Incarnation

Series | Inside the Walls

I am trying to make the point that, in the revelation of the Triune God, God is sharing Himself and inviting us into joyful relationship with Himself. God, then, is the ultimate example of true authority that gives, overflows, and participates. We see this theme in His creation and, apropos on this Christmas day, we also see this reality in His incarnation.

Incarnation

The Son revealed the Father as well as the divine economy. He taught His disciples: “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matthew 23:11). Why? Because the truth is that authority gives itself. It works on the other’s behalf. It doesn’t take from them. That’s the way it really is because that’s the way God is.

Jesus not only taught it, He embodied it. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:10-11). He didn’t come to take (as a thief), He came to give so that His sheep might have life.

Philippians 2 illustrates how glorious authority gave itself and shows that Jesus receives greater glory because of giving, humbling, and sacrificing. The Word become flesh, the revelation of truth in the God-man, exhibits the truth of authority that engages, works, meets needs, takes responsibility, serves, and draws others to life. That’s the truth.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:4-11)

One of the reasons we have trouble believing Jesus and really considering others as better than ourselves is that we don’t buy that authority is established by giving. We think we’ll lose influence and respect and position if we serve.

Not only that, we think in order to keep the truth safe, we’ve got to keep it at a distance from questions and doubts. If so, we are thinking about a partial truth because the true Truth jumps into the ring. God not only opens truth up for a look-see, He created a world where those who look the other way corroborate the truth in a backdoor way. Bare-fisted truth can handle itself. He created a world where He would give His only Son to be killed to save the killers. That reveals something about His character and about the real potency of truth, even when born as a helpless baby.

Revealing Revelations

Series | Inside the Walls

Previously I asked, Why does God reveal truth? And what do we learn about authority by how God used His? The answer has far reaching implications.

God used His authority to reveal truth because the essence of authority, the way the Triune God really is, is to expose Himself, share Himself, and invite us into an intimate relationship with Him to share His joy. The truth, as revealed by God, is that true authority gives, overflows, and participates. The essence of true authority, therefore, is not distance, isolation, and demands.

Let’s see if we can blow away some of the smoke and see God’s revealed truth about revealed truth and what authority is good for. Today we’ll look at the first of four aspects of God’s revelation.

Creation

The mere fact of creation shows the reality of God’s eagerness to share Himself, and of God’s giving, overflowing use of authority. As Carl Henry wrote in his work, God, Revelation, and Authority, God gave up His privacy, and the thing He gave most was Himself. Henry’s first thesis was:

Revelation is a divinely initiated activity, God’s free communication by which he alone turns his personal privacy into a deliberate disclosure of his reality. (Vol. 2, 17)

There are things about an infinite God that are mysterious, yes.1 There are things that are above and beyond us because God didn’t make us gods. But He did make us to know Him, learn about Him in creation, learn about Him in providence, learn about Him in His Incarnation, and learn about Him in His Word. Revelation, giving us truth, opens Himself to us.

The way God created and revealed truth also shows the giving nature of authority. His first five and a half days of work prepared a glorious place for the crown of creation. He formed and filled a pristine, lush, and repeatedly “good” home for man. God interrupted Adam, parading all the animals before him, to teach Adam that he was alone. Adam didn’t even know what he was missing because he was busy enjoying all the other good gifts.

God also gave man purpose: to be bear His image in responsibility and in relationships. His authority overflowed as He shared His image; He didn’t distance Himself from men or take things from them to prove His superior position. The way things really are, the truth, is that God shares the best things with His creation.

That includes Himself. The pre-fall relationship between God and man was about sharing fellowship, not filling Adam’s mind with footnotes for a systematic theology book. The serpent’s lie was that God was holding something back with His authority. The truth is, God was giving them life. Disobedience took fellowship and life away.

