Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Many of you know that Christie and I are engaged in foster care ministry. It has been wonderful, daunting, life-changing and freeing all at once. Here is a paper I recently wrote about foster care that helped to formulate some of my is long, so I understand if you don't want to read the entire thing.



Augustine of Hippo wrote about the intersection of the family and the city in his seminal work, The City of God. Thornbury writes when summarizing basic ideals in this work of Augustine that, “The traditional family is the basic building block of the polis (city)….Christians are to model in community for the watching world what the city of God is supposed to look like.”[1] Similarly, we see in the Old Testament a call for the people of God, at that time in exile, to care for welfare of the city in which they were. The prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter to the covenant people of God in exile with these words: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have set you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare (Jer. 29:7).”[2] Although provided with some specific instructions in that letter, the overall focus was the welfare of the city in which the people of God were placed. Earlier in their history, the Old Covenant people of God were instructed in the Pentateuch to show care because of their own previous redemption from Egypt.

Deuteronomy 24:19-22 instructs the people to care for three main groups of people, one of which is the fatherless. The Hebrews of old were commanded in this text to share of what they had reaped from their fields, beaten from their olive trees, and gathered in their vineyards with the fatherless because of one particular image: redemption. Deuteronomy 24:22 says, “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.”[3] The followers of God were to care for orphans because they too had been previously enslaved and thus, in a sense, fatherless. It would be much later that the Apostle Paul would address slavery and fatherhood. He wrote, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal 4:4-7). Biblically, adoption and orphan care are critical pieces of one’s relationship with and to the Triune God, but also in one’s expression of following the Living God. [4]

Both the care of the fatherless and the care of the city involve societal units that God is in the process of repairing and redeeming. The family is of course the earliest combination of people seen in Holy Scripture. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Over time, as tribes and clans traveled together “east of Eden” and ultimately settled, multiple family units began to coexist in places that became in one form or another, cities. Throughout the work of God on behalf of the covenant people, God has been concerned for both families and cities.

This paper seeks to examine the intersection of two main themes-- the intersection of caring for the fatherless, and the caring of the city within the context of the Christian family.[5] Local orphan care, either foster care or adoption is the focus of this research. A theological overview of both the themes of city and orphan care will be examined and then an attempt made to see how the two merge in local orphan care within the context of the Christian family. To narrow the research, the aspects of local orphan care covered primarily rest with the ministry of the family. A case is made that local orphan care honors the theological implications of both ministry to the city and culture in which a family is placed as well as the implications of orphan care. The convergence of these two themes within the life of the Christian family is indeed a theological idea, but a calling upon families belonging to the kingdom of the Most High God.

Caring for the City

Chester and Timmis in their recent work on the church gave a recent story regarding city ministry. They write, “A church in a prosperous town with twenty-seven thousand inhabitants received over sixty applications for the post of assistant pastor. At the same time a church in northern England with an established evangelical ministry serving a city of several hundred thousand people could not get on application for the post of assistant pastor.”[6] Their point in relating the example is that often times ministry to the poor and marginalized is less of a priority than in prosperous or comfortable setting.[7] However, as it related to cities, there has always been a thread running through Scripture pointing to caring for those outside the covenant community in areas that surround the exiles of God—His children.

Throughout the history of the redemptive plan of God there have been themes of ministry to the city. Both the Deuteronomy 24 and Jeremiah 29 passages speak to the people of God caring for those around them. Deuteronomy has the word “sojourners” while the thrust of Jeremiah 29:7 is the care of a city of exile. Both sojourners and a city of exile would be outside the people of God, but the call is to care for both and to seek their welfare. Regarding this passage, Bruce Winter writes, “During the Jewish exile, there was an almost total preoccupation with the future and the expectation of it immediate realisation. Jeremiah curbed this by assuring them of the promised return although some seventy years hence, and coupled this with a demand that they focus on the present. The people of God were to seek the welfare of the present cities in which they resided.”[8] The people of God, while waiting for the fulfillment of the plan of God, were to care for those around them. Eschatological hope did not remove them from caring for the city, or the sojourner, rather it propelled them. Undoubtedly this is the same within the New Testament context. Winter writes, “The parallels between Jeremiah 29 and 1 Peter 1 are compelling.”[9] Discussing the Petrine epistle Winters writes, “The setting of one’s hope on the grace to be revealed at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1:13) provided the perspective for fulfilling the Christian mandate to seek the welfare of the earthly city and not personal aggrandizement.”[10]

So often a focus of the people of God is not the cities in which they live combined with a biblical gospel. Either social justice takes center stage, divorced from the gospel of Jesus Christ, or on the other extreme, getting as many people saved as possible without any regard for showing mercy. However, there seems to be biblical warrant not only for a solid gospel disaply permeating every aspect of the believer, including how a believer follows Christ in the city or place in which he dwells. Keller writes,

“It is widely understood that when God tells Adam and Eve to 'have dominion' and 'fill the earth' he is directing them to build a God-honouring civilisation. They are to bring forth the riches that God put into creation by developing science, art, architecture, human society… City building is an ordinance of God just like work and marriage. And indeed, cities draw together human talent and resources and tap the human potential for cultural development as nothing else does.

