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Stephen H. Webb

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Christians are an adopted people, added to God's covenant with Israel by grace, chosen by God for no merit of our own. That is the good news of the Gospel according to Russell D. Moore's important new book, Adopted for Life (Crossway). Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, speaks from the heart, interspersing a sound biblical theology with a moving account of how he and his wife Maria adopted two boys from Russia. Along the way he offers practical advice for couples thinking about doing the same. Although Moore is not writing only for potential adopters, be warned: if adoption has even briefly crossed your mind, you will never get it out of your mind once you are done reading his book. I felt as if Moore were reading my mind, expressing the reasons of my heart that I could not articulate on my own. My wife and I began filling out the paperwork to adopt about two years ago, and we are still waiting for our child. When friends ask me why we are doing this, at our late age, with three children already, I don't have a set answer. We feel called by God to adopt, but that sounds a bit zealous to mention in casual conversation. Now I am just going to recommend this book.

Moore does not think that all Christians have an obligation to adopt. Instead, he is simply preaching the Gospel in a new key. Moore shows that adoption is not just a biblical metaphor, although it is certainly used as a metaphor in a surprising number of passages. Instead, Moore opens up the Bible in provocative and transformative ways by showing that the Bible is absolutely serious about the ethical imperative of adoption.

Christians are called by adoption, which means, to Moore, that we are called to adopt as well. If you tweak the Great Commission to evangelize (Matt. 28: 16-20), then you can find a Great Commandment to adopt. After all, what better way could there be of spreading the word and expressing Christ's love than by gathering up orphans?

In Moore's own words, "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." Indeed, God is the "Father of the fatherless" (Ps. 68: 5) and Jesus, in his farewell to his disciples, promised "not to leave you as orphans" (John 14: 18). Calling each other brothers and sisters in church has lost most of its meaning for us, but Moore endows these pleasantries with renewed vitality. God treats us as full-fledged members of the Holy Family by making us brothers and sisters of Christ.

The Bible uses other metaphors, drawn from politics and economics, to describe the way grace restructures our lives and loyalties. Adoption, however, seems utterly crucial to the telling of covenantal history—and it would probably be more theologically central today if the term had not been subjected to so much abuse in the early Christological debates. Heretical theologians who argued that Jesus was adopted by God were working on the assumption that the Son is lesser than the Father. Orthodox theologians insisted that the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, which made it look as though any thought of adoption would tarnish Christ's reputation. Jesus Christ truly is God's eternal Son, but we are not! Adoption is unworthy to apply to Jesus, but it is the best term to evoke our own relationship to the Father.

Of course, in a quite literal way, Jesus himself was adopted—not by God, but by Joseph. This is no trivial bit of biographical information. As Moore writes, "Jesus' identity as the Christ, after all, is tied to his identity as the ancestor of David, the legitimate heir to David's throne." Joseph is often overlooked when Christians focus on the miraculous birth of Jesus, but in him God teaches all men that they can father children who are not their biological progeny.

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