Knowledge is not enough when it comes to the truth (revelation) of creation. It is inadequate to say that God revealed truth simply so that others could know it. Adam didn’t stop knowing the truth when he disobeyed, he stopped the enjoyment of God in truth. The truth is that knowing truth is not the end. The demons know the truth, things as they really are. More than that, every man knows the truth. According to Romans 1, all men know the truth and “suppress” it (1:18).

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (1:19-20)

They know who He really is. So what is their problem? It isn’t a knowledge problem.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him. (1:21a)

How they responded to what they knew, dare we say, how they felt about the truth, was the problem. Failure to thankfully worship brought the revelation of wrath. What is implied about revelation is that the reality of things is that God is so open and giving that it is totally unacceptable to reject it.

The truth expects the right response. But the expectation is not a taking expectation, it is a giving expectation. It expects us to receive what is given, not that we have to give something. Truth invites life, and life abundant. Creation reveals the truth that God, in His supreme authority, invites us to relationship with Himself and with each other. Sin ruined the fellowship, but God gave His only Son that we might have it again.


  1. Henry’s third thesis was: “Divine revelation does not completely erase God’s transcendent mystery, inasmuch as God the Revealer transcends his own revelation.”

Expressing the Congregation

Preaching does not have to be an individualistic sort of activity. In fact, great preaching well understands this. The true preacher is not over against the Christian congregation but rather is an expression of the congregation. The true Christian preacher affirms the faith of the congregation, and raises up the hope of the congregation. Much of the genius of great preachers is their ability to express the faith of the people to whom they are preaching.

—Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures, 271 (via A Collective Event)

Revealing Definitions and Questions

Series | Inside the Walls

In my last post about truth I stated that problems come when truth-lovers are not totally truthful about God and about His authority. What am I talking about? There are more thoughts to come but, for now, the quick answer is: God’s revelation of truth reveals the true essence of authority. Today I’ll start building toward that answer with some definitions and questions.

Revealing Definitions

The first key word is TRUTH: things as they really are; facts not fiction or, when regarding future events, how things will be really, not what we imagine we’d like the future to be.

Where did truth come from? GOD. Things are as they really are because of God. There isn’t anything that exist–no person, no principle, no nothing–without Him. “By Him all things were created–all things were created through Him and for Him…and in Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-18). We couldn’t know real things unless we were made real by God and made by Him to really know, including brains and senses and breath that keeps the learning process oxygenated.

We speak about can-be-known things from God as REVELATION. Revelation comes in two types, general (creation) and special (Incarnate and written Word). “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). “[I]n [Christ] the fulness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19) and though “no one has ever seen God,” the Word made flesh “has made Him known” (John 1:18). “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16).

And the reality (or truth) that revelation depends on God and is made known by God means God/truth has AUTHORITY. Truth always wins (at least in the end) because that’s what is real. Fall out of a tree and you will fall. Resisting God’s gravitational authority is futile. When the wrong person ate fruit from the wrong tree the whole human race was condemned. That’s reality. That’s revealed. That’s authority at work; it’s all true.

So if God reveals truth then God is the authority. That’s, in fact, exactly what He’s revealed as true: the truth that truth depends on Him.

It’s one of the reasons we insist on sola Scriptura, that Scripture is the ultimate authority, that the Bible tells reality with more reality than any man or group of men. It’s why we hammered our tent pegs in this truth-loving camp. Men depend on revelation; revelation doesn’t depend on men (see 2 Peter 1:19-21). I love John Piper’s explanation of the “external Word”:

[I]t is objective, fixed, outside ourselves, and therefore unchanging. It is a book….You can take it or leave it. But you can’t make it other than what it is. (The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, 78)

That’s why we have sentiments like, “We love truth no matter how you feel about it.” That’s mostly true.

Truth was true before we existed, before creation. God was. Reality doesn’t need our corroboration. Truth had authority before anyone was around to question it. It’s hard to imagine what that would be like? No doubters. No questioners. No scoffers. Truth in full glory with no dings in its authority. We may not be able to imagine it, but God was there. Truth was His alone to do with whatever He wanted. Of course He could, He was the authority.