There is no absolute way to define a 'city'. A human settlement becomes more 'urban' as it becomes more a) dense and b) diverse in its population. God made the city to be a developmental tool, a form of cultural 'gardening', designed to draw out the riches he put into the earth, nature and the human soul at creation. Even after the fall, cities are places of 'common grace' though each factor also now can be used (and is!) for evil purposes.”[11]

Keller uses an overall survey of Scripture to point to the need for the covenant people of God to minister to the cities in which they live. He connects this theme with the overall work of Jesus Christ. He writes in conclusion, “Jesus went down to the city, and was crucified 'outside the gate': sent into howling wilderness, the biblical metaphor for forsakenness - losing the city! Jesus lost the city that was, so we can be citizens of the city to come, making us salt and light in the city that is! Our citizenship in the City-to-come, by his grace, equips us for the city that is.”[12] Plantiga echoes this when he affirms, “The whole natural world, in all its glory and pain, needs the redemption that will bring shalom. The world isn’t divided into a sacred realm and a secular realm, with redemptive activity confined to the sacred zone. The whole world belongs to God, the whole world has fallen, and so the whole world needs to be redeemed…”[13]

A larger aspect to a theology of the city found through the pages of Holy Scripture is the idea of the kingdom of God. This is where a true biblical understanding of gospel and ‘city’ meet—in the kingdom ushered in only in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. If one takes the view that all of Scripture points to the work of Jesus Christ and that Jesus Christ brings the kingdom to bear on God’s people, then city ministry, particularly eschatologically, is a microcosm of the coming kingdom. Carson writes, “Jesus announces and inaugurates the kingdom of God…As Paul puts it, all of God’s sovereignty is mediated through Jesus (1 Corinthians 15:25-28). Nevertheless, his reign is at present contested; the day will come when it will never be contested again. The kingdom has already dawned; yet the kingdom is still to come, awaiting the return of the King.”[14] It cannot be overemphasized that while the spreading of the gospel is a calling for every believer—ever follower of Jesus Christ—the calling of mercy ministry in His name is also to exist. Since the kingdom has already been inaugurated, albeit disputed by some as Carson points out, the reign of Jesus Christ is displayed as cities become epicenters for the church and family in which the kingdom of God is displayed. City life is impacted by individual life. When discussing the Apostle Paul and the social world, Schreiner writes, “Paul does not endorse a private Christianity, where one’s individual salvation does not affect public living. New life in Christ embraces and touches every dimension of the life of believers. The blessing promised to Abraham is worked out in new relationships and new attitudes in the social sphere.”[15]

The eschatological hope of the work of Christ is the redemption of all things. Human beings in Christ will be redeemed and saved, but all of creation is waiting for renewal Paul says in Romans 8. It is not too far a stretch to see that God’s work in renewal affects cities as well. Undoubtedly part of the spiritual yet soon to be physical reality of cities is the lack of fatherless in the streets. This work has begun already as Christian await the coming Redeemer and work to care for the cities.

Within ministry to the city, in both an Old and New Testament context, a primary building block is the family unit. Keller writes, “The first organization for the ministry of mercy is the Christian family…the Bible instructs each family to have a diaconal ministry to the community around it.”[16] This is a similar emphasis to Augustine of Hippo seen earlier. Throughout the Biblical record, the family was involved in caring for others. A chief example of this is Leviticus 23:22 where a portion of the household crop was to be reserved for the “sojourner”. Quite possibly, an interpretation of this sojourner would be one who is outside the covenant people, yet one who is in the local area. Within the people of God, an institution created by him to display His own work and glory is that of marriage—husband and wife living and journeying together with God as Center. The very point of marriage, and thus the family itself is of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:32).

