Just a few minutes ago I finally had the opportunity to take a look at the most recent issue of Themelios, “an international evangelical theological journal that expounds and defends the historic Christian faith.” I was pleased to find that the first article listed is D.A. Carson’s helpful analysis of Richard Stearns’ popular book, The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? Carson offers a critical corrective that I believe, if heeded, will strengthen evangelicalism’s growing commitment to address poverty holistically. In the final section of his article, Carson writes:
So now I come to the fairly recent and certainly very moving book by Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? This frank and appealing book surveys worldwide poverty and argues that the American failure to take up God’s mandate to address poverty is “the hole in our gospel.” Without wanting to diminish the obligation Christians have to help the poor, and with nothing but admiration for Mr Stearns’s personal pilgrimage, his argument would have been far more helpful and compelling had he observed three things:
First, “what God expects of us” (his subtitle) is, by definition, not the gospel. This is not the great news of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. Had Mr Stearns cast his treatment of poverty as one of the things to be addressed by the second greatest commandment, or as one of several entailments of the gospel, I could have recommended his book with much greater confidence. As it is, the book will contribute to declining clarity as to what the gospel is.
Second, even while acknowledging—indeed, insisting on the importance of highlighting—the genuine needs that Mr Stearns depicts in his book, it is disturbing not to hear similar anguish over human alienation from God. The focus of his book is so narrowly poverty that the sweep of what the gospel addresses is lost to view. Men and women stand under God’s judgment, and this God of love mandates that by the means of heralding the gospel they will be saved not only in this life but in the life to come. Where is the anguish that contemplates a Christ-less eternity, that cries, “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses. . . . Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone” (Ezek 18:30–32). The analysis of the problem is too small, and the gospel is correspondingly reduced.
Third, some studies have shown that Christians spend about five times more mission dollars on issues related to poverty than they do on evangelism and church planting. At one time, “holistic ministry” was an expression intended to move Christians beyond proclamation to include deeds of mercy. Increasingly, however, “holistic ministry” refers to deeds of mercy without any proclamation of the gospel—and that is not holistic. It is not even halfistic, since the deeds of mercy are not the gospel: they are entailments of the gospel. Although I know many Christians who happily combine fidelity to the gospel, evangelism, church planting, and energetic service to the needy, and although I know some who call themselves Christians who formally espouse the gospel but who live out few of its entailments, I also know Christians who, in the name of a “holistic” gospel, focus all their energy on presence, wells in the Sahel, fighting disease, and distributing food to the poor, but who never, or only very rarely, articulate the gospel, preach the gospel, announce the gospel, to anyone. Judging by the distribution of American mission dollars, the biggest hole in our gospel is the gospel itself.
We’re amid the remaining miscellaneous writings of the of the first three centuries. They are too numerous to mention individually, but include chiefly the Early Liturgies, Pseudo-Clementine Literature, Apocrypha of the New Testament, The [Papal] Decretals, and ancient Syriac Documents (Ante-Nicene Fathers 7: 509-8:785).
It was tempting to omit the reading of these, for some are of uncertain origin, some are apocryphal, and some are forgeries. I resisted for three main reasons. First, because the purpose of our trekking through the church fathers of the first three centuries has been to undertake a search seemingly not attempted or completed before. To cut corners at this stage would devalue the venture. Secondly, the omission would create the nagging feeling that something important of the history of adoption has been overlooked. This feeling would negatively affect the confidence in which we can speak of the fortunes of adoption in the first three centuries. Thirdly, as unreliable as are these documents, they nevertheless give us an idea of the profile of adoption in the corporate mind of the church during the period.
The reading now done, it may be said with confidence that there is very little in these writings to enhance our knowledge of the history of adoption. While there are the usual sporadic occurrences of terms related to adoption ~ Father, sons of God, children of God, brothers, and heirs ~ there are only three references to adoption.
Two occur in the corrupted Excerpts of Theodotus. They speak in relation to Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6 of the freedom of the believer from an enslaving fear. “Advanc[ing] by love to adoption” the erstwhile slave now loves the God he once feared. Such a revolution is the emancipation to adoption (A-N F 8:45, 47).
