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The Quest to Reclaim Adoption

by Dan Cruver Published Jul 14, 2010

In the Apostle Paul’s day, when people heard the word adoption, their thoughts usually moved horizontally, not vertically. Since it was a word that came from the world of law, people usually thought about the Roman or Greek practices of adoption. Their thoughts usually 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. 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 the end (when all God’s children through adoption 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 embeds itself deeply into 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 talking about caring for orphans (or for the widow, the poor, the sick, the hungry, etc) fairly quickly. Why? Because the truth of vertical adoption is meant to move us out into the suffering and pain of our world, wherever they may be found.

We 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).

So, when you read “Together for Adoption” on our website, think vertically before you think horizontally. Don’t first think of people adopting children; rather think of God’s renewing work of adoption. Over time, that’s what we hope more and more people will do. Join us for our October 1-2 conference as we continue to seek to reclaim the word adoption for the sake of the poor, the marginalized, and the orphan.


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