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60Five Reflections on Evangelicalism and Adoptionhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2011/10/five-reflections-evangelicalism-adoption
Tue, 25 Oct 2011 06:54:40 -0400I spent the past weekend at
Together for Adoption
, which was a strong and refreshing dose of teaching and instruction on gospel-centered adoption.
With that in mind, then, I offer the following reflections on evangelicals and adoption.
1) The conference was deeply theological, which was a good thing. Yet the main stage speakers focused almost exclusively
for adoption and orphan care, rather than the shape of adoption or orphan care. While the breakouts were primarily practical, the divide gave off the implicit feeling that theology ends precisely where reflection about what adoption should actually look like in practice begins.
But the Gospel does not simply provide us the proper set of motivations
to do what everyone else in the world does. Instead, it provides us unique insight into the structure of morality (Christ is our
), such that we can open up new possibilities for action rather than staying within the framework provided to us by the world around us. The Gospel is not only an internal reality that helps us to get our hearts in the “right place” with respect to adoption. It is an external reality that should help us discern who we adopt and how we go about it.
In other words, I would have loved to have seen some theological ethics with respect to adoption being worked out. A lot of people are very passionate about adoption, and that’s great.
But not all attempts at helping those in poverty actually succeed
, and it is the task of theological ethics to help those who are considering adoption discern how their proper motivations should take shape in the world. Some people will (rightly) say “no” to adoption, and theological ethics will help those in the adoption movement counsel those couples and churches wrestling with the practical dimensions more effectively.
It is a perennial temptation, I think, to frame the doctrine of adoption as a fundamentally individualisticdoctrine
(as opposed to a doctrine about individuals). In adoption, God saves us as individual persons. But he saves us
a web of relationships with others, with the world, and even with myself. Like it or not, that web that simply does not go away at the moment of adoption (which is why, I think, in Romans 8 our adoption is framed as the final redemption of our bodies). Consequently, the line between the “old man” and the “new man” is a lot more blurry than we might like. We are never autonomous, never free-floating about the relationships that defined us (even when we deny them in order to follow Jesus).
In other words, orphans are not
or atoms that have somehow achieved social isolation. They still exist within a social network, even though their birth parents are no longer around. In fact, the orphan is defined not by
but by that
, an absence that new parents simply will not fill in the same way
A new spouse may stand in the same relationship as the first, but as long as the person is different than some absence will be noticeable.
In that sense, then, I worry our language about adoption is too individualistic, that we are not attuned to the fact that adopting the person means bringing that web of relations into our home. The closest someone got to acknowledging this on the main stage was Bryan Lorrits, whose excellent talk highlighted the fact that adoption doesn’t make a black child any less black. And the unique set of social relations that come with that simply do not go away.
3) Proclaiming adoption as a doctrine is insufficient without its corollary:
a theological account of the nature of childhood
. What is the life we are adopting people into? What is the good news we have to
children? Is it simply better material comforts, better educational possibilities, the safety of living in a stable society? If it’s hearing the good news about Jesus, what difference does that make to children
children? A deeper and more comprehensive understanding of what childhood is will also help us understand what is uniquely destructive about orphanhood. I would love to see the adoption movement (and evangelicals generally) spend more of their time reflecting about this.
This request for addition, I’d point out, is similar to the first one that I raised. It is one thing to say that the Gospel grounds our adoption, while it is another thing to say what those Gospel-shaped adoptions actually look like. Similarly, it is one thing to say that our adoption makes outsiders our own children, but another to say what the life of the child that they have now received looks like. While there was a strong emphasis on parenting, we should also reflect about what sorts of things parents are raising.
Adoption is one (important) strand of orphan care, but is not the whole of it.
And the emphasis on adoption
as a means of caring for
should not preclude our concern for
in impoverished areas and our efforts to correct the causes of poverty and adoption. I didn’t make it to the (few) breakout sessions where economics were substantively addressed, but it would have been good to see some of those concerns more fully treated from the main stage as well.
