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One of my dreams is that when Christians hear the word adoption, they will think first about their adoption by God. I am far from alone in this dream. I share it with those who have attended Together for Adoption conferences, and with innumerable other Christians, beginning with the Apostle Paul.

The word adoption is rooted in an ancient Greco-Roman legal practice, and until Paul everyone understood it as referring to human adoption, what we might also call horizontal adoption. But Paul gave the concept a theological underpinning by grounding it in vertical adoption—God’s adoption of sinners. Paul knew something that much of the Church today seems unaware of—if we learn to first think vertically about adoption, and only then horizontally, we will enjoy deeper communion with the triune God and experience greater missional engagement with the pain and suffering of this world. That’s what Reclaiming Adoption is about. We believe:

  1. the doctrine of adoption has been widely neglected within the Church historically;
  2. it remains neglected within much of the evangelical church today;
  3. a proper theological grounding of horizontal adoption within vertical adoption has profound implications for our understanding of both aspects, and therefore;
  4. to the extent we can recapture theological balance regarding adoption, the Church will be transformed and our witness to the world will be radically redefined.

Why is the theology of adoption so neglected? It’s a matter of where Christians have put their attention. It is generally believed that the Church has created thousands of creeds and confessions, with more than 150 being created during the Reformation period alone. Yet in scouring almost 1,900 years of Church history, Philip Schaff found only six creeds that contain a section on theological adoption.

To be fair, there are some good reasons for this. The early Church was primarily concerned with defining and defending the doctrines of Christ and the Trinity. Similarly, the Reformation and post-Reformation Church focused largely on defending the doctrine of justification. We can be eternally glad and grateful these battles were resolutely fought and won. At the same time, the tight focus on a relatively small number of doctrines unintentionally prevented the Church from developing thorough scriptural teaching on vertical adoption.

This is largely why Christians tend to interpret the word adoption first (and often only) in terms of adopting children. This is also why vertical adoption is not on the Christian community’s radar to the extent it ought to be; why God’s Fatherhood and our status as his beloved children are not a regular part of our vocabulary; and why the Church’s missional engagement in the world is not informed and shaped—to the extent it can and should be—by Scripture’s teaching on our adoption by God.

So, let me leave you with two questions:

  1. What do you think of when you hear the word adoption?
  2. What can we do so that our thoughts first move vertically?

Scripture’s teaching on adoption has profound implications for every aspect of human life in the here and now (not just implications for how we think about and practice orphan care and horizontal adoption). Will you join me in exploring them? Believe me, there’s an amazing journey ahead for us if we do.
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Thank you for reading. The above text is an excerpt from the opening chapter of Reclaiming Adoption: Missional Living Through the Rediscovery of Abba Father. Reclaiming Adoption is available for purchase at Cruciform Press.

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  • Anonymous

    What I think when I hear the word “adoption”:

    1. The sale and redistribution of children for profit.
    2. The bastardizing of children in order to sell them.
    3. Being issued a fake “birth” certificate.
    4. Not being able to find my father.
    5. Pedophiles, drug addicts, alcholics, insane people pass “home studies” every day.
    6. Never being able to do a family tree.
    7. Not knowing my ethnicity.
    8. Not knowing my entire paternal family.
    9. Being treated like a second-class citizen my entire life.
    10. The end of slavery was not the end of people being treated as chattel in the U.S.

  • http://realdaughter.blogspot.com/ Linda

    1-what do you think of when you hear the word adoption?
    As an adult adoptee, the first thing I think of is corruption. Then I think of fraud, entitlement, pain ad confusion. I also think of people who have the audacity to believe that God calls them to adopt. He doesn’t. God does not wish for his children to be separated from their natural families, from their countries, cultures, or religions. I also think of the state sanctioned discrimination adult adoptees face through sealed birth certificates.

    2-What can we do so that our thoughts first move vertically?
    Stop thinking you have the right to purchase children. There are plenty of ways to help children without helping yourself to them. God wants you to help Mothers AND children. Help children in your own country. STOP using God’s name to purchase children.

  • lillie

    What do I think of? One word: destruction.

