Note: Theologically, adoption is both (1) placement in the family of God and (2) reconciliation and reunification. We’re not looking for a complete paradigm change away from child placement but a shift to include and stress reconciliation and reunification. This is not a new position for Together for Adoption (see this 2010 post). It’s not either/or but both/and. We believe making this shift to include reconciliation will strengthen the practice of domestic, indigenous, and international adoption.
But I still don’t automatically think of adoption as reunification. I think over the last several years as we’ve been talking about this conference and just praying, we’ve even been struck [with how Paul's uses 'adoption'—I realized you've said this for years, that I was even convicted that maybe I wasn't fully understanding what you were [teaching on adoption as reconciliation] last few year or something. But we’ve heard it, but as we planned this conference we thought, ”Let’s say [adoption is first reconciliation] as clearly as possible. I’d love to hear your thoughts as to way this has not been shard more clearly taught and understodd in the evangelical church?
I don’t have all the reasons, but two of the reasons is I think we grow up in a culture, and when you grow up in a particular culture, a Christian culture, you hear words being used since you’re young over and over, so that, that really shapes and informs how you think about that word. So anytime a word, um, comes to the point where that word comes to a significant difference in meaning…words, you define words by how they are used in particular contexts.
So when you hear the word adoption heard in the context of a child being placed in another family—and that’s what I’ve been hearing since I can remember—that’s how we primarily think. And then when you start looking at Scripture—and I think when of the seminal moments for me was (I left it somewhere) that book there by Herman Ridderbos, Dutch Theologian, um, he had , ah, a chapter entitled, ‘Reconciliation’, and then he said several sub- titles, sub- sections, and one of them was adoption.
So when I read that, that’s when it first clicked that there’s got to be a relationship between reconciliation and adoption. I think [Ridderbos] is one of the first to ever really think hard about how it is that Paul is actually using the world within his historical context. Because what Paul was not doing was taking the Greco-Roman practice and using that to fill in his use of the word adoption; but what he was doing was looking at all of redemptive history, Old Testament history, and Israel being God’s son, and the firstborn son, even though [the word adoption] is not found [in biblical texts] when he delivers Israel out of Egypt, [Paul’s] telling us in Romans 9:4 that what was happening there was actually setting the stage for how he’s using the word now. So he filled [the word] adoption with what he was doing redemptively to fix the problem of the fallen son of Adam (Luke 3:38).
So, I think with any, with any shift theologically in a way society uses any particular or word or words and go back 300 years, and the way they defined it then was unrecognizable to how we define it now. So I think we’re now in one of those periods, particularly when it’s given so much prominence in the media and the kind of media we have that it makes it very difficult for us to speak into it from a theological perspective and be heard.
So I think in conferences like this is where we have an opportunity kind of a family gathering to say, “Alight, let’s think hard about this, and let’s see…what is it that Paul us really thinking about? And how should that shape the way we make application to our current cultural context?
I think about one of the themes that struck me about what you said, and even as I look at the landscape right now, I think the things into which we are called as believers is we are entering into a more pluralistic society. I think the importance of what you’ve done to outline here is that we don’t need to be looking at this movement and judging Scripture by our experiences, [Don’t think this way] “This is what we’ve experienced, so let’s find Scripture that backs it up.” We need to be looking at the Word of God to help us identify what our experiences mean. Um, I and think as I’ve seen this landscape, because of this pluralistic mindset, we can easily believe we’re the bigger part of the story, and it’s all about our needs, our wants, our desires. ‘I’m the part of the story.’ ‘I’m the rescuer.’ ‘It’s what I need.’ And I think when you looked at reconciliation and redemption, and one of the things I’m thinking about is that we’ve got a class in Birmingham right now for 15 birthparents trying to reconcile to get their children back out of foster care.
And as we’ve walked through that, we’ve identified there are several families that are not going to be able to get their kids back. But does that mean our journey of redemption and reconciliation ends with those birth families? And I believe the Gospel would say, “No!”
