Providing gospel-centered resources to mobilize the church for global orphan care.


Adoption is placement and reunificationWhen I spoke on “Adoption as Reconciliation and Family Reunification” at T4A’s October 2014 conference, I received a good bit of push back. Most who pushed back believed I had changed positions and weren’t pro-adoption any longer (i.e., pro-adoption: placing fatherless children into families through adoption). Many thought my position was now somewhat anti-adoption.

I sympathize with those who believe I’ve changed my position due to outside influences, but that simply is not the case. In the opening comments of my talk I said, “My goal today is to challenge evangelical’s current adoption paradigm. There are very significant differences between how adoption is understood in the 21st Century and how the Bible itself uses the word adoption. [If the evangelical adoption movement is to continue to grow], our adoption-paradigm must shift if we are to navigate the complex global crisis.

Notice what I did not say: “our adoption-paradigm must change.” I said shift and not change. But for whatever reason(s), that’s not what some individuals heard. Rather, my words were interpreted to mean I was no longer pro-adoption. That’s most definitely not the case. I am very pro-adoption! No, I was simply very careful to say that our current adoption-paradigm must shift.

To Switch or to Shift, That Is the Question

In my thinking, on the one hand, to change positions is to switch position. On the other hand, to shift is not to abandon your previous position but to realize that it’s broader and more expansive than you originally believed. Hence, the shift. About 5 years ago my position shifted from adoption as family placement to also include adoption as family reunification and reconciliation as well. The diagram to the right better represents the view I’ve held for several years now.

As I emphasized in my 2014 talk, “Adoption is not a one-time, one-off act. Biblically, adoption is an ongoing story—an unending story. Adoption forms a story-arc. It’s not merely a single point in time (see this diagram).”

Theologically, adoption is both (1) placement into the family of God and (2) reconciliation and reunification. We’re certainly not looking for a complete paradigm switch or change away from child placement. No, we are looking for a paradigm-shift to include and stress reconciliation and reunification. The adoption paradigm I’m presenting is not an either/or but a both/and paradigm. I believe making this shift to include reconciliation will actually strengthen the practice of domestic, indigenous, and international adoption.

Family Reunification

I’m convinced that adoption is first about family reconciliation. According to Luke 3:38, Adam was created to be the human son of God (see scholar Sinclair Ferguson’s explanation). Man’s family of origin was God’s family. God’s family was man’s original family.

So strongly did John Calvin believe in God’s fatherhood of man from the very beginning that he wrote, “We should note God’s fatherly love to humanity in the very order of creation. He did not create Adam until he had enriched the world with full abundance of good things…He shows his wonderful goodness to us by assuming the burden of a prudent and conscientious head of the family” (Inst. 1559, 1.14.2; emphasis mine). God not only was Adam and Eve’s Father from the very beginning, but he went to great lengths to demonstrate his fatherly care for them. God the Father was certainly not a deadbeat father. No, he was as caring and loving as a father could possibly be—a father of which this world has never seen since.

The Downward Plunge

But as the biblical story unfolds, we discover that Adam rebelled against God as his Father. The entire human race, as a result, became “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3). They (we) became the estranged children of God. We became human beings in need of reconciliation and family reunification.

From that point on in world history, humanity’s great need was to be reconciled to the Father, not placed into a another family by way of adoption. Rather, the gracious work of God by which he reconciled his estranged children to himself is what Scripture calls adoptionBiblically, then, adoption is first about reconciliation and family reunification. 

What Influences Your Understanding of Adoption?

We western Christians, and American Western Christians in particular, tend to go at this upside down. Because of how we understand adoption—our understanding of adoption being influenced heavily by Western practice—we unwittingly think that adoption is first about finding families for fatherless children, so we often look first to international or domestic adoption as our primary option (if not the primary option). When this is the case, we can be sure we are interpreting and applying Scripture’s teaching on adoption from our cultural biases.

My talk at our 2014 national conference was to challenge this way of thinking. If adoption, biblically, is first about family reunification and reconciliation, then our first concern should be uniting orphans with their families of origin if possible. Don’t fail to see that I wrote if possible. Granted, it’s often not possible. As a matter of fact, it’s most often not possible (95% or more of the time) because of the complexity and corruption in the child’s home country.

But that should not prevent us from considering it as the first option.

Although family unification or reconciliation is not a viable option for the vast majority of orphaned children, the theology of Adoption requires that we think family of origin first, even if the child’s family of origin is not an option for a variety of reasons.

But even if it’s not an option, we should strive for  some type of family permeance—whether that means indigenous adoption, international adoption, or a healthy fostering relationship in a home that’s lovingly and wholeheartedly committed to family permanence for that child.

By now you are deeply feeling the vast complexity of the global fatherless crisis. If you’re feeling its complexity, that’s good.

Scalable Orphan Care

But when facing the complexity of the global orphan crisis, what we really need is a scale of orphan care that’s approachable, that’s solvable. We want powerful ideas and effective solutions that are especially beautiful because they are simple. Big problems are generally solved by a series of small, actionable solutions.

When looking at the complex meaning of adoption biblically, as well as the complex global orphan crisis,  it’s wise to take a step back to see whether or not we can “shrink the change” to smaller solutions we can get our minds around. Global problems are generally solved by a series of small, actionable solutions. Small victories often trigger a spiral of larger victories. Shrinking the change often lead to larger solutions.

Believe it or not, working from the paradigm of adoption as reconciliation or family reunification makes it easier to shrink the change as we work toward larger solutions to systemic problems.

That’s what our theme for our 2015 conference is: Simple.

A series of simple actions can make a world of difference.

Our 2014 conference theme was “Urgency & Complexity: Biblical & Ethical Approaches to the Orphan Crisis.” We needed to engage with just how complex orphan care has become as a global issue.

It’s time for simplicity. The reality is that, even though orphan care and adoption are tough and complex at times, people all over the world are discovering simple steps that can lead to truly transformative solutions.

Especially in a time like ours, complexity can lead to discouragement and even to analysis-paralysis.

We need simple.

Please join J.D. GreearTony MeridaJohn Sowers, and Johnny Carr (as well as others we’re excigted to announce soon) for our 2015 conference to be held November 5-7 (Thursday evening through Saturday Noon) at 8,000 member Summit Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. As always, you can expect our commitment to creating the kinds of spaces where you can enjoy conversations among friends about issues and actions that matter. This year, you can also expect even more elegant simplicity.

You can listen to the audio of my talks and Q & A’s here: and my manuscript:

To register and/or learn more, visit our pre-launch registration site. Super early-bird registration is just $69 per person.

Simple for blog post




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