The difference between “ what would Jesus do” and “what IS Jesus doing”! You may be familiar with the popular fad that was revived in recent years that sought guidance for Christians in daily decisions by answering with WWJD. Like so many fads in Christianity, I always felt that though the intent was a sincere attempt to influence life’s decisions by reference to the historical Jesus, this version of what it means to be a disciple of Christ completely missed the heart of the Biblical Gospel.

In the last few days, I have been reading a book which confronts this misunderstanding in the American churches with a fresh exposition of the doctrine of the Ascension of Jesus. The book which was published in 2004 by Gerrit Scott Dawson, is entitled –

Jesus Ascended: the meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation“.

I read a lot and have considered myself a full-time student for over 50 years. It has been a long time since I have been as profoundly moved as I have in reading this book about the present life of Jesus of Nazareth now in His heavenly session as our King-Priest. The fact that I have been celebrating the Festival of the Ascension for over a week now was the preparation needed to be able to profit so much from this author and the mature understanding he has of this neglected part of the Biblical narrative. I would love to recommend this book to everyone but I won’t because of one principle that is a priority here at E4Unity and that is the recognition that each individual is unique and in no way would the many be able to profit in the same way I have from reading any book. In the area of what is called “spiritual formation” that means that real progress is made only when we are able to see these things for ourself, through the “eyes of faith”, and that means we must be patiently brought in life’s experiences to desiring such things as this present world can never give or satisfy our inner spirit with.

I want to leave you with some quotes from Dawson. He is an excellent writer and this book is very “reader friendly” in the sense that he tells you what his topic is, tells you how he is going to approach it, and even gives you upfront a short direction on “how to use this book”. I will tell you that he is a Presbyterian pastor and so he is thoroughly pastoral- that is he concerns himself in the end with the purpose of this doctrine in living here on planet earth, the life of Christ in heaven transmitted to us by the Holy Spirit as we learn to live, not in the flesh, but by faith in God’s abundant provision in His beloved Son Jesus.

He has included some of the rich comments from past teachers in the churches, both from the Patristic fathers as well as men like John Calvin,  Andrew Murray, and Lesslie Newbigin. He has a robust exposition of what the the Ascension of Christ has meant to the Church in the past as well as how it can be instrumental in reviving us in the challenge we are now facing in our own generation.

“We have such difficulty conceiving how, or even believing that, the body of Jesus went to heaven that we may want the doctrine to remain in obscurity” (p.3)

“In no way, then, did the ascension signal simply a return to business as usual between God and humanity. Rather, the ascension of Christ is a vital hinge on which turns the work of the Mediator, the incarnate Son, our Redeemer in all his offices.” (p.8)

“My premise is that the church- our local church and the churches of the west-needs to recover the meta-narrative of the gospel as a counter-story, indeed a better story to the one the world tells. . .one of those episodes, the ascension, has been sorely neglected in the church’s telling of the story. The silence. . .cuts us off from the present work of Christ in heaven and from the conclusion of the story. . .recovering a proper and robust doctrine of the ascension can reconnect us to a sense of our true citizenship in heaven and the implications of that identity for life in the world.”(p.25)

Dawson’s book is divided into three parts, and we haven’t even reached the second one yet. But I don’t want to impose on you so I will close for now with one more, this time, a quote from Andrew Murray. Murray has also been one of my favorite devotional writers for a long time. Dawson may be the first Presbyterian writer that I can think of among contemporary ones that utilizes the treasures in Murray so often and so freely. He says here, that ” the church can reclaim the fullness of its story, with spectacular results.” And then quotes Murray-

” Faith has in its foundation four great cornerstones on which the building rests- the Divinity of Christ, The Incarnation, the Atonement on the Cross, the Ascension to the Throne. The last is the most wonderful, the crown of all the rest, the perfect revelation of what God has made Christ (to be)for us. And so in the Christian life it is the most important, the glorious fruit of all that goes before.” (p.26)

In part two, one of the highlights for me was his discussion of Calvin’s interpretation of the Lord’s Supper as one of the means of grace directly connected with the ascension. We will have a great deal to come back to on another occasion. For now, we must get ready to celebrate once again another Festival: The Day of Pentecost.

The link to the book is the on-line edition where you can read most of it at Google.books.

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