So, I guess, what I would love for you to just clarify in the words of saying adoption—and this theology of adoption—is about reconciliation and redemption, how does the Gospel lead us, even in a adoption scenario where there is a placement to continue with reconciliation and redemption?
Adoption is always about family. So we can never forget family. So when reconciliation and reunification with all of our best efforts can’t happen, it’s an impossibility, we are still thinking family. We are still thinking [family], whether that’s indigenous adoption within the child’s country of origin; or we’re thinking—depending upon their laws of adoption or what they practice—we are thinking permanency in fostering. We always need to be thinking in terms of family.
So even if they are placed in a family that is not their family of origin, there is a reconciliation happening there. Because what did not exist before, which is the embrace of family, is now happening for that child and that family, there is reconciliation of sorts that’s happening—as real as the reconciliation with the birth family (explanatory note: a real family has been formed). So, I think that’s a really important distinction to make.
*Click the image below to “Flip the Script” with Alex Krutov, from St. Petersburg, Russia.
In this special workshop, African-American pastor Dr. Toney Parks shares advice for White couples parenting African-American children in a post-Ferguson country.
Dr. Parks is a 1980 Criminal Justice graduate of the University of South Carolina. He received a Masters Divinity degree from Erskine College and Theological Seminary and earned a Doctorate degree in counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary. Dr. Parks is also an Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling & Practical Ministry at Erskine Theological Seminary and has been the pastor of the Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist church since 1991.
Stream or download “Advice for White Parents of African American Children” for free:
Here is the first batch of free audio from our October 17-18 Together for Adoption Conference 2014.
Our primary objective for this year’s conference was to maximize our time together by providing important conversations with people who are key leaders, thinkers, and practitioners in the global orphan care and adoption movement. We worked hard to facilitate extended conversations that matter—conversations that uniquely addressed the complex spectrum of care needed for orphans globally. Every main session talk was followed by a 20-25 minute onstage conversation in which leaders within the evangelical orphan care and adoption movement discussed the topic and its implication for orphan care and adoption.
Note: Each main session talk is 25-30 minutes, followed by the panel discussion. Every panel below but the first is contained within the same mp3 file. The workshops at the bottom of this post are only those that were expansions of main session talks.
Session 1: Dan Cruver
Session 2: Jedd Medefind
Session 3: Brandon Hatmaker
Session 4: Dr. Elizabeth Bartholet (Harvard Law)
*PDF of Dr. Bartholet’s notes
Session 5: John Sowers
Session 6: Jason Kovacs
Fundamental Question #2: Is Paul’s Language of Adoption to Be Taken Literally or Metaphorically? (Continued)
Conservative theologians are united in their belief that God’s adoptive grace in Christ is a reality ~ indeed, a wonderful reality!
Some think or assume Paul’s references to adoption are literal, which is to say that God has actually adopted his people. Others understand the references to be metaphorical, meaning that God has not actually adopted us. Rather, by speaking of our divine acceptance in terms of adoption we have been equipped to articulate our acceptance in a way which otherwise would not be possible (other than by an alternative metaphor perhaps).
The former perspective illustrates what philosophers call naive realism, and the latter critical realism. While the terms unfortunately sound pejorative ~ seeming to imply naivete of the mind or criticism of Scripture~ they help us to identify the choice of perspectives on offer. We consider them in turn in the Adoption Nuggets which follow.
The Case for a Literal or Naive-Realistic understanding of Adoption
When we say that God has literally adopted his people, we mean that his adoption of us is archetypal. On this understanding, adoption is a procedure which originates with Him and not with us. Accordingly, adoption among humans is derived or ectypal, which is to say that societal adoption replicates God’s original action in some way, albeit on a scale reflective of our humanity and context.
A number of factors may be posited in support of this literal view of Paul’s language of adoption.
Firstly, there is the explicit wording of Scripture. Writes Paul in Ephesians 3:14: “. . . I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named”. Since “every family” is named from the Father, our adoption into the household of God, mentioned earlier in the epistle, must be original to God (see Eph. 1:5 and 2:19). From this standpoint, adoption is not a metaphor, but a statement of fact and of seminal divine action.
