Monthly Archives: May 2013

Child Catchers – A Case of Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias is the tendency to give imbalanced attention to data that supports a preferred hypothesis, while marginalizing evidence that might discredit it. A classic case of confirmation bias seems to be found in recent criticisms of abuses in evangelical adoption efforts.

A recently released book by Kathryn Joyce The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption criticizes the evangelical adoption movement, painting it as an “adoption industry” that knowingly traffics children and willfully separates families in developing nations at any cost for the sake of finding children for adoptive families. Others have added their own indiscriminate exhortations in light of Joyce’s ill-founded conclusions.

ethiopiaThere are certainly abuses in the world of global orphan care. There are documented cases and likely many more undocumented cases. However, abuses that occur do not jeopardize the legitimacy of adoption in general or inter-country adoption in particular.

Critics argue (with very little supporting data) that although unethical adoptions are not the norm, they do happen, and thus we should be on “high alert.” However, their selective data and exaggeration of data must put readers on high alert – not to human rights abuses but to journalistic statistic abuses.

I confess (along with John Piper), I am in no position to offer detailed statistical analysis of abuses within orphan care. However, the burden of proof lies with those who seek to “expose” the so-called adoption industry. At this point there appears to be little more than anecdotal support.

I appreciated Piper’s thoughtful disavowals and affirmations regarding orphan care. I’m no expert on the evangelical adoption movement, but Piper’s perspectives seem to be a fair representation of evangelical agencies I have researched.

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Latent Spiritual Gifts?

I’ve been told that I have a particular spiritual gift, and if I don’t use it for the good of the church, then I’m robbing God. But when they say I have a spiritual gift, all they really mean is that I know how to play the piano. The questions is, am I robbing God if I don’t use that “spiritual gift” for the church? Or more generally, is it possible to have a “latent” spiritual gift that lies inactive? Those are complex questions that might be clarified by asking, what is a spiritual gift?

What is a spiritual gift? You might feel very confident about the answer to that question. But actually the we way use the word “gift” in English tends to obscure the meaning of the word that Paul uses which in the Greek is, charisma, which would be “grace-gift” or “that which results from grace.”[1]

We use the word gift to talk about particular abilities that people have. Someone on the church music team–we say they are gifted musically. A really smart student gets into the classes for gifted students. We use the word gift to mean “special abilities.”

But that doesn’t seem to be how Paul uses the word. In the letters Paul wrote to the churches, there are four places where he lists the charismata (“grace-gifts”), which are results of God’s grace coming to the church. And in each of those lists he talks about how God has given to the church people who serve in various functions

  • Romans 12:6-8: prophecy, service/serving, one who teaches/teaching, one who encourages/encouragement, one who gives [money], one who leads, one who shows mercy
  • 1 Corinthians 12:8-10: a word of wisdom, a word of knowledge, faith, healings, working of miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, kinds of tongues, interpretation of tongues
  • 1 Corinthians 12:28-30: apostles, prophets, teachers, etc.
  • Ephesians 4:11: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors-teachers

So the best way to think of charisma (“grace-gift”) is not “special abilities” that someone has. These aren’t Christian superpowers. Rather the charisma are concrete expressions of God’s grace to the church. When Paul in those lists talks about the charisma, he mentions people: evangelists, servants, prophets. Those are functions or roles that people serve in for the good of the body.

The charisma granted to each is not so much a supernatural gift as the call of the Spirit to serve the church. [2] A spiritual gift is a concrete expression of God’s grace to the church.[3] And those concrete expressions of God’s grace may come in an endless variety of ways.

If we clarify the meaning behind Paul’s term this way, then we must conclude that there is no such thing as a “latent spiritual gift.” In other words, its not as if the Spirit has given you a special ability, but because you haven’t been able to figure yours out yet you are thus squandering his gift. Simply stated, something that you’re not doing is not a spiritual gift. Because the gifts that Paul is talking about are roles of service that are benefitting the body, building it up toward maturity and love. Some ability you have that you don’t use for the good of the church is not a spiritual gift. There are no latent spiritual gifts.


[1] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, BECNT, 575, “The –ma ending suffix denotes the result of an action, and in this case, charisma refers to the results of the grace—the free gift.”

[2] George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament, 580

[3] Ken Bearding, What Are Spiritual Gifts?, 63

Developing Theological Vision

ImageTim Keller wrote a great book called Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. In the introduction, he identifies the path to fruitfulness. The key insight is developing “theological vision,” a phrase he borrowed from Richard Lints (Gordon-Conwell professor, author of The Fabric of Theology).

Lints says, “The modern theological vision must seek to bring the entire counsel of God into the world of its time in order that its time might be transformed.”

And Keller provides eight questions for the development of a theological vision. This is the trajectory of the book overall.

  1. What is the gospel, and how do we bring it to bear on the hearts of people today?
  2. What is this culture like, and how can we both connect to it and challenge it in our communication?
  3. Where are we located – city, suburb, town, rural area – and how does this affect our ministry?
  4. To what degree and how should Christians be involved in civic life and cultural production?
  5. How do the various ministries in a church – word and deed, community and instruction – relate to one another?
  6. How innovative will our church be and how traditional?
  7. How will our church relate to other churches in our city and region?
  8. How will we make our case to the culture about the truth of Christianity?

Keller probing list of questions challenges shepherds to lead their sheep not in generally effective ministry, but in specifically effective theological vision – specific to the city. In other words, Keller’s list is all about contextualization (what else would one expect from Keller?).

He develops his own definition of theological vision, “It is a faithful restatement of the gospel with rich implications for life, ministry, and mission in a type of culture at a moment in history.”