A new take on the Bible looks more like something you would see on a magazine rack or in a coffee shop, than in the pews of a church.
It's called The Bible Illuminated: The Book, an illustrated version of the New Testament recently released by the Swedish group Illuminated World. It's goal is to reach a younger, more mainstream audience with a book that is "less intimidating than traditional Bibles."
On one page of the book, which looks and feels like a magazine, is actress Angelina Jolie. On another is a woman tearing the leg of a cooked duck, and on another a man on fire. Each image is supposed to represent passages in the book of Mark and Romans.
But some say the editorial-style photography is too racy and even offensive. The Swedish group, which isn't religious based, also says the book wasn't produced with Christianity in mind.
"We have no religious agenda and support no specific faith," the Illuminated World Web site reads. "Bible Illuminated is intended to be a unique vehicle for reacquainting today's reader with one of history's most important texts."
California State University, Chico student Kelly Chandler wrote an article in her school's newspaper against the book. She says the new take on the Bible --adding pictures and shortened passages--isn't needed because the Bible speaks for itself.
"A Bible that has no religious agenda? That's blasphemy," Chandler wrote.
"I grew up in a Christian home and received a New International Version 'Teen Study Bible' at my baptismal in fourth grade," she said. "I was able to understand and relate to almost every devotional in there without all the fancy pictures, so I'm pretty sure other teens and adults can do the same."
Still, several Christian leaders and groups have shown support for the book and appreciate it's effort to make the gospel more contemporary.
"Bible Illuminated beautifully presents the content of the Bible as an art form that can be appreciated and enjoyed by those who are not likely to be carrying one," Pastor Erwin McManus of Mosaic Church said. "[It] feels and looks like it belongs on the tables of every cosmopolitan coffee shop and artisan hang out."
The book's project leader Dag Soderberg said his main goal was to spark conversation and "make the Bible accessible and readable."
"The Bible in its current state tends to alienate so many people," he said. "You can't dismiss the Bible unless you know it, and the more you know, the more you can take part in things. After all, the Bible is used in many aspects of life - even as an excuse for starting wars. You have to inform yourself."
Bible Illuminated, which was published with the help of the American Bible Society, is about 300 pages long and includes the entire New Testament scriptures, with no chapters or verse numbers, in the New Living Translation.
God Goes Green
Taking hold of the popular "going green" movement, The Green Bible was also released to capture those younger and more "eco-friendly."
That Bible has a beige cloth cover and is embossed with a green picture of a tree. Inside, all passages related to the environment are highlighted in green.
Paul Gutjahr, a professor of religious studies at Indiana University, said both books are examples of several attempts to make the Bible more cool and interesting.
"In general, Bible publishers have always been creative, but now they are scrambling to meet a culture where people are moving away from print reading," he said.
He added that he doesn't expect older, more conservative Christians to accept the new phenomenon, but that younger generations will.
Last year, an audio Bible was released featuring the voices of popular stars like Denzel Washington, Kirk Franklin, and Blair Underwood. Various translations of the Bible have also been produced over the years to make the Bible more understandable.
The Book Industry Study Group estimated in 2007 that the sales of Bibles, testaments, hymnals, and prayer books reached nearly $800 million.
Sources: Bible Illuminated, NPR, Associated Press, The Orion