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If adoption is first vertical (i.e., God’s adopting us) before it is horizontal (i.e., people adopting children), why do we Christians so often think of adoption horizontally before we think of it vertically? I think one reason for this is the neglect of the doctrine of adoption in the history of the church. In his massive, 2,600-page work The Creeds of Christendom, the church historian Philip Schaff only includes six creeds that contain a section on adoption because they are the only ones he could find while scouring almost 1,900 years of church history.

The early church was primarily concerned, and rightly so, with the doctrines of the Trinity and of Christ because those were the doctrines that were being attacked within the church. When we get to the Reformation and post-Reformation periods, we find the church necessarily focused on defending the doctrine of justification. All of these battles were essential for the church to fight in the defense of Christian truth, but unintentionally they resulted in the church’s failure to develop thoroughly Scripture’s teaching on vertical adoption.

One of the consequences of this neglect is that vertical adoption is not on the radar of the Christian community’s consciousness as it should be. To overstate it slightly, when vertical adoption should be a regular part of the Christian’s functional vocabulary, it isn’t. As a result, not only do Christians tend to think first about people adopting children when they hear the word adoption, but also their thinking and attitudes toward the earthly practice of adoption are largely not informed and shaped by Scripture’s teaching concerning our adoption by God.

Fortunately, God seems to be awakening the church to the importance of Scripture’s teaching on our adoption by God—an importance that is established by the central, God-ordained role it plays within the Bible’s unfolding story of redemption. We will begin exploring adoption’s role within redemptive-history in part 3.

Read part 1. Read part 3.

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