FASTLY - Faith & Science Teaching

Activity Map: The Drama of Creation and Evolution

Overview

What's the Focus

The over-simplified debates that rage around the opening chapters in Genesis can cause us to overlook the deep theological riches of the Bible’s account of creation. Without attempting to resolve these debates, the various activities in this activity map aim to engage students and move them toward a rich sense of the larger story of Scripture that reveals God’s purposes for and in creation. Is “creation” just a word for how things started long ago, or is the creation an ongoing part of the drama of God’s relationship to the world? Does God abandon the creation and move to a fresh plan, or is the beginning of the story related to its end? What if God’s goal from the beginning was to enlist his image-bearers as co-creators, developing the already good and beautiful potential in creation into something even better in the end? In what sense is Christ the focal point of a story about the fate of the whole creation? Teaching FASTly opens a way for students and teachers to enter more fully into the richness of God’s Word and God’s world.

Alongside this exploration, the activities help students see anew that where theology and science seem to be at odds around origins, there are important theological questions to consider as well as more than one way to read the Bible and relate it to science’s story about the world’s history. We invite students to grapple with key texts within the original cultural context, to consider what they mean to us now, and to realize that we need Jesus in order to understand both science and theology.

This activity map aims to communicate to students a sense that debates about origins should not be conducted on the basis of quick assumptions and easy slogans, but rather involve serious theological engagement. The activities seek to foster a practice of willingness to listen charitably to different theological positions within the church.

It is not necessary to use every activity in your class. This activity map offers a range of possibilities to enrich your existing teaching resources. While some of the activities form a possible sequence, you can select the ones most suitable for your context and adapt them to connect to your own plan for learning.

Discover activities offer brief ways into the topic and are designed to set the stage and get students thinking.

Delve activities promote more extended learning. This is where the main substance of the lesson unfolds.

Debrief activities bring the sequence of the study to a thoughtful close by helping students reflect on how they have been invited to see science and faith anew.

You can mix and match these activities as you wish. It is not intended that all these activities should be used with the same class.

Quick Stop Lesson Plan

The best way to use this activity map is to explore all of the activities and see which ones best fit together in your particular teaching context. But if you just need a quick lesson outline, you can use the links below to preview and download a lesson plan based on activities selected from this activity map.

PreviewDownload Files

Discover Activities

Discover activities offer brief ways into the topic and are designed to set the stage and get students thinking. The main goal of each is to open up space for considering a more complex relationship between faith and science than that suggested in culture wars images.

  • Activity 0:10

    In the Beginning

  • Activity 0:15

    Creation, Fall, Redemption

In the Beginning

In Brief

What if we started our discussion of creation with John 1 instead of Genesis 1? This activity helps students to see that theological conversations about origins need not focus arguments about one or two chapters at the beginning of Genesis. The goal is to introduce students to a deeper engagement with a broader range of texts.

Goals

Students will understand that discussions of creation involve more of the Bible than Genesis.
Students will reflect on the relevance of New Testament passages to thinking about creation.

Thinking Ahead

Arguments over how to interpret Genesis 1 often dominate Christian discussions of creation and human origins. While this is understandable, it risks encouraging a poor approach to interpreting Scripture. Basing a complex debate on a single passage does little to promote theological understanding. Because Christians believe Christ is the decisive revelation of God, why not begin with the “In the beginning” of John 1, instead of the familiar “In the beginning” of Genesis 1?

This activity engages students in a version of lectio divina. This traditional Christian practice involves four distinct steps: read, meditate, pray, and contemplate. The purpose of lectio divina is not to arrive at intellectual analysis of a passage, but to enter into the passage by reading it slowly and meditatively with a focus on Christ. Depending on your teaching context, the prayer aspect of this process may or may not be appropriate, but you can still emphasize slow and repeated reading that allows the passage to sink in.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • Students should have handouts with the text of John 1:1-18 printed (see In the Beginning). This text may be combined with Colossians 1:15-20 which is also included in the link.

  • It may be helpful to display the words from John 1 or Colossians 1 on a screen. See the In the Beginning slides.

  • Copies of In the Beginning 2 for each student, which will continue to be used in subsequent activities in this Activity Map (see directions below).

Directions:

The number of copies needed of In the Beginning 2 will depend on how many activities from this Activity Map you plan to use. Each sheet has space to respond to three activities.

Teaching the Activity

Display on screen or board the words “In the beginning…” (including the quotation marks). Ask students to discuss briefly with a student next to them where they think these words occur in the Bible.

Briefly explain the practice of lectio divina (see above). Distribute the handout. It may be helpful to also display the text. Read slowly and deliberately, pausing between sentences. Then have different student volunteers take turns reading the text several times aloud, with a quiet pause between readings. Additionally, or alternatively, try this with Colossians 1:15-20.

As they read and hear the passage each successive time, have students circle or underline the words and phrases that speak most meaningfully to them. Have students share aloud their choices from the text by simply calling out each word or phrase. The point is not to explain their choices, but simply to share so students hear how the text spoke similarly or differently to others. If using handouts or Bibles, underlining or circling will work well. If using laptops, have students underline/italicize/bold their choices.

