Providing gospel-centered resources to mobilize the church for global orphan care.


What “in the world” is the Apostle Paul doing with the term adoption? Realize it or not, this is a very important question. Stop for a minute and think about how you would answer it…

One of our 2011 conference speakers, Tim Chester, recently shared on his blog an excellent answer to the question of how Paul is using the term adoption in Ephesians, Galatians, and Romans. It comes from Marcus Peter Johnson’s book One with Christ, and it’s so very, very good! Marcus’ answer to this important question is basically what I’ve argued on this blog and in Reclaiming Adoption, chapters 1-2. Here it is:

One with Christ

“The term translated ‘adoption’ in the New Testament is unique to Paul’s letters. The Greek term is huiothesia, which Paul uses five times (Rom. 8:15; 9:4; Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5). It is a compound of huios (‘son’) and thesis (‘placing’), and could be literally rendered ‘placed as sons,’ although there is some disagreement among biblical scholars about how best to translate it. (157)

“There may indeed be some merit in attempting to understand Paul’s use of huiothesia against the cultural-linguistic backdrop of his day, but there is compelling reason to think that his use of the term was influenced far more my theological considerations than cultural ones. In other words. when Paul speaks of Christians as ‘placed as son,’ he has at the forefront of his mind our being place in the Son, Jesus Christ. (157)

“As such, Paul is not ‘reaching’ for cultural analogies as conceptual bridges to explain what it means that we are adopted by God; rather, he is working with a more basic theological notion: the Father-son relationship that is intrinsic to God’s own being, and which we come to share by incorporation into Christ. (157)

“The fact that God adopts us and we thereby become children of God is based in the reality of God’s own relationship with his Son. It is not a reality that is derived from God external to himself – a category of blessing that God creates outside of the Father-Son relationship internal to his being – but an existence that is derived from within God’s communal being as Father and son. That is exactly what is so stunning about adoptive sonship – it is sharing in the Son’s own relationship with the Father: ‘He who loves me will be loved by my Father.’ (John 14:21) There is no adoption, no other way to be children of God, no experience of the fatherly love of God except through the Father’s love for his only begotten Son.” (150)

One with Christ is available at Amazon.

Adoption is placement and reunificationWhen I spoke on “Adoption as Reconciliation and Family Reunification” at T4A’s October 2014 conference, I received a good bit of push back. Most who pushed back believed I had changed positions and weren’t pro-adoption any longer (i.e., pro-adoption: placing fatherless children into families through adoption). Many thought my position was now somewhat anti-adoption.

I sympathize with those who believe I’ve changed my position due to outside influences, but that simply is not the case. In the opening comments of my talk I said, “My goal today is to challenge evangelical’s current adoption paradigm. There are very significant differences between how adoption is understood in the 21st Century and how the Bible itself uses the word adoption. [If the evangelical adoption movement is to continue to grow], our adoption-paradigm must shift if we are to navigate the complex global crisis.

Notice what I did not say: “our adoption-paradigm must change.” I said shift and not change. But for whatever reason(s), that’s not what some individuals heard. Rather, my words were interpreted to mean I was no longer pro-adoption. That’s most definitely not the case. I am very pro-adoption! No, I was simply very careful to say that our current adoption-paradigm must shift.

To Switch or to Shift, That Is the Question

In my thinking, on the one hand, to change positions is to switch position. On the other hand, to shift is not to abandon your previous position but to realize that it’s broader and more expansive than you originally believed. Hence, the shift. About 5 years ago my position shifted from adoption as family placement to also include adoption as family reunification and reconciliation as well. The diagram to the right better represents the view I’ve held for several years now.

As I emphasized in my 2014 talk, “Adoption is not a one-time, one-off act. Biblically, adoption is an ongoing story—an unending story. Adoption forms a story-arc. It’s not merely a single point in time (see this diagram).”

