Teenagers and young adults read. Physics, chemistry, history, The Grapes of Wrath, economics. You name it. They are told to read it. And, for the most part, they do read (if they want to graduate high school or college!). Academic reading is a pathway to adulthood. You just have to do it.
So if you have ever ministered to students, then you know it is a challenge to get them to read the Bible, much less enjoy it. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard a student (high school or college) say to me, “I don’t have time to read the Bible because I have so much homework and I have to read x-amount of pages before Friday.” I get it. I use to be there. But we can’t be content this. If you don’t read your American history textbook, you may be clueless about the Boston Tea Party. If you don’t read your Genesis or Romans, you will be clueless about matters of eternal significance.
So the question comes up, “How do we get young people to read the Bible?” My answer is that we must start small and do our best to make the Bible exciting, compelling, dramatic, yet at the same time faithfully represent of the actual words of God. For many of us, we immediately think that this applies to teaching the Bible with words (in youth group, summer camps, etc.). That is good and helpful, but what if it meant actually illustrating the Bible graphically? You know, providing some teeth to the biblical story in a way that might resonate with a teen. Alex Webb-Peploe and André Parker have done just that with a new graphic novel titled The Third Day.
The Third Day is, what the authors call, a “graphic realization” of the Bible. It’s not a “comic book” (read here to learn the difference). The book tells the story of Luke 22-24, which traces Jesus’ last hours before his crucifixion and resurrection. The story begins with Judas’ deal to betray Jesus and ends, as the Gospel of Luke does, with Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. The novel uses the complete text of Luke 22-24 from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. No one can argue that the book is a compromise of the Holy Scriptures because it used the “worldly medium” of graphic novel. The words are the exact words Luke wrote down, only beautifully represented with graphics.
Now about that graphic representation. It’s superb. It’s gritty, raw, and dark—far removed from the sanitized representations in Sunday School material or Hollywood movies. Jesus and his disciples look like the rag-tag bunch the Gospels make them out to be. The scenes, most prominently people’s faces, draw out the pain, anger, heartache, fear, brokenness, sadness, and unspeakable joy of Luke’s tone. The Third Day brings the Passion narrative to life with a punch. It’s a refreshing reminder that the gospel, though timeless, actually happened in a specific historic context at a certain point in time.
One particular scene that was helpful for me was after Jesus shared the Passover meal and the disciples argued about who is the greatest. The authors depicted the “dispute that arose among them” as a physical confrontation, in which one disciple grabs the shirt of another (imagine grabbing someone to throw them up against the wall) as they stand nose-to-nose (see the first image below.). In the West a “dispute” is usually done across a boardroom table with a Starbucks in hand. I can’t know if the art represents reality, but it makes me stop, think, and reconsider my assumptions of the text. That’s what good art, not to mention preaching and teaching, is supposed to do.
I highly recommend The Third Day for young people who find the story of Jesus (or the church’s modern re-telling of it) boring, uninspiring, or unrealistic. If you’re a parent or a youth minister, get a copy (or many copies) and give them away. My hope is that God will use this graphic novel, and others like it, to help young people to take Scriptures and the gospel story within it seriously.
Here are a few sample pages (click to enlarge).