Briefly Noted: On Susan Olasky, Religious Belief, and Adoption

In a recent article for World Magazine Susan Olasky highlights an ongoing movement that opposes international and intercultural adoptions. One hopes that movement, which has the potential to restrict Christians from being adoptive parents, does not gain traction.

Olasky begins by noting that the tide seems to be turning against international adoption. In 2012 only 8,668 internationals found homes in the United States, as compared to 22,884 children being adopted into U. S. families in 2004. Setting aside possible economic causes for this drop, Olasky comments that there has been a surge in coverage of adoptions turned bad: for instance, the very public case of a mother trying to return her adopted son to his home country. These stories, however terrible they are, pale in comparison to the stories of multitudes of orphans who die each year in need.

One objection to international adoption raised by Kathryn Jones, in the left-leaning MotherJones, is that of cultural imperialism.  Jones does make some valid points. First, some adoptive parents might not be adequately prepared either emotionally or financially to deal with the difficulty of parenting children across cultures. However, from this fact we should not draw the conclusion that many or most adoptive parents are not adequately prepared.

Second, she rightly points out certain exceedingly bad international and intercultural adoptive situations involving Christians. However, unfortunately she proceeds from that fact to argue agsainst international adoptions by “fundamentalist Christians.” And she is especially aghast at an adoptive mother who “ . . . eschew[s] contraception and adhere[s] to rigid gender roles.” Really? Is Jones really worried that a child with no parents, and potentially without the promise of a meal, might be adopted by—gasp—a Christian couple who are complementarians? So Jones’ argument is a mixed bag, and we are left hoping that Christian families are not restricted from adopting children who remain in group homes, as outsiders in the homes of extended family, or wandering the streets in war torn countries. Despite real and potential abuses, the situation appears to be more complex and significant than Kathryn Jones allows.

Fortunately, there are an increasing number of more balanced critiques of the adoption process, including a recent essay and video clip entitled, “Is the Orphan My Neighbor?” by Russell Dr. Moore, President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and author of Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Crossway, 2009). Moore is himself an adoptive parent and, like Jones, is concerned about various abuses of the adoption process. He cites the story of a prospective adoptive mother measuring the craniums of possible children to determine if they were damaged goods. She was checking the children out, like melons in the produce aisle, in order to ensure she didn’t get damaged goods. This, however, defeats the purpose of adoption and defies the spirit in which Christian adoption should be conducted. Moore notes:

Orphans are unpredictable. Often we don’t know where they’ve come from, what kinds of genetic maladies and urges lie dormant somewhere in those genes. Moreover, in virtually every situation of fatherlessness, there is some kind of tragedy: a divorce, a suicide, a rape, a drug overdose, a disease, a drought, a civil war, and on and on. We’d rather not think about such things, and we’re afraid often of what kind of lasting mark they leave on their victims.

In other words, adoptive parents should assume that the children they adopt come with emotional and physical baggage. So it is important not to move toward adoption glibly or without due consideration and an adequate support network in a local church. Yet Moore comments:

Justice for the fatherless will sap far more from us than just the time it takes to advocate. These kids [orphans] need to be reared, to be taught, to be hugged and to be heard. Children who have been traumatized often need more than we ever expect to give. It is easier to ignore those cries. But love of any kind is risky.

The call for orphan care is clear in Scripture (Jms 1:27), but it must be implemented rightly, in a way that honors God and provides a loving and stable home for the children. Adoptions must proceed in a way that presents a testimony about the nature of our adoption into God’s family (Rom 8:12–25; Gal 4:5; Eph 1:5). Just as we were adopted by God the Father, and given the status of “children of the King,” so we can adopt needy children and given them a warm and loving home.

As a concluding note, I would be remiss if I did not mention Tony Merida’s book Orphanology and his chapel sermon from November, 2010, both of which present a theology of adoption along with compelling testimony and compassionate exhortation to take seriously Christ’s call to true religion—taking care of widows and orphans in their time of need (Jms 1:27).




Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus’t say we didn’t tell you. We’re telling you now. The Christ-Centered Exposition series (B&H) has officially launched with the publication of Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. The series editors—Danny Akin, David Platt, and Tony Merida—serve as authorial triumvirate for the first book. Future volumes will be written by Russell D. Moore, Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, Mark Dever, J. D. Greear, Eric Mason, Robert Smith, Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, Thabiti Anyabwile, Al Mohler, and Paige Patterson.

The Christ-Centered Exposition series is framed by certain convictions. From the back cover:

This series affirms that the Bible is a Christ-centered book, containing a unified story of redemptive history of which Jesus is the hero. We purpose to exalt Jesus from every book of the Bible. In doing this, we are not commending wild allegory or fanciful typology. We must be constrained to the meaning intended by the divine Author Himself, the Holy Spirit of God. However, we also believe that the Bible has a Messianic focus, and the authors in this series will exalt Christ from all of their texts.

The series editors express the determination to ensure exegetical accuracy in each of the works. They view pastors—especially those busy with the responsibilities of ministry—as the target audience for the series and for that reason include helpful illustrations and theologically driven applications.

These convictions and characteristics drive the first volume in the series, Exalting Jesus in 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus. Each major section of commentary includes a main idea, outline, brief discussion of the text according to this outline, and reflection and discussion questions. Where necessary, the authors include an “excursus,” or parenthetical discussion of a key issue from that passage. An example from 1 Timothy 1:3–20 illustrates this clear presentation.