Secondly, we must take account of the fact that Paul never states, when using huiothesia, which human or societal practice of adoption he has in mind. If he were utilizing the language of huiothesia metaphorically, would he not tell us explicitly which had influenced his description of God’s acceptance of us? Since he wrote in Greek he naturally uses a Hellenistic term for adoption, but this does not imply that Paul’s use of huiothesia (the placing of a son) is shaped around Greek adoptive practices. In fact, his use of huiothesia in Ephesians 1:5, Romans 9:4, Galatians 4:4-6, Romans 8:15-16, and 22-23 suggests he fills the term with theological content correlating to no human practice exactly. Is it not more likely, then, that the societal practices ape the divine action, than that Paul is depicting the divine action in terms of an unidentified or unsettled societal practice?
Thirdly, our greatest theologian of adoption, John Calvin, never, to my recollection, refers to adoption as a metaphor. Since my studies of Calvin on adoption have been comprehensive rather than exhaustive, it is possible that there is some undiscovered place in his writings in which he explains how Paul’s language of adoption functions. Yet, in the absence of any explanation to date, it is plausible to argue that the reformer understood adoption to be a literal reality. Certainly, this reading of Calvin is more weighty than any given claim, actual or hypothetical, that he was insensitive to the humanness of Scripture. After all, throughout his writings Calvin acknowledges a number of literary tools found in Scripture: metaphorae, figurae, similtudines, or comparatines. Since he does not, so far as we know, categorize the language of adoption in any of these terms, we ponder whether the best explanation for this is that he understood Paul’s references to adoption to be literal.
Fourthly, this view frees us from having to determine whether Paul’s teaching on the subject was influenced by Semitic, Greek or Roman practices. Instead, we have a straight run at investigating the coherent context and content of Paul’s uses of huiothesia. Gone are the obligations to figure out a number of uncertainties. For example:
1. The identification of the societal practice influencing Paul’s understanding of adoption (which was, fundamentally, a reading of redemptive history).
2. The discerning of the specific elements of the identified societal practice Paul utilized.
3. The junctures at which he wove in the elements into his teaching of adoption.
4. The correlation between Paul’s clear redemptive-historical understanding of adoption and the elements of the societal practice from which he draws.
Those circumnavigating these complexities note how Paul takes us back beyond any ancient adoptive practices to God’s eternal predestining of us to adoption (Eph. 1:5). Since adoption began in the mind of God, why, the naive realist asks, should we feel obliged to understand our adoption in Christ in terms of the action of human community? After all, we are given so little in Scripture to help us do so.
Evidently, the naive realist has a case to be answered. Since there are two sides to every argument we will consider next time, Lord willing, the metaphorical or critical-realistic point of view. No matter where the argument ends up, all doubtless agree that God’s grace of adoption is not only a wonderful reality but one that is most profound. The words of Augustine come to mind: “If you can understand it, it is not God.”
*John Sowers’ personal invitation to join him October 17-18 in Greenville, SC.
This year’s Together for Adoption conference will give you a handle on the global orphan crisis and the primary issues with which we should be concerned. Never before have we had this many experts join us for a conference (see here, here, and here). If you’ve wanted to get a handle on the issues, this is your opportunity. We hope you’ll join us.
Together for Adoption National Conference 2014 is less than 2 weeks away! We are excited to welcome everyone to the beautiful Upstate of South Carolina to explore and consider this year’s theme: Urgency & Complexity: Biblical & Ethical Approaches to the Orphan Crisis. What’s special about this year’s conference? Take a look:
*Re-post from June 20, 2012. ”Why is your mommy White?”, a blog post from 2012, has received very significant increase in traffic over the past few days. Although I cannot be absolutely certain, I’m confident the recent events in Ferguson are the primary reason for the blog post’s increased traffic. So, I thought I would re-post that article as well as make readers aware of one workshop in particular that we are offering at our October 17-18 national conference:
“Advice for White Parents of African-American Children in a Post-Ferguson World” led by Dr. Toney Parks (October 18, Saturday, 12:15pm – 1:00pm). Dr. Parks is a 1980 Criminal Justice graduate of the University of South Carolina. He received a Masters Divinity degree from Erskine College and Theological Seminary and earned a Doctorate degree in counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary. Dr. Parks is also an Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling & Practical Ministry at Erskine Theological Seminary and has been the pastor of the Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist church since 1991.