Ask students what other familiar Bible passage is evoked by the references to “In the beginning.” Read the first few verses of Genesis 1 and give students a chance to note thematic connections (e.g., beginning, light, darkness, creation, world). Ask them whether they usually associate the theme of creation with the New Testament.

Invite discussion in small groups:

  • What does the connection between Genesis and John say about Christ?
  • What difference might it make to Christian debates about the Bible, science, and origins if we reflect on John 1/Colossians 1?
  • Why does starting with Christ matter for discussing origins as Christians?

Guide students to an understanding that Christians believe Christ created all things, and this is part of the Christian view of what kind of God was active at creation. Tell students we will continue to encounter the richness and complexity of discussions about origins as we draw on multiple resources.

In closing, hand out copies of In the Beginning 2 and explain that students will use it to record their learning as they explore the theology of creation using various sources. The number of copies of this sheet that students will need will depend on how many activities from this Activity Map you plan to use. Each sheet has space to respond to three activities.

Creation, Fall, Redemption

In Brief

The three-word summary “creation, fall, redemption” is one way among many to capture the overall narrative movement of the Bible. Although limited, it succinctly captures a key trajectory of the biblical drama. But how well is our understanding of these three words grounded in how the Bible itself uses them? Are there other summaries that help us see differently?

Goals

Students will understand how brief summaries of the biblical story direct our attention in different ways.

Students will relate debates about creation to the themes of faith, hope, and love.

Thinking Ahead

One of the challenges of discussing the Bible in relation to science – or any other area of life – lies in our differing assumptions and convictions about what are the most central, or non-negotiable, ideas in the Bible. This activity looks at two examples of shorthand ways of describing large and complex biblical themes. It invites students to reflect on how our mental summaries can be helpful for navigating, yet can distort our sense of the whole. The activity concludes by asking them to consider faith, hope, and love as criteria for measuring our use of the Bible. Consider your own favorite emphases and summaries and discern their limitations. What do your assumptions help you see, and what might they cause you to underestimate?

Related Book Review: From Nature to Creation by Norman Wirzba.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

This activity engages students in considering how best to summarize the story of the Bible. Ask students:

  • How would you summarize the storyline of the Bible in three or four words?

Have students briefly discuss their summary with a partner or in a small group and then share suggestions with the class. Tell them that while any short summary or model will miss things, some summaries have become widely used because they conveniently capture important big themes. One of these is “creation, fall, redemption.” Write these three words on the board and consider with the class how they relate to their suggestions.

Have students individually brainstorm and then write 1-2 sentences for each word on a blank sheet of paper or in their journal, explaining what they understand “creation,” “fall,” and “redemption” to mean. How would they unpack each concept in their own words? Students should share their explanations in small groups to compare and contrast with each other. Take some time to have students relate their ideas in the larger class discussion. Emphasize the practice of respectful listening and weighing the merits of others’ suggestions. As this discussion progresses, probe for students’ understanding of how the three terms relate to each other by asking:

  • Did creation just happen once a long time ago or is God still involved in sustaining the universe?
  • Did the fall cause God to abandon creation and make another plan?
  • Is redemption about escaping from creation or reconciling and healing it?
  • What do you think it means when the Bible talks about a “new creation” being the result of redemption?

As you discuss these questions, it may be helpful to direct students’ attention to Colossians 1:15-20 where Paul concisely speaks of all things created for Christ and all things reconciled by Christ (see In the Beginning). Help students notice that the biblical narrative affirms the goodness of the material world, sees the world as affected by evil in broad and complex ways, and views redemption in terms of reconciling and healing the world, making all things new.

Finally, write the words “Faith, Hope, Love” on the board. The Apostle Paul describes these as the three things that will remain in 1 Corinthians 13. St. Augustine describes these virtues as the true way to worship God. Connect back to the initial discussion:

  • Did any student groups come up with this as a summary?
  • Did any of the summaries the students came up with suggest the importance of telling the biblical story in a way that builds faith, hope, and love?
  • Are there ways of using summaries of the Bible that do not build up faith, hope, and love?
  • What might we miss if we talked only about creation-fall-redemption? Or only about faith-hope-love?
  • If we think about faith-hope-love as an important summary, does that affect how we approach debates about creation?

Delve Activities

Delve activities promote more extended learning. This is where the main substance of the lesson unfolds.

  • Activity 0:30

    Adam and Eve: Full Maturity or Child-like Innocence?

  • Activity 0:30

    Creation and New Creation

  • Activity 0:40

    God’s Victory Over the “Monsters”

  • Activity 0:40

    Death Before the Fall?

  • Activity 0:20

    A Self-Emptying God?

  • Activity 0:30

    God Sets Up His Temple

Adam and Eve: Full Maturity or Child-like Innocence?

