June 25, 2006 -- Christians agree that the Bible commands them to "go and make disciples of all nations" and that Jesus "came to invite the sinners" to be his followers and "save people who are lost." But a new Bible with the words "Jesus Loves Porn Stars" emblazoned on the cover has ignited a debate about how far is too far when it comes to spreading the word.
This weekend at the erotica convention in Los Angeles, Pastor Craig Gross, who runs an anti-pornography ministry, handed out hundreds of "Jesus Loves Porn Stars" Bibles. Gross, in his "porn-mobile," is a regular fixture at porn conventions. His anti-porn Web site is provocatively entitled XXXChurch.com.
"I believe Jesus, he'd be in the show with us," Gross said. "He'd be mixing it up with these people. 'Cause he doesn't look at them as porn stars, or porn producers. He looks at us as all the same."
While the porn professionals seemed to like the new Bible, many of the companies licensed to publish Bibles do not.
The American Bible Society, one of the country's oldest bible publishers, wrote Pastor Gross a letter refusing to print his Bible "out of a sense of propriety," saying the "wording … was misleading and inappropriate."
"People just freaked out," Gross said. "These Bible companies are going, 'Wait a second. I've never seen something like this and I don't know if we can do this.' "
Gross says his unconventional measures are what it takes to reach people today.
"We're trying to reach a new audience and so we can't just do things like our parents did, like the generation did before us," he said.
Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a popular Christian radio host, agrees evangelicals need to take risks to save sinners, but thinks that Gross's Bible cover goes too far.
"These younger guys seem to say that older evangelicalism is just out of touch," Mohler said. "In a rush to be relevant I think these guys have crossed a line that I would not cross and I would not commit."
Mohler thinks Gross's Bible may end up as just a kitschy keepsake.
"I just have to wonder what people think when they see that cover," Mohler said. "In other words, are they expecting the Bible or are they expecting something else?"
For Gross, the main thing is that people just open it.
"Whether it's a joke, whether it sits on the table and they make fun of the thing, I think if someone cracks this thing open, that's our prayer, that's our hope, then their lives will be changed," Gross said.
What makes this new Bible doubly controversial is that some say it's not a Bible at all. It's called "The Message" -- part of a new breed of Bible that veers from the standard translation to put the Gospel in modern language. There are now comic strips, even a Bible you can read in one sitting, which some find offensive.
"It is, after all, the word of God, and there's no way to package it as just another book," Mohler said. "It's not just another book."
Mohler says he admires what Gross is doing, but just has questions about how he's doing it.
"If they have another approach, if they have another idea, come join us," Gross said. "We're here riding solo here. There's nobody else doing this. … Sure we're gonna maybe make some mistakes along the way but we're trying."