Theologically, adoption is both (1) placement into the family of God and (2) reconciliation and reunification. We’re certainly not looking for a complete paradigm switch or change away from child placement. No, we are looking for a paradigm-shift to include and stress reconciliation and reunification. The adoption paradigm I’m presenting is not an either/or but a both/and paradigm. I believe making this shift to include reconciliation will actually strengthen the practice of domestic, indigenous, and international adoption.

Family Reunification

I’m convinced that adoption is first about family reconciliation. According to Luke 3:38, Adam was created to be the human son of God (see scholar Sinclair Ferguson’s explanation). Man’s family of origin was God’s family. God’s family was man’s original family.

So strongly did John Calvin believe in God’s fatherhood of man from the very beginning that he wrote, “We should note God’s fatherly love to humanity in the very order of creation. He did not create Adam until he had enriched the world with full abundance of good things…He shows his wonderful goodness to us by assuming the burden of a prudent and conscientious head of the family” (Inst. 1559, 1.14.2; emphasis mine). God not only was Adam and Eve’s Father from the very beginning, but he went to great lengths to demonstrate his fatherly care for them. God the Father was certainly not a deadbeat father. No, he was as caring and loving as a father could possibly be—a father of which this world has never seen since.

The Downward Plunge

But as the biblical story unfolds, we discover that Adam rebelled against God as his Father. The entire human race, as a result, became “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3). They (we) became the estranged children of God. We became human beings in need of reconciliation and family reunification.

From that point on in world history, humanity’s great need was to be reconciled to the Father, not placed into a another family by way of adoption. Rather, the gracious work of God by which he reconciled his estranged children to himself is what Scripture calls adoptionBiblically, then, adoption is first about reconciliation and family reunification. 

What Influences Your Understanding of Adoption?

We western Christians, and American Western Christians in particular, tend to go at this upside down. Because of how we understand adoption—our understanding of adoption being influenced heavily by Western practice—we unwittingly think that adoption is first about finding families for fatherless children, so we often look first to international or domestic adoption as our primary option (if not the primary option). When this is the case, we can be sure we are interpreting and applying Scripture’s teaching on adoption from our cultural biases.

My talk at our 2014 national conference was to challenge this way of thinking. If adoption, biblically, is first about family reunification and reconciliation, then our first concern should be uniting orphans with their families of origin if possible. Don’t fail to see that I wrote if possible. Granted, it’s often not possible. As a matter of fact, it’s most often not possible (95% or more of the time) because of the complexity and corruption in the child’s home country.

But that should not prevent us from considering it as the first option.

Although family unification or reconciliation is not a viable option for the vast majority of orphaned children, the theology of Adoption requires that we think family of origin first, even if the child’s family of origin is not an option for a variety of reasons.

But even if it’s not an option, we should strive for  some type of family permeance—whether that means indigenous adoption, international adoption, or a healthy fostering relationship in a home that’s lovingly and wholeheartedly committed to family permanence for that child.

By now you are deeply feeling the vast complexity of the global fatherless crisis. If you’re feeling its complexity, that’s good.

Scalable Orphan Care

But when facing the complexity of the global orphan crisis, what we really need is a scale of orphan care that’s approachable, that’s solvable. We want powerful ideas and effective solutions that are especially beautiful because they are simple. Big problems are generally solved by a series of small, actionable solutions.

When looking at the complex meaning of adoption biblically, as well as the complex global orphan crisis,  it’s wise to take a step back to see whether or not we can “shrink the change” to smaller solutions we can get our minds around. Global problems are generally solved by a series of small, actionable solutions. Small victories often trigger a spiral of larger victories. Shrinking the change often lead to larger solutions.

Believe it or not, working from the paradigm of adoption as reconciliation or family reunification makes it easier to shrink the change as we work toward larger solutions to systemic problems.

That’s what our theme for our 2015 conference is: Simple.

A series of simple actions can make a world of difference.

Our 2014 conference theme was “Urgency & Complexity: Biblical & Ethical Approaches to the Orphan Crisis.” We needed to engage with just how complex orphan care has become as a global issue.

It’s time for simplicity. The reality is that, even though orphan care and adoption are tough and complex at times, people all over the world are discovering simple steps that can lead to truly transformative solutions.

