Adopted For Life
Russell D. Moore
EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Adopted
Russell D. Moore (
Adoption, Jesus, and You
Why You Should Read This Book, Especially If You Don't Want to
MY SONS HAVE A CERTAIN LOOK in their eyes when they are conspiring to do
something wrong. They have another, similar look when they are trying to
read my face to see if I think what they're doing is something wrong. It was
this second look I could see buzzing across both of their faces as they
walked up the steps to the old pulpit.
My boys were at a chapel service on the campus where I serve to train
pastors for Christian ministry; they were there to hear me preach. They know
better than to misbehave in church, and this seemed kind of like a church
service. They also knew that I had warned them they could only sit up on the
front row if they were still and quiet, with nothing distracting going on
down there while I was preaching. But a friend of mine had other plans for
them that day.
"Benjamin and Timothy," he had whispered only a few minutes earlier to my
sons, "will you help me introduce your daddy before he preaches?" I fidgeted
with my uncomfortable over-the-ear microphone while I watched these two
strong, vibrant, little five-year-old boys walk up the platform steps. They
were peering at me the whole time to make sure they weren't breaking the
rules that we'd agreed upon. I watched them stand behind the pulpit and
listened to them answer questions from my colleague. "Who is going to preach
today?" my friend asked. "Daddy," Benjamin responded. "And what's he going
to preach about?" he continued. Timothy answered quickly, leaning into the
For a couple of seconds, my mind flashed back to the first time I ever saw
these two boys. They were lying in excrement and vomit, covered in heat
blisters and flies, in an orphanage somewhere in a little mining community
in Russia. Maria and I had applied to adopt and had gone on the first of two
trips, not knowing who, if anyone, we would find waiting for us. Immediately
upon landing in the former Soviet Union, I wondered if we had made the worst
mistake of our lives.
Sitting in a foreign airport, with the smell of European perfume, human
sweat, and cigarette smoke wafting all around us, Maria and I recommitted to
God that we would trust him and that we would adopt whomever he directed us
to, regardless of what medical or emotional problems they may have. A
Russian judge told us she had two "gray-eyed" boys picked out for us, both
of whom had been abandoned by their mothers to a hospital in the little
village about an hour from where we were staying.
Sure enough, the orphanage authorities, through our translators, cataloged a
terrifying list of medical problems, including fetal alcohol syndrome for
one, if not both, of the boys. We looked at each other, as if to say, "This
is what the Lord has for us, so here we go." The nurse led us up some
stairs, down a dank hallway, and into a tiny room with two beds. I can still
see the younger of the two, now Timothy, rocking up and down against the
bars of his crib, grinning widely. The older, now Benjamin, was more
reserved, stroking my five o'clock shadow with his hand and seeing (I came
to realize) a man most probably for the very first time in his life. Both
the boys had hair matted down on their heads, and one of them had crossed
eyes. Both of them moved slowly and rigidly, almost like stop-motion clay
animated characters from the Christmas television specials of our 1970s
childhoods. And we loved them both, at an intuitive and almost primal level,
from the very first second.
The transformation of these two ex-orphans into the sons I saw behind the
pulpit that day and see every day of my life running through my house with
Lego toys and construction paper drawings motivates me to write this book.
The thought that there are thousands more like them in orphanages in Russia,
in government facilities in China, and in foster care systems in the United
States haunts me enough to sit at this computer and type.
I don't know who you are, reading this book. Maybe you're standing in a
bookstore, flipping past these pages. Maybe you're reading this book a few
minutes at a time, keeping it in a drawer so your spouse won't see it. Maybe
you never thought you'd read a book about adoption. Maybe you're wondering
if you should.
Well, okay. I never thought I'd write a book about adoption, as you'll see
soon enough. Like I said, I don't know who you are. But I know that I am
writing this to you. I invite you to spend the next little bit thinking with
me about a subject that has everything to do with you, whoever you are.
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 (Eph. 3:14--15). We know, then, what human fatherhood ought to
look like on the basis of how our 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 (Matt. 7:9--11; cf. Heb. 12:5--17). The same truth 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
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
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 betray that we miss something crucial about our own
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 adoption.
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 twenty-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.
