Not So Illuminating

At first glance, it looks like just another glossy, high-end magazine. The front cover features a heavily-mascarad eye. Inside are provocative images—a woman giving birth, a child pointing a gun—and celebrity photos: Bono, Angelina Jolie, the Dali Lama, Al Gore, and Che Guevara.

But this “magazine” is actually a New Testament. It’s called the Bible Illuminated, and it’s the brainchild of a Swedish advertising executive. The Bible Illuminated is hugely popular in secular Sweden, where young people love the magazine concept and the edgy pictures. The question is: Do the pictures help readers understand the Gospel message—or do they distract from it?

The question is irrelevant to the publishers; they openly acknowledge that they don’t “support a specific faith.” But take a good look at this Bible—you’ll see just how much somebody’s beliefs come into play. For example, the verses the editors chose to highlight, and set off with images, overwhelmingly deal with the “social gospel” messages—helping the poor, feeding the hungry, promoting justice. This is why we find so many images of celebrities known for doing good (or at least, celebrities the editors think are doing good).

In some cases the photos appear to have been chosen in order to purposely mislead readers about the clear meaning of the text. This is, by the way, why Christians are “people of the book”—images can be easily misinterpreted.

In the end, what gets lost is the Gospel itself. As Katherine Eastland notes in the Weekly Standard, “The message is loud and clear . . . It doesn’t matter who you say Christ is, savior or prophet or teacher; what matters is whether you love your neighbor as yourself and demonstrate that love.”

To nail down this point, the editors include supplementary text entitled “Eight Ways to Change the World,” a project of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Readers are encouraged to help eradicate hunger and poverty, promote “gender equality,” and “environmental sustainability.” Interestingly, nowhere are readers encouraged to fight abortion or human trafficking—both worldwide tragedies. And nowhere—except in the small print of the Scripture itself—are readers encouraged to give up their sins and follow Christ.

In effect, this New Testament takes Christ out of Christianity. And it substitutes a human agenda for God’s.

The Bible Illuminated reminds me of the story in Acts Chapter 16. A slave girl, possessed by a spirit “by which she predicted the future,” follows Paul around, proclaiming him a spokesman for the most high God. Paul was annoyed and put a stop to it. He would not have his mission or his God associated with this vulgar and spiritually corrupt icon whose owners were using her to make money by fortune-telling.

Some people argue that anything that gets people reading the Bible is good. But the question is—with this Bible, are they reading the words—or just checking out the pictures?

If the young people you know are reading the Bible Illuminated, turn the tables on the publishers. Invite them to a “Bible Illuminated” study—and use the images to lead them to the Good News of the text: that God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to save us from our sins.

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