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Systematische Theologie: Dogmatik
Dawson, Gerrit Scott
Jesus Ascended. The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation.
London-New York: T & T Clark International (Continuum); Philippsburg: P & R Publishing 2004. XIV, 255 S. 8°. Kart. £ 17,99. ISBN 0-567-08221-0 (T & T Clark); 0-87552-849-X (P & R Publishing).
Ian A. McFarland
Jesus Ascended is a book written by a pastor for the church.
Drawing on his own experience as minister in the southern U.S., Gerrit Dawson contends that much of the malaise and stagnation that afflicts churches in western society can be traced to a failure to appreciate the significance of Jesus’ ascension. In defending the pastoral relevance of what may seem at first glance a peripheral doctrine, D. identifies two aspects of the ascension as theologically crucial. First, the confession that Jesus' incarnation continues means that our embodied humanity is affirmed eternally as a means of communion with God. Second, the fact that Jesus’ humanity is now in heaven reminds us that human destiny lies beyond this world – and that our lives should touch on this world and its goods correspondingly lightly.
These two points stand in some tension with one another, and D. sees the challenge of discipleship as one of striking a balance between a rejection of the world that effectively denies Jesus’ enduring humanity and a conformity to it that fails to reflect the conviction that on earth Christians have no lasting city. To meet this challenge, he argues, Christians should strive to stand far enough apart from the world to be able to give their lives for it.
Their model in this task is the ascended Lord, whose own distance from the world is the condition of his drawing humanity upward to the fullness of life in communion with God.
D. devotes the bulk of his text to a detailed account of the doctrine of the ascension, followed by a description of how it can help renew the life of the church. Little in his analysis is (or, to be fair, claims to be) new. Though he cites widely from patristic sources, his doctrine of the ascension follows closely the turn-ofthe- century divines H. B. Swete and Andrew Murray, along with the more recent work of T. F. Torrance. Likewise, his views on the pastoral and ecclesiological relevance of the ascension are heavily indebted to Douglas Farrow. D.s own contribution lies chiefly in his attempt to make the ascension the focal point for the proper grounding of Christian faith and practice.
The central question raised by this attempt is whether the ascension can or should be made to bear this dogmatic weight.
For example, while the importance of striking a balance between withdrawal from and conformity to the world is laudable, it is not clear that the ascension is the most appropriate framework within which to make the point. Should the focus of the earthly church's imitation of Christ really be the ascended Lord’s ineffable combination of presence and absence? Isn’t it more naturally understood in terms of conformity to his earthly example and command – especially given the way Jesus himself contrasts his departure from the world with the disciples’ continuing presence in it in the great high-priestly prayer of John 17? In this context, it is a disquieting feature of D.s argument that in spite of his stress on Jesus' enduring fleshiness, the Christ he portrays tends toward the abstract, his humanity more a soteriological principle than the locus of a particular identity.
Though he echoes Torrance’s insistence that the ascension forbids us to seek any Jesus but the historical Jesus, the book gives little attention to the contours of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Consequently, though D. is passionate about the intimacy we may enjoy with Christ here and now, his ascended Jesus comes across as a strangely distant figure.