Guidelines Bible Study Notes on Adoption in the Bible

As part of the activities of the Fostering, Adoption and the Church research project, I’ve contributed a week’s worth of studies to the current issue of Guidelines Bible Study notes on the topic of ‘Adoption in the Bible’.

Guidelines cover 2018

Over the course of the week I look at Moses, the adoption of the king of Israel, the adoption of the people of Israel, adoptive language in Jesus’ story, and two reflections on adoption in the apostle Paul’s letters. You can order copies in your local Christian bookshop or online. Here’s a link to BRF’s website

Here is the opening section of the material to whet your appetite!

As I write this introduction it is national adoption week in the UK, a concentrated few days when peoples’ newspapers and Facebook feeds fill with articles on the joys and challenges of adoption, and stories of families who have permanently embraced a child into their home.

Such stories may be easily missed, however, if we are not tuned in to the topic and I wonder if this can be the case with our Bible reading as well. The purpose of this week’s studies is to alert us to examples of adoption imagery in God’s word, and to see how the biblical writers explored this rich theme. Thinking about the Bible and adoption can take us in a number of directions, two of which we will pursue over the next few days.

First there are stories of ‘adoption’ in the Bible. While we should be careful when drawing parallels between what happened in biblical times and our own, there are cases in Scripture where a child is taken in by a household and becomes a member of that family.

Secondly, the Bible uses the language of adoption to describe God’s relationship with his people. While this is well known of Paul’s writings perhaps it is less recognised as something that happens in the Old Testament.

I hope this will make for an interesting series of studies but I hope, too, that they will raise the question of how our identity as God’s adoptive children will encourage us to look outwards to consider the plight of vulnerable children in our midst. Historically the church has done great things to address the needs of vulnerable children, yet with nearly 70,000 children in the UK care system there is still so much to do. Adoptive families are needed, but so are foster families, as well as churches that work hard to know how to become the best supportive communities we can be.

How can the Church respond? How can the Bible shape that response? Perhaps one step we can take is to renew our understanding of our own transforming adoptive identity in God, the roots of which are traced in these studies.




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Article on two biblical stories of displaced and vulnerable children

Portrait of cute sad little girlRedcliffe’s mission journal, Encounters, was relaunched earlier this year and focused on the topic of hospitality. My contribution was an article comparing and contrasting the biblical stories of two vulnerable and displaced children. Here are the details and an extract from the beginning.

‘Hostility, Hospitality and Hope: A biblical reflection on two displaced children’ Article webpage; full issue pdf


Contemporary life in the West seems to be increasingly marked by a suspicion or fear of ‘the other’. While not wanting to overstate the case, there does seem to be a concerning trend in the West towards a self-absorption that leaves an inevitable vacuum of kindness, generosity and hospitality towards those unlike ourselves, or who are outside of our immediate sphere of experience. Consider these words of Walter Brueggemann:

‘Fear makes us selfish. Fear makes us do crazy things. Fear turns neighbors into threats. Fear drives us into a desperate self-sufficiency and a yearning for privatism. Fear drives to greed and idolatry. Fear refuses the other. And now we live in a culture of fear… perfect fear drives out love.’ (Walter Brueggemann, ‘All Seminary Chapel: Dr. Walter Brueggemann “1 John 4:7-21” Podcast, Fuller Theological Seminary, 29 April 2015 c. 8:00mins “Diving in and Casting Out” – Dr. Walter Brueggemann on 1 John 4:7-21)

The issue of unaccompanied asylum seeking children is a case in point…

The first text I looked at was 2 Kings 5:1-4, the story of a young Israelite girl who was captured and taken to be a slave in Syria. The second was the flight to Egypt of Jesus’ family when he was very young. Both are stories of desperation, but both give rise to hope as well.

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Ethics in Brief on unaccompanied refugee children

Screen Shot 2017-07-11 at 14.39.23The Kirby Laing Institute for Christian Ethics have just published an issue of ‘Ethics in Brief’ that I have co-written with Mark Walley, who runs Home for Good‘s unaccompanied minors project alongside establishing its political advocacy work. The title is ‘Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children: Shaping A Church Response’.