In Brief

This more academically challenging activity looks at differences in the early church concerning the best way to interpret the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 1. It helps students to see that there have always been a variety of interpretations, and it asks them to think about the implications, not only in terms of truth, but also in terms of how we respond to those with whom we disagree. Teaching FASTly includes both seeking truth and engaging graciously with others whose point of view differs from ours.

Goals

Students will understand that the early church had various interpretations of the Genesis creation account.

Students will reflect on how to respond to diversity in interpretation.

Thinking Ahead

Many of us in the Western church are raised with the implicit understanding that there is only one model for understanding the creation and fall of humanity, the one provided by St. Augustine. Particularly with regard to Adam and Eve, Augustine understood this first couple to be fully mature in their spirituality, completely upright before God, and created wholly righteous before they fell into sin and lost this original state of “perfection.” However, the early Church Fathers did not agree on how to best interpret Genesis 1-3 and other passages regarding creation and Adam and Eve. While all did emphasize, as the Apostles’ Creed states, that God the Father is “maker of heaven and earth,” their view of how to interpret Scripture’s account of this event and the fall of Adam and Eve varied.

This activity compares Augustine’s understanding of Adam and Eve alongside Irenaeus’s view, which represents an Eastern Orthodox perspective on the first couple and their fall.

Related Book Review: Four Views on the Historical Adam edited by Matthew Barrett, Ardel B. Caneday.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Open by telling students that they will engage in examining specific theological resources in order to gradually build up a richer overall sense of what theology brings to discussions of origins.

To begin this activity, take a poll of students on the question of Adam and Eve’s age: how old do students think they were in the Garden of Eden? If students are familiar with Sunday school picture book depictions of Adam and Eve, as well as the description of their marriage in Genesis 2, answers will probably reinforce Augustine’s reading of Adam and Eve as mature adults.

Present students with the handout containing sections of Augustine’s The Literal Meaning of Genesis1 and Irenaeus’ Against Heresies2. (Note that for Augustine, “literal” did not mean reading the text literally as many today might understand it, but referred to attending closely to the letter of the text.) Each article highlights the respective theologian’s differing views of the spiritual maturity of Adam and Eve, and therefore the reasons for their fall.

Have students read together, looking for similarities and differences between the two understandings presented. Emphasize the practice of careful reading and respect for the details of the text. Ask students to:

  • Circle the text where there are differences between the two writers. (A key difference is Irenaeus’s view of Adam and Eve as child-like in their innocence vs. the Augustinian adult-like Adam and Eve.)
  • Underline details that are highlighted by both Augustine and Ireneaus.

After time to reflect, read Genesis 1:26-3:12 aloud and then spend time on three areas of discussion:

First:

  • What ideas do Augustine and Irenaeus share? Where do they differ? Draw out that Augustine focuses on how Adam, being made strong and perfect, could sin, while Irenaeus sees Adam as weak and immature, and growing toward a future perfection. Ask students to point to where this difference shows in the text.
  • Which of the two views do you find more compelling? Why?
  • Which interpretations fits better with an evolutionary account of origins? With a young earth account?

Second:

  • Does the existence of different interpretations of key biblical passages and doctrines mean that “anything goes”? Draw students’ attention to how both Augustine and Irenaeus are constrained by the text.

Third:

  • Augustine argued that any interpretation of Scripture should build up faith, hope, and love. (If you used Activity 2: Creation, Fall, Redemption refer students back to it.)
    • Do either of these interpretations succeed or fail at this?
    • What might it mean to respond with faith, hope, and love to someone whose interpretation we disagree with?
    • Do you know or encounter people who have a different view of the creation story from yours? Does the way you view and respond to them reflect faith, hope, and love?

Finally, give students a few minutes to complete one of the sections of In the Beginning 2 from Activity 1: In the Beginning to record the key things they have learned. Doing this after studying each source will help students focus on how each different source relates to the central theme.

1Augustine excerpts from The Literal Meaning of Genesis, from Ancient Christian Writers: The Works of the Fathers in Translation, Edited by Johannes Quasten, Walter J. Burghardt, and Thomas C. Lawler, Translated by John H. Taylor, Copyright © 1982 by The Newman Press. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, N.J. Used with permission of Paulist Press. www.paulistpress.com

2Irenaeus of Lyons excerpts from Against Heresies, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.txt, text in the public domain.

Creation and New Creation

In Brief

A common cartoon perception of Christianity is that it is all about the afterlife: creation has fallen into disrepair and Jesus has come to snatch us away. This activity focuses on the Bible’s teaching of a new creation in which the wounds of the old creation are healed, and asks students to see themselves as having a role in the renewal of creation. It provokes reflection on how faith and science debates about creation involve the future, not just the past.

Goals

Students will understand the idea of a new creation as a renewal of the first creation.

Students will understand how the biblical concept of creation relates to the future as well as the past.