Especially in a time like ours, complexity can lead to discouragement and even to analysis-paralysis.

We need simple.

Please join J.D. GreearTony MeridaJohn Sowers, and Johnny Carr (as well as others we’re excigted to announce soon) for our 2015 conference to be held November 5-7 (Thursday evening through Saturday Noon) at 8,000 member Summit Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. As always, you can expect our commitment to creating the kinds of spaces where you can enjoy conversations among friends about issues and actions that matter. This year, you can also expect even more elegant simplicity.

You can listen to the audio of my talks and Q & A’s here: and my manuscript:

To register and/or learn more, visit our pre-launch registration site. Super early-bird registration is just $69 per person.

Simple for blog post




Super Early-Bird Registration Now Open

by Dan Cruver Published Mar 9, 2015

Simple for blog post

Simple action can make a world of difference.

Our 2014 conference theme was “Urgency & Complexity: Biblical & Ethical Approaches to the Orphan Crisis.” We needed to engage with just how complex orphan care has become as a global issue.

It’s time for simplicity. The reality is that, even though orphan care and adoption are tough and complex at times, people all over the world are discovering simple steps that can lead to truly transformative solutions.

Especially in a time like ours, complexity can lead to discouragement and even to analysis paralysis.

We need simple.

When facing the complexity of the global orphan care crisis, what we really need is a scale of orphan care that’s approachable, that’s solvable. We want powerful ideas and effective solutions that are especially beautiful because they are simple.

Please join J.D. GreearTony MeridaJohn Sowers, and Johnny Carr (as well as others we’re excigted to announce soon) for our 2015 conference to be held November 5-7 (Thursday evening through Saturday Noon) at 8,000 member Summit Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. As always, you can expect our commitment to creating the kinds of spaces where you can enjoy conversations among friends about issues and actions that matter. This year, you can also expect even more elegant simplicity.

Learn more.

The Other Side Of Adoption

by Dan Cruver Published Mar 4, 2015

AFTER-COLOR-460_300-459x707David Murray of Head, Heart, Hand reviews Brian Borgman’s After They Are Yours: The Grace And Grit of Adoption. He writes:

If you don’t want to cry, don’t read After They Are Yours: The Grace And Grit of Adoption. What a powerfully moving, deeply personal, and transparently realistic story about the challenges of adoption.

With the permission of his now 18-year-old adopted son, Alex, Pastor Brian Borgman narrates the struggles and successes of adopting Alex as a young child with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

The beautiful glory and grace of adoption is present throughout; but so is the grit and grime that the devil often throws in and stirs up in adoptive families. It reveals “the other side of adoption” that some adoption advocates and some adoption books ignore, minimize, or gloss over.

Read the entire review.

Redemptive-Adoptive History at a Glance

by Dan Cruver Published Feb 21, 2015

*Click on the image below to download the PDF.

Adoptive History Chart - The Big Picture jpeg

Quiz: Assess your spiritual maturity

by Dan Cruver Published Feb 18, 2015


*This is a guest post by Tony Merida.

Can you name an orphan?

That’s the only question on this quiz, but I failed the test.

I was never opposed to orphan care or being generous to the poor. I was just very indifferent. Sure, I had a sense of sympathy toward those who were weak and powerless; I saw the pictures and was moved. But I rarely acted.

Inevitably, I had to face the fact that sympathy is no substitute for action. My sporadic, momentary experiences of sympathy (for Ukrainian orphans and enslaved girls in the Philippines) didn’t help vulnerable children one bit.

Worse yet, I considered myself spiritually mature. I could name a lot of authors and famous preachers, and even knew many of them personally, but I couldn’t name an orphan.

Bad maturity metrics

In light of my orphan-less lifestyle, I began to reevaluate how I evaluate spiritual maturity. Spiritual maturity isn’t merely something you do with your mind. It’s not about the books you read. It’s not about the conferences you attend or speak at. It’s about the life you live.

