A Passion for the Fatherless: a book review

James 1:27 says, “True religion is to care for widows and orphans and to keep yourself from corruption.” Yet many Christians fail to care for widows and orphans. Author Daniel Bennett hones in on “care for orphans” in A Passion for the FatherlessBennett is himself an adoptive father. He and his wife Whitney have four children (the fourth, adopted) and live in central Illinois where he is the pastor of Bethany Community Church. In A Passion for the Fatherless, Bennett articulates a Christian theology of adoption, discusses practical considerations for those considering adoption and orphan care and offers advice on how to form a orphan ministry in your church.

In part one, Bennett begins by showing how Christian orphan care is unique because it is rooted in our desire to bring God glory first. That is, a theology of worship undergirds Bennett’s movement to the margins. Bennett argues that living for God’s Glory’s ‘ impact on our lives should be profound. There is no corner of our life that we can point to and tell him ‘hands off.’ He stands sovereign and authoritative over all realms. It is to his glory that we engage in all ministries, including orphan care” (36). In chapter two, Bennett argues that our engagement in justice ministries should be in conjunction with the gospel message, not instead of it. He faults progressive evangelicals for watering down the gospel message (41). But that doesn’t mean we aren’t called to care tangibly for the little and the least.  Bennett cites God’s care for the disenfranchised  in the Pentateuch (the poor, the widow, the orphan and the alien). In chapter three and four, Bennett develops a theology of adoption which reflects our own adoption as God’s children.

Part two turns directly towards practical concerns. Chapter five describes the valuable contribution missions and orphan care ministries provide. Chapter six describes ‘when not to care for orphans.’ Mostly Bennett is focusing on heart issues (though he does warn to not care for orphans if you have not counted the cost), In chapter seven he talks about ‘the greatness of  godly affliction,’  which unfolds God’s purposes in suffering. Chapter eight discusses the problem of ‘Ishmael theology,’ where those feel called to adopt are paralyzed in their decision-making because of anxiety over choosing the child that is not God’s best. Chapters nine and ten begin to discuss the role of the church in orphan care ministry while Part three describe the components of orphan care and adoptive ministry in the church.

I appreciated the places in this book where Bennett unfolds his own story in caring for orphans (personally and ecclesially). I think my favorite part of the book is, part one where he unfolds a theology of adoption. This makes this book meatier than many other Christian treatments on adoption. Bennett also does a good job of addressing some of the personal issues that come up for people interested in adoption and orphan care.

Nevertheless this book fails to address orphan care and adoption systemically. Orphanages (particularly western orphanages in the majority world) fail to adequately address issues and are fraught with ethical quandaries and cultural insensitivity. It isn’t that Bennett is unaware of some the difficulties, he does offer advice for personal discernment but I wish he brought his theological lens to bear on some of the cultural and systemic issues that intersect orphan care.

I would recommend this book for any Christian interested in adoption as Bennett does a great job of setting the issue within a theological frame. Furthermore his emphasis on God’s glory as the motivation behind our work for justice is appropriate. However I recommend reading this book alongside others which explore some of the ugly side of the adoption industry (such as John Donelley’s Twist of Faith).  I give this book four stars: ★★★★

Notice of Material Connection: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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