The family as a starting point for ministry to the city can be seen and inferred from Holy Scripture. Plantiga writes, “If they work right, families become a microcosm of the kingdom of God, incubating us in faith, hope, and love, schooling us in patience, supplying us with memories good enough to out of storage on a lonely night.”[17] However, the intersection of caring for the city and caring for the fatherless is perhaps a little subtler. Examples of the two connections potentially abound in the media outlets of the day. The opening two lines in a recent article in the New York Times dated April 6, 2010 displays the connection of caring for the fatherless and the resulting implications for the city. The lines read: “Only half the youths who had turned 18 and “aged out” of foster care were employed by their mid-20s. Six in 10 men had been convicted of a crime, and three in four women, many of them with children of their own, were receiving some form of public assistance. Only six in 100 had completed even a community college degree.”[18] The secular study intends to show certain findings relevant to foster care. Interestingly enough, a take-away in thought is demonstrated by a quote in the article: “Finding a mentor who provides “that backbone you need” has made all the difference, said Cameron Anderson, 21, of Tampa, Fla., who entered foster care at 15 after he got into trouble with the law, then lived in group homes.”[19] Although not focused on a theological foundation, the study displays an interesting phenomenon. Specifically, better foster care, equals better citizens. How might the Christians of a city impact future generations of that city by being ‘the backbone that you need’ to the fatherless within that city? Before the intersection of orphan care and the care of the city can be seen, a brief theological survey concerning the care of orphans must be observed.

Caring for the Fatherless

Before properly understanding the care for the fatherless that Scripture calls the people of God to undertake, one needs to understand God Himself as the first to demonstrate care for orphans. God in adoption has called a people to be His sons and daughter. Burke gives a stunning exegesis of multiple texts in his definitive work on the doctrine of adoption. He writes, “If adoption is about anything it is about belonging, belonging where God as ‘Father’ occupies centre stage in his ‘family’. One locus where Paul particularly emphasizes the Father’s role in respect of our huiothesia is Ephesians 1.”[20] It is in Ephesians, along with multiple other New Testament passages, that the theological doctrine of adoption is seen. The Apostle Paul writes, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the word, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption (italics added) through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (Eph 1:3-6).[21] Within this passage, the Fatherhood of God is displayed wherein God is the Father of “our Lord Jesus Christ”, but also as the adopter of each Christian through Jesus Christ. God is seen as the first to care for the fatherless.

For centuries the idea of God’s adopting work has marveled his people. “ “All things re ours by virtue of our adoption,” Richard Sibbes wrote, “because we are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. There is a world of riches in this, to be the sons of God. And what a prerogative is this…that we have boldness to appear before God, to call him Father, to open our necessities, to fetch all things needful…”[22] Erickson defines adoption as, “That part of salvation which God receives the estranged sinner back into the relationship and benefits of being his child. The term connotes positives favor, as contrasted with mere forgiveness and remission of sins.”[23] Grudem defines the term with more reference to family when he writes, “We may define adoption as follows: Adoption is an act of God whereby he makes us members of his family.”[24]

Within the Ephesians text, the implications for the Christian are vast. God is seen as deserving praise because of his work in choosing a people. Specific to this work is the familial love of God and the mediator, God’s Son, Jesus Christ. The text states that, “in love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:4b-5a Italics added).[25] The text states that a reason for God’s work in this way is His love. Using Grudem’s definition, the Christian’s adoption is a result of the love of God. A familial connotation can be sensed within the words of this text. God loves. God loves those whom He has predestinated ‘for’ adoption. Burke writes, “The importance of this prepositional phrase serves to emphasize the fact that God ‘adopts because he loves those he adopts’; (Best 1998: 125).”[26] The Greek word used there is the preposition eiß. Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich give an exhaustive definition of this word, however the opening definition is: “indicating motion into a thing or into its immediate vicinity.”[27] God loving predestined believers to be brought ‘into the immediate vicinity’ of adoption. The word used in the Ephesians passage is the Greek word huiothesian the root word of which Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich define as “adoption”.[28] Burke while opening his work with this word writes, “The expression comprises two Greek words: huios, ‘son’, and thesis, ‘placing’, and etymologically denotes either the process or act of being placed or ‘adopted as son(s)’.”[29] Therefore, the literal implications of the Ephesians text are literally that the love of God, through the work of Jesus Christ has caused God to predestine a people to be placed into the making of sons. God is in the process of making sons. Taking children who once were spiritual orphans and placing them inside His family, city and kingdom with all the rights and privileges of sons.