It’s possible to listen to ten podcasts weekly, and to sing with the hottest bands, and be in four Beth Moore Bible studies, but miss the call to care for the least of these—and all the while live in a deceived state of thinking you’re mature.

Shouldn’t we be looking at the life of Jesus and the heart of God as revealed in Scripture, instead of whether or not we are keeping up with the Christian subculture?

“The highest privilege that the gospel offers”

The doctrine of adoption is the Cinderella doctrine of Pauline theology. Books about salvation often emphasize justification, redemption, reconciliation, and propitiation, but speak cursorily—if at all—about adoption. This is unfortunate, because the doctrine of adoption is, in the words of J. I. Packer, “the highest privilege that the gospel offers” (Knowing God, 207).

When we fail to ponder the privileges of adoption, we miss so much. It provides incredible hope and assurance to God’s people. The doctrine of adoption also inspires prayer and worship to God. And it reminds us of how we should relate to one another in the church: as adopted brothers and sisters.

Paul uses the word “adoption” in Ephesians, Galatians, and Romans, though the concept is taught elsewhere (including in the Old Testament—Israel was “God’s son”). Paul shows us that God the Father administered our adoption, God the Son accomplished our adoption, and God the Spirit applied our adoption, giving us a new nature, a new position, and the indwelling presence of God that enables us to cry, “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:6).

God is an adoptive Father—by choice. Adoption was never Plan B for God. It wasn’t an alternative solution. It was Plan A. Before the universe existed, God planned on adopting us into His family (Eph. 1:5).

Why did God adopt us?

Because He is gracious and merciful. God didn’t adopt us because of our attractive merits, but because of His amazing mercy. Therefore, when Paul tells us to “be imitators of God, as beloved children,” part of that means reflecting the adopting love of God to a world in need (Eph. 5:1).

Certainly, not everyone is called to adopt, and not every orphan is available for adoption; but every believer is called to imitate God.

More hard questions

Considering all of this led me to take a more honest look at my own life. If God is a father to the fatherless, and I am to reflect Him in every way, then doesn’t that mean I should care for the fatherless too?

If “true religion” involves caring for orphans in their affliction, as James 1:27 says, then what kind of religion am I practicing if it doesn’t involve some measure of orphan care?

Am I neglecting “the weightier matters” of doing justice and mercy like the Pharisees that frustrated Jesus (Matt. 23:23)?

Have I turned into a polished professional pastor whose public life is far more impressive than my own personal life?

These questions haunted me. I began to see that in many ways the poorest of the poor were orphans, and there are millions of fatherless kids, not to mention the “functionally fatherless” in our neighborhoods.

This reality, coupled with the weight of numerous passages on the subject, led me to repentance and some life-altering decisions.

True religion

Long story short, my wife and I set out to meet some orphans. We ended up bringing a few home with us.

Sometimes people look at me funny when I’m with my Ukrainian son and my Ethiopian son, since they both call me “Papa.” Observers often have questions. As I talk with them, and eventually share that we have five adopted children, the most common question is “Why?”

What moved my heart the most was the doctrine of adoption. Of course, this isn’t what most people expect to hear. They expect to hear about infertility. But my wife and I were led to adopt because of theology not biology.

We’ve now passed on “the adoption bug” to our kids. Recently I was taking my son Joshua to baseball practice. He said, “Papa, when I get old, I want to adopt from every country. I want to adopt from Ukraine, Ethiopia, China, and Kentucky.”

He doesn’t understand everything about adoption, but Joshua already has a sensitivity to others in need. His little heart has already grasped the idea that those adopted should extend adopting love to others.

I don’t tell every Christian to adopt children. I do tell them to elevate their view of adoption, and to seriously consider it. Here’s my simple application: Every Christian must do something to care for the orphan.

Whether you’re involved with adoption, foster care, respite, or simply caring for the functionally fatherless in your community, the question every Christian must ask is, “What can I do to practice James 1:27?”

We all are not called to become adoptive parents, but we are all called to care for orphans. Orphan care is not for the exceptional Christians. It’s for the ordinary ones.

Get to know an orphan and get to know the God who adopted you.

