I was asked by Sparkhouse Publishing to write a review concerning their new VBS curriculum, ReNew- The Green VBS, Parable of the Sower. 2010 seems to be a year in which a few environmentally focused VBS curricula have been introduced to the market. In the case of ReNew, they have taken environmental stewardship to a level which not only discusses green living, but exemplifies it.
But allow me to digress for a moment. Like any children’s pastor who works on timelines and within a strict budget, especially in the current economy, I examine the entire experience of dealing with a publisher or distributor. The company seems to do an excellent job with communication and follow-up to make sure the customer is appropriately served. However, there did appear to be a delay in shipping the product, since they contacted me checking to see if I had received it, when in fact I had not. Then, a few days later, the starter kit arrived. Great! I began to review the materials. But then I received an additional surprise. A second starter kit arrived. Oops. So, now I have two on hand. Being human myself, I am not bothered by the glitch, although I do feel sad for Sparkhouse that they spent the money to send me a second package. However, it does make me wonder about what systems they have in place to ensure quality control in the order and shipping cycle. I did read on their website that they are a small company. So this is something they will need to look at to verify shipments and receipt of same at customer locations before attempting to fill an order which they deem lost.
And now back to the VBS, itself. It is green. Well, the materials are various colors, but the fact that they are recycled and recyclable materials means they truly are green. Even the starter kit. In fact, the kit box was used as the actual shipping box. I have never seen a publisher do that! I love the intent of this material. Although I do not subscribe to the more politically correct agendas of the day which teach that humans are responsible for global warming, I do think it makes perfectly good sense to do our part to take care of our environment by conserving resources.
This material offers children a biblical framework for environmental stewardship, based on the parable of the sower. It is a five-day VBS with materials for preschool through 6th grade. If you are looking for a VBS which is strictly gospel-centered by virtue of teaching about Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and return, then there are other products which will be better suited to achieve that aim. I do not recommend this product as a vehicle for presenting the gospel. However, you might discover that you could draw more unchurched kids and families to your church by offering an opportunity like this. This is particularly true in parts of the USA and Canada which are especially conscientious about the environment. Oregon and Washington are definitely two such places. In such cases, you could supplement the material with gospel presentations.
I expect that it is probably mainline churches or emergent type churches which will be most likely to use this resource. However, I hope that evangelical churches consider it as a possibility, if not for their actual VBS, then maybe for a discipleship series during the year.
The kit includes a ReNew Program DVD, which includes a promotional video as well as decorating videos for each of the rotation sites. There is also a music CD. The CD has two options: music with the words, and instrumental only. A nice touch. The tunes are catchy, but they are not really worship tunes. Instead they mostly seem to resonate as anthems for various aspects of taking care of creation. This is to be expected perhaps, given the ReNew theme, but I find it disconcerting that there does not seem to be any intentional worship songs which honor the Lord and his character. The only possible exception might be the 12th track , the traditional hymn, “Whole World in His Hands.”
To be fair, the authors of the material do take pains to explain the biblical basis (Mark 4:1-9, Parable of the Sower) for the material. On page 6 of the program guide they write
It’s true that this parable is not speaking directly to 21st-century environmental concerns, but this passage is asking us to listen deeply to Jesus as he shares God’s dream of reconciliation for the whole world. The beginning of Genesis tells us two important things: 1. All of Creation is good and loved by God; 2. The Creation God made and loves is given to us to care for. Following Jesus means showing love–not only to our neighbors and not only to our enemies–but to all of God’s Creation: plants and forests, rivers and ocean, air and earth, animals and people. In this way, God is graciously inviting us to be co-creators in the renewing of the earth.
As an evangelical, my concern would be to reconcile how this philosophy fits in with the priority of the cross, the resurrection, and the eschaton (last days). I agree to a certain extent with the concept of creation care, but I recognize also that creation groans, waiting for its liberation “from the bondage of decay” (Romans 8:21). Thus, the idea that we can somehow measureably co-create alongside God to renew the earth seems contrary to Scripture. Indeed it is God who will make all things new (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1). Nevertheless, I agree with the need for stewardship insofar as it is within our capacity as Christian stewards. If co-creation means doing our part to steward the resources God has given us, then I am fine with the word. But if it means a co-equal demonstration of measurable creative power, then that is a nonstarter. I don’t believe that the writers are saying that, but it is worth noting since that is a concern which some evangelicals might raise. Having said that, it seems that ReNew is more attuned to a theologically liberal interpretation of Scripture, than that of most conservative evangelical traditions.
Educationally, the material uses a modified rotation model. You may view the scope and sequence, lesson samples, music and video samples, and a typical day at Renew by clicking here.
So, check out ReNew at their website. And tell them you heard about it at this blog!
This material was provided to me by SparkHouse Publishing on the condition that I would write an honest review on this blog.