Monday, 18 February 2013

Adoption as Sons of God - what does 'adoption' imply (to common sense)?


A few months ago I wrote about my discovery (in the Calvinist theology of JI Packer and Martyn Lloyd Jones) of the emphasis on our adoption as Sons of God (and joint-heirs with Christ) as being the highest promise, the greatest reward, of Christianity.

Over this time my mind kept returning to the concept (or metaphor) of 'adoption' and what it implied.

Here are the key Biblical Passages, from St Paul:

Romans 8 

14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.
15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.
20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,
21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

Galatians 4
Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:
But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.

Ephesians 1

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will,
To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.


Returning and re-reading these passages, I was suddenly stuck by what should perhaps have been the most obvious implication of the possibility of adoption: that in order for humans to be adopted as Sons of God and joint-heirs with Christ, it would seem that we must be of the same order of being as God and Christ - the same kind of entity. 

How else could we be adopted and become heirs? 

This cannot happen to beings of a different basic order. (You cannot adopt a lower animal as heir - a dog or a mouse - it makes no sense.)

Thus, these passages imply - by common sense interpretation - that God, Christ, Men are of the same type, or species.


Of course, in a much-elaborated form, this is an aspect of Mormon theology - often ridiculed or regarded with horror by mainstream Christians by stating it baldly as Men becoming God/s or God (the Father) being an ex-Man - yet you can see how something of this kind is a natural, common-sense, one-step inference to be drawn from three key passages in the Epistles.


Presumably there are ways-out from making this simple and spontaneous inference concerning adoption and becoming heirs, perhaps by suggesting that this refers to a post-resurrection state - yet, surely, resurrection is meant to perfect and purify us, not to change our fundamental being? (Indeed, that resurrection leaves our essential selves intact is crucial to the Christian message.)


I can see that the statement of one-ness of being between God, Christ and Man may lead, further down the inferential chain, to consequences which are apparently heretical or otherwise unacceptable - yet such 'third-level incoherence' is always the case for any theology concrete and simple enough to be relevant and useful in life. 

There is always a price to pay for re-interpreting the Bible in order to avoid obvious implications and to eliminate all contradictions (superficial and deep) in such a complex text.

Most often, in practice, potential contradictions are eliminated by ignoring most of Scripture and focusing on those which harmonize easily. 

Yet we see the very high price paid for doing this kind of thing.

The doctrine of adoption is - it seems to me - the greatest and most wonderful promise in the Bible: greater even than forgiveness of our sins (not least because adoption necessarily requires complete remission of sin).

And, rather than being one of the first and essential doctrines, known by all Christians and the basis of Hope; the doctrine of the adoption is, it seems to me, is generally ignored: at best hardly mentioned in mainstream Christian discourse.


My feeling is that Christian revival requires us to go back and read Scripture with the eyes of children, and to be reluctant to discard common sense and spontaneous understandings of what we find.

Better a deep level of possible theological incoherence, than a superficial level of theological irrelevance - which looks very much like evasion.