In Defense of Adoption
As you may have noticed I have not been silent about my appreciation and support for the rising tide of adoption advocacy amongst evangelicals. Two of my favorite books of late have been Reclaiming Adoption edited by Dan Cruver (review here) and also Adopted for Life by Russell Moore (review here). I have also advocated for deepening our understanding of our own adoption in Christ (click here to peruse through all my adoption focused articles).
Adoption for me wasn’t foreign. I grew up around adoption. I had friends who had been adopted. My wife and I now have couple friends who have adopted children. In all that experience, I had never heard people speak against adoption as positive bad for society until entering the fray surrounding the current movement towards adoption advocacy within the church.
Dr. David M. Smolin, Harwell G. Davis Professor of Law at Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law has written a critique of the adoption movement and he asked Dan Cruver (founder of Together for Adoption) to respond. Following Dan Cruver’s response I came across a response to Dan’s article written by Mike Hutchinson from Semper Reformada entitled “Secrecy and Lies: A Response to Dan Cruver’s Critique of David Smolin.” The title itself is ominous and starts off the discussion with suspicion. I have three main critiques of this critique in defense of Dan’s response (if all that doesn’t confuse you congratulations)!
The Trifecta: Three Critiques
Where Does Redemptive-Historical Interpretation Begin?
First, and least importantly, Mike Hutchinson says Cruver has missed the beginning point of redemptive-historical (R-H) interpretation. Hutchinson says,
Nonetheless, this is also the flaw in Cruver’s critique. Contrary to popular belief, Geerhardus Vos is not the father of conservative Reformed biblical theology. John Owen and Jonathan Edwards both wrote large works on the history of redemption. And there is also the work of Stuart Robinson, Discourses of Redemption, which has nearly been forgotten in the recent frenzy to recover the work of Vos.
Dan does not argue this way. Rather he sees Ridderbos and Geerhardus as instrumental in bringing the historical-redemptive focus to prominence (“Dutch New Testament scholar Herman Ridderbos [who along with Geerhardus Vos is largely responsible for the recovery of redemptive-historical interpretation] has persuasively argued that the chief interpretive framework in all of Paul’s writing (both of the whole and of all its subordinate parts, including the five occurrences of “adoption” in Paul) is God’s redemptive activity within human history” pp. 1-2). He even mentions John Calvin’s “understanding of salvation” and its emphasis on adoption. Small point but worth noting.
Adoption: God Rescues Prodigal Sons and Daughters
Second, Hutchinson rightly highlights that adoption in Scripture is not so much about adopting children from outside of the familial structure, rather its about raiding
the home of the greatest kidnapper in history, returning the Father’s children to Him. In the doctrine of adoption, we see God reunited with His wayward children. This is a touchy topic that evangelicalism has left unexplored, and one that is worthy of our attention.
I assume Hutchinson is unfamilar with Reclaiming Adoption edited by Dan Cruver. A brief examination of the first chapter entitled “Adoption of Prodigals” would show that Cruver has in great lengths established his arguments for adoption on this very fact. Cruver says,
The door that seems so impenetrable is the eternal communion of love between the Father and the Son. The story of the Bible is that God the Father sent his only true and eternal Son on a mission, and that was to bring many wayward and rebellious sons home to glory (Hebrew 2:10). That is the Story behind the story of the Prodigal Sons. That is the only story that gives our stories any meaning or significance. (p. 11)
and even more explicitly
When the prodigal son says, “I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants’” (Luke 15:18-19), he is thinking in terms of wages earned rather than extravagant love and grace received. It’s as if he is thinking, “I ended up in the far country by squandering my father’s wealth, so maybe I can earn my way back into his house.”
When we as believers relate to God the Father as this prodigal son relates to his father, we are slow to return to God after we sin. We don’t anticipate--let alone expect--his fatherly embrace. And when we do return to him, we think of him primarily as our master and not our Father. As a result, real Christian joy is absent, passionate Christian living is lacking, and Christian mission is severely hindered.
Christians who doubt God’s love for them will not mobilize for mission. Unless we know the Father delights in us even as he delights in Jesus, we will lack the emotional capital necessary to resist complacency and actively engage in missional living. The only people who can truly turn their eyes outward in mission are those who knowingly live within and enjoy the loving gaze of their heavenly Father. (pp. 17-18)
Therefore, you can see that this truth is actually foundational for everything else that Dan Cruver and Together for Adoption argues in relation to adoption.
Secrecy and Lies?
Finally, Hutchinson critiques the adoption movement as a whole for promoting secrecy and lies. He says,
My trepidation regarding the evangelical adoption/orphan care movement is grounded in this reality. In all of my reading surrounding Together for Adoption, I’ve yet to see anyone address what happens to these adopted children once they become adopted adults. How are Dan and his cohorts at T4A preparing adoptive parents to help their children when they want to look for their original parents? Do Dan and T4A have a position on adoptees searching for their parents? While my memory is admittedly fallible, I don’t know of a single adult adoptee who has been invited to speak at a T4A event. (Dan, if you happen to read this, I’m available!) This could be a helpful and eye-opening experience for adoptive parents.
Modern adoption is based on two things: secrecy and lies. I think as Christians we can find a better way to adopt, and I pray that Dan Cruver and Together for Adoption will help point us towards that way.
I would like to make a few observations. From my interaction with Together for Adoption, I do not think Dan or their staff would promote adoption against caring for families so that children can stay with their biological parents whenever possible. The mother, father, child structure is God ordained and should be protected, celebrated, and promoted at all cost. In Dan’s response, he discusses James 1:27 and seeks to apply the R-H interpretation to our practice of caring for orphans,
To visit orphans and widows in their affliction means thatwe work for orphan prevention through family reunification and preservation,and when reunification is not possible, we actively support indigenous adoptionefforts. For some children, though, adoption becomes the way we “visit” them.
This emphasis on “reunification and preservation” doesn’t negate the fact that there are over 130,000s legal orphans in the United States (see p. 89 of Reclaiming Adoption). These children do not have a family and so to turn our nose up at adoption is to leave these children in their current state without any family. So it’s not an either/or between children staying with their biological parents or being adopted violently (or secretly “kidnapped”) from their current families. The options may be something like this: either staying with their family (if at all possible), being adopted into a new family as a last resort when reunification is not possible, or staying in the orphanage/foster care system for the remainder of their childhood. If option one is off the table, then which of the final two should be preferred?
Moving forward the question is not should we be caring for orphans, but how we should be caring for orphans. We cannot make “orphan” only mean children who have lost their parents through death but we must also include children who have been left without parents for whatever reason. The church must act decisively on the behalf of all orphans that much cannot be denied whether that’s reunification of children/parent units (best case scenario), support of single moms in our covenant communities, or adoption into our own homes. But just as importantly we must fight against the abuse we find just like we do when we see abuse in other family structures. I cannot strongly enough recommend the work of Together for Adoption. I know Dan and the guys at T4A personally. These are men who have proven they are above approach. They love the gospel. They want to live out the objective realities of the gospel in their lives and their communities. And they have seen an opportunity to do so in the realm of caring for orphans.