Why the Church Can and Must Care for Orphans

by Todd Chipman July 11, 2019

An Interview with Dr. Todd Chipman, Author of Until Every Child is Home

Q: You have a new book releasing soon entitled, Until Every Child Is Home: Why the Church Can and Must Care for Orphans. Tell us a bit about your own personal story with orphan care and adoption.

Chipman: My story with orphan care begins in some hospital in Omaha where I was born. My birth mom was in her late teens. She met my biological dad at a party. When she found out she was pregnant, her parents kicked her out of her home (not such a stable bio pool in my history!). She boarded with a physician in Omaha until I was born. There is no record that my biological dad knows that I exist. My biological mom gave me up for adoption through the Nebraska Children’s Home. I was with a foster family for the first month of my life. I have few memories, but they must have been great people! 

My parents adopted me when I was one month old. I know they were great people! One of my earliest memories—and I write about this in the book—is my parents telling my older sister and me that we were adopted. No secrets, full disclosure. I shrugged and went on about life. I never thought it strange. Some adopted kids really struggle when they find out the facts of their birth history. Not me. So, when my wife, Julie, and I were dating, I shared about being adopted and said that someday I would like to pass along what I had received. She had seen positive examples of foster care and adoption, so we began to pray occasionally about it. 

The same month that our oldest child moved out for college in 2014, we received an email from Focus on the Family’s Wait No More ministry. They connect churches with kids in foster care whose parental rights have been terminated. True orphans. We knew at that event that the Lord would have us to pursue adoption.

Q: Dr. Russell Moore provided the forward to the new book. He has been influential in the conversation surrounding foster care and adoption—how has he personally influenced you?

Chipman: Moore’s book Adopted for Life is a curriculum for those interested in the issues and sub-issues related to foster care and adoption. I especially appreciate Moore’s holistic approach. He underscores the theological, ecclesiological, and familial components for bringing kids into our homes. His example and leadership have had an effect on many SBC leaders and churches.

Q: You teach New Testament at Midwestern Seminary. Has your study of the New Testament influenced your understanding of orphan care? 

Chipman: Three months before my wife and I began pursuing our foster care license, I graduated with a Ph.D. in New Testament. My research compared language and imagery of the messiah in Second Temple Judaism with the Christology of Hebrews. Studying the work of Christ in the Epistle to the Hebrews motivated me to initiate adoption in my family. The author of Hebrews describes Jesus’s incarnation as a rescue mission: Jesus took up human flesh so that through his death he would defeat the one having the power of death, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held captive by the fear of death (Heb 2:14-15). For the author of Hebrews, Jesus’s atoning self-sacrifice was the very act that defeated the devil, robbing him of power to enslave humanity in fear of final condemnation. My Ph.D. research brought to the surface of my mind the fact that New Testament Christology is, in many ways, summarized in the phrase “rescue mission.”

Q: In what ways should theological adoption propel us to participate in civil adoption? 

Chipman: I see orphans through the lens of Scripture. At its core, the New Testament is God’s revelation of himself in Christ to forgive the sins of people from all ethnicities, establishing them as a special body, the church, to display to the world what he has done for them. In my definition, I did not use the word “adoption.” Yes, adoption is referenced in key doctrinal passages like Romans 8 and Ephesians 1. But my point here is that the idea of adoption (and let’s include foster care for the moment) is a ministry that squares with the very macro themes of the New Testament—even when the word “adoption” is not used. In fact, adoption was not invented by Paul. He employed it because it described what he was getting at: God’s revelation of himself in Christ to forgive the sins of people from all nations and by the Spirit bring them together in the church to give away what they have received. The idea of being taken in, receiving God’s hospitality—with the result that we take in, extending hospitality to those in need—is the fabric of the New Testament.

Q: Is adoption for everyone?

Chipman: I do not think that each Christian is able or qualified to personally adopt. But the church must be about this task—and every church member can contribute to their church’s foster/adopt ministries. Each church member can pray for those taking children into their homes. Most members can provide food, clothes, financial resources, etc. that a fostering/adopting family might need. Many members can provide the ministry of presence, visiting and connecting with foster kids in the home. This is especially so of grandparent figures—they are a key to foster or adopted kids connecting with their new family and the church. I detail some of these issues in Until Every Child is Home. The central argument of my book is that when members of a church work together in the process of foster care and adoption, we do good for ourselves and not just the kids. So, adoption is not for everyone, but everyone who participates in the process benefits in Christ.

Q: What would you say to a couple who is interested in adoption or foster care but doesn’t know how to get the process started? 

Chipman: Hopefully resources like Until Every Child is Home and Adopted for Life can provide clarity. In my book, I write about five key relationships couples need to develop as they prepare to foster or adopt. Moore answers some of the practical questions about money, agencies, public/private, etc. I would also suggest attending The Christian Alliance for Orphans annual Summit Conference. This is a gathering of a few thousand folks and it provides a wealth of information. 

After engaging these resources, I would encourage the couple to begin the conversation with their church and extended family. Reading first will help the couple get informed for the potential hard conversations that might arise when they begin to share their plans.

Q: What would you say to a church that is interested in aiding their members in adoption or foster care, but isn’t sure where to start?

Chipman: Here, too, resources like Until Every Child is Home and Adopted for Life can help church leaders connect the dots between the New Testament and a ministry like orphan care. I profile leaders like NAMB president Kevin Ezell, IMB president Paul Chitwood, Salt Network leader Jeff Dodge, and others who all share how good orphan care is for a local church. Participating in foster care and adoption helps a church to do cultural apologetics. Churches that have foster/adopt ministries engage issues of race, gender, and poverty and do so in a benevolent, observable manner with the result that the world can see what we believe.

Q: Last question, when does the book release and are there any final words you’d like to say about adoption in general or your forthcoming book in particular?

Until Every Child is Home is available now for pre-order and will ship August 6. I am happy for FTC readers to engage the book and I trust they will see that I am writing about the church and missions as much as the specific ministry of orphan care. If our churches are following the New Testament grid of ministry, orphan care will be natural, just another outlet for the powerful message of Christ that gathers and disperses us each week.