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The Good Book Business

gakked from _faithinfiction: a fascinating New Yorker article on the Bible-selling industry.

Some of my favorite quotes:

"...research has found that ninety-one per cent of American households own at least one Bible—the average household owns four—which means that Bible publishers manage to sell twenty-five million copies a year of a book that almost everybody already has."


"'The Personal Promise Bible' is custom-printed with the owner’s name ('The LORD is Daniel’s shepherd'), home town ('Woe to you, Brooklyn! Woe to you, New York!'), and spouse’s name ('Gina’s two breasts are like two fawns')."


"The publisher of Zondervan, Scott Bolinder, spoke with excitement about the possibilities for distributing the book on iTunes. 'A person hears about it, says, "I don’t know, I’m not parting with thirty-four dollars. But I’ll try the Book of Revelation for a dollar-ninety-nine,"' he said."

Just...keep...reading. I experienced a kind of shock, a horrified fascination, a repulsion, and the occasional moment of thinking an ideas might actually be a valid way of reaching out to people. I think the best quote, though, is a summary of the underlying conflict in marketing God like this:

"The problem, as [a former religion editor] sees it, is that 'instead of demanding that the believer, the reader, the seeker step out from the culture and become more Christian, more enclosed within ecclesial definition, we’re saying, "You stay in the culture and we’ll come to you." And, therefore, how are we going to separate out the culturally transient and trashy from the eternal?'"


I agree that some stuff goes too far, but as long as it's just translation, just bringing the word of God in a way that people can understand (TV, ghetto-speak, Cockney English, online phrasing, whatever), then that's something we should support and work on.

"In it, not of it," right?

No, I'm disturbed by this trend, really. Translating into languages, functional matrices of communication in order to make it accessible, yes. But vernacular is not an actual language. By all means, put the Scriptures in modern, accessible language...but to adapt the Bible to certain slang trends and subcultures...it cheapens it in my mind. It removes something from the dignity of it. Christ on earth used allusions, metaphors and concepts common to his audience. As far as we know, he never used their slang.

That's an interesting point. I wonder if Matthew 5:22 qualifies, when Christ uses the word "Raca".
That is a question. It may have been vernacular, or it may have been an actual word that was criminalized. In any case, he did use the term as a reference rather than actually utilizing it in his speech.

Ah! Good point.
Translating into languages, functional matrices of communication in order to make it accessible, yes. But vernacular is not an actual language.

I've thought about this a lot, JD. One of the huge problems facing the Church today is the fact that our "church-speak" is no longer understood by a majority of the culture. Unless you're highly educated (and if the churches actually worked on this, there might be less trouble with it; but most don't bother), you as a new believer or seeker are going to hit stuff that is really obscure. Not in concept, but in presentation.

Some slang is not language, not part of the functional matrix, no. But some of it is, especially if you're trying to reach a specific sub-culture.

Just as an example of what I'm talking about, people don't even have an accurate concept of "sin" anymore, often. But everyone can see that the world is "wrong," that we expect it to be better than it is, that we expect people to be better--and we aren't. I've started using the term "broken" to describe this whole idea, because that's easy to grasp conceptually, and it's not "church speak." We sinned, the world was broken, and Christ came to make us whole. That's why we turn from sin and follow him in love.

Certainly, there are times when slang would come across as simply being flippant about God's word, and that shouldn't happen. But in other circumstances, I think the most loving thing we can do is try to "translate" what He has said so that people can understand the important stuff before they have to learn the tools of Bible study and stuff. That can come after they've begun learning how to live as a new creation.

Revere and fear God, absolutely. But he came down and lived like us, eating and breathing and sleeping and everything...so I can't imagine Christ would object to re-phrasing in order to circumvent cultural mental blocks.

Just my rambles as I thought over your post and this article. :-)
Good examples to use. Yes, we have so much cultural baggage associated with some "Christian-lingo" terms that trying to find another way to express the ideas becomes necessary.
Yes, but there are many ways to put the "lingo" into understandable terms without going for "God says don't waste nobody" and "In teh beginning". People will do what they'll do, though, and God will approve of what He chooses to approve of. :-)

Yeah, that's it in the end.

Wow, I've spent this whole conversation going, "Good point!" and "And you have a good point!"

I feel like Tevye sitting in the milk wagon. At some point, somebody else is going to show up and say, "They can't BOTH be right!" and I'm going to go, "You also have a good point!"

I feel like Tevye sitting in the milk wagon.

Eh? Sorry, I have no idea what that is referring to.
Sorry, it's a reference to Fiddler on the Roof.
I knew what it was, but I'm sorry I've never seen the scene it's referring to. :-D