For more on this topic, see Tony Merida’s new book Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down.

Tony Merida is the founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC. Tony is the author of Ordinary, Faithful Preaching, co-author of Orphanology, and serves as a general editor and as contributor to the Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary series along with David Platt and Danny Akin. He is married to Kimberly, with whom he has five adopted children.


The Good. The Bad. The Beautiful.

by Dan Cruver Published Feb 18, 2015


“At a time in history when so much attention is rightly focussed on the child, and all that children suffer—from war, poverty, abuse, and loss of family—it comes as glorious good news that God does not leave us as desolate orphans (Jn. 14:18) but promises…through the Spirit, a home to dwell in of true belonging and abiding love. But it is equally a rebuke to our society, which thinks of itself as come of age, and in which all too many who are disturbed, insecure, and immature try to prove their adulthood by the abusive exercise of power over the vulnerable young, that a child is precisely what each of us must be in order to be whole. And that child, regenerate, adopted, neophyte, on the way at last to maturity and full stature (Eph. 4:13ff.), is what we may become by simply saying Yes to the one who for our sakes risked his Sonship on the cross and yielded to the orphaned grief of Fatherlessness on Easter Saturday” (Alan E. Lewis, Between Cross & Resurrection: A Theology of Holy Saturday, p. 445).

Fundamental Question #2: Is Paul’s Language of Adoption to Be Taken Literally or Metaphorically? (Answered)

Finally, we come to the point of decision. To be clear, we are not deciding whether Paul’s language of adoption bespeaks a reality or not, for as those holding a high view of Scripture we understand it does. Rather, we are deciding whether Paul writes of this reality directly ~ meaning that God has actually or literally adopted us, or indirectly ~ meaning that the language of adoption helps us to speak of our acceptance with God in ways which, apart from this language, would be either limited or impossible.

The literal reading has its attractions. It spares us a number of challenges: first, the impression that because something is metaphorical it cannot speak of reality; secondly, the uncertainty of wondering what the believer’s acceptance is in Christ if it is not, literally, an adoption; thirdly,  the complexity of figuring out what aspects of Semitic, Greek, or Roman adoption Paul had in mind when writing of adoption in Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians; and, fourthly, the need to explain both Paul’s and Calvin’s silence pertaining to the nature of the language of adoption.

After weighing the issues cautiously, thoughtfully, and evenhandedly, I opt, despite these attractions, to stick with the metaphorical understanding I first assumed in print in 1996 and 1997*. Four main reasons preclude a change of mind:

1. The general reason: The literal reading does not guarantee a complete view of reality any more than the metaphorical reading.

Scripture throughout indicates that there is more to God and his ways than has been revealed. Deuteronomy 29:29 states: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever.” Accordingly, the literal reading can only give access to the reality of adoption to the degree God has chosen to reveal it. His understanding of the believer’s adoption remains qualitatively better than ours, for he knows considerably more about it than we do. Thus, the literal reading can give us the pure but not the full essence of what it means to be adopted. The metaphorical reading, by contrast, owns this limitation but goes one step further; namely, to say that it is because the wonder of our acceptance with God is beyond articulation that he has expressed it through the apostle Paul in terms of adoption. Accordingly, it would be mistaken to assume that the literal and metaphorical readings offer us, respectively, high and low views of adoption. Since both views hold to reality we are choosing in actuality between two high views.

2. The biblical reason. The metaphorical reading is consistent with the nature of Scripture.

On the one hand, the divineness of Scripture indicates that God is able to speak forth his truth, and that he has initiated both the revelation of his truth and the manner of it. Simply stated, God has accommodated his revelation to our finite capacities. This proverbial baby talk helps us, then, to understand God’s truth in ways we would not be able to otherwise. In this light, metaphors function as one of God’s ways of speaking to us in our own language. On the other hand, the humanness of Scripture reminds us that although the metaphor is chosen and inspired by God, it is drawn from our earthly realm. The Spirit breathed out on holy men who were located in particular times and places, societies and cultural milieu. In the mystery of the inspiration of Scripture there transpired a concurrence of God’s will and man’s experience, in which the believer’s acceptance with God (known fully only to God) became couched in terms of adoption (practiced in society by man). Thus, we may say that Paul’s language of adoption is both top down (from God) and bottom up (from man), in that order.           