Thinking Ahead

This activity asks students to compare two sections of the Bible that have been read and used in varying ways – the creation story in Genesis and the apocalyptic writings of Revelation. Consider how you will keep students focused on the details of the text if they are in danger of veering off into speculation, perhaps fueled by popular culture. The closing questions point to the way in which, in both the Old and New Testaments, humans are presented as working alongside God and representing God in creation. They raise the question of hope, and, implicitly, of how scientific and biblical narratives about the future relate to one another. Help students realize that the Bible does not necessarily stand in conflict with the scientific picture of entropy. Scripture does not teach that everything is getting better naturally, but that there is an additional force working for redemption.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Directions:

Students will use In the Beginning 2 from Activity 1: In the Beginning to record key learning.

Teaching the Activity

Open by telling students that they will engage in examining specific theological resources in order to gradually build a rich overall sense of what theology has to bring to discussions of origins.

Have students read Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22, either in class or for homework in preparation. Explain that these passages are from the very beginning and the very end of the Bible. To help students engage in close reading, ask them to identify all the things mentioned in the Genesis account of creation that appear again in the passage from Revelation, noting changes. Have them record their findings on Creation & New Creation Task. Give time to complete this task with a partner, and collect the results as a class. Details to highlight include:

  • day and night / no more night
  • sun, moon, and stars / the Lord being the only needed source of light
  • seas divided / no longer any sea
  • garden / garden city

Ask students how they interpret these details:

  • Is water part of the fall, and is this why the new creation cannot have oceans?
  • Is the New Testament describing a battle against literal darkness? Is the world more evil if we turn out the lights?

Ask students what “sea” and “darkness” might be pointing to poetically. Discuss ideas such as: no more night, no more darkness of sin, no more fear of hidden danger; the Lord’s direct presence outshines the sun in beauty and glory; the chaos represented by the sea (see Activity 5: God’s Victory Over the “Monsters”) is gone and there is safety and calm; the garden has developed into a garden city.

Ask students to consider what kind of change is envisioned here: how does the Revelation story move beyond an already “good” creation? How does creation become more perfect?

Read aloud 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 (included on Creation & New Creation Task):

“So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come! And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His plea through us. We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God!’” (NET)

Then invite students to consider:

  • What is the role of humans in the arrival of this new creation?
  • What might it mean to be “ambassadors” of the new creation? What kinds of human activity might be signposts to the new creation?
  • How could this relate to the mandate in the first creation story for humans beings to be image-bearers of God and rule the earth?
  • How does this story compare to other cultural stories about the future? How do we imagine the future of the world? Does this effect our choices?
  • In what sense are biblical and scientific stories about the future opposed or just different?
  • What have you said or done in the past week that might be an example of being an ambassador for the new creation? What have you said or done that seems incompatible with this image?

Consider closing with a few minutes of silent reflection and/or journaling focused on personal responseInvite students to consider what the idea of being ambassadors of a new creation suggests to them regarding their own choices.

Finally, give students a few minutes to complete one of the sections of In the Beginning 2 from Activity 1: In the Beginning to record the key things they have learned. Doing this after studying each source will help students focus on how each different source relates to the central theme.

God’s Victory Over the “Monsters”

In Brief

Sometimes we read Genesis 1-2 and conclude this is “THE creation account” of the Bible. A look at other creation accounts in Scripture suggests otherwise. Comparisons with other Ancient Near Eastern creation stories help us appreciate the distinctive creation teachings of the Bible. This activity engages students in comparing creation accounts and thinking about the claims that creation stories make about the nature of the world.

Goals

Students will compare the Bible’s creation account with other Ancient Near Eastern accounts and notice the similarities and differences.

Thinking Ahead

This activity focuses on how Old Testament theologians read biblical creation stories within their Ancient Near Eastern context.

For some students these comparisons will require pastoral sensitivity: why should I trust the Bible if it mirrors pagan accounts in talking about sea monsters? It is helpful to focus on these points:

  • God speaks in the Bible in ways that the original audience would have understood, and so the Bible preserves traces of this “cosmic battle” imagery in order to portray the God of Scripture over against rival stories in the ancient world.
  • The point of these passages is not to tell us exactly what lives in the sea, but to say something to us about God’s sovereignty over the forces of chaos and violence. This does not mean those forces are not real; poetic language can point to deep realities beyond the “literally” real without necessarily leaving the literally real behind. There are actual terrifying sea creatures.
  • Both biblical writers and their ancient counterparts in other cultures were aware of forces of chaos and evil in the world that at times threatened to overwhelm them. The question that arises from comparing these stories is whether this chaos is essential to what the world ultimately is, or instead, whether the world as we know it is fractured and fallen away from the truth and reality of the God who freely created, sustains, and redeems it out of sheer, gratuitous love.
  • Be aware of moments when faith could be undermined, or cynicism strengthened, and remind students that figurative does not mean false. The existence of parallel stories is not evidence against biblical truth. For example, if you say that a friend passed a test with flying colors, does your claim become less true if someone points out that no flags were actually used or if it is found that others have used the same phrase in different contexts?

In your teaching, how can you discern if your students are worried by what they are learning and help them see the issues more clearly? Teaching FASTly involves attending to student’s fears and concerns. How can you adopt practices of listening to them and making it safe for them to express concerns?

Related Book Review: The Bible Among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature by John N. Oswalt. 