Whatever the reason for the increased interest in “Why is your mommy White?”, I thought I would re-post the article here:
She asked my son an honest question, and he gave her a surprising answer: ”Noah, why is your mommy White?”
As I’ve written about before on this blog, my family is multi-ethnic. Melissa and I are White, our daughter is White, and our two sons are Black. We live in a fairly racially diverse neighborhood (Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics), and our children attend racially diverse schools.
My youngest (pictured below) was asked the above question a year ago when he was in 2nd grade. He was just 7 years old. My wife happened to be volunteering in the classroom that day. One of my son’s Black classmates heard him call this visiting White woman “Mommy.” So, this classmate quite understandably asked him what she had been wondering, “Noah, why is your mommy White?”
Noah’s answer was immediate and matter-of-fact. He simply replied (actually, not so simply), “That’s not a question that Martin Luther King, Jr. would ask. It’s the content of your character that matters, not the color of your skin.” Wow.
My 7 year old son could have simply answered, “Well, I was adopted by a White family. My parents are White, my sister is White, and my brother and I are Black.” That’s basically what Noah’s teacher was expecting him to say. What he did say, though, revealed that he was living within a much larger narrative—within the same basic narrative in which Martin Luther King, Jr. had lived.
The month before, Noah’s class had studied Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life. Martin Luther King’s story so gripped Noah that he began to think about life differently, more deeply.
My son reminded me of something profound that day.
We have been given larger narratives in which to live, narratives that have the power to transform the way we think, talk, and live. Unknown to me (and his classmate), Noah had begun living within a larger narrative that was changing the way he viewed the world and how we are to live within it. Martin Luther King’s story was changing the way Noah thought about race relations on a very practical level. That day Noah reminded me that the narratives we live by really matter—a lot. He was the teacher and I was the student.
Since that day a little over a year ago, I have thought a good bit about how the meta-narrative of God’s Gospel-work of adoption within human history should change the way we think and live each day. “There is,” after all, as J. R. R. Tolkien writes, “no [story] ever told that men would rather find was true” (“On Fairy Stories”). Thank you, Noah, for reminding me of the importance of living within the right narrative.
Learn more about this year’s October 17-18 conference.
You do not need to know an orphan personally to change the life of an orphan for the better.
We all know this.
We live in a day when it’s never been easier to help someone who lives on the other side of the world—even if that someone is an orphan.
Well, believe it or not, it’s even gotten easier.
But before I go on about this year’s conference…
Don’t let the word ‘adoption‘ in the name Together for Adoption fool you. T4A isn’t mainly about adopting children (or even primarily about that). In Together for Adoption, adoption is mainly about God’s cosmic work of Adoption (Romans 8:23).
Biblically, adoption isn’t even mainly about our entrance into the family of God, as great and as wonderful as that is. In Paul’s thinking, adoption is mainly about our participation in the grand Story of Redemption. When God adopts us, He’s written us into the greatest unfolding Story of human history ever told—the Story that involves nothing less than the future renewal of all creation.
So…when we in the evangelical orphan care and adoption movement work to alleviate an orphan’s suffering—when we obey James 1:27 —we provide this very day a foretaste of God’s future work of the renewal of all creation. We provide the watching world a foretaste of the great day when creation “will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
This understanding of the relationship between God’s work of adoption and our care for orphans is extremely important, as it transforms not only the way we think about orphan care but also the way we practice it.
Page optimized by WP Minify WordPress Plugin