A couple of weeks ago I looked at the bible Brenden, my eldest, age 14, was carrying to church. I think it was a gift from the church when he was, if I recall, going into 1st Grade. He's in 8th grade now. So the bible was looking a little juvenile, for a kid in elementary school. Not for a kid starting High School in less than a year.
So I told Brenden I'd get him a new bible, something he could grow into and that would support his early explorations into the text.
Thus we found ourselves, one Saturday, heading for Mardel, our local Christian bookstore.
This may surprise you, but I love Christian retail stores. I really do! I find Christian bookstores absolutely fascinating. All around you is Christian clothing, Christian jewelry, Christian home decor, Christian music, Christian books. You can even buy a shofar if you like to blow a ram's horn on Sunday morning!
I just have the best time looking around. Given my research interests Christian bookstores combine two of my very favorite things:
Crazy + ChristianAnd I'm not just window shopping. I got my "Love Your Enemies" t-shirt at this Mardel. And I actually bought a book by John Howard Yoder in this store. (My thought upon seeing the book, if I recall, was something like "What the hell is that doing in here?").
That said, this is also the Mardel that had banned Derek Webb's Mockingbird album.
But back to our story, my mission to help Brenden pick out a bible.
The bibles are on the back wall of the store. And above each shelf of bibles is prominently displayed the version to be found underneath. King James Version (Happy 400th Birthday!). New King James Version. New International Version. New Living Translation. English Standard Version. Contemporary English Version. New American Standard. New Revised Standard. The Message.
Underneath each version where a host of options, a bible in that particular version for all sorts of things. There were Metal Bibles, Waterproof Bibles, Camouflage Bibles and Chunky Bibles. There were bibles for mothers, fathers, men, women, businessmen, hunters and soldiers. And, of course, lots and lots of bibles for "teens."
What to get Brenden?
Initially, we went two different directions. First, I pulled a few study bibles I thought were good. I've gotten good use from the NIV, NLT, and NRSV study bibles I have. So I had Brenden look at these as I wanted him to have something that would help him make sense of this sprawling and confusing collection of books known as "the Bible."
We also pulled a collection of "teen bibles" aimed at Brenden's demographic. Personally, I didn't like the look or approach of these bibles but, hey, it wasn't going to be my choice. It was going to be Brenden's call and he was interested in looking at them. So we collected a stack.
Surrounded by stacks of bibles I sat Brenden on a bench and said, "Look through all these. Take your time. I'm going to look at the shofars and see if I can get the staff to blow one for me. When I come back, after the walls of Jericho fall, you can tell me what you think."
When I returned from shofar shopping Brenden had ruled out the big study bibles. They were a bit too much.
But Brenden was also struggling with the the teen bibles. I said, "You don't look too excited about these bibles either."
He wasn't. He kept flipping through the pages and finally asked me, "Why is there all this stuff in the middle of the page?"
If you've not flipped through one, teen bibles have a magazine sort of feel. Every page has pictures of cool kids making cool observations about how cool Jesus is. There are little surveys in the bible. Little checklists. Little bits of advice about teen issues. And around it all, hidden in the background, is the biblical text.
Brenden asked, "Why can't you just read the bible without this stuff getting in the way?"
I responded, "Well Brenden, here's the deal. The people who made this bible don't think kids will, well, actually read the bible. So they put all this other stuff in there hoping that you'll at least read that. It's a bible if you aren't interested in reading the bible."
So we were stuck. Brenden seemed to be "in between," developmentally speaking. Too young for the hefty study bibles I liked and too wise, spiritually speaking, to be comfortable with the hyper, radical, ADHD teen bibles with words like "awesome" and "revolution" blasting off every kinetic page.
So we went back to the shelves and, after bit of searching, found something really good. Let me recommend the new NIV Student Bible for those of you shopping for a good bible for a teen. Here's what I like about this bible. First, it's mainly a bible. About 90% of every page is just the text. Second, the other 10% of the page (along with all the other study helps) is devoted to illuminating the story in the text rather than trying to make the bible "relevant," "radical," and "cool." (Note: Philip Yancey was involved in writing the study notes.) And, finally, the aesthetics (font, page layout, design) of the bible are very attractive and ageless. Though the bible is aimed at teens and college students, it's a bible that you could hand anyone just starting out with the bible.