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • Bibles

  • They will also need handouts with columns containing the different biblical texts mentioned below, side-by-side with stories such as the Enuma Elish (see God’s Victory). Consider having artistic interpretations of Leviathan/Rahab on the screen to add a visual context for reflection when students arrive in class, as well as while they work.

  • Students will use In the Beginning 2 from Activity 1: In the Beginning to record key learning.

Teaching the Activity

Open by telling students they will engage with certain theological resources in order to build an overall sense of what theology brings to discussions of origins.

Hand out God’s Victory and read aloud the first four biblical texts (from Isaiah 51, Job 41, Psalm 104, and Isaiah 27) that describe God’s victory over Leviathan/Rahab. Allow different students to read, encouraging dramatic expression. Ask students: why are so many Bible passages concerned with sea monsters?

Next read together the extract from the Genesis creation story and then the extract from the Enuma Elish. Explain that in this passage a war is underway among the gods, and Marduk, one of the younger gods, kills Tiamat. Out of her corpse he makes the heavens and the earth. Ask students to work in pairs and identify the similarities and differences between the Enuma Elish passage and the Genesis passage. Ask students to identify the role of the fall in Genesis. In the Enuma Elish there seems to have been conflict from the beginning instead of sin entering and corrupting a good creation. A key question is: When did evil begin?

After a few minutes, have students share their ideas. Focus attention on the contrast between a world born from multiple gods struggling violently for supremacy, and one in which God, who creates through an enabling word, has no competition and is sovereign even over the chaotic “waters.”

Ask students to look back at other passages, including the parallels from Psalm 74 and 89, to find examples of how God’s relationship to the forces of chaos in the world, pictured as sea monsters, is portrayed. Compare also the promise in Revelation 21:1 that there will be “no sea” in the new creation – see Activity 4: Creation and New CreationHelp students see the difference between an elemental struggle between good and evil, and God’s sovereignty over chaos as described in Genesis and echoed in other passages.

Discuss with students:

  • What kind of world does each story suggest we live in?
  • How does each story picture our place in the world?
  • Are these scientific stories? What kind of truth claims do they offer?
  • What does the cross of Christ have to say about the differences between these stories? What is God’s answer to chaos?

Finally, address the following questions, either in closing discussion or as a journaling activity. Focus on helping students see how these ancient stories speak to our own lives:

  • As we look around our world today, do we see people behaving in a way that reflects a belief in creation as built upon warfare and death, or upon grace and love? What are the consequences of these differing beliefs?
  • Why does the story of creation, as the Bible tells it, matter for us today amid modern scientific stories about our origins?
  • How does the life, death, and resurrection of Christ relate to sin and God’s sovereignty over chaos in the Old Testament creation accounts?
  • In what ways does science contribute to chaos? Can scientific work be a form of service to God and part of overcoming the “monsters” of our day?

Finally, give students a few minutes to complete one of the sections of In the Beginning 2 from Activity 1: In the Beginning to record key things they have learned. Doing this after studying each source helps students focus on how each different source relates to the central theme.

Optional Extra

Use the following chart for further background on comparing Gen. 1 with the Enuma Elish. You may also use the Enuma Elish presentation slide with your class if desired.

Death Before the Fall?

In Brief

When did death enter the world? How does the theological claim that death is part of the fall relate to the scientific claim that death has been part of how the world works since long before humans appeared? This activity engages students in exploring biblical passages that are important to theological debates around this question.

Goals

Students will understand that questions about origins are related to theological questions about death.

Students will understand how specific interpretive questions can lead to different views of death in relation to origins.

Thinking Ahead

God tells Adam and Eve “in the day you eat of it you shall surely die,” and the apostle Paul states that “the wages of sin is death.” Yet, an evolutionary account of life on this planet suggests millions of years of death and extinction among species before humans ever emerged. The question of death therefore creates a point of tension between theology and science in regard to origins. Rather than simply pitting science and theology against one another, this activity helps students see that the theological conversation around this issue is itself complex, with more than one position represented among those who take the Bible seriously. It engages students in close reading to compare their assumptions against particular texts. Think about how it is possible to help students see that there are options to explore and assumptions that can be questioned, while still embracing the authority of Scripture.

Determine whether your students have an accurate working knowledge of the scientific concept of evolution.

As you plan for this lesson, remember that death is not just a theological question; it may be a topic that touches some students closely. Consider how to be sensitive to varying feelings and needs of your students.

Check with science colleagues about the possibility of coordinating a review of evolution as a scientific concept in their classes with your work on the theology of creation. If your students need to review the concept of evolution within this sequence of work, you can find resources for doing so in Understanding Adaptation.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Open by telling students they will engage in examining specific theological resources in order to build an overall sense of what theology brings to discussions of origins. In this activity they will learn why there is theological discussion about the place of death in the world.

First read Genesis 3 together as a class, explaining that this passage describes the fall of a creation described as “good” in Genesis 1. Show a video or two of animals preying on other animals, or use the pictures in Death Before the Fall slides. Video examples could include: a whale toying with a seal before devouring it, a lion stalking, chasing, and killing its prey, or other video clips.

