Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Dawson: "A spiritualized Jesus...allows the church to run after the things of the world."

Christ still has a body. A resurrected body, to be sure. But nevertheless, Christ has a human body. In the heavens. On His throne.

It's easy to forget. Just because Christ is physically absent, does not for a second mean that he somehow is disconnected from real time and space. Or reality, for that matter. He still has a flesh and blood body. He still bears the scars inflicted by those who represented us during the darkest days of world history.

As sure as President Obama is in the White House, or a British terrorist is sharpening his knife (again), Christ literally and physically occupies His throne in the heavens. It's not a "spiritual" or "mystical" reality, in the sense that it belongs to the ethereal. Or even only to "faith". The incarnation, which we celebrate every December 25, is permanent.

The continuing Incarnation of Christ has many, many implications as to how we understand reality. One of these implications is the "temporariness" of government and culture.

Gerrit Scott Dawson, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Baton Rouge, wrote a masterpiece on the Ascension of Christ, "Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ's Continuing Incarnation."

Here's an excerpt from that book:

"One of the first acts of the enthroned Jesus was to open the treasure trove of his love and bring forth a gem of inestimable value. In his bountiful rule, the King of kings showers a priceless gift from his infinite largesse upon his subjects. He receives the Holy Spirit from the Father and pours him out upon the disciples (Acts 2:33). The Spirit, who gives himself to be so poured, becomes the bond between the still-incarnate Son in heaven and his people still sojourning on earth. By this boon, the physically absent King establishes a living tie between himself and his subjects. The head pours his life-giving energies and constant direction throughout his body (i.e. into his people) through his Spirit...Jesus himself understood his departure from his disciples as involving entry into a kingdom...

"The King's story has placed his people under tension. He is not here for us to see, yet he is always about to return. The church is under pressure, by the breath of his Spirit, both as an updraft and a downdraft. On the one hand, we are pushed upward by the commands of the sovereign to look to him as we enact mission in his name. We surge into the future on the wind of his triumph as we live and proclaim the gospel. But, on the other hand, our work is never finished, never to be seen as complete in itself. We are demonstrating the kingdom on earth but not creating the final realm. So, the church labors under the downward pressure of a future that draws nigh, shaping the church, encouraging her in times of resistance and persecution with the promise that the new heavens and the new earth are on the way.

"(There is a) human tendency to spiritualize the ascension. At first thought this seems a result of our metaphysical concerns about the seeming split between the spiritual and material realms. But in fact, the mind's balking at Jesus' going up in the body may well result from the revolt in heart and will against the sovereignty of Jesus which his ascension implies. We may desire to reduce the 'eschatological tension' of his absence and imminent return by dismissing his continuing incarnation... (Douglas) Farrow notes that if we spiritualize the ascension, and get Jesus safely diffused and dissolved into the heavens, then he no longer seems a threat to the rulers of the world. Rather, we can neatly divide the regions of authority between the spiritual and the worldly. We can build the wall between public and private truth which protects us from the claims of God. A spiritualized Jesus allows the kings of the world to run free without restraint from the church, and allows the church to run after the things of the world without the downdraft pressure of the return of the embodied Jesus.

"A continuing incarnation, however, enthrones Jesus in direct relationship to the world and its rulers. There is a real, human king who reigns over the world from heaven. A man who once walked among us is on the throne, and he is not aloof from the affairs of his realm below. All other powers on earth, therefore, are merely temporary and derived. As Paul asserted, 'there is no authority except that which God has established' (Romans 13:1). This, then, is truly a threatening message to any who make claims of their own sovereignty. It is no wonder that earthly rulers wish to silence the church with violence...

"Jesus in ascending has been crowned as the sovereign of this world. Cleaving to this reality, the church has from the beginning been able to thrive amidst the worst persecution. So an old man exiled on a barren island could send comfort to suffering congregations in the name of 'Jesus Christ ... the firstborn from the dead, the ruler of the kings of the earth' (Revelation 1:5)...

"With this understanding, the church cannot simply go after the world in its pursuit of the pleasures of the moment, nor can the church let the world go unchecked in its injustice and destructiveness. Today, even as the church loses its voice in the culture, we may recover the understanding of the ascension as a triumphant enthronement. In this way, we may strengthen our identity as citizens of heaven in exile, acting now as loving subversives for the kingdom of Christ..." Gerrit Scott Dawson, "Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ's Continuing Incarnation"


Pastor Jack said...

I am certain you will understand if I speak of this post as "heartwarming"!

Chad Richard Bresson said...

Pastor Jack, my heart is warmed for no other reason than you speak of the post at all. :-)

Max J. Strange said...

Oh my goodness. That second paragraph is one of the best paragraphs I've ever read. Not only for the depth of insight, but for the reality it paints! This whole quote speaks of an authority inherent in the bodily ascension of Christ. If Christ is merely "dissolved into the heavens" like an alka seltzer with no physicality, just some vapor-like ghost, then the church and correspondingly the world will loose the tension it should rightly be under. When the church looses the reality of the Corpus Christi tangibilibus (Physical body of Christ), God's people loose the tension they are meant to be under. We are meant to be looking over our shoulder in the midst of every deed and thought for a bodily person to descend on the world stage. If this stress is lost, the author is accurate. We will be aloof and we will dabble with the darkness and show the rulers of this world that they too don't have nothing to fear concerning a real and physical Sovereign who will rock the world with ten toes at His descent. The only bad part about this quote is that it comes from a book that costs $50 bucks!

David Mohler said...

Well written.

Jason Strange said...

Great read...Read this and thought of 1 Corinthians 15:50, "I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

and before that...", 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.

42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. 44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body. 45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”;[e] the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. 47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. 48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall[f] also bear the image of the man of heaven."

Does 1 Corinthians 15:50 create any unrest here? The article says Jesus is in Heaven with flesh and blood...I had always thought that he ascended physically in a human body now glorified...which seems to be the same and yet different...if the perishable does not inherit the imperishable does the resurrection change this, or did Christ undergo a metamorphic change when he put on the imperishables of a new body for a new imperishable world....one that may not need blood coursing through his veins...would that be a possibility or does that idea minimize his humanity and his representative role as the Last Adam?