  • http://danielibnzayd.wordpress.com/ Daniel Ibn Zayd

    Pyromaniac firefighters looking for thanks for their altruism when they caused the problem in the first place.

    People taking advantage of others’ misery, like asking a drowning man for his wallet.

    Abduction.

  • Sunny

    Mostly it’s a feeling– sadness.

    I think of what a waste it is! How adoptees are amputated from their God-given families to fulfill the needs of others who cannot bear their own children. How we LONG for our mothers for our entire lives!

    We do not want your CHARITY in the form of ownership! If you want to help a child who has less, then find other ways to do this. We shouldn’t have to provide you with ourselves to earn your way into heaven or kudos from your friends.

    You’re not “helping” anyone but yourselves. Helping would be doing whatever is in your power to preserve families instead of designing their deconstruction.

    You are woefully misguided.

  • Wheejm

    Loss of my family of birth, name at birth, loss of my siblings…adoption gave me a new identity, a new birth certificate, two parents and a home in the suburbs… adoption destroyed my life.

    I am not grateful for being “saved” because I already had a family. My mother died when I was three months old; I was the youngest of five children born to married parents.

    I was baptized at my dying mother’s bedside in a Catholic ceremony and the church issued a baptismal certificate. Three years later, my adoptive parents asked their lawyer to contact the church for a new, revised, baptismal certificate in my adoptive name. So the priest wrote a new baptismal certificate with my date of birth, date of baptism, but changed my name to my adoptive name and changed my parents’ names to my adoptive parents’ names. My godparents’ names remained the same — they were my natural mother’s brother and his wife. Think about this. The church certified that the information on the revised baptismal certificate was true, but it is definitely false. I was baptized under my name at birth not my name after adoption. This means that the Catholic Church falsified my baptismal certificate!

    I left the Catholic Church many decades ago.

    I am a half orphan who had a father and four older siblings. I did not need a new family, nor did I need a new name, nor did I need a new birth certificate or baptismal certificate.

    I was raised six miles away from my full blood siblings while the older aunts and uncles (and parents) knew the truth, mine was a closed adoption and I was forbidden knowledge of my own kin.

    No one asked my father if he needed help to keep his family together. But the priest told my father, “The baby needs two parents.” What about the other siblings? Surely they needed two parents as well, but they would be fine growing up knowing that their mother died and their baby sister was living with another set of parents.

    Christians: stop trying to save orphans. You are causing more harm than good.

  • ChristianAdoptee

    As an adult adoptee and a Christian, I do not think of my adoption by God when I hear the word “adoption.”

    I think about how my young umarried Christian parents were made to feel inadequate and somehow less worthy of raising me than a married Christian couple with more money–by the Christian adoption agency that worked with them. I also think about how that Christian adoption agency placed me with strangers despite the fact that my Christian father did not consent.

    Adoption by God has nothing to do with people buying other people’s children–which is what earthly adoption seems to be all about in the Christian community.

  • ChristianAdoptee

    As an adult adoptee and a Christian, I do not think of my adoption by God when I hear the word “adoption.”

    I think about how my young umarried Christian parents were made to feel inadequate and somehow less worthy of raising me than a married Christian couple with more money–by the Christian adoption agency that worked with them. I also think about how that Christian adoption agency placed me with strangers despite the fact that my Christian father did not consent.

    Adoption by God has nothing to do with people buying other people’s children–which is what earthly adoption seems to be all about in the Christian community.

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  • Nick Horton

    I think of God’s adoption of me into his family. I think of people choosing to be parents rather than “conservators of their genetic code.” I think of children dieing in poverty and starvation because people are opposed to adoption. To giving children another chance. I think of adoption agencies trying to keep families together, and adoption being the last option to provide for a child. I think of pain, suffering, loss, love, new hope, sacrifice.

  • KateSnyder

    Covetousness and coercion. Cunning craftiness whereby they lie in wait to deceive, CPC counselors conniving countless females to relinquish their babies, all in the name if Christ, as if He’s in cahoots with a corrupt multi-billion dollar industry marketing human flesh, as if He wants to callously separate mother and child for life, as if He’s behind the new counterfeit gospel of adoption. Crime and culpability. Then, the Cross. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.


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