The third reference is found in the Recognitions of Clement. These the translator Thomas Smith calls “a kind of philosophical and theological romance.” The reference speaks of how a person is adopted, and corrects the perception in the Excerpts of Theodotus that we can be adopted by our own love for God:
When God had made man after His own image and likeness, He grafted into His work a certain breathing and odour of His divinity that so men, being made partakers of His Only begotten, might through Him be also friends of God and sons of adoption. (A-N F 8:136)
Doubtless there’s much here to analyse theologically and practically, but I end with a passage which speaks of the hope of God’s adopted sons and daughters. The source will not impress ~ it’s a forged decretal of Pope Pontianus (Bishop of the Roman Church, 230-235 A.D.) ~ but the truth and encouragement articulated is clear enough:
. . . the present life is a sojourning; and to him who sighs after the true fatherland, the place of his sojourning is a trial, however pleasant it may seem. And as to you who seek the fatherland, among the sighs which ye heave I hear the groans also of human oppression rising. And this happens by the wonderful disposition of Almighty God, in order that, while the truth calls you in love, this present world may cast back your affection from itself through tribulations which it brings on, and that the mind may be so much the more easily delivered from the love of this world, as it is also impelled while it is called. Therefore, as you have begun, give heed to the duty of hospitality; labour most urgently in prayer and tears; devote yourselves more liberally and freely now to those almsgivings which you have ever loved, in order that in the recompense the profit to you for your work may be greater in proportion as your zeal for the labour has risen to higher degrees here. (A-N F 8:622-23)
The world of orphan care suggests that a grateful response to the promise of the Fatherland is underway.
Further access to the ministry of Tim J. R. Trumper is obtainable at:
The brief Crossway video below provides a wonderful explanation of what it means to be Gospel-centered. As such, it also unpacks the core of our mission at Together for Adoption: T4A 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.
Over at Shared Justice, Dr. Becca McBride answers the following important question: Should it trouble us that US citizens are spending so much time and money caring for the vulnerable children in other countries when we have so many vulnerable children in our own country? Read Becca’s insightful answer.
Becca McBride is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Calvin College, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her research focuses on investigating how politics influence states’ efforts to control intercountry adoption, and how advocacy organizations influence state policy on adoption. She has a PhD in Political Science from Vanderbilt University and an MA in Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies from Georgetown University.
The nuggets digested to date have given us a taste of the doctrine of adoption in the apostolic fathers, the Greek fathers, and the Latin fathers, respectively. Here we begin to close out the history of the doctrine in the first three centuries anno Domini by considering the remaining extant writings. These are an assortment which includes those without a known author, of spurious authorship, or of more recent discovery, etc. (Ante-Nicene Fathers 7:369-9:291).
The first of these documents to mention adoption is the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles. Although the authenticity, authorship, and dating of the Constitutions has been questioned, it is clear that they were compiled to portray apostolic concerns about the order of the church. The Constitutions are relevant and interesting to us because they touch on the two kinds of adoption: a spiritual or saving adoption and a practical or diaconal adoption.
Spiritual or Saving Adoption
Describing the work of a bishop, the Constitutions state that he “is the minister of the word, the keeper of knowledge, the mediator between God and you in several parts of your divine worship. He is the teacher of piety; and, next after God, he is your father, who has begotten you again to the adoption of sons by water and the Spirit” (A-N F 7:410). The deacon like everyone else in the church must revere the bishop as father. Likely reminding the deacon of his baptism and ordination, the Constitutions continue : ”By thy bishop, O man, God adopts thee for His child. Acknowledge, O son, that right hand which was a mother to three. Love him who, after God, is become a father to thee, and honour him” (ibid., 412). The deacon must, for example, seek the bishop’s consent in almsgiving so as not to bring his spiritual father into reproach.
Later, adoption is referred to in the context of the baptism of catechumens. Among the litany of what they should believe and intend, they are to “hate very way of iniquity, and walk in the way of truth, that [they] might be thought worthy of the laver of regeneration, to the adoption of sons, which is in Christ” (ibid., 476). The bishop for his part must bless the baptized and sanctify them, preparing them to become worthy of the Lord’s spiritual gifts and of “the true adoption of [God's] spiritual mysteries” (ibid., 484). They will, for instance, pray three times a day, “preparing themselves beforehand, that [they] may be worthy of the adoption of the Father” (ibid., 470).
