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just a few words

Updated: May 3, 2019

Hello, everyone:

I offer here a few thoughts on a good article that you may want to read:"Adopted Into the Family: Toward a Theology of Parenting" by David H. Jensen[1]

The article appears in the Journal of Childhood and Religion. Information about how to find it is in the footnote. In tenderly worded vignettes, David H. Jensen offers bookends for his essay -- brief glimpses into his own personal journey as a parent.

The essay opens with images of a man who cherishes and holds sacred the grace-filled time spent with those he loves most dearly -- his wife and their two young children. He ends the piece with a story about his son, a pre-school student, who is learning about grace that comes from sharing with needy others.

In these two stories that begin and conclude the essay, Jensen sets up two foundational components of his theology of parenting: first, family time can be and often is sacred time lived out before God; second, the time spent loving and offering grace to one another can teach children about grace that reaches beyond the family circle. Between the bookends, Jensen argues for the central component of his theology of parenting: adoption.

Jensen has thought deeply about parenting. He has thought deeply about God's love, human love, and human family. He has pondered and wrestled with the joys and delights of parenting but wants to know: How do parents rear children who have a healthy love for others in the world, especially for the neediest? Can too much parental love interfere with the instruction in altruism?

Jensen agrees with arguments made by Thomas Aquinas and by contemporary theologian Don Browning "that parenting can be a school for teaching us to love our neighbors."[2] And yet that school can fail. Parents too easily focus inwardly, obsessed with their children's development and accomplishments. Jensen believes that the component in a theology of parenting most likely to succeed in teaching love for others outside the family is found in the image of adoption found in the New Testament.

He looks to Ephesians for descriptive and relational language. As followers of Christ are adopted into God's family through Christ, they become brothers and sisters of Christ and children of God. Paul writes that once these gentiles were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise"(2:12); but now Christ "has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall" (2:14). In this adoption are found God's gifts of grace, love, and hospitality.

Jensen says, "When conceived as adoption, parenting becomes both an act of hospitality and a reminder of the gift of life itself."[3] In Jensen's theology of parenting, each child is a gift of God; each child is a child of God, given by God's grace to parents -- by birth into that family or by legal adoption.

Finally, Jensen's theology of parenting acknowledges that parental love does not necessarily lead to mutual love. But, Jensen says, as they embrace adoption, parents "respond to a God who adopts us and who equips parents and children to receive the gift of God's love."[4]

I was baptized as an infant and brought up in the church. The church was like another home -- a place that was warm and welcoming, where kind people taught Bible lessons and catechism classes; a place where families worshiped together and ate together.

As I recall my own experience of Sunday school, Bible school, youth group activities, choir, pageants, and Christian fellowship, I give thanks to parents and others who gave me those opportunities. I would add to Jensen's theology of parenting a component of promise to bring up the child in the church (in addition to the parental baptismal vow), both for education offered there and for experiences of God's grace given through church family life. The quote I most want to remember: "Altruism to the neediest…need not lead to neglect of the nearest."

[1] David H. Jensen, "Adopted into the Family: Toward a Theology of Parenting." Journal of Childhood and Religion 1, Issue 2 (2010). Sopher Press.

[2] Jensen, 7-8.

[3] Jensen, 11.

[4] Ibid., 14.

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