THE word "adoption" is used only five times in the Bible, and
yet the theme permeates the whole of scripture. The very first
family is a dysfunctional one, experiencing both fratricide and
homelessness in the first few pages of Genesis, and the grand
narrative of the Bible ends with a great multi-cultural family
reunion in the Father's house, in the new heavens and earth.
Recovering a theology of adoption is vital not only for the Church,
but for every Christian and every society.
Adoption and the children of God
THE dominant ideas that Christians use to recount our conversion
experience usually revolve around forgiveness, redemption, and
rescue. All of these are wonderful truths, but adoption offers
Christians an even more powerful description.
Rescue, forgiveness and redemption all mark the end of
something: a crisis has been alleviated, an offence has been
pardoned, or a debt has been paid. But adoption marks the beginning
of a new identity. In adoption, a profound and intimate
relationship has begun.
Rescued individuals have no necessary ongoing relationship with
their rescuer; forgiven individuals have no necessary future
promise from their pardoner; and redeemed individuals, like freed
slaves, are no longer in an abusive, exploitative relationship.
But when God adopts us into his family, we are promised a
never-ending loving, caring, intimate relationship with God the
Father; and through the Spirit, Jesus becomes our true brother. We
are accepted into the household of God: the Church. We are promised
a vast future inheritance, and freedom from the power of sin.
So, in our self-understanding of our identity as believers,
adoption offers vast resources and privileges. Faithfulness to
scripture means that we must talk about this incredibly significant
facet of our Christian experience: through adoption, we are
accepted as the children of God by the Father of all creation.
Adoption and the character of God
IN PSALM 68, God is describedas "A father to the fatherless".
This fundamental aspect of God's character is visible throughout
the narrative of the Bible. He takes the "fatherless", such as
Moses, Samuel, and Joseph; and the vulnerable, such as Hagar,
Hannah, Jacob, and the tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners,
and places them in a family.
These characters do nothing to deserve God's grace, love, and
acceptance - in fact, all of them have serious flaws and issues. By
making these kinds of people his descendants and heirs, God reveals
himself as a gracious father to the fatherless.
Our own experience of God is similar. When we became Christians,
we did nothing to earn God's favour - in fact, we came with all
sorts of emotional and behavioural issues - yet God the Father
draws us into his family, and gently and patiently irons out those
God desires to be known as "a father to the fatherless", and so
it is no surprise that he calls his people to model this aspect of
his character by caring for vulnerable people. James 1.27 states
clearly that "religion that God our Father accepts as pure and
blameless is to care for widows and orphans in their distress." Who
better to welcome those who need fostering and adopting than those
who have experienced the reality of adoption themselves?
Adoption and the community of God
OUR adoption into God's family is not a peripheral part of God's
plans for the universe. Rather, it is pivotal not only to the
doctrine of salvation, to our understanding of the character of
God, and to our witness in the world, but in the way that God
exists in community.
In Galatians 4, St Paul writes: "But when the set time had fully
come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to
redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to
And, in Romans 8, he says: "The Spirit you received does not
make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit
you received brought about your adoption to sonship"; and: "It is
through the Spirit's intervention that we are able to cry 'Abba,
In order to give humanity the opportunity of adoption into his
family, the whole Trinity was involved. The part played by God the
Father was to send his Son. God the Son's part was obedience to the
Father, even though that obedience would mean the humiliation of
the incarnation, and the devastation of the cross. God the Holy
Spirit is the agent who appropriates and confirms our adoption at
an experiential level.
Because of this Trinitarian collaboration, adoption is a vital
part of the missio Dei (the mission of God). In Romans 8,
St Paul explains our adoption's eschatological significance,
linking it to the consummation of creation. Thanks to the work of
the Spirit in our lives, we who have come to faith are the
"firstfruits" of what is to come.
The adoption of believers into God's family acts not only as a
trigger to show God's character to a watching world, but also as
the trailer for the restoration of all things that will come at the
end of time.
This community of God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - now
includes us. God welcomes us into his family as those who have been
legally, permanently, and equally adopted.
Adoption and the compassion of God
GOD the Holy Trinity was not in any way inadequate before the
offer of adoption to lost humanity. The Godhead did not need
adopted children to fill any gap, or meet any emotional
deficiencies. Christians believe in the aseity of God: that God is
fully sufficient and satisfied in himself.
Yet God the Father was motivated by human need to intervene in
human history, sending his Son and Spirit to make our adoption
possible. The Galatians 4 passage likens our fallen human condition
to vulnerable children in need of liberation. God is moved by
compassion not by necessity, and therefore acted to make our
It is this compassion that we are called to emulate. And the
campaign Home for Good, launched last year by Care for the Family,
the Churches' Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS), and the
Evangelical Alliance, is calling on the Church to model this kind
of motivation for fostering and adoption.
One of the key messages of the campaign is that Christian
fostering and adoption cannot be motivated solely by the wants or
desires of adopters. Adoption should not just be about parents
getting the kinds of children they want; but, rather, about the
6000 waiting children finding the parents they need. Christian
fostering and adoption modelled on the compassion of God reaches
out to meet the needs of others.
Understanding our spiritual adoption helps us reach out to adopt
others, or to support those who are able to adopt or foster
vulnerable children. Many Christian adopters report that the
process of earthly adoption has given them more appreciation of
their spiritual adoption.
This virtuous circle of theology, prompting action and action
confirming theology, is a vital aspect of a Christian's experience,
as the fostering and adoption of children from care often comes at
great cost, with much pain.