Practical or Diaconal Adoption
Evidently, the early church took the Christian life seriously. Their devotion included a social conscience. Negatively, they opposed abortion and infanticide (ibid., 466). Positively, they urged the care of orphans. Book IV of the Constitutions opens with the helping of the poor. “Those who have no children,” reads the first title, “should adopt orphans, and treat them as their own children”:
When any Christian becomes an orphan, whether it be a young man or a maid, it is good that some one of the brethren who is without a child should take the young man, and esteem him in the place of a son; and he that has a son about the same age, and that is marriageable, should marry the maid to him: for they which do so perform a great work, and become fathers to the orphans, and shall receive the reward of this charity from the Lord God. But if anyone who walks in the way of man-pleasing is rich, and therefore is ashamed of orphans, the Father of orphans and Judge of widows will make provision for the orphans, but himself will have such an heir as will send what he has spared; and it shall happen to him according as it is said: “What things the holy people have not eaten, those shall the Assyrians eat.” As also Isaiah says: “Your land, strangers devour it in your presence.”
This isn’t quite missional adoption, but it is diaconal adoption. Today’s missional adoption has taken the logic and compassion one step further. It’s unlikely the ante-Nicene fathers would mind!
Further access to the ministry of Tim J. R. Trumper is obtainable at:
I think this is the best blog post I’ve read in 2013. If you want to read a story of what it can look like when love truly embraces the brokenness of abandoned children, told by one of those abandoned children, you need to read this post. It tells of a beauty that does not sugarcoat or bypass the brokenness. Bill Lewis writes:
Thirty years; most of my life, but for me it represents something big.
Thirty years is an anniversary for me.
Thirty years ago I was hungry; I was thirsty; I needed clothes. Missing from my life were the fundamental things children need.
An older couple, previously living a “normal” American life, stepped into my situation and gave me the things I most desperately needed: food, clothes, a home, love, and most importantly, Jesus.
My two older sisters and I were abandoned by our biological parents. I don’t remember how old I was, because I don’t remember a time when they were there. We knew what it was like to be hungry, dirty, cold, and without clothes or blankets. We were left in our apartment by ourselves all day and all night . . . every day and every night.
I remember my five-year old sister making us popcorn; I remember climbing on the counters to find peanut butter above the refrigerator; I remember being so hungry I ate dog food out of a garbage can outside . . .
. . . I also remember the day my life changed forever.
Not everyone is called to adopt…but all are called to “defend the cause of the fatherless” and “to look after the widow and orphan. Come learn about the MANY WAYS we can answer this call!
We will have speakers, Jodi Tucker, the International Director for Orphan Sunday and Author, emcee Matt Oettinger, Elder and one of the leaders of the church’s orphan care ministry at The Summit Church in Raleigh, and musical guest George Dennehy. George is an adoptive son and musician who plays the guitar and piano with his feet!! You can see see his amazing family and a glimpse of his gifting in this video here.
We will also have a number of Champions/Advocates in attendance to educate and empower you to get involved, create change and BE GOOD NEWS:
New Horizons for Children
Lifeline Children’s Services
Together for Adoption
Connected in Hope
One World Market
The Mighty River Project
Help One Now
We are so excited to help ignite the fire, and fan the flames in the hearts of all those who hear this call! We are inviting people from around the region to come and learn more about God’s heart for the widow and orphan. We hope you’ll join us! Register now for this event.
*All are welcome; however, there will be no childcare provided.
**This is a non-profit event. Net proceeds will go to the Kings Park International Church COMMISSION Fund. Donations accepted and greatly appreciated.
Celebrate the gift of adoption! Join us for the second national Together for Adoption conference in Canada to consider how we can serve children without families. You’ll learn about foster care and adoption, parenting children who have experienced trauma, and ways to lead an adoption ministry in your church!
4 Main Sessions & 16 workshops and exhibitors to help you in your adoption or fostercare journey!
Speakers include: Paul Pennington, Debra Delulio Jones, Pastor Joyce Rees, Pastor Matt Boda.