When discussing the use of this word Salmond writes:

“It is a term of relation, expressing our sonship in respect of standing. It appears to be taken from the Roman custom, with which Paul could not fail to be acquainted. Among the Jews there were cases of informal adoption, as in the instance of Mordecai and Easter (Esth. ii.7). But adoption in the sense of the legal transference of a child to a family to which it did not belong by birth had no place in the Jewish law. In Roman law, on the other hand, provision was made for the transaction known as adoptio, the taking of a child who was not one’s child by birth to be his son, and arrogatio, the transference of a son who was independent, as by the death of his proper father, to another father by solemn public act of the people. Thus among the Romans a citizen might receive a child who was not his own by birth into his family and give him his name, but he could do so only by a formal act, attested by witnesses, and the son thus adopted had in all its entirety the position of a child by birth, with all the rights and all the obligations pertaining to that.”[30]

The work then of God caring for orphans is a model to follow, one which Paul gathers from the law of his day.

Adoption therefore is a position wrought solely by the Triune God on behalf of the believer. This is an important distinction, for true ‘sonship’ is something that is not earned by granted. No true familial relationship, if it is healthy, is based on earned status. Rather, a child either is born biologically, or taken in after birth in to a family at the will and determination of the parent(s). In addition to this reality, when a child falters, fails or disobeys, the status is not removed (even if as in some cultures a parent may ‘disown’ their child) but love keeps the relationship in tact. However, in a sinful world, sometimes this truth becomes distorted, and human relationships become centered in earned placement. This is not the case with God. Packer writes, “…God adopts us out of free love, not because our character and record show us worthy to bear his name, but despite the fact that they show the very opposite…Adoption, by its very nature, is an art of free kindness to the person adopted.”[31] [32]

Grudem writes, “The New Testament epistles bear repeated testimony to the fact that we are now God’s children in a special sense, members of his family.”[33] Multiple passages in the New Testament do indeed speak to adoption. Romans speaks to the Spirit of Adoption and the testimony of our spirit crying ‘Abba’ Father; Galatians speaks to the timing of adoption; Hebrews speaks to our position as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ and the list continues. Alongside the position of adoption, there are inherent responsibilities to that a task of sonship. While speaking of the responsibilities of the adopted child of God, Beeke writes:

“Engage in your Father’s work. Like a son wants to go his father’s way, do his father’s will, and engage in his father’s work, so true spiritual sons of the heavenly Father want to discipline themselves and channel their energies into the structures and work that God has for us in the fellowship of His church. Like Christ, our elder Brother, we must be about our Father’s business, remembering that the night is coming when no man can work (John 9:4).”[34]

Being a son frees the Christian to serve the God who adopted Him. The aim of the Christian life is that once adopted, the believer spends a lifetime glorifying his Father through service to others.

A Merger of Two Themes: Local Orphan Care within the context of the Christian Family

Moore writes, “Adoption is, on the one hand, gospel. In this, adoption tells us who we are as children of the Father. Adoption as gospel tells us about our identity, our inheritance, and our mission as sons of God. Adoption is also defined as mission. In this, adoption tells us our purpose in this age as the people of Christ. Missional adoption spurs us to join Christ in advocating for the helpless and the abandoned.”[35] Adoption is a theological reality for every Christian and it is also a practical calling to be considered. After a brief look into the doctrine of adoption, a theological survey of caring for the fatherless as well as a theological survey of caring of the city, is a merger of all of these themes possible?

It would seem that if the Christian is called to care for the fatherless and to be aware of caring for the city and that a primary place of ministry in society is the family that the themes could be mixed into one as the Christian families of a particular city considered local orphan care. Since the home is a place to display God’s kingdom and work to a secular society, and since the family is the institution set up as a picture not only of the church, but of familial relationships, it would seem that the care of local orphans in a city by a Christian family combines multiple themes[36]? Bringing the orphans of the city into one’s home and family pictures not only God’s work in redemption, specifically theological adoption, but it also displays the mercy of a loving God to a fatherless world.

The early Christian family was certainly not far removed from such a task. In a lecture given at a conference on adoption, Timothy Jones stated that during Roman occupation, the father of children had the right of patria potestus whereby they had the right of over the life and death of their child. Jones mentioned that there are early church documents pointing to a practice called exposito whereby an unwanted child could be abandoned legally upon the father’s request. Jones pointed out that early Christians would go and take in these unwanted babies and care for them as their own.[37] Care of the fatherless was seen as a Christian duty. In fact, one early Christian document points to the necessity of caring for the orphan: “If any is not willing to adopt the orphan because they would rather please men…or if they are by reason of their wealth ashamed to have an orphan may strangers devour their land before their eyes…”[38] However, today, while there does seem to be a shift in Christian adoption thinking[39], there has been a lack of connection between Christians and adoption. Stevenson-Moessner writes, “The invitation and inclusion of gentiles into the family of God occurs by adoption through Christ, the firstborn. Yet many communities of faith exhibit an unconscious aversion and defensive reaction to the notion of adoption. Adoption is unconsciously seen as an aberration from the norm of the biological family.[40] While not fully appreciating the full supremacy, omniscience and sovereignty of God in certain aspects of the article[41], Stevenson-Moessner is on to something when she brings out current disconnects between a biblical theology of adoption and the current Christian attitude towards adoption.

