Home > Culture > Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation

Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation

By Gerrit Scott Dawson
T & T Clark, London, 2004
RRP $49.95

Gerrit Scott Dawson’s book Jesus Ascended effectively draws together what many might consider an obscure theological doctrine with the life and mission of the church. Dawson himself recognises that, “The doctrine of the ascension is not readily in the hearts and minds of church members” (p. 185). Nonetheless it is in this doctrine, grounded in scripture and affirmed by the Apostles Creed, that Dawson finds a nexus for the church and its mission.

The book is divided into three clear parts. Part I “Why Recover the Ascension?” engages with the question of the church’s current situation. Writing from within the context of western Protestantism Dawson asserts, in the title of his first chapter, “The world is too much with us.” Here he briefly explores the impact of our current culture on the church.

In Part II, “Toward a Concise Theology of the Ascension”, Dawson goes on to examine the ascension of the incarnate Christ and its meaning. The sub-headings of the chapter “The Ascension as Public Truth” particularly address some of the fundamental theological questions which arise from the study of the doctrine: When did Jesus Ascend?; How did Jesus go?; Where did he go?; What kind of Body?; and, If Jesus is in Heaven, How can he be with us?

Part III is “The Present Implications of Jesus Ascended.” The most helpful insight in this series of chapters is the emphasis on the idea that Christians are Citizens of a Far Country. He identifies three temptations for the church ‘withdrawal from the world’, ‘creating the Kingdom here on earth’, and ‘conformity to the world’. Asserting that the church is a place of tension he argues that, “Our identifying way of life, our heartland, our highest good and finest ways of thinking, derive not from this world but from heaven.” (p.154)

Overall the book is well written and is well worth reading both by ministers and congregation leaders. Dawson’s vision of the church’s reconnection with this doctrine is grounded in the scriptures and is supported by extensive quotations, from the early scholars of the church through to contemporary theologians. The most appealing aspect of this text was Dawson’s effort to apply a deeply reflected theological position to the life of a congregation. At a time when so much mission seems to be driven by the question “What do people want?” Dawson audaciously draws us back to the Christological centre reminding readers, “Our mission is properly defined by the ascended, reigning and returning Jesus.” (p. 9)