“Cosmetic Solutions”? Some Thoughts about Dan Cruver’s Series on Unethical Adoption

I agree with Dan Cruver that when all is said and done, God will put “the world and the universe to rights,” as he says in part two of his blog series on unethical adoption at the Together for Adoption blog.  I, too, believe that there is a “cosmic” solution to the orphan crisis that, on this side of things, I can only imagine but not see. And I believe that we are living out a grand narrative which God is authoring and consequently, we have only a partial knowledge of God’s grand design for the world and how he is going to renew and recreate it someday.  I agree that we should let that larger narrative of God’s redemptive drama influence how we view the world and the darkness therein.

But when I read the following in Part 3 of Cruver’s series on unethical adoption, I had to do a double take:

“If all we really focus on is fixing the broken systems that perpetuate unethical adoptions, we’ll never arrive at permanent solutions. The world we live in is systemically and profoundly broken. We who began our existence in this world by being born into it can’t fix it. No way in ‘hell’ will we ever be able to fix it. The brokenness of our world is so broken that no one who comes to the world from within the world can fix it. Impossible. Our world’s long history is irrefutable evidence of that very fact. As long as we are the ones who are in charge of coming up with solutions, we’re in trouble; or should I say, ‘Orphan and vulnerable children are in trouble’?”

As I read Cruver’s words in this passage, two words kept popping into my head: eschatological fatalism.  Cruver’s language here suggests that because man is so sinful and because the brokenness of the world can only be “fixed” by God’s supernatural power, then we might as well just accept the status quo as we wait for Jesus to come back and fix everything.  This is God’s “cosmic solution” to the brokenness we see all around us–including unethical adoption and child trafficking.

But is Cruver not aware that in Scripture, while we are called to “wait upon the Lord,” we also called to “kick at the darkness till it bleeds daylight” (thank you, Bruce Cockburn, for that apt language).  Has he read the OT prophets? Or Jesus haunting words about what our judgment will be based on in the end (Did we feed the hungry, clothes the naked, visit the imprisoned?).  Is he not aware that a true biblical understanding of the church views her members as God’s agents of new creation in the world, and that, while the rescue of the world may not rest upon their shoulders, God chooses to use their efforts to spread the influence of his Kingdom throughout the world?  Throughout his three posts on unethical adoption, Cruver is guilty of missing the trees because he’s been made privy to a view of the forest.  His bird’s-eye-view, “redemptive-historical” understanding of the Bible has caused him to gloss over some of these finer points and nuances of Scripture.

One last thought.

In my last post, I tried to highlight the fact that Evangelicals, who, historically, have not possessed a theology of justice to allow them really to deal with corruption and child trafficking (due to their Fundamentalist heritage), are, today, struggling to face these serious matters head on:

For generations now, if I may oversimplify matters for a moment, liberals have been concerned with social justice and conservatives (Evangelicals/fundamentalists) with getting souls saved.  But here’s the problem: what happens when conservatives want to move in the direction of social justice?  And what happens when they don’t have the apparatus (a theology of justice) in place to help them do so?  

In my previous post, I answered that question by saying that lacking this apparatus has led Evangelicals involved in the orphan care movement to focus narrowly on orphans at the expense of the larger grid within which caring for orphans exists: social justice.

In my mind, Cruver’s recent post only confirms this interpretation (unfortunately).  Even in the quotation above, I detect in Cruver’s language the old fundamentalist suspicion about seeking social justice–that it’s somehow separate from the “real” Gospel, which is all about how people get reborn and get into heaven.  Therefore, seeking to eradicate child trafficking smacks too much of the old liberal “social gospel” of the early to mid 20th century, he seems to be suggesting in this fatalistic passage.  Whether Cruver means to or not, to me, he’s implying that focusing on social issues like corruption and child trafficking is diametrically opposed to saving souls, and that unless we worry about saving souls first, then we may as well forget about striving for justice for orphans.  Does he mean to say this?  I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and answer, “Probably not,” but it’s difficult not to end up with such an interpretation when he writes the way he does in the passage above.  The old dichotomy between doing good in the world and saving souls is latent in his language.