Since adoption is a theological reality for the believer, and since scripture speaks to caring for the fatherless, a possible assumption is the idea that the Christian family could model caring for orphans as fleshing out of the theological idea. Moore writes, “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. As we become more attuned to the gospel, we’ll have more of a burden for orphans. As we become more adoption-friendly, we’ll be better able to understand the gospel.”[42] To become ‘adoption-friendly’ is often a process that individuals or families must walk through. However, as mentioned earlier, the Christian families of the early church considered the care of the orphan to be a priority and a natural overflow of the gospel. In general these early Christian families considered the society that surrounded them to be a place of needed influence. Winter writes, “All able-bodied members of the Christian community were to seek the welfare of others in their city, even though they might be treated as ‘foreigners’. Eschatologically, for them ‘every home was a foreign land’, but in terms of their social ethics ‘every foreign land was their home’.”[43] Perhaps that culture of the day in 21st century America distorts the thinking of individuals and families by offering a message other than that of sacrifice for the sake of Christ.

A true biblical theology produces a desire within the believer to spend and be spent for the sake of the glory of God and His gospel. This is not works righteousness, but rather a freedom in one’s position in Christ to serve the kingdom of God. A conflicting message of the day is that the call of the Christian is to be happy, healthy, rich and successful. Adoption will often times remove or at least encroach on all of these. However it was God, the first to care for the fatherless that has given His covenant people the life that they own. Lowe writes, “Adoption is a mirror image of what God does for His people. Adoption redeems the broken lives of children, just as God adopts us and redeems our brokenness and sinfulness.”[44] An interesting picture of God’s work among His people (in this case, Old Testament Israel) can be seen in the book of Ezekiel. Here a picture is seen of God taking in an abandoned child:

“Again the word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, make known to Jerusalem her abominations, 3and say, Thus says the Lord GOD to Jerusalem: Your origin and your birth are of the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born.

"And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, 'Live!' I said to you in your blood, 'Live!' I made you flourish like a plant of the field. And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full adornment. Your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown; yet you were naked and bare” (Ez 16:1-7).[45]

The passage continues at length to describe the rebellion of God’s people against Him to include their adulterous chasing after other means of purpose. However, a conclusion to this passage at the end of this particular chapter of Ezekiel is that God will establish a covenant with his people to include atoning for their sin. An overwhelming implication of texts like these is that children of God—through adoption—must consider how to care for physical orphans while God gives His children life and breath. There are many practical applications. One potential application is that of bringing orphans into the Christian family unit for care, nurture and for displaying the love of God in the Person of Jesus Christ. This can be through adoption, but can also be through foster care. Foster care is a type of adopting work that although different from adoption in permanence is similar in principle as it relates to there the care of the fatherless.

A Practical Application: Foster Care

David Platt, Senior Pastor of The Church at Brookhills, Birmingham, AL recently stated in a lecture given during a conference on adoption that his church recently approached the local municipality surrounding their church to take on a task of foster care within the local area. The church encouraged families in the congregation to consider attending a seminar held at the church that included the local government department in charge of foster care. Multiple families responded by signing up to help with foster care. Specific to this was that the church took on a bulk if not a majority of the county’s current foster care needs.[46] This encouraging example is but one of many options that the present-day family has as it reflects on the doctrine of adoption, ministry to the fatherless and ministry to the city.

A specific means of caring for the fatherless of the city is through the outlet of foster care. Foster care in broad terms is the taking in of a child or group of children for watch care without official adoption having occurred. This may be for a short or a long season and can often times lead to official adoption, however adoption is not always the outcome. Foster care causes a family to demonstrate mercy in caring for a child who otherwise for a variety of reasons, may not have a family in which to be cared for.

There are many issues that being fatherless causes. Being designed for familial and specifically for parental relationships, human beings can often suffer a condition in attachment if early childhood experiences related to one’s caregiver are poor. Simply defined, attachment is a descriptor of significant bonds in relationships. White writes, “Developed by Bowlby, this theory explains the propensity of human beings to develop strong affectional bonds with significant others and experience emotional distress when those ties are disrupted (Bowlby, 1977). Attachment, distinguished from dependency, is viewed as a normal necessary ingredient of emotional health…And undue fear of losing the meaningful object, know as anxious attachment, results from a traumatic experience with loss particularly during the first years of life.”[47] A combining of this idea with the theological doctrine of adoption is an interesting study as all believers spiritually were once orphans and in need of secure attachment to the One Who is life. Literally however, Christian families have the potential ability to decrease attachment issues for a whole host of children even by being a parent for a season to a child.