This is one example of the kind of work we are producing as part of the research project, ‘Meeting the Needs of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) in Gloucestershire: Enhancing the Response of the Local Church’. Here’s a link to the full article, as well as the introductory paragraph.

Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children: Shaping A Church Response:

The phenomenon of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) has featured prominently, at times, in press coverage and political debate around the current refugee crisis in Europe. When engaged, the national mood seems to have ranged from deep pity to suspicion and hostility. But how should the UK church respond and how might the Bible play a part in shaping that response? The article gives a brief overview of the scale and nature of the situation in Europe regarding unaccompanied children, explores several biblical passages that could contribute to a church response that is both theologically informed and practically expressed, and concludes with some ways forward for churches.



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Job opportunities with Home for Good

Screen Shot 2017-04-26 at 21.37.40A slightly unusual blog post but I wanted to highlight a number of opportunities that are currently available to join the awesome team at Home for Good. They are doing such valuable work in advocacy and engaging the UK church with the needs of looked after children. I’ve listed the vacancy title, brief description, and the application deadline in each case. For more details on each one visit Home for Good Job Opportunities.

From the vacancies page of the Home for Good website:

Would you like to be part of the Home for Good staff team?

There is an exciting opportunity to be part of the rapidly growing Home for Good team as a PROJECT COORDINATOR and taking a lead role in developing our work in KENT. Delivering an initial one year campaign in Kent in partnership with The Diagrama Foundation and The Diocese of Rochester.

Applications Close : 1st May

We are recruiting for a PROJECT MANAGER on a full-time, fixed term maternity cover contract. The position is based on our London office, and is responsible for delivering our key national events and campaigns – for example, Adoption Sunday 2017.  

Applications Close : 10th May

Join our team as our NORTH WEST PROJECT MANAGER. This is initially a one year contract, for 14 hours per week. Working in partnership with Adoption Matters, the role is to develop relationships with volunteers, chuches and Home for Good local movements, delivering campaign specific targets of more adopters in the region.

Applications Close : 5th May

Join our team as our LONDON REGIONAL MANAGER. This is initially a one year contract, for 14 hours per week. Networking with churches and champions across London, to run campaigns and events to deliver our vision across the city.

Applications Close : 10th May

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Churches as supportive communities – how Easter confronts us

How can churches become the kind of supportive, loving communities that are so needed by many who have fostered or adopted? How do we ensure we provide a place of hope and support when people feel isolated and overwhelmed?

In his first letter to the church in Corinth the apostle Paul includes an extended discussion on the reality and significance of the resurrection of Jesus, which ends with the wonderful conclusion:

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain. (1 Cor. 15:58, NIV)

For Paul, the resurrection of Jesus, and the victory of God that this demonstrates and enacts, is grounds for hope and perseverance in his readers’ work for the Kingdom. If this is the case, and if we Christian communities really want to be a place of welcome and support for the families of looked after children, I’d suggest we need to have this stamp of resurrection evident in who we are and what we do.

But what does this embracing of Easter look like in individuals, families and church communities who are striving to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable children? Let’s pick up on a couple of ways in which Easter may help us to do this.

Easter confronts us with brokenness

The events of Easter declare that God has not forgotten or turned his back on the world’s pain. God has reckoned with the world as it is, in all its brokenness, and has faced it head on. He has dealt with the causes of this brokenness in a definitive way.

Our calling as Church is to declare and work for the Kingdom of God in the world as it is, not as we would prefer it to be. We are called to be a people who do not flinch from the sober realities, struggles and pain of others. We are called to enter into it, and bring a word of hope.

Easter confronts us with hope

The stories and statistics concerning vulnerable children can feel debilitating. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the depth and breadth of the need. It is easy to become overwhelmed by our own lack of capacity and energy to keep trying to meet those needs on our own.

Easter reminds us that God has transformed despair into hope. Friday was followed by Sunday. A sober reckoning of the brokenness of the world must be matched and swallowed up by a sober reckoning with the transformative work of God in Jesus. There is no point that is beyond the transformative capacity of our God. This can be hard to believe sometimes, especially in the midst of struggle and stress, but this is what Easter declares.