Before we begin, though, let me tell you what this book is not. It is not a
step-by-step guide to navigating the adoption process, complete with legal
advice and agency recommendations. There are good resources available on
those things. Second, even if I set out to write a book like that, the whirl
of change in this area is such that it would probably be out-of-date by the
time you read it. In the United States, state laws change sometimes month to
month. Around the world countries authorize international adoption and then
close down, only to reopen later. Those logistical issues are much easier
than you think. Finding out the reputation and competency of an adoption
agency, whether Christian or secular, is not much more complicated than a
Google search. And the process itself is mapped out, in as much detail as
possible, by a good agency.
Instead 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" (Ps. 68:5). He is the one who insists on calling "the least
of these" his "brothers" (Matt. 25:40) and who tells us that the first time
we hear his voice, he will be asking us if we did the same.
I don't know why, in the mystery of God's plan, you were led to pick up this
book. But I know this: you have a stake in the adoption issue, even if you
never adopt a child. There's a war going on around you--and perhaps within
you--and adoption is one crucial arena of that war. With that in mind, there
are perhaps some changes to be made in our lives. For some of us, I hope
this book changes the makeup of our households. For some of us, I hope it
helps change our monthly bank account balances. For all of us, I hope it
changes something of the way we say "brother" and "sister" in our pews next
Sunday and the way we cry out "Father" on our knees tonight.
This book is less about a dogmatic set of assertions (although there are
some of those) than it is a conversation with you about what I have seen and
what I've been taught through adoption and what I hope we can all learn
And as we start this conversation together, I can't help but think again of
the image of my sons standing behind that pulpit. I'll admit I was proud of
them that day, as I am every day. I don't idealize them. They are sinners,
like all of us. They deserve to be in hell forever, like all of us. And
sometimes they are selfish, whining brats--just like their dad.
That day in that chapel, though, I managed to forget about my fatherly pride
for a few minutes--and certainly to forget about adoption and orphanages and
the events that led to our becoming parents. I just stood up and preached.
When I finished, prayed, and walked down the steps from the pulpit, one of
my sons, Benjamin, stepped out to the front of the chapel to shake my hand.
Where did this little man come from, who stood with such dignity to tell his
daddy he loved him and was proud of him? That probably didn't seem to anyone
in the room like an act of warfare--but, oh, how it was.
As I knelt down and hugged him, I realized how small and shallow and needy I
had been when, only a few years ago, I had refused to go with my wife to an
adoption seminar. I'd been "too busy" to go. "My life's a whirlwind right
now, you know," I'd said to her at the time. But, really, the idea of
adoption left me cold. Now, I was pro-adoption, of course, as a social and
political matter (hadn't I been saying that in my pro-life writings and
speeches for years?). But why couldn't we wait and exhaust all the ethically
appropriate reproductive technologies before thinking about adoption? I told
my wife, "I don't mind adopting a few years down the road, but I want my
first child to be mine." I can still hear my voice saying those words--and
it sounds so small and pitiable and hellish now.
How could I have known what it was like to hold this little boy in my arms,
and his brother with him, knit together with them by a fatherhood that
surpassed my genetic code? How could I have read and preached and lectured
on Ephesians and Galatians and Romans, how could I have lectured through
classroom notes on the doctrine of adoption, without ever seeing this? I
wasn't evil--or, at least, I wasn't any more evil on this score than any
other redeemed sinner-- but I was as theologically and spiritually vacuous
as the television "prosperity gospel" preachers I made fun of with my
theologically sophisticated friends.
Some of you are in the place where I was several years ago. Some of you are
where I am now. Some of you are where I will be, by God's grace, when I
pronounce one of my sons husband to a godly woman or when I hug one of them
as he receives his high-school diploma or, best of all, when I baptize one
of them as my brother in Christ.
This book isn't, first of all, a theological treatise on adoption in the
abstract, although I hope it helps some of us to see how adoption pictures
something true about our God and his ways. This book isn't primarily a book
about the practical joys and challenges of adopting children, although I
hope it helps many more moms and dads to know firsthand something of why I
am wiping away tears as I type this right now. Ultimately, this book isn't
really about adoption at all. It's just what my son Timothy probably would
tell you it is about, if you asked him. It's about Jesus.
Copyright 2009 by Russell D. Moore
Published by Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers
1300 Crescent Street Wheaton, Illinois 60187
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored
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