many people as possible. what they recognize as ‘insider’ language (which is really just a way of saying ‘words people haven’t been taught’) – rather than taking the time to or finding ways of teaching, reword the message using vocabulary people are already familiar with. this is both good and bad. it’s necessary for any education to allow the student to mix the new info with what they already know (assimilation/accommodation) – so a teacher should present new knowledge in a way that the student can build on their existing knowledge base.

    *and here is the catch in this sort of thing and what i think you were getting at with your post*

    a teacher should also have the follow through to walk with the student while that new knowledge is processed. what i mean is, in the example of bible para-phrases: it may be a helpful starting point. it’s certainly a great enrichment tool even for those who are familiar with scripture as a way of illuminating certain interpretations. but if a person’s sole experience with scripture is relegated to these popular paraphrases, then that person is being robbed of a certain richness that’s contained within the original writings.

    this is a bit long for a comment, if too long i apologize, so i’ll just tack this on as a sidenote: this is also why there is benefit in reading a variety of translations to help gain a fuller, clearer understanding of scripture.

  3. Josh,

    good words and I agree with you. i hope that others will take up the mantle of responsibility as you have to use these as resources and then teach!

    i only worry about those who long for something bigger than themselves, walk into a book store, and grab a “retelling” or poor “paraphrase” with no other scriptural support.

    The Church should “make disciples” and not rest on the industry to do it for us.

    Again, good words.

    I got your message the other day. As random as it was to pull up my number, I really appreciate the call!

  4. i say if its the word of God and lives are being transformed by it..who cares how its translated..if it lets the holy spirit work through the lives of people…let it be..teens dont always understand everything..but if the word came be made simpler to something that can grab there attention..then by all means do problem with me at all..

  5. Abe,

    I definately see where you are coming from. But, can something that is so loosely paraphrased from what is known as the canon of scripture as inspired by the Holy Spirit, can it be called the Word of god.

    That is to say, is it the Word of God when the translation/paraphrase doesn’t build upon the Spirit-led scholarship of all history?

    I say no. I am fine with a retelling, but you get to the point where it is irresponsible and in fact sinful not to teach people the Word of God–not the words of Lacey or some other independent author.

  6. Ugh. I’m a youth myself, but I hate that Street Bible thing. First off, we read it in my class in RE, and all of us were cringing at how hard the author has tried to relate to us. Fail. Also, it’s not the bible anymore! It’s terrible, in my opinion. Now I’m looking for a GOOD bible for my age group…NIV or NKJ…but not any of this ‘street’ garbage. Or rather, ‘totally and utterly UNstreet’ garbage.

  7. Let’s also remember there is an entire industry out there who uses “retelling” or “paraphrasing” of Holy Scripture as a means of getting a particular theological angle out there. I’m a purist and think the translation which coincides most with Greek and Hebrew text should be used. But that’s me. We also need to teach how to apply text to life and, most importantly, how text interprets us along with the mere reading of the Bible.

  8. The Street Bible (or Word on the Street if you prefer) is nothing less than a blasphemy, degrading God’s word into gutter slang, making a mockery of the inspired Word by replacing it with pseudo-religious hip junk. Mind you, this is symptomatic of the pop-culture direction modern Christianity has gone.

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