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Book Review: The Ascension of Christ by Patrick Schreiner

September 11th, 2020 | 7 min read

By KJ Drake

It is de rigeur to begin any work on the ascension with the contemporary church’s neglect of the doctrine. Despite numerous books published on the ascension in the past generation and the prominence of the doctrine in the creeds this declamation is still warranted.[1] Christ’s ascent from the earthly sphere to take his place at the right hand of God the Father, and all the consequences that flow from this movement, still fail to grip the church that Christ establishes by this event. The ascension, far from a piece of theological trivia, is the linchpin of the work of the incarnate Christ and a sine qua non of the Church’s life and faithfulness. Patrick Schreiner’s entry in Lexham Press’s Snapshots Series offers an account of Christ’s ascension to reshape our view of Jesus in all the fullness of the continued ministry.

Why is a clear understanding of the ascension so necessary? Because without reflection on the ascension, Christ remains a figure of the past without agency and continued activity in the present. As a mere figure of history Christ can be shaped and molded to the whims of the age and lacks any say in the matter. The ascension of Christ precludes such idolatry. The eternal Son who became flesh does not end his ministry with the cross and resurrection, but he ascends to the Father bearing our flesh, now glorified, into the very presence of God the Father and sends the Holy Spirit, culminating the Triune God’s plan to restore creation. The ascended Christ is our contemporary dwelling in heaven, God’s space and time, to continue his redemption of and rule over earth, our space and time, until he comes again to unite them in the new heaven and new earth. Christ speaks, intercedes, and reigns not merely in the past nor in the eschatological future, but now as the Ascended Lord.

The goal of the book is to give the ascension of Christ a “better narrative and theological positioning,” in order to counteract the neglect of the ascension in the church. Schreiner accomplishes this by reflecting on the importance of the ascension ordered around Christ’s offices as prophet, priest, and king. The work concludes with a chapter on the theological ramifications of the ascension for other theological topics. Schreiner’s concise treatment brings together the best in exegesis and biblical theology with a keen eye for dogmatic concerns, especially in the concluding chapter.

For each office of Christ, Schreiner offers a biblical theological overview of Christ’s earthly fulfillment of the office supported through studies of OT precedents and typological patterns, showing how the ascension “shifted Christ’s threefold work into a new epoch” (115). The act of the ascent and the subsequent acts of the Ascended Christ — Pentecost, Heavenly Intercession, and Session (Christ’s sitting down at the right hand of the Father) — are expounded in this context showing Christ’s continued mission in the time between his first and second comings. The Church’s existence and mission takes its power from these acts in its own derivative calling to exhibit Christ’s offices of prophet, priest, and king. These ecclesiological implications are particularly profitable for establishing the implications of the ascension for the Church’s mission.

Each chapter offers a brief but insightful account of the irreducible effects of the Ascension and Christ’s subsequent works with insights into other theological topics. Christ as ascended prophet and sender of the Holy Spirit offers a foundation for the doctrine of Scripture. Christ as ascended priest presents the blood of his once for all sacrifice before the Father and continual intercession for his people as the foundation for the assurance of salvation. Christ the ascended King reigns as Lord of the Church and extends the victory of the Cross over all powers of darkness and Satan. This explanation of Christ’s offices is up to the task of offering a coherent account of Christ’s exalted ministry but not without some shortcomings. The acts and effects of the ascended Christ do not always fit neatly into this schema, which can result in overlooking or displacing significant features of Christ’s work.

Pentecost, for instance, is treated primarily in terms of Christ’s prophetic work but Schreiner must also employ it with reference to Christ’s other offices without a full treatment. The ascended Christ sends the spirit as king, Christ as Lord has the authority to send the Spirit, and as priest, the Spirit is sent as the comforter and applies the sacrificial blood to the Church. Pentecost and the Ascension as fundamental revelatory acts of the Triune God would be more accurately treated together directly under each office of Christ. Yet such minor defects are understandable given the concise nature of the work and are overcome by the usefulness of the triplex munus to order the account.

One of the great strengths of Schreiner’s work is his presentation of the OT typology that underlies the meaning of Christ’s ascension. The ascension does not come out of nowhere, but had been prefigured throughout the Old Testament as the culmination of the Messiah’s coming. Schreiner makes good use of the standard OT precedents: the assumption of Elijah, the ascent of Moses at Sinai, and enthronement of the Messianic king in the Psalms (esp. Pss 2 and 110). He also draws typological connection to more overlooked aspects, which gives his treatment a more contoured view of OT expectation. Schreiner picks up on ascent and decent themes in the creation and fall narratives as well as the symbolic architecture of the Tabernacle and temple, which make for a well-rounded picture.

In his concluding chapter, Schreiner puts the ascension in its proper theological place, reflecting on its interwoven relationship to the Trinity, the incarnation, the cross, and eschatology. He shows effectively that the ascension cannot be considered in isolation, but neither can the rest of Christ’s work be thought of properly without reckoning with his ascent into heaven. As Schreiner notes, rather than overshadowing other doctrines, “a healthy emphasis on the ascension lifts them up” (101).

Schriener presents an introductory yet rich exposition of the ascension for a popular Christian audience. The book offers a thoroughly biblical and theological glimpse into the significance of this disregarded act of Christ and its implications for the Church today. Its great advantage over the many other works to tackle this topic is its concision and accessibility, which might finally render the continued warnings of the Church’s neglect of the ascension unnecessary.

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  1. Peter Toon, The Ascension of Our Lord (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984); Douglas Farrow, Ascension and Ecclesia: On the Significance of the Doctrine of the Ascension for Ecclesiology and Christian Cosmology (Edinburgh; Grand Rapids, MI: T&T Clark; Eerdmans, 1999); Gerrit Dawson, Jesus Ascended: The Meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation (London; New York: T&T Clark, 2004); Douglas B. Farrow, Ascension Theology (London: T&T Clark, 2011); Peter C. Orr, Exalted Above the Heavens: The Risen and Ascended Christ (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2019).