I didn’t see any particular reason to read Russell Moore’s Adopted for Life. I have no intention of adopting anyone at my age. I won’t tell you exactly what age that is, but my youngest child just turned 30. While visiting in the home of that same youngest child, however, I saw a copy of the book. My son and his wife were finishing up the process of becoming certified to foster parent with a view to adoption. Wanting to be supportive of them, I asked if I could borrow Adopted for Life.
Moore’s book was not at all what I expected! It does encourage Christian parents to intentionally choose adoption, as a ministry, and not just if they’re unable to produce biological children. That much I anticipated from the subtitle: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches. What took me by surprise was how much more there was to the book than just reasons for and how-to’s of adoption.
Russell Moore begins by telling us why there’s more to his book than what I was expecting. “Whenever I told people I was working on a book on adoption,” he writes, “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…Adoption is, on the one hand, gospel. In this, adoption tells us who we are as children of the Father…Adoption is also defined as mission. In this, adoption tells us our purpose in this age as the people of Christ” (17-18).
The chapter “Are They Brothers?” begins to unpack what adoption should mean for each one of us who has been adopted into the household of God. As I read, I couldn’t remember any sermons I’d heard or books I’d read on the doctrine of adoption. Justification is frequently expounded and emphasized—as it should be. The next step seems to be to explain sanctification. Somehow, in the process, adoption gets pushed into the background. Moore corrects that with a gripping description of what it means for us to be adopted as children of God. He reminds us of what a radical thing it was for Paul, the Israelite of Israelites, the Pharisee, to address as “brothers” foreigners, aliens, the uncircumcised—Gentiles. He reminds us that even though, in our own sinful natures, we’re like the evil child no family would be willing to receive, in Christ, we have, not just a foster home, but sonship. We belong to the household of God. The inheritance that the first-born Son receives is our inheritance. Moore’s discussion of the New Testament’s teaching on adoption is thorough and moving, interlaced with apt illuminations from his experience of adopting his own two sons from a Russian orphanage. Having read that chapter, I, for one, will never be able to pass quite so quickly over words like “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ…” (Eph. 1:4-5), but will instead be flooded by a wave of gratitude.
Chapter 3, “Joseph vs. Planned Parenthood,” is written as vividly as a page-turner of a novel. Moore takes time to demonstrate that the warfare between “the seed of the woman” and “the seed of the serpent” has raged throughout history, destroying children. Pharaoh in Exodus and Herod in Matthew destroy babies. Wars caused by sinful desires destroy babies. The greed of those in the abortion business and the desires of expectant parents for something other than what’s best for unborn children destroy babies. Moore demonstrates that the people of God are to believe God’s evaluation of children as “blessings,” resist the selfish anti-child bent of a sinful world, and care for orphans. He cites Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father, as an example for us all. Joseph set aside things he would have desired in order to be faithful to the call to be a father to Jesus. He gave up his reputation by taking a pregnant woman for his wife. He gave up his livelihood by fleeing to Egypt to protect the child. Moore reminds us that this spirit of seeking God’s kingdom first is what we’re all called to—as James, Joseph’s “real” son, a witness to his father’s adopting care of Jesus, tells us when he says that “pure and undefiled religion is visiting widows and orphans in their affliction.”
Having so thoroughly grounded the adoption process in God’s care for us, who were not his people but who now are called “sons of the living God,” Moore goes on to discuss practical issues dealing with the specifics of adoption (chapters 4-6). Even here, though, he constantly moves back and forth from practical questions to the “big picture” teaching of Scripture. Moore gives “voice of experience” advice for parents who have not been able to have children and for those who support and counsel them, for parents who have children and are considering adoption, and for relatives of adopting parents. He discusses paperwork, finances, international and domestic adoption, open or closed adoption, and the choices regarding age, race, and special needs that adopting parents face.
Adopted for Life is not intended solely for parents considering adoption. Woven throughout are suggestions for how non-adopting believers and entire congregations can—and should—support and encourage parents who choose to adopt. The seventh chapter, “It Takes a Village to Adopt a Child: How Churches Can Encourage Adoption,” deals specifically with this subject, showing not only how a local church can help, but also how it will be helped in carrying out its mission, through helping parents who adopt.
Chapter 8, “Adopted is a Past Tense Verb,” deals with ongoing realities for adoptive parents: making adjustments, learning to discipline, bonding. This chapter points out the importance of how we speak about our adopted children, as we introduce them to others and as we discuss “where they came from” with the children themselves.
Adopted for Life is an excellent read. Don’t make the mistake I almost made of not reading this book because you don’t plan to adopt any children. It will refresh your understanding of the blessings of the gospel, reignite your enthusiasm for the church, the household of God, and get you thinking about the part you could have in bringing God’s concern for needy children and God’s life-changing good news to our broken world.