The authors provide this main idea for the text: “Church leaders must lead God’s people to persevere in the gospel in the face of false teaching and other challenges” (p. 12). They then discuss this main idea through three major sections: We Must Guard the Gospel (1:3–11); We Must Celebrate the Gospel (1:12–17); We Must Fight for the Gospel (1:18–20). Akin, Platt, and Merida also provide an excurses on “The Three Moral Uses of the Law” (pp. 15–16) in which they conclude, “as we rest in the righteousness of Christ, possessed by the Spirit of Christ, compelled by the ongoing grace of Christ, we are led from the inside out to walk in God’s will. For the Christian, God’s law is no longer a crushing hammer but a divine guide.” Finally, the chapter ends with ten discussion questions (p. 21) such as, “How would you state the gospel in one sentence?” and “How do the three uses of God’s moral law apply to unbelievers? To believers?”

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Briefly Noted: On Theology, Rap, and Pop Culture

Admittedly, it is a cultivated taste, but I have come in recent years to have an interest in rap and hip-hop. That’s one reason why the recent edition of The Chronicle Review peaked my interest with an essay by Kristin Van Tassel entitled, “The Professor Lady Spits Rhymes” (October 12, 2012). In the essay, English professor Kristin Van Tassel describes her efforts to increase the paltry number of male students who take her writing and reading courses at Bethany College.

On the advice of a male student, Van Tassel offered a course in rap. To do so was, not surprisingly, a bit of a stretch for “a middle-aged white woman who lives on a 40-acre farm” and does not own a television. Yet, she created a January course called “The Poetics and Politics of Rap: From Run DMC to Lil Wayne.” She required students to buy one textbook, Adam Bradley’s Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip Hop. After much reading and research to teach the course, Van Tassel realized that she “had wandered into deeply unfamiliar territory” and so this course would need to be student-led.

Van Tassel details that the course took the flavor (flav) of a “lab” wherein students took turns rapping free-style. The most frightening moment for Van Tassel was when the class suggested that they should all perform individual raps in front of the student body and faculty. The catch: the teacher would also perform. As she recounts, “I was scared. I possessed neither the competence nor the confidence to write and perform a rap.” And yet Van Tassel wrote up a rap and practiced it at home – her two young sons (mortified by the thought) insisted she never (ever) perform it in public, in private, or anywhere in between.

In the end, the class performance was a success, with the students performing their raps in front of 200 students and faculty. Even Van Tassel’s rap (which she describes as a rather drab and plodding assemblage) was cheered by the student body. After the performance, Van Tassel required students to write up rhetorical analyses of various rap songs. She discovered their interest in rap led to observations that one might find in a “normal” English course. Yet the primary reflection Van Tassel offered was on pedagogy: “Rap did bring male students to my classroom, but more important, it delivered a freestyle remix of the classroom dynamic in which students choreograph their own learning.”

After having read the article, I amused myself by imagining some of my colleagues and friends rapping in class (think: Nathan Finn or Jason Lee, in toboggans, unleashing some rhymes). Not that a few of them couldn’t do it. I’m thinking of Tony Merida (you drop a beat; he’ll make it speak) and Owen Strachan (you provide the flow; he’ll make it go).

But before you think this little blogpost is entirely frivolous, allow me to make a couple of notes on why this article peaked my interest. First, theology is an inherently and inescapably contextual task. Theology is always conceived of and articulated within a social and cultural context. It is done by means of a particular language (one of the most deeply ingressed aspects of any culture), via the concepts offered by a particular culture, and in conversation with the questions raised by that culture. For that reason, it serves pastors and theologians well to spend a little bit of time getting to know the poet-philosophers (musicians, rappers, actors, screenwriters, directors) whose influence is so pervasive upon the people to whom we hope to minister.

When one pays close attention to the pop culture of the 90s and the early years of this century, one notices that certain brands of nihilism have dominated pop culture. Shows such as Seinfeld and the Simpsons, movies such as Pulp Fiction and Fight Club, and bands such as Kurt Cobain and Linkin Park give evidence of this nihilism. They not only reflect the nihilism woven throughout American society, and enhance and broadcast that nihilism in such a way that it becomes even more pervasive. (See Thomas Hibbs’ Shows about Nothing for a lively and concise treatment of nihilism in pop culture.)

Second, we Americans tend to encourage our international missionaries to take their cultural contexts seriously, while at the same time not taking our own context seriously. One way that we do this is by turning up our noses, and even mocking, the cultures and sub-cultures that surround us. We make belittling jokes about pastors or youth pastors who seek to preach the gospel in a manner that is meaningful to these culture and sub-cultures. Instead of belittling those who try to minister meaningfully, we need to encourage them to do it well, and follow suit ourselves.

Another way we do this is by considering it acceptable for a pastor or theologian to remain conversant with “high culture” by reading elite journals (e.g. The New York Review of Books, The New Criterion, or First Things) or following avante-garde art (e.g. Jackson Pollock, Marcel Duchamp). At the same time, however, we look down our noses at those who want to remain conversant by listening to “low culture” or popular music (e.g. rap, hip-hop, country). A final way that we do this is by considering it helpful to study older manifestations of Western culture, such as Bach, Rembrandt, or Shakespeare, but considering it frivolous to study more recent manifestations of Western culture, such as U2, Slavoj Žižek, or J. K. Rowling.

To conclude: Because Christian ministry is inescapably contextual, we face the challenge and opportunity of getting to know our own context well enough that we can proclaim the gospel in a way that is both faithful (to the Scriptures) and meaningful (to our context). This contextual ministry cannot be marked by snobbery (toward our own culture, toward low culture, or toward recent culture), but by a humble and joyful desire to see Christ honored among all peoples and cultures.