What do you do when school and the bible don’t align?
Starting from toddlerhood, our kids love the Bible. They jump in wholeheartedly with the characters and their stories and the God who made the world, redeems the world, loves the world.
Then, one day, they come home from school with this, “We read a Greek myth where their gods came to earth. I thought only the God of the Bible did that?” And just like that, Homer is served up to our kids in the form of comic-book style paperbacks that students are reading at ages younger than ever before.
What’s a Christian parent to do with that?
First tip: do not panic.
Next tip: hijack a bright idea from the days of yore, like the biblical word dialegomai. Dialegomai is a Greek word in the New Testament that means to discuss and reason, (Honest Answers, p. 12). It’s what Paul did in Athens and refers to wrestling with and talking through who God is and what He’s all about (Acts 17:2; 18:4; 19:8).
In other words, when our kids come home with a theologically tough topic we simply…discuss it? No problem. Also, we use language they understand? We keep it concise? We address the actual question and include particulars that illustrate we know what mythology stories they’re even talking about?
For all that, we, the parents of this generation, could use a hand. Here are three basics that might help.
#1: Saying Greek myths and the story of Jesus are the same is just wrong.
So says a Harvard scholar who has no skin in the game because he is agnostic and he is strictly addressing how the stories differ in material ways.
“It’s not as though the Greek gods never come down to earth…but when they do this, something interesting happens…they become something more than human – they’re taller and handsomer and they smell better,” says Harvard Professor of Philosophy Sean Kelly. “Jesus is the opposite. Jesus comes down in the most humble form…he’s the one who has to suffer. It’s exactly the opposite.”
#2: Bible characters are not made up in the same way myths devise characters.
So says a UNC professor who insists that “every sane historian on the planet” concludes that Jesus was a historical figure and was the most documented person from that area in the entire first century. Professor, Bart Ehrman, furthermore legitimizes Jesus’s real-life, historic status by saying, “Aspects of the Jesus story simply would not have been invented by anyone wanting to make up a new Savior. The Messiah was to be a figure of grandeur and power who overthrew the enemy. Anyone who wanted to make up a Messiah would make him like that.”
#3: Bible stories differ from ancient stories much older than Greek myths.
So says Nancey Murphy, Professor of Christian Philosophy, Fuller Theological Seminary. She suggests that if we compare the Bible’s creation story to the Babylonian creation story, which is a “battle between gods, we know to look in our creation story to say, wait a minute, is violence intrinsic to the very creation of our universe? And we find it very clearly written that no, it’s not.”
Do these tidbits answer all our kids’ questions about mythology and other ancient literature that could trip them up in the years to come?
It does jump-start our kids toward thinking about, rather than being thrown off by, lots of notions (myths) that will be presented to them outside our home. This, according to current data, is a good indicator that our kids will stick with their Christian faith into adulthood.
“The key to successful transmission of Christian faith across generations is not more youth groups or hipper pastors,” wrote Christianity Today’s Lyman Stone, regarding three longitudinal studies that report that parents talking these things out at home is our best shot at tethering kids to their Christian beliefs over the long haul.
That we need cheat sheets with a few tangible nuggets to help us out is just how this is going to go. It’s impossible to know it all. What parents can do, is arm our kids with the skill of open dialogue without them being swayed by every argument that comes at them. We can assure them that their Savior who loves them very much is standing with them as they wrestle and learn.
He wishes we would.
Janelle Alberts is a freelance writer and has written for Christianity Today and RELEVANT online pubs. Her first book, Honest Answers: Exploring God Questions With Your Tween, preps parents on how to tackle hard questions with their tweens using pithy Q&A’s and can be found here.