This conference presented in partnership with ABBA Canada and a coalition of Calgary area churches including RockPointe, Centre Street, First Alliance and Glamorgan Church of God.
In the years which followed Origen and immediately preceded the Council of Nicea (254-325 A.D.), the Greek Fathers almost entirely ceased to mention adoption, at least so far as we can tell from their extant writings. The references simply petered out as they did among their Latin counterparts.*
Only six times does mention of adoption occur throughout the writings of Gregory Thaumaturgus and Dionysius of Alexander (Origen’s two most distinguished students in the School of Alexandria); Julius Africanus; Anatolius; the minor contributions of Alexander of Cappadocia, Theognostus of Alexandria, Pierius of Alexandria, Theonas of Alexandria, Phileas, Pamphilus, and Malchion; Archelaus; Alexander of Lycopolis; Peter of Alexandria; Alexander of Alexandria; and Methodius (Ante-Nicene Fathers 6:1-413)! A closer look reveals that the relevant references are found in but two of these theologians: Gregory Thaumaturgus and Bishop Alexander of Alexandria.
For Gregory’s interest in adoption we turn to his early Trinitarian creed, A Sectional Confession of Faith. Not only has Gregory’s authorship of the Confession been doubted, one of the references is but a quotation of Romans 8:15-16. The other two help distinguish the Sonship of Christ “who is in nature God” from the sonship of angels and of men (Ante-Nicene Fathers 6:43, 45).
The references in Alexander, the last figure of note in the School of Alexandria, are in a similar vein but possess an interesting context. As Bishop, Alexander was in a difficult position. His predecessor, Achillas, had allowed Arius (256-336 A.D.) to become presbyter of the oldest and most influential church in Alexandria. Regrettably, Arius was a denier of the Son’s co-equality with the Father. He did not originate the denial, but it has ever since been connected with his name.
Initially, Arius influenced some Deacons, which led Alexander to call a meeting of the presbytery. Failing to defeat the error a synodical meeting was called, until at last a Council of the entire church, meeting at Nicea, rejected Arius’ teaching. Meanwhile, Alexander, who is sometimes said to have acted too slowly against Arius, did two things which prevented Arius’ views from becoming the church’s accepted orthodoxy. First, he wrote a treatise against Arius titled Epistles on the Arian Heresy and The Disruption and the Deposition of Arius. He also became the patron of the young Athanasius who went with him to the Council of Nicea as his Deacon. The rest, they say, is history. Eventually Athanasius succeeded Alexander as Bishop of Alexandria.
In Alexander there’s a thrice-repeated distinction between the Sonship of Christ and that of believers. Christ’s Sonship, “which is according to the nature of the Godhead of the Father transcends, by an ineffable excellence [i.e., one beyond words], the sonship of those who have been adopted by Him” (6:293). In effect, Alexander warns those of us raising the profile of adoption not to allow the believer’s privilege of adoptive sonship to obscure the ever unique and divine Sonship of Christ. Alexander’s point, however, was not to demean the former. The very Lord who is “by nature the Son of the Father,” possessing a Sonship that is “proper and peculiar, natural and excellent,” and “is by all adored,” blesses those he makes sons by adoption, granting them “the spirit of adoption.” This balance Alexander repeats, notwithstanding his application of salvation guaranteed to make wince any card-carrying Protestant: “The only-begotten Son of the Father . . . possesses an indefectible Sonship; but the adoption of rational sons belongs not to them by nature, but is prepared for them by the probity [integrity] of their life, and by the free gift of God” (6:294).
We are greatly indebted to all in history like Alexander who have upheld the divinity of Christ and his co-equality with the Father. How we need their example today! But we also learn from him that it’s possible to recover adoptive sonship without obscuring that Sonship of Christ which was, is, and always will be, unique and adored.
* At http://www.fromhisfullness.com/tim-jr-trumper/adoption/adoption-nuggets-2-dipping-into-historical-theology/ this post follows on in chronological order from that of Origen. See the “Ninth Nugget” and “Tenth Nugget.”