3. The textual reason: Too much weight has been placed on Ephesians 3:14-15 (“I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named”).

Paul prays to the first person of the Godhead by means of his personal name, “the Father.” To him he attributes the naming of either  ”every family” or “all fatherhood” (pasa patria) in heaven and on earth. Clearly, the Fatherhood of God is original or archetypal and thereby the source of the derived or ectypal fatherhood of man. While God’s Fatherhood is above and beyond, prior to and determinative of, human fatherhood, there is nothing in the text to insist that God’s Fatherhood must of necessity be taken literally. Writes T. F. Torrance, “there is certainly a figurative or metaphorical ingredient in the human terms ‘father’ and ‘son’ as they are used in divine revelation” (The Christian Doctrine of God, One Being Three Persons [Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996], 157). The name “Father” helps us speak of the first person of the Godhead in a way more informative and colorful than the description of him as unbegotten or unproceeding. It also guards us from thinking of God as male. The name “Father” is rather intended to express the priority, love, security, and care of the first person of the Godhead than an engendered relationship toward his children. That is why God is revealed in Scripture as Father, and yet his love is also expressed in maternal ways. Were this all a literal rather than a metaphorical reality, we might be tempted to think of God ~ dare I say it ~ in transgendered terms. When, however, we understand the reality of God and his children to be metaphorically expressed, we also discover how God can function as Father to children who are at one and the same time both born to him (John) and adopted (Paul) by him.  This is highly unusual in the literal realm, but clearly possible when understood in terms of two juxtaposed metaphors.

4. The Literary reason: Arguments from silence used to support the naive-realist literal understanding are not strong.

For Paul, the critical point is that the Father and the adoption of his sons is real, not how they are real. Paul’s point is rather that we should believe on the Son for acquaintance with the Father, than that we understand how the language of Fatherhood works when we can call God Abba.

It is more challenging to explain why Calvin attaches no literary category to the language of adoption, when, obviously, he was very familiar with various biblical figures of speech, and was not shy in identifying them (e.g., similes). At least three explanations are possible: First, that we are yet to come across a place in Calvin’s corpus where he clearly enunciates a metaphorical understanding of the language of adoption; secondly, that he simply overlooked explaining how the language of adoption functions; or, thirdly, that he believed adoption to bespeak a literal reality. If this third explanation turns out to be the case, then evidently I have taken the unusual step of differing from our hero in the faith.      

Reflecting on these four reasons for the metaphorical reading of Paul’s language of adoption, I do not doubt that there are questions to answer and points to clarify. We’ll come to some of these at least. It is sufficient for now to underline as we close two essential truths which must not be forgotten. Firstly, that Paul’s language of adoption is inspired by God even if taken from a human practice, and is therefore top-down first and bottom-up second. Secondly, that Paul’s language of adoption is expressive of reality, even though couched metaphorically. In other words, Paul speaks of our acceptance with God other than in terms of actual literal reality, but only in order that he may write of the reality of that acceptance at all. In the purposes of God, the language of adoption enables Paul to extol the wonders of the believer’s acceptance with God infallibly, powerfully, and colorfully!

In response to such a revelation we can but say, all glory be to God! The “How so?” we will come to again.


* Tim [J. R.] Trumper, “The Metaphorical Import of Adoption: A Plea for Realisation. I: The Adoption Metaphor in Biblical Usage,” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 14:2  (Autumn 1996), 129-145.

Tim [J. R.] Trumper, “The Metaphorical Import of Adoption: A Plea for Realisation. II: The Adoption Metaphor in Theological Usage,” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 15:2  (Autumn 1997), 98-115.


