At the time of our children’s young-earth themed Vacation Bible School, I was in the midst of writing a poetry collection on Paul and his letters. While I’m no theologian, I can discern one theme that permeates the epistles like nothing else: unity.
Paul prays continually for his brothers and sisters, even the ones who drive him crazy. He tells the Corinthians to live without divisions, “perfectly united in mind and thought.” He exhorts the Ephesians to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.”
Unlike the creation account, this passage doesn’t present too many differing interpretations. The bond of believers is vital to the health of the church.
What message would we send to our children if we pulled them out of the program? That our family was somehow too good for these loving teachers who stood on stage first thing every morning singing songs with silly hand motions? Did we see ourselves as smarter, more sophisticated, more enlightened?
That night I went online and discovered that the VBS curriculum was developed by the Answers in Genesis organization. According to the IndrediWorld page, the next morning our children would explore this central question: Can your view of creation affect your view of the gospel?
I did some more digging.
According to an article linked to the Bible & Science FAQs page, “Scripture plainly teaches that salvation is conditioned upon faith in Christ, with no requirement for what one believes about the age of the earth or universe.” I found this statement comforting. However, the article goes on to say there are “severe consequences” for adopting an old-earth view, such as “opening the door of compromise,” questioning the authority of God and scripture, and essentially removing the idea of original sin and need for a savior.
How would my children interpret this teaching? Is an old-earth Christian a second-class Christian, a compromising Christian, saved, as Paul writes, as though escaping through the flames?
I have felt the twinge of raised eyebrows when sharing my stances on what I would call “secondary issues”—creation, rapture, and predestination, for example.
Because of his charismatic background, my husband has been warned about joining ministries that don’t offer a “full Gospel” experience with the Holy Spirit. Body language and passing comments begin to add up. When you believe that your gospel is somehow partial in value, you begin to believe something is wrong with your faith.
Early church experiences influence our lives profoundly. It took me years to move past the legalism of hemlines, correct entertainment choices, and biblical literalism I learned at my first youth group.
From the beginning, my husband and I have taught our children that scientists, professors, and public school teachers are not a bunch of bad guys out to get them, but people who love to explore and teach about the world God made.
We’ve taught them that the Bible is not a science textbook but the love story of God and humanity—a story rich in history, letters, and poetry. It doesn’t give all the answers to the scientific and political past, present, and future. It was never meant to. And it is still every bit the truth. God’s word.
A large percentage of children, especially those taught the false dichotomy of science versus faith, leave Christianity in college because they’ve never been taught they can stand on both sides of the room. So we decided to pull our kids out.
At dinner that night, we tried our best to explain to our kids that as believers, we are united in Christ.
“This is really hard for us,” I said. “This VBS is full of so many caring people. But they aren’t really….” I struggled to find the right words.
“Talking about Jesus?” my husband offered.
“Yes,” I said. “I know they love Jesus, but for this week they have decided to focus on other things more.”
“Like dinosaurs?” Samuel piped in.
I had noticed on the Answers in Genesis website that another day in the week was going to be dedicated entirely to proving that dinosaurs lived with people.
“Yes. Dinosaurs. We love dinosaurs! But they aren’t an important part of being a Christian.”
The kids looked at each other, shrugged, and continued to dig into their spaghetti. I was relieved, of course, that they weren’t upset or begging to stay.
I would continue to feel guilty throughout the summer for sending a negative message about the church. But I knew it was our job as parents to make sure our children received a solid foundation. Since every other VBS our kids had attended over the years focused on the gospel, we didn’t want our kids to think that learning about young-earth theology and dinosaurs was on par with understanding the saving work of Christ.
When it comes to parenting, how do we promote unity while teaching our children the values we want them to learn? How do we help them grow to be “perfectly united in mind and thought” while protecting them from well-intentioned teachings we find harmful?
As I write this, a young-earth Christian is probably wondering how to shield his or her kids from the likes of me. And yes, that thought hurts. Both of us love God and our kids and believe we are doing our best. And in trying to avoid the ones we feel judged by, we judge in return.
In the end, all I can do is take responsibility for how I love God and others. When I make a decision to love my child, I will often risk hurting someone else. Sometimes, the opposite will occur.
Clearly, my husband and I failed both the VBS program and our kids by not taking a few minutes to learn about the curriculum before registering. We just pawned our kids off at the first glimpse of a colorful sign at a church we knew nothing about.
I can also take responsibility by engaging in thoughtful discourse without ridiculing the “other side.” How many believers have shared—or at least laughed at—Internet memes poking fun at young-earthers, Kirk Cameron, and the like? We do so in the name of progress or plain old commiseration, but those images do nothing but deepen animosity.
Even now, I worry about how to share this story in a way that unifies rather than divides. Have I shared the truth in love? How will my children view our decision ten, twenty years from now?
We move along. We forbear. We agree to love and disagree. And the One who created us, over however many days or billions of years, forgives.
This post was made possible through the support of a grant from The BioLogos Foundation’s Evolution and Christian Faith program. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BioLogos.
Tania Runyan is the author of the poetry collections Second Sky (Cascade Poiema Series), A Thousand Vessels, Simple Weight, and Delicious Air, which was awarded Book of the Year by the Conference on Christianity and Literature in 2007. Her book How to Read a Poem, an instructional guide based on Billy Collins’s “Introduction to Poetry,” was recently released by T.S. Poetry Press. Her poems have appeared in many publications, including Poetry, Image, Books & Culture, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, The Christian Century, Atlanta Review, Indiana Review, and the anthology In a Fine Frenzy: Poets Respond to Shakespeare. Tania was awarded an NEA Literature Fellowship in 2011. She tutors high school students and edits for Every Day Poems and Relief.