Obviously, the conference primarily draws people interested in adoption (though the theme was care for orphans this year). But even there, the economic aspects of adoption should play into our decisions about who to adopt and where we adopt from. It may be better, for instance, in some emerging economies to not adopt children out of them, but to find better indigenous solutions to the problem. Taking into account the economic dimension of adoption is incumbent on those who want to do all we can to
ensure our helping doesn’t hurt
5) Related to that, I think while it is more difficult to think through the systemic causes of where orphans come from, the adoption movement doesn’t help foster such thought. Most of the banners for the organizations represented, for instance, had faces of individual children or pairs of children. We don’t see the system: we see
, and as such it is easier to think of adopting
as a solution than addressing the problems in the social network that caused that child to be orphaned.
Which is why we should make sure our presentation on adoption is accurate: it’s not a solution
to orphanhood, even if it is a means of caring for a child and bearing witness to the reality of the Gospel. We can still bear witness to the Gospel in working with orphans, but such care may not take the shape of international adoption.
Did you go to the conference? Where are the above thoughts wrong?
]]>Caitlin Flanagan and the Disenchantment of Sexhttps://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2011/02/caitlin-flanagan-and-the-disenchantment-of-sex
Thu, 03 Feb 2011 00:42:00 -0500 In her latest article for
, Caitlin Flanagan develops her ongoing theme of examining contemporary sexual life by reading Karen Owens infamous (non-academic) thesis on her sexual conquests of several Duke athletes. Hell hath no fury, William Congreve once told us, and Flanagans hypothesis is that Owens relentless descriptions of the anatomical shortcomings of various partners is the latest bit of evidence that he was right.
In typical Flanagan fashion, the piece meanders through the social factors beneath the sordid episode itself and its cultural reception. Her analysis hinges on this
: If what we are seeing in Karen Owens is the realization of female sexual power, then we must at least admit that the first pancake off the griddle is a bit of a flop. Owens is a cheap imitation (if such a thing were possible) of Tucker Max, the quintessential player who has become a cult legend within fraternities.
But Owens imitation doesnt spring up from nowhere. Rather, her sexual notetaking
is the product of an alcoholic explosion among college women and the antiquation of traditional male/female sexual morality. Flanagans analysis of the hookup culture is by no means new, but she does have a way of crystallizing the problem in ways that draw feminists ire: In those days, [women] relied on our own good judgment to keep us safe, but also”and this is the terrible, unchanging fact about being female”on the mercy of the men around us. Now women have neither the protections of the patriarchy nor those old-school, man-hating radical feminists.
Whether Flanagans historicism is overly romantic is an open question. That it provides solid fodder for another round of discussion about whether the kids are all right has already been answered. It is not clear whether or not Owens represents a broader phenomenon, or if Flanagan represents her accurately (her reading of Fox News Anchor Megyn Kellys warning to young women to not sleep around was inventive). Ross Douthat has dubbed Flanagan an instinctive social conservative, but instincts need facts”and when it comes to Owens, Im not sure theyre on Flanagans side.
Flanagan seems to fit Owens into her pre-determined template of female desire gone awry. For Flanagan, female sexual desire is deeply enmeshed in the desire to be seduced, taken, treated . . . .with a measure of aggression, which explains why Tucker Max is (thank God) inimitable by the female sex, despite their best efforts. Flanagans Owens”noting the questionable relationship to the real Karen Owens”is the antithesis of Bella, the heroine of the extraordinarily successful adolescent novel
. In her analysis of the story, Flanagan writes:
]]>Your Doctrine of Creation is Too Smallhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/09/your-doctrine-of-creation-is-too-small
Wed, 08 Sep 2010 06:36:32 -0400A few weeks ago,
Hunter asked why evangelicals seem obsessed with the proper interpretation of Genesis
when, ahem, we are
. Which means we’re centered on the gospel, the good news about the historical reality of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It’s a fair question. I suspect that you can draw a line between more traditional evangelicals and the so called “young evangelicals” based on how they want to read Genesis. And if I may unfairly stereotype for a moment, both sides of the movement tend to emphasize their preferred aspects of the book.
