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Of Adoption, Justice and Orphan Care

by Dan Cruver Published Jun 3, 2013

*This is a guest post by Micah Jelinek, a Branch Librarian and Faculty at Moody Theological Seminary, Plymouth, Michigan. He provides leadership in the area of orphan care and other social involvement issues at Oak Pointe Church | Milford. Download a PDF version of Micah’s post.

Micah Jelinek Adoption and the Voice of the Defenseless

Open your mouth for those who have no voice,
for the rights of all who are destitute and defenseless.

Open your mouth, judge righteously in accordance with God’s views,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

-Proverbs 31:8-9 (a pastor’s translation)

Open your mouth….
These are words that make the air heavy, encircle the mind, and carry a sorrow-filled longing for justice.

Words that press down on your shoulders and produce a soft-spoken yet sure resolve to be that voice, that righteous judge, that defender.

And they are the sort of words that explain why we are having this discussion about adoption, the orphan crisis, social justice, and the theology that surrounds it and bears it forward.

I was glad last week when Dan began writing a series about the future cosmic solution to the orphan crisis and unethical adoption in particular, with the obvious application to injustice in general. I was glad because the church needs a well parsed theology of mission, so as to sensitively guide the church towards best practices as its communities engage in the complex work of proclaiming the gospel and bringing justice to a world filled with injustices.

Good theology, when it is embraced by its hearers, leads to good practice. At least that’s what I’ve been told. A good theology of Adoption, then, should lead to the good practice of feet-on-the-ground, skin-in-the-game involvement in mission, and more central to our focus here: integral mission (I’ll define this term shortly). This has been part of Together for Adoption’s mission: passing on a robust theology of Adoption so that the church might mobilize herself for the good of vulnerable and orphaned children whether through family reunification, family preservation, adoption, or a variety of other methods.

I was somewhat confused, then, when the critique was voiced that Dan had forgotten to address broader social justice issues as a result of an underdeveloped theology of justice. Dan’s focus was more narrowly focused on orphan care, but I intend to broaden the discussion by suggesting that Adoption informs our calling and involvement in bringing justice to a multitude of injustices.

First, however, we must clear up some confusion about evangelicals and social responsibility, or what Michael Funderburk calls “the old dichotomy” of proclamation and social involvement.

Evangelical Concerns
Funderburk’s critique, while perhaps correct in the sense that some evangelicals and evangelical churches have not embraced social responsibility, does not account for the large number of evangelicals who have been concerned with social responsibility since the mid to late 60s.[1]

The Grand Rapids Report,[2] in particular, was an evangelical embrace of social responsibility, and affirmed social activity as: a consequence of evangelism, a bridge to evangelism, and a partner of evangelism; thus “social action, then, can precede, accompany and follow evangelism.”[3] Tim Chester further sharpened the relationship between proclamation and social action by noting that: (1) Evangelism and social action are distinct activities; (2) Proclamation is central; (3) Evangelism and social action are inseparable (please see Dr Chester’s excellent work in Good News to the Poor, 2004, 59-71; the US edition drops 31 July 2013).

Evangelical emphasis on social action did not end in 1982 with the Grand Rapids Report, it remained a central concern of evangelical development agencies and churches alike. In 1999, one such example of evangelical concern formed: The Micah Network, that later drafted “The Micah Declaration on Integral Mission.” Integral mission being: “the proclamation and demonstration of the gospel” wherein “our proclamation has social consequences as we call people to love and repentance in all areas of life. And our social involvement has evangelistic consequences as we bear witness to the transforming grace of Jesus Christ…The grace of God is the heartbeat of integral mission. As recipients of undeserved love we are to show grace, generosity and inclusiveness. Grace redefines justice as not merely honouring a contract, but helping the disadvantaged”.[4] We might even say: Adoption redefines justice as not merely honouring a contract, but helping the disadvantaged.

Yet, as Graham Gordon noted in 2003, “Christians are still extremely wary of any talk of involvement in issues of social justice,” and some espouse, among other responses to social involvement, “that this world is in decay and is heading for total destruction, so there is little point working to make it better. Redemption is limited to the personal sphere…that the kingdom of God is limited to the future, and is not being worked out in our current world.”

However, the theology behind Together for Adoption’s work certainly does not fall into this category of fatalistic eschatology, which Dan has already rebuffed. It falls instead under what we see in Romans 8:23: an optimistic eschatology wherein all of creation eagerly awaits the time when the kingdom becomes a fully realized reality and we will be revealed as the Adopted children of God. Until that time, Christ works for us, in us and through us towards making the hope-filled future of God’s kingdom tangible to our world.

Adoption is BIGGER than adoption. 

Second, when we speak about Adoption, we are not talking about importing modern concepts of adoption into Paul’s metaphor, as some have suggested. We are talking about how our Adoption, along with the rest of the ordo salutis, folds us into the life of God’s family and redefines every aspect of our lives.

Adoption redefines our motivation

Our motivation and method behind engaging in social action through integral mission are altered. We are now living in the Father’s family (Jn 1:12; Gal 4:1-7; 1 Pet 1:14; 1 Jn 3:2) where our identity has shifted from being children of disobedience to being children of God who belong to Christ (Eph 2:2; 1 Cor 3:23). Our motivation is redefined around life in the Father’s family.  We now live under the Father’s rules and make our Father’s concerns our own (Sinclair Ferguson, Children of the Living God, 101-102).

