EDITOR’S NOTE: The following column is an excerpt from the book, “Adopted for Life.” Author Russell D. Moore and his wife adopted two boys from Russian several years ago.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Whenever I told people I was working on a book on adoption, they’d often say something along the lines of, “Great. So, is the book about the doctrine of adoption or, you know, real adoption?” That’s a hard question to answer because you can’t talk about the one without talking about the other. Also, it is not as though we master one aspect and then move to the other — from the vertical to the horizontal or the other way around. That’s not the picture God has embedded in His creation work.
The Bible tells us that human families are reflective of an eternal fatherhood (Ephesians 3:14-15). We know, then, what human fatherhood ought to look like on the basis of how Father God behaves toward us. But the reverse is also true. We see something of the way our God is fatherly toward us through our relationships with human fathers. And so Jesus tells us that in our human father’s provision and discipline we get a glimpse of God’s active love for us (Matthew 7:9-11; cf. Hebrews 12:5-7). The same is at work in adoption.
Adoption is, on the one hand, gospel. In this, adoption tells us who we are as children of the Father. Adoption as gospel tells us about our identity, our inheritance, and our mission as sons of God. Adoption is also defined as mission. In this, adoption tells us our purpose in this age as the people of Christ. Missional adoption spurs us to join Christ in advocating for the helpless and the abandoned.
As soon as you peer into the truth of the one aspect, you fall headlong into the truth of the other, and vice versa. That’s because it’s the way the gospel is. Jesus reconciles us to God and to each other. As we love our God, we love our neighbor; as we love our neighbor, we love our God. We believe Jesus in heavenly things — our adoption in Christ; so we follow him in earthly things — the adoption of children. Without the theological aspect, the emphasis on adoption too easily is seen as mere charity. Without the missional aspect, the doctrine of adoption too easily is seen as mere metaphor.
But adoption is contested, both in its cosmic and missional aspects. The Scriptures tell us there are unseen beings in the air around us who would rather we not think about what it means to be who we are in Christ. These rulers of this age would rather we ignore both the eternal reality and the earthly icon of it. They would rather we find our identity, our inheritance, and our mission according to what we can see and verify as ours — according to what the Bible calls “the flesh” — rather than according to the veiled rhythms of the Spirit of life. That’s why adoption isn’t charity — it’s war.
The gospel of Jesus Christ means our families and churches ought to be at the forefront of the adoption of orphans close to home and around the world. As we become more attuned to the gospel, we’ll have more of a burden for orphans. As we become more adoption-friendly, we’ll be better able to understand the gospel. This book calls us to look forward to an adoptive-missional church. In this book I want to call us all to consider how encouraging adoption — whether we adopt or whether we help others adopt — can help us peer into the ancient mystery of our faith in Christ and can help us restore the fracturing unity and the atrophied mission of our congregations.
It is one thing when the culture doesn’t “get” adoption. What else could one expect when all of life is seen as the quest of “selfish genes” for survival? It is one thing when the culture doesn’t “get” adoption and so speaks of buying a cat as “adopting” a pet. But when those who follow Christ think the same way, we miss something crucial about our own salvation.
Adoption is not just about couples who want children — or who want more children. Adoption is about an entire culture within our churches, a culture that sees adoption as part of our Great Commission mandate and as a sign of the gospel itself. This book is intended for families who want to adopt and wonder whether they should. It is also intended for parents with children who’ve been adopted and who wonder how to raise them from here. It is for middle-aged fathers and mothers whose children have just told them they are thinking about adopting.
But this book is also, and perhaps most especially, for the man who flinches when his wife raises the issue of adoption because he wants his “own kids” — and who hates himself a little for thinking like that. It is for the wife who keeps the adoption application papers in a pile on the exercise bicycle upstairs — as a “last resort” — but who is praying fervently right now for two lines of purple to show up on her home pregnancy test. It is for the single 20-something who assumes that he will marry after a couple of years in the post-college job force, find a nice girl, have a honeymoon for three or four years, and then they’ll start thinking about getting pregnant. It is for the pastor who preaches about adoption as an alternative to abortion on a Sanctity of Human Life Sunday but who has never considered how to envision for his congregation what it would mean to see family after family after family in the church directory in which the children bear little physical resemblance to, and maybe even don’t share the skin color of, their parents. It is for the elderly couple who tithe their Social Security check, dote on their grandchildren, and wonder how they can tangibly help the young couple who ask for prayer every month that they might be parents — and who never seem to show up for Mother’s Day services.
I want to ask what it would mean if our churches and families were known as the people who adopt babies — and toddlers, and children, and teenagers. What if we as Christians were known, once again, as the people who take in orphans and make of them beloved sons and daughters?
Not everyone is called to adopt. No one wants parents who adopt children out of the same sense of duty with which they may give to the building fund for the new church gymnasium. But all of us have a stake in the adoption issue, because Jesus does. He is the one who tells us His Father is also “Father of the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5). And, He is the one who insists on calling “the least of these” His “brothers” (Matthew 25:40) and who tells us that the first time we hear His voice, He will be asking us if we did the same.
Russell D. Moore is dean of the school of theology and senior vice president for academic administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.