A recent study showed that foster care reduces attachment issues. The study found that, “Importantly, children placed in foster care before 24 months were more likely to have secure attachments and if placed earlier were less likely to have disorganized or insecure-other attachments.”[48] While attachment is certainly not the only consideration when the benefits of orphan care are considered, it speaks to the relational components of human life, one that believers should know well as children of God, in relationship through their elder Brother Jesus Christ. If this study and others like it are indeed true, then Christians taking on the burden and gift of caring for local orphans within their cities can help to impact a future generation of city dwellers, and perhaps a future generation of kingdom dwellers.

Of course there are other considerations such as housing, food, clothing, medical care, education, and more. Each of these is important. Biblical passages are replete with calls to care for the hungry and the poor. These need not be avoided when factoring in the benefits of caring for orphans of the city. However, there is such a symbolic connection between the relational components of foster care (and adoption) and that of God’s work in the life of the Christian. Christians relate to God as children and not as orphans. God provided relationship for them including their position and standing before Him. He also provides for their temporal needs. Christian parents likewise can picture this spiritual reality in their care of other children. While foster care does not typically involve literal adoption, to a gospel-centered parent it can be the fleshing out of a spiritual reality; showing care for the fatherless who brings nothing to the table but neediness.[49]

As Christian families work through the relational dynamics of having a foster child in their home, they have an opportunity to present the gospel in word and deed to these children. The home can be a cradle for the nurturing of the gospel in the lives of the foster child. Lowe writes, “Children need to be taught that the hand of God has been at work in their lives from the very beginning of time. Share Bible passages with them that clearly teach this reality. Help them build their belief that God was not absent in those moments of trouble in his life.”[50] Foster care exists in cities whether or not Christian families choose to participate. However, the opportunity to display the gospel in action in and through foster care only exists as Christian families rise to the occasion. As young children, or adolescents or young teens are taken in by Christian families, the message of God’s care of spiritual orphans can be displayed.

Foster care is also something that occurs usually within the local area of the family, either a city or county municipality that is near the family that is participating. This blends the care of the fatherless[51] with the care of city. The needs are great within most cities across the United States of America. One statistic in the Commonwealth of Virginia[52] was that as of April 1, 2010, 6,329 children were in foster care in that state alone.[53] [54] These children, and others like them come from homes and situations of all sorts of varieties. The impact potential that Christian families could have on these children is phenomenal. If these children move towards adoption, the gospel can be displayed as children are transitioned from orphans to sons and daughters. If these children are ultimately returned to situations that have improved, then the care of a loving, Christ-centered family potentially will have lasting impacts not only on that child, but also potentially on the family and ultimately the city where that child lives.

A potential impacting factor on the ministry to the city that foster care is uniquely positioned for is that in foster care, usually a child returns to his or her original family, or another biological relative if possible. Some foster care children do end up being adopted permanently by the foster care family, but often this is not the case. Because of this return, the care that that child received from his or her foster care family can be something that impacts the family of origin, and ultimately the city. The Christian family is uniquely equipped to be serving and working in the renewal of families, which ultimately impact cities. Each foster care child that is placed within a Christian family is a child that will have the opportunity to be exposed to the word of the gospel, or the deeds of the gospel and therefore has the chance to be impacted forever by this exposure.

James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” This verse is often quoted in relationship to orphan care and mercy ministry on the part of Christians. Interestingly enough, the passage has a relational aspect. There is the call to care for orphans (those who have no father) and widows (those whose household has lost a father), but in the middle of the text is a reminder of God’s fatherhood. The writer uses the word patri; or ‘father’. In the middle of a text about Christians caring for orphans and widows, there is a reminder that God is Father. It appears that the writer could be making a connection between the position of the Christian in relationship to God and that Christian’s ability to care for others who have lost a father. The Fatherhood of God is a model for the care of the fatherless that cross paths with the Christian along the journey.


The focus of this particular research has been the blending of several ideas and themes with a practical application as its conclusion. Surveying biblical literature, one would see that there is indeed a calling to care for the city, the domain of exile where the follower of God is, and there is also a calling to care for the fatherless. As one studies a ministry to the fatherless scripturally, the supreme act of caring for orphans is that of God the Father in the work of adoption. This work brings people to God who are sons and daughter and no longer spiritual orphans. It is this people who are free to serve God and obey Him by caring for both the city and the fatherless. This image of adoption is connected to the theme of family, and institution set up by God Himself to display aspects of His character and nature to the creation. It can be seen in this research that this building block of family can be a ministry base to care for both the city and the fatherless through the standing that the Christian has in the family of God through adoption.

