The Gospel of Adoption
Evangelicals are at the forefront of a grassroots movement of families adopting children from other countries. Christian celebrities like Steven Curtis Chapman and Clay Crosse have helped to publicize the joys and trials of adoption. Christian preachers have begun teaching others how the gospel is put on display by families who minister to orphans in this way. I personally know of a number of couples who are involved in cross-cultural adoption.
Russell Moore’s new book, Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches (Crossway, 2009) provides a theological foundation for the adoption movement. In this book, Moore successfully weaves together three strands of material:
First, he tells the story of his involvement in international adoption.
Then, he sets forth a biblical theology of adoption.
Finally, he offers practical suggestions for those considering adoption or those interested in supporting others who want to adopt.
Rarely do I read a book that seeks to accomplish three different purposes and yet manages to succeed at each one. But Adopted for Life delivers what it promises at every level.
Let’s begin with the personal testimony. Russ Moore tells the story of how he and his wife, Maria, traveled to Russia to adopt two young boys, Benjamin and Timothy. He describes the emotional pain of infertility and the tragedy of miscarriage. He treats the desire for offspring as God-given, and yet he recognizes the selfishness that can take root even in this desire.
Moore exposes his own faults throughout the adoption process. His vulnerability adds weight to the narrative. He recounts careless words that he later came to regret. Moore’s authenticity helps readers see themselves in his story.
The book also contains some heart-wrenching scenes in the orphanage. Moore describes the horror of walking into a room lined with baby beds, and yet not hearing the cries of children. The children had long discovered that tears were useless. No one was coming. Moore also describes his children’s adjustment to American life:
“We knew the boys had acclimated to our home, that they trusted us, when they stopped hiding food in their high chairs. They knew there would be another meal coming, and they wouldn’t have to fight for the scraps. This was the new normal.” (44)
Later on, Moore relates how God blessed him and his wife with biological chidren as well. But readers quickly discover that the Moore household does not distinguish between biological and adopted children. Adopted is a past-tense verb, not an adjective for the present.
In addition to recounting his personal narrative, Moore sets forth a biblical theology of adoption. The theological portion of this book truly surprised me. Before picking up Adopted for Life, I thought I knew how the metaphor of adoption serves as one way of speaking of salvation. What surprised me was just how incredibly practical the doctrine of adoption is. Having been through these experiences and having reflected upon them deeply, Russ Moore is able to tease out implications from the doctrine of adoption that I had never considered.
Moore believes our churches should be more like households, and he calls the church to foster an atmosphere of adoption. The gospel truth that we are orphans, adopted by God, is put on display by churches that encourage adoption. Adoption brings us into the worldwide family of God. Jew and Gentile alike are brothers in Christ.
“Our adoption is about more than just belonging. Our adoption is about the day when the graves of this planet will be emptied, when the great assembly of Christ’s church will be gathered before the Judgment Seat. On that day, the accusing principalities and powers will probably look once more at us – former murderers and fornicators and idolaters, formerly uncircumcised in flesh or in heart – and they may ask one more time, ‘So are they brothers?’ The hope of adopted children like my sons – and like me – is that the voice that once thundered over the Jordan will respond, one last time, ‘They are now.’” (57)
Moore is not content to leave the theology of adoption at merely the level of individual salvation. He shines a spotlight upon the implications of this doctrine for the church – the community of the adopted.
“When we adopt – and when we encourage a culture of adoption in our churches and communities – we’re picturing something that’s true about our God. We, like Jesus, see what our Father is doing and do likewise. And what our Father is doing, it turns out, is fighting for orphans, making them sons and daughters.” (73)
The theological sections of this book are woven into the narrative. Do not expect narrative in one chapter and then theology in another. The narrative informs the theology, and the theology informs the narrative.
Moore also offers many practical suggestions. He gives good advice to those who are considering adoption, those facing infertility, and those who would like to be foster parents. He asks very pointed questions that go to the heart of people’s motivations for wanting to adopt. He helps parents understand how to treat their children after adoption. His insights here are valuable because he has been through the process.
The book ends by tying everything to the gospel:
“The gospel welcomes us and receives us as loved children. The gospel disciplines us and prepares us for eternity as heirs. The gospel speaks truth to us and shows us our misery in Adam and our glory in Christ. The gospel shows us that we were born into death and then shows us, by free grace, that we’re adopted for life.” (214)
Well said. Adopted for Life is one of the best books I have read this year. It combines robust theology with personal experience. It serves as a powerful pro-life apologetic, and it demonstrates the power of the gospel when acted out by a faithful community of believers.