Part one of two.
The word “relevant” caught my eye last year. I saw it on the magazine shelf in my high school’s library, in the form of a magazine title. Of course, plastered on the cover was none other than trendy blasphemer Rob Bell. I didn’t give it much thought because I figured it was another article gloating over how many people sip lattes with Jesus at Mars Hill. Then I came across the magazine again. I actually opened it to see what was happening on its colorful pages. I could not have been more disappointed and saddened. This magazine, with its apparently edgy slogan of “God. Life. Progressive Culture,” once again illustrated to me the sad state of Christianity. Here is a magazine that claims to be on the cutting edge of Christian writing, but a closer look reveals a flaky, hollow and nearly Christ-less message sent out to readers all over the world.
Let’s look at the positive side of this glossy mag. I got a hold of the most recent issue, and I am working my way through the back issues right now. This magazine is indeed stimulating. Visually, that is. It pages are chock full of the edgiest graphics, fonts and titles. There are interesting pictures and slick looking advertisements. The table of contents is even in the back! (How very edgy!) Bold pull-out quotes and chaotic text alignments separate this magazine from the traditionally accepted style of columns, rows and uniformity. But the compliments will end there. Like I said, this magazine is about as watered down as it gets.
Let’s go back to that title. There it sits, boldly perched atop the cover, daring anyone to think otherwise. Here is my interpretation of the title’s intentions based on the contents of the magazine. For this mag, “Relevant” means real life. Like they have something more to offer to the average teen, something that applies directly to our (I am 19) lives. They are up with the times, and not stuck in the past. This is about a new kind of Christian, one that can have a good time and love God with all their heart. This mag gets us, man! At least that’s what I think they are going for based on the overall attitude found within its pages.
As a Christian, the magazine’s content scares me. We are supposed to be in the world, and not of it. Meaning, yeah, we are on this sinful planet, but that does not mean we should engage in sinful activity, or “do as the Romans do.” This magazine appears to try and blend Christianity and the world into one convenient smoothie, ready to be consumed at a trendy coffee shop. I think this mix is not only dangerous, but spiritually fatal. Mixing the trends and popularities of the world with the Christian faith is a recipe for disaster (clichéd pun intended). On page 37, in an article titled “The Rise of the Ironic Class” the magazine appears to address this danger saying, “We are a growing class of ironists who speak in terms of pastiche, Internet bits and pop culture bites, film quotes, and song lyrics, and “oh no she didn’t!” tabloid tomfoolery.” I agree. However, this article on irony turns out to be incredibly ironic itself. Let’s flip to the beginning. Once you make your way through all of the advertisements, you get to the actual magazine. Is it filled with Christian writing, bible verses or even a mention of Christ? No, it is instead full of the same celebrity gossip that was called “tomfoolery” later. Examples include: News about a Spiderman musical put on by U2, Summer movie highlights, a great deal on a Disney vacation (hope it’s not gay day), George Clooney’s take on Darfur, Seth Rogen’s next movie role, info on the Metallica/Megadeath feud, info on Heath Ledger’s movie, Michael Jackson Tour news with comments from Chris Martin and info on the Go Green Expo in Atlanta. It’s all pivotal stuff, right? There is not even an attempt at acting like a Christian magazine until an article on page 22. And that’s a long time, considering the amount of text crammed into a page. But the stupid and immature gossip mentioned above is the tame stuff. There are worse examples from other issues. I assume that when a magazine puts something in its pages without any kind of disclaimer or warning, they are promoting it. Well, should a Christian magazine really be promoting Katy Perry (sings “I Kissed a Girl”), Kanye West (noted womanizer), Paul McCartney (noted atheist and God hater), Seth Rogen, “the irresistible-but-fun cop in Superbad”(translation-the foul mouthed idiot in a movie purely about teenage sex, who also starred in a movie called Zak and Miri Make a Porno), Lupe Fiasco concerts (Lupe is a Muslim), and music festivals (translate-drug fests)? The magazine even had the audacity to use the word “awesome” and “Tha Carter III” in the same sentence. Tha Carter III is the latest album from rapper Lil Wayne, whose lyrics are almost always about sex, drugs or violence. So Lil’ Wayne is awesome, which is the same adjective used to describe God in many contemporary songs. Either this magazine uses diction incredibly recklessly, or awesome is just another meaningless term thrown about for dramatic effect. Probably both. Right from the start, this magazine is about as worldly as People magazine. How Relevant.
Once you get past all the mindless gossip you get to the articles. Of course this comes after the 4 million advertisements, mostly about love and inspiration (there is a fee of course). It seems that in order to understand God, we all have to attend at least 30 youth gatherings. The articles shocked me. I read the whole June issue, and I am reading the back issues, and I am amazed that this magazine thinks they are such a strong Christian beacon in the world. The first actual article in the June issue is all about how Christians are branding themselves with Christian merchandise instead of actually focusing on their faith. I agree. But once again, the irony of this magazine surfaces. Half of the mag is ads for Christian clothes, merchandise, albums and any other way to brand yourself as a Christian. How can a magazine denounce this branding in one article, then promote it in the rest? The message is, “buy these clothes, support this mission and listen to these albums,” and not actually talking about salvation, forgiveness, sin or any other major aspect of the Christian faith. It is a very mixed message. Speaking of mixed messages, let’s take a look at the cover.
Plastered boldly on the cover is the band Kings of Leon, with the title “Sex, God, & Rock ‘n’ Roll” In the interview, writer Matt Conner gloats over how KoL is so original because they were sheltered from pop music early on. They are so unique, so different, so refreshing, bla bla bla. I have read this article countless times. You can literally fill in the blanks with numerous bands that have the same story (The White Stripes, Brand New, We Are Scientists, etc). But Conner’s softball questions and inability remain objective is not my major problem. My issue is the fact that Christ is never mentioned in the cover story of a Christian magazine! Sure they talk about how a few members were brought up as Pentecostals, but one of their producers later talked about making the album, saying, “There was drinking and partying, and that promotes a fun atmosphere. But it sometimes can create an aggressive atmosphere.” Well, that’s a great lifestyle to promote in a Christian magazine. The author tried to paint a pretty picture of this band, when the picture doesn’t exist. He says, “As Followill (KoL’s producer) explains, they’re still involved with charitable causes and their daily life consists of prayer and the occasional jaunt to church-at least for mom’s sake. ‘We still give money to churches that are in need. We’re still pretty active as far as being charitable. Every now and then, like on Easter Sunday, we will go to church.” And that’s the best the author could do to spin this band with a Christian message. I can hardly believe that Conner was serious. Even if a good writer conducted this interview and wrote this feature, he or she could not possibly spin this band, who sings about drinking, prostitutes and cocaine, into a quality group of Christian dudes. Keep in mind this is the cover story, and this article is totally pro-KoL. So attending church because of sheer parental guilt only on Christmas and Easter is a good example? Simply giving money to a church makes someone a Christian? Keep in mind Kings of Leon is on the cover. How Relevant.
Those are a few examples of how Relevant magazine fails to be the strong Christian magazine it portrays itself as. Come back on Friday for my review of the magazine as a whole, and how its philosophies can lead young and old Christians astray.