Although multiple implications could be made in merging these themes, one practical application is that of foster care. Specifically, as families care for orphans within the city in which they reside, often times permanent adoption is an option. However a similar yet differing option is that of foster care whereby a family becomes a surrogate family for a child for an indefinite period of time. Within this foster care structure, the child is benefited, the gospel can be displayed and the city can be benefited as the child returns to its original family, hopefully one that has been improved, having been touched by the care of a Christian family showing love and the mercy of a God who adopts a people as His own. A potential strength for the merger of these two areas of ministry is the aspect that foster care children will likely be returned or given to new home in the city thereby taking the influence of a Christian family with them. In addition, many of these foster care children will become heads of family in a generation and could be influenced as a future spouse, father or mother by what is seen during his or her time with the Christian family.

The entire structure of cities could change if the implications of this type of merger are true. Not only would the fatherless find a place of loving care, but cities would be impacted longitudinally as the years progress and foster care children are cared for by families that value the gospel, as well as a Christ-centered ministry to the orphan and ministry to the city. A crossing of these areas of ministry should be centered in the work of God, Who was the first to care for the fatherless as well as the One Who issues the calling to care for the fatherless and the cities. Christians living in physical locales all across the globe are indeed spiritually still “elect exiles of the dispersion” (1 Pet 1:1b) and while setting their hope “fully on the grace that will be brought…at the revelation of Jesus Christ…” (1 Pet 1:13b) they can be “good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Pet 4:10b).


Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958.

Burke, Trevor. Adopted into God’s Family: Exploring a Pauline Metaphor. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006.

Carson, D.A. Christ & Culture Revisited. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

Chester, Tim and Timmis, Steve. Total Church, A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community. Wheaton, Il: Crossway, 2008.

Davidson, J. Ryan. 2010. Adopting for Life Conference: A Personal Interaction Paper. Unpublished course paper, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Dever, Mark. A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2007.

Eckholm, Erik, “Study Finds More Woes Following Foster Care”, New York Times, April 6, 2010. Taken from:

Erickson, Millard. The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology, Revised Ed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001.

Grudem, Wayne. “Adoption (Membership in God’s Family)”, Systematic Theology, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994.

The Holy Bible. English Standard Version. Crossway, 2001.

Holt, Steve. “Idaho’s Impact.” Christianity Today, May 2010. Taken from:

Jones, Timothy Paul. “Theology of Adoption” (lecture, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, February 25, 2010).

Keller, Timothy. “A biblical theology of the city”. 2002.

Keller, Timothy J. Ministries of Mercy, The Call Of The Jericho Road, Second Ed. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1997.

Lowe, Julie Smith. “Counseling the Adopted Child,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling25, no. 1 (2007): 37-46.

Packer. J.I. Knowing God, 20th Anniversary Ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973.

Plantiga Jr., Cornelius. Engaging God’s World, A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002.

Platt, David. “Adopting for Life, General Session Three” (lecture, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, February 27, 2010).

Moore, Russell D. Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009.

Salmond, S.D.F. “The Epistle to the Ephesians” The Expositor’s Greek Testament. Vol. 3. ed. W. Robertson Nicoll. [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1897?],

Schreiner, Thomas. Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, A Pauline Theology Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press Academic, 2001.

Smyke, AT, Zeanah, CH, Fox, NA, Nelson, CA and Guthrie, D. “Placement in foster care enhances quality of attachment among young institutionalized children,” Child Development 2010 Jan; 81(1): Abstract.

Stevenson-Moessner, Jeanne, “The Practice and Theology of Adoption.” The Christian Century, January 24, 2001: 10-13. Taken from http://www.religion-

Virginia Department of Social Services Online Statistic snaps hot/snapshot_children_fc_2010-04-01.pdf

Winter, Bruce W. Seek the Welfare of the City, Christians As Benefactors And Citizens Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994.

[1] Gregory A. Thornbury, A Theology for the Church, ed. Daniel L. Akin [Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2007], 26.

[2] The Holy Bible. English Standard Version. Crossway, 2001.

[3] Ibid.

[4] J. Ryan Davidson. 2010. Adopting for Life Conference: A Personal Interaction Paper. Unpublished course paper, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

[5] This writer’s point of view is that of a Th.M. student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the area of Family Ministry and Discipleship as well as that of one currently serving as a Pastor of a small local church. The intersection of ministry to the family as well as leading a mercy ministry to the city has been the impetus for this particular research. (cont’d next page)

While a brief summary of both city ministry and orphan care is attempted, convergence of the two themes due to the Th.M. field of the writer as well as his particular pastoral work.