So on the one hand, old-school evangelicals discover both sanction for traditional sexual arrangements therein
that making the text compatible with evolution is extremely tricky, if not impossible. On the other hand, the younger set takes their sexual cues from the resurrection (preferring not to think about the so-called “order of creation”) while using Genesis to highlight their culture-making activities and their environmental concerns.*
Of course, each side might want to claim elements of the other side for their own. The above is simply what both sets tend to
in their interpretations of the book.
I’d like to suggest—in strictly tentative fashion as a hypothesis that I am amusing myself with these days—that as important as each of those questions are, none of them should be the starting point for our doctrine of creation. Prior to the question of how the world comes into being is a question of the nature of being itself. Which is to say, metaphysics, which evangelicals seem particularly averse to. In the order of questions,
the world came into being, or
the world is good, or what
we have toward the world are all derivative upon the questions of
what the world is
how it is to be understood in reference to the Creator.
In that sense, the doctrine of creation must be a
It must be explicitly theological. And so our knowledge of creation cannot be separated from our knowledge of the creator, for what does it mean to know creation
if we do not understand its relationship to its Maker? ”We believe in God, the maker of heaven and earth.” It is a reality that we must confess, but it is a reality about God and his relationship to creation,
not the means
by which he created the creation. While that can be read to provide cover for theological evolutionists (of which I am not one), my point is simply that our problems in the doctrine of creation might be further upstream than we imagine.
Here, then, is the second part of my hypothesis: the evangelical focus on certain aspects of Genesis have to do with our sense that the Resurrection breaks with the created order, rather than re-establishes it.
As Oliver O’Donovan has put it, “New creation is creation renewed, a restoration and enhancement, not an abolition God has announced his kingdom in a Second Adam, and “Adam” means “Human.”
If we thought that, then we may be able to fit creation as a doctrine more easily into our theological systems, rather than reducing it to the relationship between science and the Bible or us and the environment.
In short, our doctrine of creation is simply too small. We need to move
back beyond the first pages of Genesis
reality of God Himself
, a God who brings being out of non-being (a metaphysical claim if I’ve ever heard one!). Only when we know him will we understand the creation which he has fashioned.
*As a side note, I’m not sure how many people noticed in
Andy Crouch’s excellent book
how he integrates the family into culture, but it’s probably the most interesting aspect of his book that was maybe the least talked about.
Did I mention that these are hypotheses? I’m no expert in these matters, so if you want a full treatment on the topic,
I suggest reading this
. And if you want the cliff’s notes version to that,
check out here
]]>The Choice of Children: The Logic of Gay Marriage and Abortionhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/08/the-choice-of-children-the-logic-of-gay-marriage-and-abortion
Fri, 13 Aug 2010 09:43:16 -0400
]]>The Choice of Children: The Logic of Gay Marriage and Abortionhttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/08/the-choice-of-children-the-logic-of-gay-marriage-and-abortion-1
Fri, 13 Aug 2010 08:49:53 -0400At his
New York Times
blog, Ross Douthat has been doing a yeoman’s work, making me almost regret
my critique of his essay on gay marriage
by offering a patient, sophisticated case for preserving the “ideal” of heterosexual marriage.
Specifically, I was pleased to see him affirm my point that the
legal affects the culture
in addition to reflecting it, a point often lost on my peers. One of my favorite moments is when he turns the civil rights narrative on his opponents to prove the point:
]]>Douthats Tepid Defense of Traditional Marriagehttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/08/douthats-tepid-defense-of-traditional-marriage
Wed, 11 Aug 2010 09:00:10 -0400
]]>Cremation and the Structure of Biblical Reasoninghttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/07/cremation-and-the-structure-of-biblical-reasoning
Fri, 30 Jul 2010 10:42:26 -0400I continue to be troubled by the
structure of David Jones’ argument regarding the ethics of cremation
Let’s review his conclusion:
After reviewing some of the key historical, biblical, and theological considerations that have been a part of the moral discussion of cremation within the Judeo-Christian tradition, ultimately the practice must be viewed as an adiaphora issue [i.e. an issue that Scripture is indifferent on]. This being said, however, it seems legitimate to draw the following three conclusions. First, church history witnesses considerable opposition toward cremation with the normative practice of the church being burial. Second, while Scripture is silent on the specifics of how to treat the deceased, both the example of biblical characters and the general trajectory of related passages seem to be in a pro-burial direction.Third, the body is theologically significant; thus, both the act of and the imagery conveyed by the treatment of the deceased ought to be weighed carefully. (emphasis mine)
At first glance, it’s a judicious conclusion. It does allow for freedom in the individual believer’s decisions, while still preserving a place for Scripture as counsel.