Ask students to share their opinions anonymously through an online poll or response cards: Did events like this take place before the fall? Did these animals always have fangs/talons/claws to hunt and kill prey? Use these questions to get a sense of how your students see the relationship between death and the fall.

Next distribute copies of the handout in Death Before the Fall and also have students read through Psalm 104. Then ask students to review the creation story from Genesis 1 and work with a partner or in  small groups to identify the parallels in Psalm 104 to the Genesis creation story. Point out that looking closely at related texts is an important part of the practice of careful biblical interpretation. What evidence is there that Psalm 104 is modeled on the creation story and describes God as the creator?

Once you have reviewed students’ findings together, draw their attention to Psalm 104:20-22.

  • If the section describing animals such as the lion is supposed to echo God’s creative activity on day six, and if lions are described as receiving their prey from God, does it follow that lions eating other animals is a “good” thing?
  • Does this imply that predation and animal death has always been part of the unfolding drama of creation, and that therefore the fall is about something more specific than death? If not, how are we to understand this text? How can we interpret the psalm if death came only after the fall? Is the Psalm simply telling the story of God’s world after the fall? If you have time, ask students to similarly consider the passages on the third page of Death Before the Fall.
  • What might “death” mean in Genesis 3 if it did NOT refer to the basic presence of physical death in the world? Could one believe one of these alternate explanations and still be a faithful Christian? Why or why not?

Hand out copies of the article about the groaning of creation in Death Before the Fall 2. 

Give students a few minutes to read the article. Then discuss:

  • Why does the author of this article think that the “groaning” refers to more than the fall? What details is he picking up on in the Romans passage?
  • Can something be both “good” and “groaning” for something even better?
  • What does this interpretation imply about the bigger storyline of creation, about how the drama of creation unfolds? What is the beginning, middle, and end of the story?
  • If you have time, have students read the account of the peaceable kingdom from Isaiah 11. How does it relate to the groaning of Romans 8?
  • Could this reading of creation help us in thinking about how the biblical story of the world’s origin and the scientific story about the world’s origin relate to one another?

Finally, give students a few minutes to complete one of the sections of In the Beginning 2 from Activity 1: In the Beginning to record key things they have learned. Doing this after studying each source will help students focus on how each different source relates to the central theme.

A Self-Emptying God?

In Brief

This activity explores the question of whether the idea of evolution necessarily implies that God could not be involved in the universe. It helps students see that arguments about origins involve important theological questions and engages them in exploring important alternative viewpoints.

Goals

Students will understand the distinction between theistic and deistic approaches to evolution.

Students will understand that debates about origins involve important theological questions about God’s relationship to the world.

Thinking Ahead

Some Christians struggle with the idea of “theistic evolution” because it seems to relegate God to setting up creation and then simply “letting it go” on its own. This idea seems dangerously close to deism, a view of God as the impersonal architect of the universe and its laws who is no longer involved. Others wonder why energy is spent debating questions of origins when there are so many other important issues with which to be concerned. This activity engages students in exploring some of the theological questions behind the debates, looking in turn at the idea that accepting evolution necessarily implies deism, and then at the view that evolution could be understood as a sign of God’s self-emptying love, allowing freedom for creation. The activity uses practical interactions of the classroom to illustrate what could seem to be abstract questions. The hope is that this will help students grasp the ideas more concretely. Think ahead about how you will need to set up the classroom layout for the flow of the activity to work well, and about what your position, posture, affective tone, and the amount of space you give to student voices communicate about the world. Consider how your teaching choices contribute to students’ formation.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Open by telling students they will engage in examining specific theological resources to build up an overall sense of what theology brings to discussions of origins.

Begin by displaying on the screen the slides summarizing deism, asking students to copy it into their notes. Make sure students copy down the material. As they do so, stand in a corner or, if possible, in an elevated spot, and watch them benevolently. If any student raises a question, do not speak, but just point to the screen. The aim is to provide a practical sense of how deism tends to see God’s relationship to the world. If possible, wind up a clock or set a visible timer such as an iPad, while students read and write.

After some time to read and write, step out of your distant role and engage with the class from the front of the room. Discuss with them what they have gleaned about deism. How is it different from the involved, speaking God of theism? Ask how the way you taught the class so far illustrates a deist conception of God. For instance, instructions were given at the beginning but it was left to students to follow them, the giver of the instructions remained uninvolved, and students had to figure out the material themselves.

Explain that one concern some Christians have with the idea of theistic evolution—that is God creating over a long period of time through the processes of evolution—is that it seems very close to the uninvolved God and clockwork universe of deism. The argument is not just about the age of the earth, but about what kind of God we worship. Does the idea of evolution leave God with too little to do?