Revealing Questions

What did He do with His truth? How did He use His authority? He created a universe of revelation to reveal the reality about Himself and His authority and how good He is.

At this point I’d bet our conservative camp is largely in agreement, but we’re not done. After all, I’ve barely given any Bible verses, and how about sola Scriptura and all? But what I mean by saying that we’re not done yet is that we haven’t said the most helpful things. Our answer isn’t wrong but neither is it complete. We haven’t seen the flower in full bloom yet. To say that God, in His authority, revealed truth is no more than what we would find on the back of an elementary school flashcard. We need a junior higher to ask, “Why?”

Why did God reveal truth? What is His reason and purpose? We can answer, “for His glory,” and we’d be correct but, again, not complete. Maybe I could ask it a different way. What do we learn about authority by how God used His authority? What do we learn about the truth and about the purpose of truth by considering God’s purpose for truth? The next step in the series is to consider the why in the what of God’s revelations.

Truth Revealed – The Essence of Authority

Series | Inside the Walls

The last five summers I’ve taught at a Reformation Conference for a church near my hometown in Ohio. Our relationship began at a youth camp in 1998 and developed due to similar theological and ministry convictions. I’ve taught through the Solas and the Reformers as well as through Edwards and The Religious Affections. Then, upon their request, I (enthusiastically) worked through the Five Points of Calvinism and two summers ago five more messages on the implications of Calvinism.

I went to lunch with some of the church leadership after the implications conference and they invited me back again to address the issue of truth, in particular truth and how it’s connected with Calvinism.

I knew exactly what they wanted. I knew what they wanted because the challenges they’ve faced are the same problems I’ve run into, the same sort of criticisms our small piece of the Evangelical pie usually encounter. We are the truth-loving, truth-talking bunch. David Wells wrote a book a few years ago titled, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World. We’re not the seeker sensitive types and we’re also not meeting in a warehouse with black ceilings wearing designer print t-shirts (with or without skulls on them).

We luv us some truth. We’re the book-reading, long-sermon listening, personal Bible-studying people. We like our theologians dead and our exegetical coffee black. We attend the churches we do because we ourselves have been, or know others who are, driven by emotion and the changing winds of cultural digestion. We don’t want that. Give us truth or we die. Without the truth, we will.

Strangely enough, we truth-lovers are not everyone’s cup of tea. Sure, we occasionally get into public clashes because we call homosexuals sinners. We more regularly encounter hostility from neighbors and co-workers who think our truth is good as long as we don’t say that it is true truth, that is, true for them, too. But what surprises us most, what disappoints and frustrates us the most, are those within our midst who express concern about our truth and tone, some of whom leave for other churches that “feel” more open or accepting or exciting. That’s what really upsets us, and it probably should, at least when we get the feeling that their feelings trump truth.

Ours is a “We love the truth and we don’t care how you feel about it” perspective. And, that’s partially true. It’s also not entirely true. We have feelings for your feelings. The truth is, we want you to have true feelings. Your feelings aren’t the problem, your feelings being wrong are the problem. That’s where truth comes in. But the truth also is, that’s not what always comes across.

I’m almost ahead of myself here, so let me step back and knock on a different door to the same house.

I’ve always thought that a person who acknowledges God’s sovereignty in salvation is in the best position to appreciate truth and to appreciate the fact that with truth comes authority. Calvinists have a mental category for truth because we have a category for authority. God controls history. God ordains salvation. God can and does whatever He pleases. He has authority. That is true.

But I’m afraid that is only partially true, depending on what we mean. I think a break in the line often happens right here. We truth-lovers are not being totally truthful about God, about His authority and, therefore, we are not totally truthful about truth. Ironic.

Failure to worship God with a true understanding of His sovereign authority upends marriages. It exasperates kids. It needlessly offends unbelievers. And it causes sheep to consider finding another fold. In our camp, much of this usually happens with a big “truth” button pinned on our chests.