We are called, then, to be a people filled with hope and preoccupied by the transformative work of God.


We are not built to journey alone. Reckoning with brokenness and hope are not purely individual endeavours. Rather, we are called to be communities of hope that point to the possibility of transformation and perseverance, in practical activities as well as in words. We are called to be communities that labour in hope, and this is a labour that is not in vain.

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5 things to think about when preaching on adoption

img_0907This Sunday is ‘Adoption Sunday’ in the UK, which offers a chance for churches to have focused time to consider our adoption by God and also the needs of vulnerable children in the UK. Do visit Home for Good’s website for more information on this important day.

For my contribution I wanted to write something brief for those who are spending this week getting ready to preach or speak on the theme of adoption in their church. Plenty more could be said, of course, but here are five things to think about as you prepare.

#1  You are not asking the Church to do anything the body of Christ has not done before

As you step into the pulpit, remember that you are not bringing a brand new innovation to God’s people. At our best the Church has always cared for the vulnerable, including children in various desperate circumstances. Put simply, caring for vulnerable children is part of the DNA of God’s people. Have a look at last year’s series to follow this up: 5 reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the church

#2  ‘Orphans’ then and now

If you mention passages in the Old Testament like Deut. 10:18 ‘He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.'(ESV) or Ps. 146:9 ‘The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.’ (ESV), try not to make jumps that are too simplistic between ‘orphans’ in biblical times and today. The word, ‘orphan’ in the Bible tends to refer to a child who has lost their father and whose loss, because of the societal structures of the time, meant they were economically, legally, and socially vulnerable.

‘Orphan’ in the UK often conjures up Dickensian images that feel remote and outdated, implying a child who has lost both parents. While this might still be the case for some, most children in the UK care system have been removed from parental care. In over 60% of cases this has been because of abuse.

These texts are, of course, still deeply relevant but, as with all biblical interpretation, we need to account well for the original context and be sensitive to how we relate them to contemporary issues and people. Albeit with this caveat, do be adventurous in exploring the different strands of relevant material in the Bible…

#3  A rich tapestry

The Apostle Paul has some wonderful and profound things to say about adoption (see, for example, Gal. 4:1-7; Rom. 8:12-17), but there are many other ways of reflecting biblically on fostering, adoption and the care of vulnerable children. Here’s a few examples of texts that can be reflected upon:

  • Stories of ‘adoption’ in the Bible; e.g., Moses and Pharaoh’s daughter; there is also a sense in which Joseph is said to have ‘adopted’ Jesus;
  • The theme of God’s ‘adoption’ of Israel is a key way of understanding his relationship with his people. See this post for more: Why understanding adoption enriches our Bible reading;
  • God’s ‘adoption’ of king David’s descendants and how this informs our understanding of Jesus’ kingship (e.g., 2 Sam 7:12-16; Ps. 2; Mark 1:9-11);
  • The Torah‘s requirements that Israel look after the fatherless, widow and alien (Exod. 22:22-23; Deut. 24:17-22);
  • The Psalmists celebration of God’s fatherhood of the fatherless (Ps. 68:5) or crying out to God to intervene for the vulnerable (Ps. 10:16-18);
  • Job’s modelling of just and righteous behaviour towards the fatherless (Job 29:11-17; 31:16-23);
  • The prophets’ fury at the mistreatment of the vulnerable (Isa. 1:1-17;  5:20-31);
  • Jesus’ blessing of the marginalised children (e.g., Mark 10:13-16) and what this deeply subversive act means for the church today. See this post for more: Jesus blessing the children: why it isn’t a ‘nice’ story and why it calls us to action on behalf of vulnerable children
  • James’ call to authentic discipleship: ‘to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.’ (James 1:27, ESV)

There is an enormous wealth of biblical material that can help us reflect on God’s call to care for vulnerable children: be faithful and creative in how you approach the topic.