If you’ve found this beneficial, there’s more spiritual encouragement to be found at the on-line homes of Tim J R Trumper:
We refer to Adoption in Scripture as a Trinitarian story-word and we write about the Story of the Trinity because we believe we’re shaped profoundly by the stories that captivate us — and there is no more captivating Story than the one written by our Triune God.
LiveintheStory.com was created to help you “live into” (see and click quotation below) the Story written by God. If you’ve yet to visit Live in the Story, let me encourage you to do so today. We’re confident you’ll be glad you did.
Do you know the primary reason fatherlessness is an absolute tragedy? It’s because ultimately fatherlessness turns reality into unreality.
In John 17, Jesus himself tells us that the Father “loved [him] before the foundation of the world” (v. 24). And then just two verses later Jesus says that his Father sent him into the world so that the love with which his Father loved him may be in us (v. 26).
What do these two verses in John 17 tell us? They at least tell us that before anything other than God existed, there was a Father who loved His Son and a Son who loved his Father. “Jesus Christ, God the Son,” Mike Reeves writes, “is the Logic, the blueprint for creation. He is the one eternally loved by the Father; creation is about the extension of that love outward so that it might be enjoyed by others. The fountain of love brimmed over. The Father so delighted in his Son that his love for him overflowed, so that the Son might be the firstborn among many sons” (Delighting in the Trinity, p. 43).
Commenting on Jesus’ words in John 14 about “preparing a place” for us, Andreas Köstenberger and Scott Swain write, “the ‘place’ that Jesus prepares for the disciples is his filial place in the presence of the Father, the place where he has eternally basked in the Father’s love” (Father, Son, and Spirit: The Trinity and John’s Gospel, p. 144).
Adding his voice to this glorious chorus of praise to the Father and the Son, Gerrit Dawson writes,
“The universe came to be as part of the eternal love story of the Father and the Son. Before the worlds began to be, the Father loved his Son and the Son loved the Father. In a mystery beyond description, this love occurred in the ‘bonds’ of the Holy Spirit. The third person of the Trinity was the personal glue, the love (as Augustine said) that ever flowed within the triune being. Indeed, all things were made out of the overflow of this love between the Father and the Son in the Spirit.
“More simply put, the universe came into being out of a great love story. In the virgin’s womb, this love touched down in the midst of our darkened, broken world. The incarnate God showed his sacred face in the infant Jesus so that we could now enter this love. He tasted the sorrow of this world so that we might be taken into the joy of the eternal love of the Father and the Son” (The Blessing Life: A Journey to Unexpected Joy, pp. 92-93).
Why all this talk about the love between the Father and the Son? Because of its importance. Without the Father’s love for His Son and the Son’s love for his Father, God is not God and there’s no such thing as creation.
Created reality absolutely depends upon the love between the Father and the Son. This is the primary reason I believe fatherlessness in our world is a horrific tragedy. Its temporal presence ultimately points to the turning of reality into unreality should the Father ever stop loving His Son (which, by the way, will never, ever happen!).
I am convinced that the eternal love relationship between the Father and the Son is the primary reason James says that visiting orphans and widows in their affliction is done “before God, the Father” (James 1:27). Therefore, not only do we love each because our Triune God first loved us, but we also love the fatherless because the eternal Father first loved his eternal Son.
Might it be that the Christian motivation for loving the fatherless is far deeper, higher, and wider than any of us realize?
Simply put, Together for Adoption is a collection of amazing people who by God’s grace have come together around a common mission, love, and passion. We thoroughly enjoy being together and are wholeheartedly committed “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.”
We love each other and what God has called us to do. Hopefully, you can tell from the above picture that we enjoy each other and bring excitement to our efforts to accomplish T4A’s mission. We think it’s a great combination! I am so very grateful for each one of them!
Below are pictures of the more serious sort…
Pictured above left to right: Laura Giguere Lewis, Jessica Carpenter, Trey Ingram, Kaleb Kaleb Scharmahorn, Jason Kovacs, Dan Cruver, Scott Crawford, Johnny Carr, Sharon O’Meara Lyon, and Nemili Johnson.
As we come to mind, would you please pray for us? We greatly value your prayers.
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