Now, move to the center of the room in the midst of students, sitting among them if possible, and focus on interaction, being a supportive presence, and making space for students’ thoughts and questions to be heard. Turn students’ attention to the passage from Philippians 2:5-11 on the next slide. Read it aloud to them, then have the class read it aloud together. Point out that this is a key climax in the drama of Scripture: God’s supreme act of involvement in his creation. Discuss interactively with students what this passage is articulating about God’s relationship to the world. Questions could include:

  • How is God’s relationship to the world described?
  • How much freedom does the passage imply that humans have over and against God’s power?
  • Could God have chosen not to take on our humanity?
  • Could God have not given us the choice to love him in return?
  • Why did Christ give up equality with God for us?

Explain that a theological term for what is described in this passage is kenosis. This means self-emptying and refers to Christ emptying himself of his power and privileges for the sake of serving and saving humanity out of love and trust in the Father. Conclude with this question:

  • Does God love the rest of creation, apart from humans?
  • If he does love it, is it possible that God could also give the rest of creation freedom to develop, as he does with humans? Consider the places in Genesis 1 where God says “Let the land produce…”

Finally, return to the question of God’s relationship to evolution. Hand out copies of A Self-Emptying God and have students read about kenosis and evolution. As you discuss this reading with students, point out that this is another well-respected Christian position regarding evolution. Here there is still space for evolution to unfold according to its own principles, but this is interpreted as God withholding his power out of love for his creatures, not because he does not intervene or is not involved. Could evolution be an act of love for the universe, part of the drama of God’s intimate relationship with his creatures? Or would this force incompatible ideas together?

While you may wish to allow time for students to express their views of the positions described, the main point is to help students see that debates about origins involve important theological questions and require careful theological thinking about God’s relationship to the world.

In closing, mention explicitly that although you have used the interactions in class to illustrate different views of God’s relationship to the world, with you representing God and students representing the world, your real-world position is alongside your students before God.

Finally, give students a few minutes to complete one of the sections of In the Beginning 2 from Activity 1: In the Beginning to record key things they have learned. Doing this after studying each source helps students focus on how each different source relates to the central theme.

Optional Extra

Have students explore deistic conceptions of God further from sources such as this.

God Sets Up His Temple

In Brief

This activity engages students in exploring a series of connections between the creation passages in Genesis and the descriptions of the tabernacle, helping them see how a theological reading of Genesis portrays the world as God’s dwelling to be filled with his presence.

Goals

Students will understand the connections between biblical creation and tabernacle narratives.

Students will reflect on the implications of this connection for a view of how God relates to the creation.

Thinking Ahead

Various Old Testament theologians have argued that Genesis 1 is meant, among other things, to depict God setting up the earth to be his temple and then coming to dwell within it as he “rests” in the sanctuary he has prepared for himself. This lesson explores the Scriptural reasoning behind this interpretation and engages students in exploring whether this might be one of the main “plot points” of the “drama” of creation from the beginning. What if, in other words, the whole point of creation is for God to prepare a place for himself that he can fully flood with his glory, and what if that day is still coming in Christ? What would be our role as his people in this endeavor? If students are used to reading Genesis only as literal historical narrative, consider how you will help them notice the symbolism in the story related to the temple. Teaching FASTly will help students to focus on the question of what truths the passage is seeking to show us.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

Teaching the Activity

Open by telling students they will engage in examining specific theological resources in order to build an overall sense of what theology brings to discussions of origins.

Show students an image of what the tabernacle might have looked like (God Sets Up His Temple). Hand out copies of God Sets Up His Temple. Explain that the first column on the first page outlines the days of creation, while the list of references from Exodus on the next page refers to details from the construction of the Tabernacle while Israel is in the wilderness. Ask students to work with a partner to find correspondences between each detail and the creation account from Genesis 1. Review this with students when they are ready.

Read Genesis 2 from the next two slides. Discuss with students:

  • There are pomegranates woven on the priests’ robes in Exodus 28:33-34, and the priest’s robe has onyx stones attached to it with the names of the tribes engraved on them (Exodus 28:9-12). Do these connect to any details in the creation account in Genesis 2? (Onyx is mentioned there and fruit is important in the story.)
  • What do these connections to Genesis 1 and 2 show about the tabernacle?
  • What is it intended to be a model of?

Help students see that the tabernacle, the place of worship for the people of God, is a microcosm or a model of the cosmos with God enthroned amid the creation, and that the creation story is describing the world in ways that evoke the tabernacle, with the world as God’s tabernacle/temple. Point out the parallel between God “resting” after completing all the work of creation, and God coming to dwell in the Tabernacle after Moses completed all the work God had given him to do. As you read aloud the key verses from Exodus listed below, ask students to count how many times the Lord speaks to Moses about the Tabernacle before he comes to dwell in it. Note that the seven references parallel the seven creation days before “resting.”

  • Exodus 24:1
  • Exodus 24:12
  • Exodus 25:1
  • Exodus 30:11
  • Exodus 30:17
  • Exodus 30:22

If time permits, or for homework, have students read other passages that connect the tabernacle with creation. These are found on the second page of the handout (God Sets Up His Temple).  Have them work with a partner or in small groups to identity how each passage suggests a connection between the tabernacle/temple and the creation.

