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Kendra Terpstra
 on August 16, 2019

The Evolution of a Homeschooling Mom

This is Kendra's story of how she came to embrace Evolutionary Creation and how BioLogos became such an important part of her family’s life.

Woman sitting and admiring nature

Whenever people ask me how I found out about BioLogos, I usually give them a quick elevator speech that begins with when I first read Francis Collins’ book, The Language of God. I share how this book deeply impacted me and left me with a profound sense of coming home. It answered many of my questions about science and my faith in Christ but also challenged me to seek God more fully and to invest time in studying His created world.

Dr. Collins’ book also introduced me to the word biologos—a combination of the Greek words for life and word. When I Googled this term, I came upon the BioLogos website and quickly started reading as many articles as I could. I was like a kid in a candy shop! The more I read, the more I excitedly shared with my husband, Mark, all that I was learning. We had many late-night discussions that involved a good cup of tea and evolution.

Mark and I knew we needed to be better equipped to engage in meaningful discussions with our family and faith community on these tricky topics, so we started attending as many events that focused on the science and faith conversation as we could. In 2014, we met BioLogos president Deborah Haarsma at one of these events. When she discovered that I was an educator and homeschooling parent, she connected me with Chris Stump, a BioLogos team member who was developing content for K-12 educators. Since that day, I’ve had the joy of being involved with BioLogos in a variety of ways.

That is the short and sweet version of my story. However, as I reflect back on the last decade of my life, I realize there’s much more to the narrative of how I came to embrace Evolutionary Creation (EC) and how BioLogos became such an important part of my family’s life.

The tree hugger and biology class

As a young girl, I had leanings towards Young Earth Creationism. It was the default view on origins in our family. When I was young, I had the luxury of being oblivious to the tensions between science and the Christian faith. I was an avid nature lover and I just wanted to be outdoors exploring and enjoying the woods where my parents had built our family home. I defined the term tree-hugger! It grieved my spirit to cause any of God’s creatures to perish, including the spiders that made our house their home!

I was blessed to have my grandparents as neighbors. I spent much of my time at their farm, playing in the woods and the creek that meandered throughout their property. As soon as I was home from school I would sneak off to the great outdoors, careful to avoid the notice of my mom, who undoubtedly had work for me to do. My personality lent itself towards social awkwardness and at times I found it difficult to connect with other school kids my age. As an antidote, I escaped to the woods. I found a relieving sense of cathartic acceptance from the animals and insects that made their homes there. More days than not, my mom would find a mud-covered, disheveled daughter standing at the door, waiting to gain permission to enter her tidy home. Permission was rarely granted until I’d spent some time with the hose!

a close up view on an orange zinnia bloom

My exploring didn’t stop there. Many a night, I would jump onto the bare back of my horse, head down our dirt road, and make my way into one of my grandfather’s hayfields to do some stargazing and soul searching. My horse would contentedly graze while I lounged on his back and stared up at the stars. I remember aching in wonder at the beauty and mystery of the night sky. Even though the vastness of the universe seemed overwhelming, I never felt alone, but full of God’s goodness and extravagant love for me.

But some of my nature-loving bubble was burst in my high school biology class. Here I was confronted with evolution, common descent, and the age of the Earth head-on. If I hadn’t spent any time thinking about these things before, my biology teacher made sure I gave Darwin and his theory plenty of my teenage headspace. Unfortunately, he missed a wonderful opportunity to bring to life the beauty and complexity of evolution to his captive audience. Because he was so openly hostile towards Christian students and their belief in God, I went away from his class focusing less on “endless forms most beautiful,” and more on the conflict I now saw between my Christian faith and science. Unwittingly, he had planted in me a seed of distrust and skepticism towards science that would take years to root out.

As an English and education major in college, I didn’t spend much of my intellectual energy on issues of science and faith. It was only years later, after Mark and I were married, that I was forced to revisit some of my ideas and beliefs that had been formed in my earlier years. Two life-altering events triggered this reexamination.

My dad and Francis Collins

The first of these events was when my father was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer in the fall of 2011. Despite the prayers of many and a courageous fight, he passed away 11 short months later. His death has had a seismic effect on my entire family. When you lose a loved one to cancer, your life is irrevocably changed and the future you once envisioned with that person is over. For me, my dad was father, friend, and advocate all rolled into one and it has been a difficult process adjusting to his absence.

Before Dad became sick, we would often have animated conversations about what we were reading and learning. He was an avid reader of C.S. Lewis, Alister McGrath, and many other authors who could help him understand his faith more completely. He modeled an openness to follow the truth, wherever it led, and a willingness to speak up for that truth. He loved learning and instilled in me and my sister a passion for asking questions and seeking the truth of God.

Shortly after Dad’s death, I was looking through his library and came upon The Language of God. As this title was new to me and one we had not discussed before, I was intrigued.

With just a quick skim through Dr. Collins’ book, I realized this book was a defense for why Christians could believe in consensus science, and in particular evolution, which may be why he hadn’t shared it with me. We had discussed and agreed upon the fact of an ancient universe, but evolution was uncharted territory. And as I was missing the deep and honest conversations I used to have with him, I decided to read this new book myself and continue our conversation, so to speak.