Adoption and the Church of God
BECAUSE adoption occupies such an important place in every
Christian's self identity, in the very character of God, and in
God's purposes for the universe, it is incongruous that fostering
and adoption do not occupy a cen-tral place in the life of the UK
Travelling around the UK, I often find churches who have no
experience of fostering or adoption. I have also come across many
stories of families who have chosen to mirror God's adopting love
by deliberately choosing to foster or adopt children who have many
challenges - but found that the Church was unwilling to accept
I have met a church leader who was told that he should be
disqualified from eldership because he could not "control" his
adopted children. He was seen to have failed the leadership test of
Titus 1.4: "whose children believe and are not open to the charge
of being wild and disobedient." I have met a young mum crying in
the church carpark because her son was banned from Sunday school
for not sitting still.
Fostering and adoption are rarely preached about from our
pulpits, or included in the lyrics of our worship songs. The
specific challenges of fostered and adopted children -scars of
chaos, trauma, displacement, or disabilities - are rarely talked
about in our parenting classes. The heartache of adoptive families
is rarely acknowledged in our counselling courses.
It is time that we rediscovered the riches of adoption theology,
and it is time we put that theology into practice; so that the
Church can be a place where all of us can appreciate our own
adoption, and support others involved in fostering and
Adoption is the call and privilege of every Christian. Through
the redeeming grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit, every
believer knows God as our father, and Jesus as our brother. But,
perhaps, we are too often ignorant of our privileges, and too often
negligent of our responsibilities to pass on the compassion and
grace of God to the thousands of children in our towns and cities
that desperately need it. My prayer is that, as we recover a
theology of adoption, this will change.
Krish Kandiah is the Executive Director for Churches in
Mission at the Evangelical Alliance, and author of Home for
Good: Making a difference for vulnerable children, published
last year by Hodder & Stoughton. A theological conference on
adoption will take place at St Mellitus College, London, in
Al Coates has fostered and adopted six children with his wife,
Paula, and is now training to be a foster-care social worker
I WAS 27 when Paula and I got married. She's ten years older
than me, and quickly pointed out that we needed to think about
having children. Nothing happened, and though there were no obvious
problems, time was ticking on, and the window for IVF was closing;
so we needed to make some decisions.
Then we met some people from an adoption agency, Phoenix
Community Care, and decided that this was the way for us.
We agreed we'd take whoever needed a home, and, after getting
approved, we were offered a group of three siblings aged six,
three, and 20 months old. We said "yes", like mad, enthusiastic
fools, and they came to us in 1999, settled in well, and we adopted
them in 2000.
By 2005, our eldest was 13, they were all at school, and we
decided we had a house big enough to foster two more children. We
were approved, and we took in two sisters, aged three months and 15
months, for respite care. Not long after, we were told that their
foster carer wanted to retire, but only if we'd take the girls; so
we looked after them.
They had daily contact with their birth mother, and they weren't
freed for adoption, which became quite traumatic for them. A family
had come forward to be special guardians, but they weren't able to
fulfil that role, and, eventually, people began to ask why we
couldn't adopt them. In the middle of 2008, after a long and
protracted process, we adopted them.
In 2011, Paula bumped into their aunt, who told her that our
youngest girls' birth mother was pregnant again. Without skipping a
beat, Paula said we would take that child, if the mother was still
in the position of not being able to care for young children. The
baby came into care from birth, and at the end of April she was
adopted by us.
Each one of our children has had a different experience of the
care system, and we're a rag tag bunch: one looks Greek, one's
black, one looks Mexican, and so on. But when our children came to
us, they didn't join us, we became something new together with
People try and canonise us, but every child comes with
challenges and uncertainties, and every child is a gift from God.
Adoption is a wonderful privilege, and, as my wife would say,
there's enough children to go round.
Reporting by Johanna Derry
Last year, the leader of Southampton City Life Church, Paul
Woodman, launched a campaign to find foster homes for 40
FOR the past three years, my wife Susannah and I have offered
respite and short-term care for children younger than our own. We
have a daughter who's 14, and a son who's 11; so we foster children
up to the age of 11. We regularly look after two boys, brothers
aged five and six, and a brother and sister who are two and
When I was 16 or 17, I was effectively homeless. My parents had
broken up, and, although I wasn't in official foster care, I was
taken in by a Church of England vicar and his family, who looked
after me, on and off, for two or three years. It wasn't that my
parents didn't care, but I knew I had a safe place to go if I
needed it. They gave me a key. It was a very significant thing to
be trusted with a key to their house.
In 2013, in the face of cuts, leaders of faith communitiesin
Southampon asked the local council if there was anything we could
do. The council came back with a list which included things you'd
expect, like youth clubs. But they also asked for help to find
Faith communities in the city pledged to find 40 new foster and
adoptive homes. We made an artwork of 40 keys on a board, and gave
it to Southampton fostering team as a sign of our commitment.
When you have one family in your church who fosters or adopts,
you see the ups and the downs, and it changes the way you think
about church. As you have more foster children in your Sunday
school, for example, you will have more challenging behaviour. When
someone is looking after five or six children, they need help and
Some people might not be able to foster, but they can support
families who do. People have become approved babysitters - "safe"
people, who can give foster carers a night off. Others contributed
[financially] so that people could move to bigger houses, to take
on children. That's really creative and generous.
The churcheshave really stepped up over the past year. We have
ten families approved, and another 50 in the process of being
approved for fostering or adoption. Even though we've met the
original target, there are always more children who need homes. I
want to take people into my home, include them, and value them.
Reporting by Johanna Derry