Tim and Aaron Perry have just written a wonderful and thought provoking book on the place of the ascension in our understanding and practice of the Christian faith. In the opening chapter of the book, the author writes, "We only know and understand the Ascension when we are owned by the ascended Jesus" (4). That is to say that those who Jesus as Lord, as dying, rising, and ascending are those who will care to follow the path of an ascension shaped life. The ascension seems to be in church and in seminary a doctrinal statement tacked onto the creeds without much explanation. Yet, as the authors indicate, it is integral to Luke's narrative and to the shaping of our lives. How? For one, the ascension if fueled with the idea of divine victory (16). The authors make a startling statement by saying, "The birth of a baby is the decisive and ultimately victorious act of God" (17). We usually think that the death and resurrection are God's final declaration of victory over the powers of evil. Yet, I think the authors have something to stand on with God's word coming to Mary in Luke 1. The very birth of Jesus is the long awaited promise that creation will be restored and evil will not go unpunished but we be dealt with in a final way. Yet, the birth of Jesus was not just hope for Israel but hope for all people.
Chapter 3 is a very good presentation of the meaning of the death of Jesus and its connection to the ascension. "The Cross re-arranges the world from its deepest foundations up. The Ascension is the announcement that the rearrangement has begun" (32). The message of the cross is foolisness to those who claim to be wise because it involves the unjust suffering of Jesus who in his suffering proclaimed life for sinners. The ascension is the completion of the the work on the cross by proclaiming that death and power have been defeated. The Ascension is the proclamation that Jesus is Lord through his death, resurrection, and ascension.
Lastly, I thought the chapter on Confession was superb. The authors indicate that when we recite creedal words we are not just blindly speaking our belief. There is much more at stake here in the creedeal confession. Rather, "we are performing in a similar way," "The confession is a pledge of life and practice of this pledge to the one who ascended" (60). Rather than empty words or worldview assertions, the confession of the creed that Jesus ascended is one of making ultimate allegiance with none other than Christ. Making public what is private was the act in which Thomas and many Christian matyrs have said of their faith. The very act of Thomas' jubilation 'My Lord, My God' was not one of final belief but one of good news.
This book is very helpful in helping all Christians understand the Ascension and its biblical basis but also see it as integral to our Christian practice. Whether its looking at our allegiances more closely or treating the creation in a more biblical way, the Ascension should cause us to worship King Jesus all the more. This book is a great way forward in our understanding of how Christian doctrine and teaching are not for the ivory tower but for the world.
Thanks to Paraclete Press for the review copy.