Ask students to think about what these connections may be suggesting about the larger story of the world. Why is there a seat above the ark in the tabernacle? What is meant to happen after the tabernacle is finished? (God comes to dwell in it.) Ask students:

  • What is meant to happen to the world after the creation is completed? What actually happened?
  • What drama begins to unfold because of human rebellion?
  • Will creation still reach the same ending? For what should we hope?

Show the passages on the final slide and read them aloud together as a class.

Finally, discuss or have students reflect and journal about these questions:

  • What does this interpretation of the relationship between the creation story and the tabernacle passages reveal about the character of God and our relationship with him?
  • What do you think the creation passages in Genesis are trying to teach us about the world? Does this reading of Genesis and Exodus help us in thinking about how the biblical story of the world’s origin and the scientific story about the world’s origin relate to one another? Are they answering the same kinds of questions?
  • Do we have any role in the movement toward God’s glory filling the earth? Could the way we practice science be related to this story at all?

Finally, give students a few minutes to complete one of the sections of In the Beginning 2 from Activity 1: In the Beginning to record key things they have learned. Doing this after studying each source helps students focus on how each different source relates to the central theme.

Debrief Activities

Debrief activities bring the sequence of the study to a thoughtful close by helping students reflect on how they have been invited to see science and faith anew.

  • Activity 0:15

    In the Beginning … Again

  • Activity 0:20

    The earth will be filled…

In the Beginning … Again

In Brief

Sometimes we all assume we have “mastered” what a certain text has to say. But after beginning this series of activities with reading John 1:1-18 and then exploring the creation “drama” as a guiding theme throughout Scripture, this activity asks whether students’ understanding of creation and the centrality of Christ has expanded. Do they see new possibilities?

Goals

Students will discuss how their thinking has grown as a result of the preceding activities and explore how they should respond.

Thinking Ahead

This activity focuses on helping students reflect on their learning. It draws upon Activity 1: In the Beginning and Activity 2: Creation, Fall, Redemption. If you did not use one or both of these activities, you will need to make adjustments. The reflection questions are intended to help students notice, clarify, and consolidate what they have learned, and realize that the questions studied are not merely theoretical. The question of what kind of world we live in is connected to the question of how we can and should live. It will be helpful for you to reflect on this yourself in preparation for helping students think about consequences that arise from what you have taught.

Preparing the Activity

Needed:

  • Have students re-access their handouts of John 1 and Colossians 1, if you included it, (see In the Beginning) and their completed copies of their sources overview sheets (see In the Beginning 2).

Teaching the Activity

Ask students to review the response sheet from Activity 1: In the Beginning 2 and their additions to it from previous activities.

Repeat the same lectio divina practice from Activity 1: In the Beginning. 

Then ask students to discuss in pairs:

  • How has your understanding of this passage been affected by study of the other passages and resources about creation that have been explored?
  • How, if at all, has your thinking about creation and about Christ been enriched?
  • What do you think of the summaries of the Bible that you suggested in an earlier activity? What did they capture or miss?
  • Does what you have learned about creation have any consequences for how you live?

Either have students report back in a whole class discussion, or ask them to journal about their responses.

The earth will be filled…

In Brief

This short concluding exercise engages students in actively reviewing the exploration of creation as a drama. It creates an opportunity to assess students’ understanding and also invites students to imagine their own place in the drama of creation and new creation.

Goals

Students will review the idea of creation as an unfolding drama and their role within it.

Thinking Ahead

Though the idea should be familiar by now from previous activities, be aware of the possibility that some students may find it hard to separate the language of “story” and “drama” from “fiction,” making this way of speaking sound as if there is less truth at stake. If this is a concern, remind students that talking about drama implies nothing about whether the story is a true one or not. Dramas can be fairy tales or narrations of true events that help us see them more vividly. Remind students that this is only one image for Scripture among many, but one that helps us see the tension, momentum, and…drama of the biblical story.

Teaching the Activity

Have students read aloud together Isaiah 11:6-10, Habakkuk 2:14, and 2 Corinthians 5:7 (see The Earth will be Filled). Briefly review with students, while drawing on discussion from previous activities, what hope the Bible presents for the future of the world.

Ask students to work in small groups to map out the shape of the drama of Scripture, referring to the completed copies of their sources overview sheets (see In the Beginning 2). Ask them to summarize:

  • Setting: where does the story unfold?
  • Characters: who are the key actors who unfold the drama?
  • Plot: How does the drama begin? What problems and tensions enter that must be overcome? What are the moments of climax? How are the problems overcome, and how does the drama end?

Encourage students to represent their account graphically, using images or diagrams. These can be used for display afterward.

Circulate the room as students work to informally assess their understanding, intervening to clarify as needed. If you wish to adapt this activity for more formal assessment, require students to indicate where they have used the sources studied in previous activities.

Finally, invite personal response. Ask students to place themselves within the drama – what is their role? Ask students to discuss with a partner how they can be part of the drama of a fallen world becoming a new creation. Allow time for some students to voluntarily share their reflections with the class.