We should examine our own work first. We may have higher grades than other students, meaning that we may have more accurate exegesis and systematic theology than other denominations or groups or churches, but the truth doesn’t work on a bell curve. We, the people of the Book, should be held up to the truth of the Book, striving to avoid false feelings of esteem that come from false comparisons.

Adoption Advocates

We met her in Denny’s and she told us to be adoption advocates.

The social worker’s exhortation came at the conclusion of our home study interview in early July. The home study was necessary as we pursued an opportunity to adopt a baby girl who was due near the end of July. On December 3rd, we finished the process and our new daughter got our last name. But our adoption advocacy is far from finished.

Photo thanks to Susan Bone

I’ll back up.

Adoption has been on the Higgins family radar for a long time. During our engagement, Mo and I talked about adopting at some point regardless of whether or not God might bless us with biological kids. When a friend called us on June 7th to investigate our interest, we already had three fantastic kids. We didn’t need more. We didn’t feel like anything was missing. But our immediate reaction was, “Yes! Of course we’re interested!”

Blog readers may remember that a year ago I wrote about our plan to fill out paperwork for Antioch Adoptions. We figured that process would take a while, and actually, after six months, we hadn’t even completed our initial application. One reason that paperwork took so long was because, in the meantime, we helped to start a small non-profit called 127adoptions in order to raise money for another couple in our church who were pursuing an international adoption. The first event ended only three weeks before getting our own call.

Busy with event coordinating, homeschooling, remodeling, normal ministry and church life, and looking forward to an already full summer, we didn’t foresee how much harder and happier our next few months would be.

The first time we met with our adoption attorney he explained that, due to certain complications, we might be in for a challenging, long, and expensive journey. For a while it seemed like every week we would hit another impassable wall. Our story circulated not only around the lawyer’s office, but even around the state as they sought counsel from other lawyers and social workers. I vividly remember one phone call where our attorney encouraged us by saying that we had run out of possible problems. The next day two new problems arose that threatened to derail the train; apparently God wanted to answer really desperate prayers. At our post-placement interview, our social worker said she had never seen a situation like ours in her 20 years of experience.

One of the most important lessons I learned, a lesson I thought I already knew, is that adoption exists because sin exists. In other words, adoption in any specific situation will be difficult because something, somewhere is wrong. Sin brings death and death makes orphans. Or sinful choices result in birth parents who are unable, even unwilling in some cases, to care for the child. No matter whose sin it is–in the birth parents, in the courts, in the adoptive parents, in extended family members, or in others who are seemingly unrelated–sin makes a mess. There is no way to enter the adoption process and expect no difficulties, no cost, and no hurt.

At the final hearing, the judge asked us, “What does this day mean to you?” I don’t remember exactly what I said,1 but I know it culminated an unanticipated, short yet tiring, and exhilarating ride. And as we celebrated Keelah coming into our family, we also celebrated God’s adoption of us into His family with all the rights, privileges, and promised inheritance belonging to His children.

Knowing what we know now, after investing thousands of dollars and who knows how many hours, we would TOTALLY do it all over again.2 We are more excited about adoption than before, not less. That doesn’t mean that every married couple should adopt. Adoption is clearly not the only way to live out the gospel. But we love our daughter and we love every opportunity to advocate adoption, both temporal and eternal.

Photo thanks to Esther Martin


  1. Another friend took video of the entire seven minute ceremony. We’ll make that available when we get it.
  2. Meaning we would go through this process to get Keelah however many times it took, not that we’re ready for another adoption, at least not for a while.

Laughter Is War

I’m a longtime reader of Credenda/Agenda. I admit that I enjoyed it more when hard copy issues arrived in the mail, but we take what we can get in this eAge. Anyway, for a few months I’ve been meaning to share the centerfold from Vol 18 Issue 2, Kicks and Giggles. It’s more than a college ad, it’s a motivational poster.

As they say, remember to “saber-rattle responsibly.”

UPDATED: See War! What Is It Good For? Absolutely…Actually It Does Do Some Good Things