What in this world concerns our Heavenly Father? The resounding answer to this question is: all things! And amongst all things we find justice. So, if God is sovereign over and concerned with all created things. Then, ought not we, as his children, make his scope of concern our own in whatever limited ways we can? Adoption gives us freedom to pursue all things that burden God’s heart as distinct from the central proclamation of the gospel, yet inseparable from a life transformed by the gospel. Adoption gives us freedom to know, love and revere the Father, and we can do so by following His commands to love one another (Jn 13:34-35), to proclaim the gospel  and to do good so that others might be attracted to the gospel of grace that is central to our community (1 Pet 2:12).

We find, also, that our method is redefined by Adoption as well. We are not Lone Rangers of truth and justice. We are called as the church, a community, to proclaim the gospel as the central part of a life of good deeds (1 Pet 2:9-12, 15-16). We see our Father’s desire for justice for the unprotected throughout Scripture, we see his children acting as his voice and delivering justice in this world (Proverbs 31:8-9), and we respond as a community by bringing justice, as best we can, wherever we find injustice: in the case of the orphan, the widow, the poor, those who have been abused and trafficked. Our concern over the poor and the voiceless, the unprotected and marginalized is, as Timothy Keller says, an “inevitable sign” of a community that understands the gospel of grace.[5]

Adoption redefines our hope

When it comes right down to it, it seems to me that we all are arguing the same thing: Followers of Christ are called to open our mouths and deliver justice for the marginalized and unprotected. Yet, this calling is too overwhelming if our hope rests in the culmination of our efforts producing a world without injustice. Graham Gordon reminds us that God’s kingdom “will only be fulfilled in the future.” (Mk. 4:19; Mt. 13:37-43) “We see many signs of the kingdom now, but the full glory is yet to be revealed, and awaits the second coming of Christ (Rev. 11:15)…Keeping this in mind gives us hope that God’s will is going to be done on the earth, but also helps us to be realistic about how much will change before Jesus comes again.

We need to place our hope in Christ, through whom “everything sad will come untrue” when our Father puts to rights the injustice we find around every corner in this world. And because this is our hope, as part of the great hope of our salvation, we work and we fight to kick back against the darkness as agents of the new creation who day by day see cracks in the darkness where the transforming light of Christ pours through.[6]

Adoption redefines vocation 

I have a good friend who works with medical students and professionals. He tells a story of a group of four young medical students who committed themselves to using their training as doctors for the poor and marginalized in service of the Kingdom. Today, the health services non-profit organization they founded serves 142,000 patients each year, among whom are the poor, the uninsured, and the homeless.

I’m sure you can think of a similar story. My point is that Grace, and Adoption which is part of that Grace, redefines how we think about vocation. Our work, whatever it may be, is now in service of the Kingdom. Our work is now part of a community effort to see lives transformed for the glory of our good God.

God calls us his children through Adoption to a new understanding of our vocation. He is calling pastors and theologians to preach, teach and lead the church community towards loving expressions and reflections of Grace. He is calling writers and artists to express the beauty of Grace intermingled with the sorrow of the fall and the joy of redemption. He is calling lawyers to become involved in international and domestic adoption law to reform corrupt practices. He is calling activists and homemakers, and activist homemakers, to open their mouths and care for the poor, vulnerable and abused. And he is calling first semester freshmen in the aged classrooms of academia to consider, perhaps for the first time, how their life’s work might be used to engage in social justice as part of a life of love that kicks away at the darkness in big and small ways.

In short, God is calling the church to open her mouth and be the justice-loving, gospel-proclaiming community she was called to be.

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Micah Jelinek is Branch Librarian and Faculty at Moody Theological Seminary, Plymouth, Michigan. His MA thesis, Adoption Redefined: Galatians 3:23-4:7 As A Model For Gentile Identity Transformation, relates to the Christ follower’s change in social identity as a result of Adoption.

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[1] Tim Chester Awakening to a World of Need, 1993. See Melvin Tinker who provides an alternate interpretation in “Reversal or Betrayal?: Evangelicals and Socio-political Involvement in the Twentieth Century” in Evangelical Concerns, 2001).

[2] Evangelism and Social Responsibility: An Evangelical Commitment, 1982.

[3] Awakening to a World of Need, 123.

[4] Emphasis mine, Tim Chester, “The Micah Declaration on Integral Mission,” in Justice, Mercy and Humility, p.19.

[5] Timothy Keller, Generous Justice, 104.

[6] Tolkien’s imagery at Helm’s Deep has profoundly impacted me in understanding the church’s role in our world. Do you recall the scene at Helm’s Deep where Aragorn and those who are fighting against darkness in Middle-earth (might we even call them children of light?) are doing so with all their might, cunning and courage? And, then, the White Rider, Gandalf, appears and Light casts out darkness and the battle is won.  And so, we also wait, though not passively, and push back the darkness with Christ as our leader and our hope for we can do nothing without him and that through him the darkness is ultimately pushed out.


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