Jones seems to suggest that it’s ultimately an adiaphora issue
there is no
against the practice within the pages of Scripture. Fair enough. But what of slavery, where there is also no
Let’s rewrite the second of his mitigating points.
“Second, while Scripture is silent on the specifics of [whether to abolish slavery], both the example of biblical characters and the general trajectory of related passages seem to be in a [pro-abolition direction].”
This is the exact argument that is often made to suggest that slavery is, in fact, not a “Biblical” practice. The anthropology of Scripture undermines the institution, and any consistently Christian society or individual would work for abolition. Or so the argument goes.
If that argument is correct—and like a lot of folks, I think it is—then it’s hard to see how the Bible is
toward slavery as an institution or a practice. There’s a moral judgment against it that is
, even if Scripture doesn’t explicitly prohibit it.
There are, of course, relevant differences between slavery and cremation, the most significant of which is that the one treats humans who are alive, and the other treats humans who are deceased. My point here is also
about the morality of cremation (or slavery)
That conversation is
still going on of at my other internet home
, and there’s no reason to repeat that all here.
Instead, I want to know (and this is a real question): If we adopt Jones’ conclusion that cremation is an adiaphora issue, despite the pro-burial trajectory within Scripture, must we also say the same thing of slavery?
]]>The Great Theologianshttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/06/the-great-theologians
Mon, 07 Jun 2010 06:42:15 -0400The virtue of Gerald McDermott’s
The Great Theologians
is that it condenses the central contributions of eleven of history’s most influential Christian thinkers into a readable and accesible format.
And McDermott makes this seem
The Great Theologians
introduces a rather diverse crew of theologians, from controversial but invaluable Origen, to the monumental Karl Barth. The selection alone might be enough to raise eyebrows in some quarters: can we really
McDermott answers with a cautious “yes,” patiently discerning the shape of their central ideas while pointing out minefields as they arise.
It would be easy in adopting McDermott’s formata highly organized structure that is repeated in every chapterto view the theologians as titans whose work was independent of the others and whose thought is isolated from the broader stream of church history. But McDermott will have none of that. He repeatedly locates the contributions of later authors in the context of their predecessors, creating a chorus of voices that offer distinct contributions, even where there is significant disagreement.
As you might expect in a book like this, McDermott’s own theological inclinations peak through. He seems to be, for instance, excited about deification as a theological concept in a way that I am not (and in a way that will make many evangelicals skittish). But such are the sorts of issues and conversations that arise when you begin discussing Athanasius and Augustine: that they bear witness to the truth of the Gospel in a way that tills the ground for “deification” means we should listen carefully before rejecting it.
But as an introduction to the Great Tradition, the sort of thinkers who (in all cases except perhaps Schleiermacher) adhere to the sort of “mere orthodoxy” we are fans of around here,
The Great Theologians
is the best of its kind. For those who are attracted by
Jim Belcher’s notion of “deep church”
and the “deep tradition” that accompanies it, McDermott’s book is the logical starting point.
as McDermott knows and tells usserve as a
point. As he puts so well in his final paragraph, “We should not only read
the great theologians, but the
writings of these thinkers.” McDermott’s book will whet your appetite for themit will be up to you to find satisfaction.
]]>Filling the Lost Shaped Hole: Friday Night Lightshttps://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2010/05/filling-the-lost-shaped-hole-friday-night-lights
Wed, 26 May 2010 08:00:19 -0400