The problem with this (admittedly) alleged assumption in Cruver’s theology is that Scripture doesn’t warrant a Gospel that seeks only to save souls while allowing this material world–bodies included–to remain unredeemed.  We’re not just souls after all but bodies as well–bodies that were affirmed in the Incarnation and the Resurrection.  Therefore, our lives here on this earth matter–and so do those of the poor and the injustices they face.  Surely the Gospel that we are to promulgate is not only a Gospel of words but also of good deeds–cups of cool water for the thirsty, bandages for the wounded, justice for those who are vulnerable and threatened by abused power (cf. Matt. 25.31-46 and Titus 3.1-8, especially v. 8)

The ultimate problem with Cruver’s theological assumptions here is one that C.S. Lewis emphasized in Mere Christianity when we wrote,

“[God] uses material things like bread and wine to put new life into us. We may think that rather crude and unspiritual. God does not: He invented eating. He likes matter. He invented it.”

While Lewis is writing in defense of the Eucharist here, the principle behind what he writes speaks to the age old problem of spirit vs. matter, soul vs. body–the problem the Fundamentalist faces by emphasizing the spirit, the soul, and the divine over matter, the body, and the human.  Lewis’ point is that God has always used the material world to reveal himself.  Whether it was a burning bush, a donkey, the tabernacle, the sacrificial system, or ultimately, Jesus himself, God has made use of the seemingly mundane and the “crude” to show us not just more of himself, but also more of what we are meant to be as humans.

From the suspicions about social engagement I detect in his language, Cruver seems to be missing this fundamental incarnational element in his theology, and consequently, he is dangerously close to implying that because souls are all that really matter, focusing on justice for orphans and their families–on their lives in the here and now–in the end, does not matter.  I don’t think he means to imply this, but based on what I’ve read, it’s difficult not to take what he writes to this logical end.

Finally, I think the overall issue with what Cruver is writing in this series of posts, which is not unrelated to my first point above, is that he is reading into Scripture something that simply is not there. When he writes that

God’s cosmic scope of Adoption, though, will ultimately solve the global orphan crisis because it’s how our Triune God is putting the world and universe to rights (enjoying my use of this British idiom, “putting to rights”? I sure enjoy using it!). When that Day finally breaks into our broken world—when God’s work of Adoption is consummated—everything will be unimaginably better than we can even begin to imagine now.

What does it mean that “God is putting the world and universe to rights” through “Adoption”?  This is never made clear or explained in Cruver’s posts and from what I can see, is never made clear in Scripture–that is, that the language of adoption is used in Scripture to describe God’s overall plan to rescue the world is either not clear or not there at all. Even from a biblical theological perspective, I don’t think one can say this. In this regard, I would point anyone interested to David Smolin’s “Of Orphans and Adoption, Parents and the Poor, Exploitation and Rescue,” where he makes the case that “the concept of ‘adoption’ is not necessary to the communication of the gospel, as almost all of the New Testament, including Jesus, the authors of the Gospels and Acts, Peter, James, and John all communicate the gospel quite effectively without referring to adoption” (p. 308).  Smolin also shows that when Paul uses the metaphor for adoption in his New Testament letters, he is using the concept of adoption common to ancient Rome, which was actually the adoption of an adult male by Roman emperors in order to ensure they had the heir of their choosing.  Smolin makes a compelling case that Paul uses this metaphor in order to “communicate to gentile, Roman Christians the immeasurably high honor and unfathomably great inheritance they possess as co-heirs with Jesus, the son of God” (p. 309).  Reading our contemporary image of adoption (i.e. impoverished orphan child being taken in by a family of means) back into the text distorts Paul’s meaning, he argues (Smolin has many more insights into a biblical understanding of adoption, and I highly encourage you to read his essay).

