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Imagine how a child in an orphanage would feel if she were adopted reunited with her impoverished mother (now economically stable) instead of placed in a new family

Note: Theologically, adoption is first about 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. It’s not either/or but both/and. I believe making this shift to include reconciliation will strengthen the practice of domestic, indigenous, and international adoption.

Shifting Our Paradigm (25 minute talk | PDF of Speaker Notes)

Adoption as reunification

PDF of Speaker Notes

Discussing the Paradigm (Panel: Jedd Medefind, Jason Kovacs, and Herbie Newell)

Workshop — Expanding on the Paradigm: Dan expands upon his talk

Transcript to Panel Question #1 (more will be added):

Panel Question 1:

Jason Kovacs:

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 that you’ve said this for years, and that I was even convicted that maybe I wasn’t fully understanding what you were teaching: adoption is reconciliation] last few years or something. 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 why this has not been shared more clearly taught and understood in the evangelical church?

Dan Cruver:

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?

Herbie Newell:

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?

Dan Cruver:

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.

More transcription of this panel discussion is forthcoming.

*More audio from T4A National Conference 2014.