I was deeply impacted by what I read. I had never heard such a convincing and clear argument for how science and faith can be compatible. I felt a sense of newfound freedom to explore and research the evidence for evolution without the fear that I would slide down the slippery slope to atheism. Reading this book ignited a desire to hear from other Christians who, like Dr. Collins, had found harmony with their scientific understanding of the natural world and their relationship with Christ. To say my Amazon wishlist of books grew exponentially is an understatement.

The Language of God boo on the shelf with other books

Homeschooling and Evolutionary Creationism

The decision to homeschool our three kids was another major life-altering change for our family. As someone who had built my career in teaching at a large, urban high school, the plan had always been to have our kids attend public school in the district my sister and I had grown up in. My oldest son had attended preschool through first grade in our local elementary school and he was doing well. However, my husband and I saw some trends in our district that were problematic and so we started looking into other educational options.

Homeschooling was high on the list of options as I had already been teaching my daughter through her preschool curriculum and she was thriving. So with a lot of prayers, research, and some much-needed guidance from homeschooling families within my community, my husband and I decided to bring my son home and officially become a homeschooling family.

Being the primary educator of your children is no small task. You had better believe in what you are doing or your kids and your insecurities will eat you up! I had and still have lofty goals for my kids. Albert Einstein said, “Education is not the learning of the facts, but the training of the mind to think.” This is what I want for my kids. I want to develop critical and creative thinkers. I want them to become life-long learners, who never stop being curious about the world around them. I want to nurture their imagination so that they can be a part of building a better, more just world. I want children who will pursue God’s truth, and grow in their faith and love for the Lord. And, I want my children to see that their faith in God and their understanding of the natural world does not need to be a point of contention or a stumbling block.

However, reading Dr. Collin’s book sparked a realization in me: I was under-equipped to answer the scientific and theological questions my precocious kids would undoubtedly ask when studying science and, in particular, evolution. How could I help my kids process topics like common descent, death before the Fall, and whether Adam and Eve were the first humans if I was unsure about these things myself?

The obvious place to go to with your theological questions would be to your church and pastor. Before our recent move to another town, we had been members and actively involved in our local church for many years. We respected and deeply appreciated our pastors and their commitment to biblical teaching, and it was a church filled with people we loved and valued. However, they were strong supporters of Answers in Genesis and their views on the age of the Earth and evolution differed greatly from ours. My husband and I decided it was best to focus on our common bonds in Christ and to stay quiet about our views on science. After our family moved to a new home, we found a faith community that is more open to discussing these things, and though they may not fully embrace EC, Mark and I feel more freedom and acceptance in talking about our views.

My homeschooling community shares many of the same views to that of my earlier church. People choose to homeschool for a variety of reasons, but one thing that usually unites homeschooling families in our region is a disagreement with what their kids are being taught in traditional schools. A major component of this is the teaching of evolution. Some faith leaders and organizations have taught people to be afraid of evolution and all the social evils that supposedly come with it. As a result, homeschooling families either avoid teaching evolution altogether or they approach it as something to be studied for the sake of building a defense against its claims. And most major publishers of homeschool curricula endorse a YEC perspective and produce resources that portray consensus science as something to be skeptical of. Evolution is usually covered, but only for the purpose of presenting it as a theory that is in direct conflict with a student’s faith. The belief that evolution equates to atheism is deeply ingrained in most co-ops and homeschool communities.

two books on a table with two pieces of chalk with a chalkboard in the background

My call to action

The challenges for my homeschooling EC family these last years have been huge and remain so. Now that my kids are older and we are part of a homeschool co-op, the potential for conflict has only increased. I can’t begin to explain how important it has been for me to have access to BioLogos people and resources to help me navigate these complicated waters. I have been encouraged and equipped to discuss my faith in Christ with others, and through the modeling of the BioLogos mission, I am learning how to have engaging, kind, and productive conversations with people who hold different views than I do.

When you have been blessed by others, God calls you to return that blessing in some way. Two years ago, I received a call from Kathryn Applegate, the Resources Editor at BioLogos, asking me to meet with her to discuss a new BioLogos science and faith supplement in the works. In that meeting, she asked me to think about ways I could help. As someone who had been hounding the door of BioLogos, asking for this very thing, how could I say no? I felt like God’s providence was at work and I knew the Lord was asking me to put some action behind my words. Since that day, I have had the pleasure of working with an amazing group of teachers and scientists on the development of BioLogos INTEGRATE, a curriculum supplement for high school biology from a Christian worldview. It is our hope that INTEGRATE will nurture in students a lasting love for their Creator as they study his amazing world.

I think back on that young girl who simply loved to be out in the woods, soaking up as much of the beauty of creation as she could. Now that I am older, I do wish that this deep love would have translated into a career in science, but I see how God is using my love for his creation and my respect for those who have chosen this path in a different way.

As someone who has known loneliness and isolation within my communities because of my beliefs, God has also placed a burden on my heart for Christians in the sciences who often experience these same feelings within their professional and church communities. I wasn’t called to be a scientist, but I know I have been called to encourage and pray for them. And I’d like to think that my dad would have been right here with me; praying, reading, and growing in our faith in God and understanding of his awe-inspiring creation.