Taking the biblical text in this more exegetical way, I think, prepares us for the hard work of working as faithful witnesses in a dark world.  We must be careful not to read into Scripture something it never intended to say, and I think, in this case, doing so, will allow us to see combatting child trafficking and corruption as no mere “cosmetic solution,” as Cruver calls it.  In fact, in the great drama of redemption, seeking to combat such darkness is done with the knowledge that such darkness has already been dispelled with Christ’s victory over death, a victory that we bear witness to through our good works, which are “profitable for everyone” (Titus 3.8).  We are to be people who are concerned with public matters–fighting for justice, combatting human trafficking, promoting human rights–knowing that faithfully acting in the public sphere, in light of Christ’s victory over death and darkness, will mean something in the end, when God’s “cosmic” purposes for the world are revealed.

8 thoughts on ““Cosmetic Solutions”? Some Thoughts about Dan Cruver’s Series on Unethical Adoption

  1. Thank you Michael, this was fantastic. Maybe Gruber doesn’t completely explain God “putting the world and universe to rights” because he’s taken the phrase from NT Wright. It’s part of the premise of “Simply Christian.” He also stole a line from Keller / Tolkein “everything sad will become untrue.” So he’s got a lot of nice theological buzz words in there, without some backup. He makes a point, that we’re not going to solve all social justice problems in this lifetime. But if we don’t do anything at all, how are we participating in God redeeming heaven and earth? I think Gruber needs to complete his NT Wright canon and read “Surprised By Hope.”

    1. michaelfunderburk

      Thanks, Susan! I agree: I think one of the things Cruver needs to do is to connect the dots for his audience. After reading his posts, it seems to me that what he is saying connects in his mind but I am not sure that he’s successfully transcribing that connection onto the (virtual) page. As a result of this post, he and I are now in dialogue. I hope our conversation will be a fruitful one.

    2. Hi Susan,

      Thanks for commenting on Michael’s critique of part 3 of my series. I am really looking forward to continued dialogue on this top. Let me first say that I agree with you that I most certainly DO NOT believe that “we don’t do anything at all” in participating with God in his renewal work. As a matter of fact, my life’s work is to do a LOT in the world in the area of social justice. It’s my vocation and life.

      And as I told Michael in an email tonight (with a few additions for you!): “This ‘cosmetic vs. cosmic’ series finds it roots in my heart and experience of the Gospel. My great hope is not merely the salvation of souls, but when the Lord Jesus ‘will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself’ (Phil. 3:20-21) and finally make all things new.

      “Because of this great and absolutely certain hope, we wait patiently, not PASSIVELY. We fully engage with everything Jesus is doing in the world to declare the presence of his Kingship; to push back the effects of the fall, as far as the curse if found; and to offer the firstfruits of life in the new heaven and new earth. But what we must never forget: God does not call to do anything FOR Jesus, but call us to do everything WITH Jesus. HE is the one making all things new.”

      And for whatever my biographical information is worth, I’ve read more NT Wright books than I care to take time to count right now. Two of my favorites, though, are “Surprised by Hope” and his tome “The Resurrection of the Son of God” (http://books.google.com/books?id=RoD5_bN-WxUC&printsec=frontcover&dq=resurrection+son+of+god+wright&hl=en&sa=X&ei=VrGmUYbTB4iG9gTA4oCQAg&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=resurrection%20son%20of%20god%20wright&f=false). So…I think we agree on much more than you currently think we do.

      The problem, I surmise, is that the nature of a blog series is that you never (nor should you) say everything the needs to be said in every post. My guess is if you did, you wouldn’t need a series…

  2. Pingback: Cosmetic vs. Cosmic Solutions to Unethical Adoption (Part 4) « Together for Adoption

  3. Pingback: A True Conversation About Unethical Adoption? Contesting Together for Adoption’s Use of ‘Uncontested Terms’ | Notes From a Poor Country

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