[6] Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. Total Church, A Radical Reshaping around Gospel and Community [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008], 83.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Bruce W. Winter. Seek the Welfare of the City, Christians As Benefactors And Citizens [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994], 18.

[9] Ibid.,17.

[10] Ibid.,19.

[11] Timothy Keller. A biblical theology of the city. 2002.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Cornelius Plantiga Jr. Engaging God’s World, A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002], 96.

[14] D.A. Carson. Christ & Culture Revisited [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008], 53.

[15] Thomas Schreiner. Paul, Apostle of God’s Glory in Christ, A Pauline Theology [Downers Grove, IL, InterVarsity Press Academic, 2001], 451.

[16] Timothy J. Keller. Ministries of Mercy, The Call Of The Jericho Road, Second Ed. [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1997], 124.

[17] Plantiga, 113.

[18] Eckholm, Erik, “Study Finds More Woes Following Foster Care, New York Times, April 6, 2010.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Trevor Burke. Adopted into God’s Family, Exploring a Pauline metaphor [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006], 73

[21] The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway, 2001.

[22] Joel Beeke. Heirs with Christ, The Puritans on Adoption [Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008], 16.

[23] Millard Erickson. The Concise Dictionary of Christian Theology, Revised Ed. [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001], 10.

[24] Wayne Grudem, “Adoption (Membership in God’s Family)”, Systematic Theology, [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994], 736.

[25] The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway, 2001.

[26] Burke., 77

[27] Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature [Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958], 227.

[28] Ibid.,841.

[29] Burke., 21-22.

[30] S.D.F. Salmond. “The Epistle to the Ephesians” The Expositor’s Greek Testament. Vol. 3. ed. W. Robertson Nicoll. [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1897?], 251-252.

[31] J.I. Packer. Knowing God, 20th Anniversary Ed. [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973], 215.

[32] The writer is indebted to Trevor Burke in his work on the subject of adoption for discovering this quote by J.I. Packer. The writer is also indebted to Dr. Burke for a much increased familiarity and knowledge on the doctrine of adoption and recommends a consultation of his work for a much further study of this Pauline metaphor.

[33] Grudem., 736

[34] Beeke., 100

[35] Russell D. Moore, Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 17-18.

[36] The writer is not suggesting that only local orphan care is a way to care for the fatherless and that international orphan care should not be as much of a focus of Christian families, however the scope of this current research centers n the merging of several themes within a given locale.

[37] Timothy Paul Jones, “Theology of Adoption” (lecture, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, February 25, 2010).

[38] Ibid.

[39] Russell Moore says in a recent article, "There's more momentum than I've ever seen," Moore said. "We are at the beginning stages of a wave of momentum not just toward adoption but orphan care of various kinds. The church is beginning to have its conscience awakened when it comes to the orphan crisis."- Christianity Today, April 26, 2010. Retrieved from:

[40] Jeanne Stevenson-Moessner, “The Practice and Theology of Adoption,” The Christian Century, January 24, 2001, p10-13. retrieved from:

[41] Stevenson-Moessner makes statements such as, “To adopt a child is to experience some of the vulnerability and woundedness of God.” The writer of this current paper is not fully in agreement with the possible implication that God is or was ‘vulnerable’ in at any point in His work or existence.

[42] Moore.,18.

[43] Winter.,209.

[44] Julie Smith Lowe, “Counseling the Adopted Child,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling25, no. 1 (2007): 42.

[46] David Platt, “Adopting for Life, General Session Three” (lecture, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, February 27, 2010).

[47] Encyclopedia of Psychology, 1985 ed., Baker Books, s.v. “attachment theory”.

[48] AT Smyke, CH Zeanah, NA Fox, CA Nelson and D Guthrie, “Placement in foster care enhances quality of attachment among young institutionalized children,” Child Development 2010 Jan; 81(1): Abstract.

[49] Although this is somewhat of a personal opinion, the writer’s thinking here is shaped primarily by the spiritual components of God’s work but also in his family’s current process in beginning foster care.

[50] Lowe., 43

[51] The writer is aware that some foster children are ultimately not ‘fatherless’ and often are returned to their family of origin. However, the writer is connecting care for ‘orphans’

with foster care in that while a child is in foster care, they are orphaned from family.

The intent is the care of children who currently need a family and parental care and guidance.

[52] This State was chosen since it is the current residence of the writer.

[54] In the particular small county (York) where the writer resides, as of March 31, 2010 there were 13 children in foster care. Taken from: