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The Quest to Reclaim Adoption

by Dan Cruver Published Aug 22, 2013

The Quest to Reclaim Adoption

In the Apostle Paul’s day, when people heard the word adoption, their thoughts usually moved horizontally, not vertically. Since adoption was a word that came from the world of law, people usually thought about the Roman or Greek practices of adoption. Their thoughts primarily moved along a horizontal plane and not a vertical one.

But then there was Paul . . .

Paul essentially commandeered the word adoption from the world of law and intentionally filled it with meaning from the story of redemption—meaning that contained both profound vertical and horizontal significance (see the Herman Ridderbos quotation at the bottom of this post). Although the word adoption is never used in the Old Testament, Paul gave adoption a central role within the unfolding story of redemption, from its pre-temporal beginning (before God even created the world) all the way to its consummation (when believers enjoy the full privileges of life as co-heirs with Jesus in the new heaven and new earth).

Paul knew that if people learned to think vertically about adoption before they thought horizontally about it, not only would the depth of their communion with the Triune God be transformed, but also the depth of their engagement in the pain and suffering of this world. When the truth that God’s work of adoption will one day culminate in the comprehensive restoration of all creation is embedded deeply in our hearts, we will seek to give those who suffer in this fallen creation a foretaste of that future restoration (see “Adoption DOESN’T Mean Adoption”). Vertical truth results in horizontal mission.

One of our primary objectives at Together for Adoption is to reclaim the vertical priority of adoption. Much like people did in Paul’s day, we live in a culture that thinks horizontally about adoption before it thinks vertically about it. When most of us see the word adoption, we first think about families adopting children. Too often our first thought is not about God’s work to renew the heavens and the earth, freeing all creation from its bondage to decay. If we primarily thought about adoption vertically, we’d find ourselves better equipped theologically to address the global orphan crisis holistically.

For example, if we understand what God’s work of adoption actually entails (the eventual renewal of all creation and the complete eradication of every last trace of the Fall), helping parents who live in poverty provide for and protect their children is a way of bringing God’s renewing work of adoption to bear upon the present.

As I’ve written many times before, the Bible’s story of adoption is the story of God’s visiting us in our affliction (in all of its various forms), like he once visited Israel (Exo. 4:31), in order to deliver us from it.

To visit orphans in their affliction (James 1:27), then, means that we work hard to address all of the causes (i.e., natural disasters, unjust social conditions, personal moral failures of community members, etc) and forms of afflictionWe visit orphans and widows in their affliction (James 1:27) because through adoption God first visited us in ours (see Exodus 4:31; Luke 7:11-16; Romans 8:21-23).

It means we work hard for orphan prevention through family reunification and preservation, and when reunification is not possible, we actively support indigenous adoption efforts. For some children, though, adoption (both indigenous and international) becomes the way we “visit” them.

So, when you read “Together for Adoption” on our website, think vertically before you think horizontally. Don’t think of people adopting children; rather, think of God’s renewing work of adoption. Over time, that’s how we hope more and more people will process the word adoption.

Join us for our October 4-5 conference in Louisville as we continue to reclaim the word adoption for the sake of the poor, the marginalized, the widow, and the orphan.

*Watch the conference trailer in the right sidebar.

Herman Ridderbos: “The term [adoption] stems from the Hellenistic world of law; its content, however, must not be inferred from the various Roman or Greek legal systems, nor from the adoption ritual of the Hellenistic mystery cults, but must rather be considered against the Old Testament redemptive-historical background of the adoption of Israel as son of God. Of special importance for this…point is the pronouncement in Romans 9:4, where Paul lists ‘adoption as sons’ as one of the privileges of Israel. To the same effect he applies to the New Testament church, with some modification in wording, the theocratic promise of God to David in 2 Samuel 7:14: ‘I will be to you a Father, and you shall be to me sons and daughters’ (2 Cor. 6:18; cf. Rom. 9:26)” (Paul: An Outline of His Theology, pp. 197-198).


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Thank you for reading. Please check out Together for Adoption’s book (Reclaiming Adoption), which is available for purchase at AmazonCruciform Press, and elsewhere.

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