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What Every Christian Ought to Know About Adoption

It’s no secret — the evangelical orphan care movement is getting hit hard with intense criticism. Kathryn Joyce’s newly-released book, The Child Catchers, and the recent NPR program on “How Evangelical Christians Are Preaching The New Gospel Of Adoption” are evidence of this fact.

Although our most vocal critics often misrepresent the movement, we can help ourselves significantly by simply making sure what we say about adoption better reflects Scripture’s teaching on it.

Were we orphans or slaves?

For example, many of us use “orphan/son language when talking about Scripture’s teaching on vertical adoption and its implications for orphan care and horizontal adoption. We sometimes say things like this about the Christian’s motivation to adopt: “When we were spiritual orphans, God sent his Son so that we might be adopted into his family. Who better to adopt earthly orphans than those who have been adopted by God.”

I totally get this way of framing one of the reasons Christians are motivated to adopt. I’ve made similar statements myself!

But…the Apostle Paul (whom we could call ‘the Apostle of Adoption’ since he’s the only writer in Scripture to use the word ‘adoption’) never uses “orphan/son” language. He never describes believers as “orphans” who have become children of God. Rather, he always describes us as “slaves” who have entered into the freedom of sonship (click here to see this slave/son emphasis in two of Paul’s adoption texts).

Paul also uses the language of slavery to describe the condition of creation as a whole. In his climactic text on adoption, Paul personifies creation as waiting to “be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21-23). As a consequence of the Fall of man, both the entire human race and all creation entered into a bondage that is characterized both by spiritual and physical corruption and decay (Romans 8:18-21).

So what?

Biblically speaking, then, Paul intends for us to understand vertical adoption as God’s comprehensive redemptive activity to free the created order from its bondage to decay and us from our bondage to sin and decay.

How should this interpretation of adoption inform our understanding and approach to orphan care (James 1:27) and the practice of earthly adoption?

Click here to read the rest.

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