#4  Be rooted in your local context and, where possible, make it personal

With 70,000 children in the care system, including 4,000 waiting for adoption and 9,000 waiting for foster families, the national statistics can seem overwhelming or abstract. Try to find out about the local picture so that it feels more ‘real’ to people. If you are in England, a good place to look for the raw statistics is this page: Children looked after in England including adoption: 2015 to 2016. So, for example, I can see there are 550 children recorded as being in the care system in Gloucestershire, where I am based. This is perhaps a more ‘real’ figure but it is still rather abstract. So, are there ways we can make it more personal; for example, with an interview with someone who has experience as an adoptive parent or social worker? (stats on children waiting from Home for Good website)

#5  Be practical and join with others

What kind of practical details can you bring into your talk so that the biblical vision of God’s heart can connect with your church’s locatedness. Ask yourselves, how can we become a more supportive community for those caring for vulnerable children (either those already in the church or those who might come to us for the first time)?

Are there local networks you can become part of? If you haven’t already, could you connect with the excellent work of Home for Good?

What attitudes, structures and practices (small or big) might need to be changed to respond to this challenge from Krish and Miriam Kandiah:

‘What if we the Church could be known as the people who truly care about the pain and problems of children who have no other family to turn to and whom, it seems, nobody wants? What if the Church was known as the most compassionate and hospitable family in the country?’ (Home for Good, p. 4)


What advice would you want to add? Leave a comment here or on Facebook to join the conversation.

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What happens when you google, “theology of fostering”?

addtext_com_MDYwNjQxOTQ0MjUThis morning I googled the phrase, “theology of fostering”. The results page returned the following hits:

7 adverts for fostering agencies/recruitment
5 links to sources that use fostering as a verb to develop something (e.g., ‘A theology of fostering ecclesial communities’), so not relevant
And that’s it: I’m not just talking about the first page of hits; those are all the hits!

The same search on Amazon results in, ‘Your search “”theology of fostering”” did not match any products.

The questions this (admittedly) rather crude pair of searches suggests is:

Where on earth is all the theological reflection on fostering?!?

What is the ‘status’ of theological thinking on fostering? Is it derivative of our thinking on adoption? If so, are we selling foster carers short by not providing a rigorous and specific framework for understanding fostering theologically? Obviously fostering and adoption are very closely linked but is there nothing that could, or needs, to be said theologically that is unique to fostering?

How do we develop excellent theological thinking and resources specifically on fostering that will resource the Church?

I have some ideas but I’d love to know what you think!

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Reflecting on the ‘Holy Family’ this advent

Reflecting on the Holy Family

A guest post by Dr Grace Milton

I suspect that the events we retell and celebrate during advent were not how Mary and Joseph expected their first child to come into the world. Aside from the social stigma attached (Matthew 1:18-19) the logistics of the birth were a nightmare. Had Mary and Joseph been in control of their own family planning, they would have perhaps attempted to time conception so that the birth would not coincide with a major census involving extensive travel and uncertain accommodation.

In many ways it would have made much more sense for Jesus’ birth to have followed biblical tradition and been the result of the miraculous pregnancy of a barren woman who was already married, socially and financially secure and who longed for a child of her own (a la Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah and Elizabeth). I certainly would have been sympathetic had Mary responded to the angel Gabriel’s announcement with a polite, “No thank you. Joseph and I plan to wait until we are married and then we will have a baby”.

However, the birth narratives we see in the Gospels subvert expectations of family at a personal and a community level. While Mary and Joseph’s expectations of how their family would grow were undoubtedly flipped on their heads, the theological expectations of how the family of God would grow were also subverted and foreshadowed by the key players in the nativity. Through the Magi the gentiles are invited to participate in the birth (and work) of the Messiah and, through the Shepherds, the marginalised are brought into the heart of history.

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husbands will, but born of God. (John 1: 12-13)

Throughout advent we are offered a glimpse of God’s view of family which is surprising and at times uncomfortable, but which ultimately exceeds our expectations.