To follow the conversation from the beginning, go to:

For more from the ministry of Tim J. R. Trumper, go to . You may follow him on Twitter @TimJRTrumper


5 Questions Adoptees Are Tired Of Being Asked

by Dan Cruver Published Jan 7, 2015

5 Questions

Huffington Post article by an adopted teenager:

As an adopted teenager, I think there is a fine line between being curious and being nosey, especially when it comes to personal issues such as adoption. Most kids will point out the obvious: “Oh, that girl/boy does not look like their parents, they must be adopted.” While many people will observe that I look nothing like my parents (observation skills 100+). To a certain point, the finger pointing and stares get up my grill.

I believe there is a certain etiquette and code of conduct, when it comes to being curious and asking a person about their personal life (in terms of being the adopted or foster child of that family).

Read Mei Webb’s 5 questions adoptees are tired of being asked.

Fundamental Question #2: Is Paul’s Language of Adoption to Be Taken Literally or Metaphorically? (Continued)

Since, to my knowledge, there is no source to which we may go to compare in full the arguments for the naive- and critical-realist readings of Paul on adoption, we have begun to identify the respective cases which may be made in favor of their literal and metaphorical approaches.

The naive-realist could, I’ve posited, defend the  literal reading on four grounds:

1. Paul’s view in Ephesians 3:14 that “every family in heaven and on earth is named” from the Father. This process, we note, is top down not bottom up, meaning that the naming ~ a matter worth exploring ~ comes from God and not from man.

2. The absence of a definitive identification in the New Testament of the societal practice influencing Paul’s language of adoption.

3. The absence in Calvin, to my knowledge or remembrance, of the categorization of adoption as a figure of speech.

4. The freedom the literal reading affords us to expound Paul’s uses of huiothesia on his own terms; that is to say, without having to:

A. Identify throughout, and without available guidelines, the influence of Semitic, Greek, or Roman practices of adoption.

B. Determine how the possible influence of background and the actual teaching of Paul’s letters correlate.  

In short, the naive realist proceeds to a straightforward exposition of Paul’s use of huiothesia, believing adoption to begin with God and not man. The parallels between God’s adoption of the believer and man’s adoption of another are explained in terms of the vestiges of the divine image in man. Although fallen, man has gotten his societal practices of adoption from God. In a nutshell, God’s adoption is archetypal (original to him), but man’s is ectypal (derived from his). Thus, to the naive realist the concern to identify the social practice of adoption influencing Paul ~ whether Semitic, Greek, or Roman ~ is largely irrelevant.

The Case for a Metaphorical or Critical-Realistic understanding of Adoption

We would be naive ~ excuse the pun! ~ to think that the critical-realist has no response. Three main arguments come to mind, each forming a step in the journey from the literal to the metaphorical reading of Paul’s use of huiothesia.

Firstly, the critical-realist stresses that the ways of God are ultimately beyond the language of man. Accordingly, the literal reading of adoption is very limited. While God and man view the same grace of adoption, they do so very differently. Whereas God considers adoption from his infinite, eternal, and all-knowing vantage point as the dispenser of this grace, man requires revelation in order to learn of it. Once he has, he can only ponder the grace from a finite, temporal, and limited perspective, and, in contrast to God, as one who is a potential or actual receiver of the adoption. Certainly, the perspectives of God (the adopter) and man (the adoptee) overlap, but, argues the critical realist, we get above ourselves if we think of a literal reading of Paul’s references to adoption as a full or exhaustive account of what God has done in accepting his people. We can know of adoption only to the degree that God has spoken of it, and to the extent we have experienced it. The naive realist would not disagree.