Perhaps if we allow the Christmas narratives to challenge us this advent season we may consider what our expectations of family are (whether our own or our wider church family) and ask ourselves, what room is there in these plans for the vulnerable and the “outsider”?

Grace is a Teaching Fellow at the University of Birmingham and an Honorary Research Fellow at The Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education. She has recently begun working with Tim Davy (lead of the Fostering, Adoption and the Church research project) to develop a piece of research looking at fostering and adoption within Black Majority churches in the UK.
image  by Jeff Weese (Flickr: Nativity) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons –
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What is marriage for and what has this got to do with fostering and adoption?

I was reminded recently of something the preacher said at our wedding, which now strikes me as deeply relevant when considering issues concerning vulnerable children, fostering, adoption and the Church.

He quoted from a letter written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, written from prison in 1943. Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian who had been imprisoned for his opposition to the Nazi movement, and was writing to his niece, Renate, on the occasion of her wedding.

What really strikes me is the vision of the ‘other’ that is embedded in the purpose of marriage; as if to say that marriage is about you in one sense but is about so much more that you in another. This is how Bonhoeffer puts it:

“Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy institution, through which God wishes to preserve humanity until the end of time. In your love you see only each other in the world; in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations that God, for the sake of God’s glory, allows to rise and fade away, and calls into God’s kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, in marriage you are placed and given responsibility within the world and the human community.”

Christian marriage is not ultimately about the married couple. It is about the glory of God, which is seen in part in the working out of the couple’s ‘responsibility within the world and the human community’.

This is important when we think about issues surrounding the vulnerable and marginalised. This vision of marriage contains an ‘assumption of otherness’, which causes us to look together-but-beyond-ourselves to society. For some this will mean embracing the needs of fostering and adoption, not as something outside of ‘the norm’ of family life but as something that is at its very heart.

Click here for details of Bonhoeffer’s book:

Letters and Papers from Prison (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010)

For more on vulnerability, I wrote a post back in July on Vulnerability is the Norm

Image courtesy of

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Five reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the Church – part 5

Five reasons fostering and adoption are in the DNA of the ChurchReason five: Because, at our best, it is what we have always done

To look after vulnerable children is, for the Church, to continue what we have always done when we are at our best.

Reflecting on the rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark suggests that:

‘Christianity revitalized life in Greco-Roman cities by providing new norms and new kinds of social relationships able to cope with many urgent urban problems. To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope… To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family.’ (p.161)

In the Ancient Roman world it was common practice to ‘expose’ unwanted babies; that is, leaving them out in the open to die or (at rare best) be rescued by a benevolent stranger. The Church became vocal in its criticism of this practice and there are suggestions that this critique was accompanied with action; that is, rescuing these abandoned children. As Gerhard Uhlhorn put it, ‘When we first meet with the mention of adoption and bringing up of foundlings, this work appears not as a novelty, but as one long practised.’ (p. 186)

There isn’t the time or space for great amounts of detail concerning the innovation and compassion with which the Church has in its history cared for vulnerable children. Certainly, there have been tragic and reprehensible abuses of the care systems put in place. But, at its best, the Church has always advocated on behalf of the vulnerable and put into practice our calls for society to protect and nurture children.

To encourage your Christian community to mobilise and support those involved in fostering and adoption is just one way of expressing this rich history and to participate in something that has been ‘long practised’.

To summarise this week’s series, we have seen that a commitment to fostering and adoption is aligned with the very essence of what it means to be Church. It reflects who God is, the story into which he has called us, a commitment to justice and shalom that marks our mission, our identity as adopted children of God, and our history of working out our faith in society.

A commitment to supporting fostering and adoption makes sense of where we have come from, who we are, and to whom we belong.

Read part one of the series: Because of who God is
Read part two of the series: Because vulnerable children occupy a significant place in the biblical narrative
Read part three of the series: Because it is a justice issue
Read part four of the series: Because it explains, expresses and celebrates who we are

Further reading
John Aloisi, Orphan Care, Adoption, and the Church: Historical Reflections and Contemporary Challenges
Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity
Gerhard Uhlhorn, Christian Charity in the Ancient Church

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