Secondly, I anticipate the critical realist claiming that God’s revealing of adoption is accommodated to our human capacities. Those familiar with John Calvin will immediately recall his belief that God accommodates his interaction with man to human sinfulness on the one hand and to human limitations on the other. Thus, notwithstanding Calvin’s silence about how we are to read Paul’s language of adoption, his general thought opens up the possibility that Paul’s use of huiothesia is accommodated to our limitations. On this understanding, the language of adoption is God’s baby-talk version of how he accepts believers as his children. He has not actually adopted us, but by describing our acceptance in terms of adoption, God is able to convey to us in a graphic and powerful way what his embrace means to him and to us. The baby-talk, then, enables God to get through to us, despite our mental and spiritual limitations, the genuine truth of acceptance in Christ. Without the language of adoption (or of other comparable metaphors or models), we would be left with the bare concept of acceptance, and unable to speak of its wonder except in the briefest, dullest, and most repetitive way. The concept permits us to say “I am accepted in Christ!”, but that’s about all. Its metaphorical garb ~ in this case the rich teaching of adoption ~ enables us to say so much more, and in ways which light up the mind and grab the heart!

Thirdly, the critical realist would have us remember that the metaphors or models of Scripture are consistent with what we know of the Bible. Holy Scripture is God’s Word, but it possesses both divineness and humanness. The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and yet the Spirit made use of the differing life experiences and styles of writing of the authors who contributed to Scripture. It follows that there is no contradiction between the influence of the Holy Spirit on Paul, and his depiction of the believer’s acceptance by God in terms of a societal practice of one ancient form or another. Accordingly, a metaphorical reading of Paul’s use of huiothesia is both legitimate and feasible. Adoption is such an appealing motif because it decorates the wonderful fact (but bare concept) of our acceptance in Jesus. A product of the inspiration of the apostle Paul, adoption also grants us increased insight into what the acceptance means for those united through faith to Christ.

All this begs the question “Which reading shall we endorse, the literal or the metaphorical?” It’s a tough call! Each case compels, but each raises questions meriting further consideration. Do join me in praying for further light, and in pondering whether we are obliged to embrace one reading to the exclusion of the other.


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Together We Can Help Orphans Now

by Dan Cruver Published Dec 17, 2014

Vulnerable Child Ethiopia

Yes, the orphan crisis is complicated, but there are simple steps to move us toward attainable solutions. When we think of the world-wide orphan crisis, one way to motivate ourselves to action is recognizing there really are simple solutions!

Believe it or not, we are already closer to solutions that will help orphaned and vulnerable children than we might have thought. Don’t be paralyzed by the complexity of the crisis. Be energized by simple solutions each of us can take. Each person, each church, each organization, and even each of our children can make a real difference.

How Can You Join Us?

Together for Adoption is working to finalize Five Simple Steps you can take that can help significantly in orphan prevention, family preservation and reunification. And when those efforts are not possible, you can have a part in facilitating ethical indigenous, domestic, and international adoption.

Your support makes the difference in helping orphaned and vulnerable children both in the U.S. and around the world. Together for Adoption exists to provide gospel-centered resources that magnify the adopting grace of God the Father in Christ Jesus and mobilize the church for global orphan care. With God’s sustaining grace and your help, we can achieve our year-end goal of $50,000 and you can contribute easily to this goal via our secure website. Thank you for standing with us. We look forward to a great year of ministry in 2015.

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A Quick Look Back

We are amazed and humbled to look back on the last 8 years to see what God has done through T4A. Our team begins each year unsure of what God has in store for us next. We are learning that each new year is in His sovereign, kind, and gracious hands. Looking back, we have seen God bring about:

—13 conferences (domestic and international in 5 continents)
—4 Live in the Story Events | Theological Boot Camps
—2 full-length books
—Over 1,200 posts and print articles

Many of you may not know that no member of the T4A team receives a salary. We have donated much of our own resources and time and have also relied on the generous contributions of friends and donors. By God’s grace the conferences have covered themselves.

Up Next

In addition to our conferences, in 2015 we hope to continue to provide gospel-centered resources and training to churches and leaders in the US and around the world. This is where we need your help!

—online training in gospel-centered orphan care
—translate Reclaiming Adoption into Spanish
—development of resources to equip the church (both in video & print)

Would you consider partnering with us this year to help make this happen? The donating process is user-friendly, whether it is a $5 or $5,000 gift.

A gift of any size would make a huge difference.

Yours in Christ,

Dan, Jason, and the T4A Team

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By the way, our 2015 national conference is November 5-7 at The Summit Church in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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