Book Review: Patrick Schreiner, The Ascension of Christ: Recovering a Neglected Doctrine

Schreiner, Patrick. The Ascension of Christ: Recovering a Neglected Doctrine. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2020. xvi+127 pp.; Pb.  $10.99  Link to Lexham Press  Link to Logos Bible Software

This brief volume in Lexham’s Snapshots Series edited by Michael Bird focuses on what Schreiner considers a neglected doctrine, the Ascension of Christ.

The first chapter orients the reader to the doctrine of the ascension. For Schreiner, “the ascension is the key plot moment, the hinge on with Christ’s work turns” (xvi). One reason the ascension is often overlooked is an emphasis on the resurrection in Christian worship. Although Schreiner does not put it this way, Protestant Christians who do not follow liturgical calendars rarely celebrate “Ascension Sunday.” Most evangelical pastors are back to their regularly scheduled sermon series immediately after Easter. He makes this observation in the book’s conclusion, stating that most low-church traditions considered the ascension a “forgettable event” (115).

Schreiner, AscensionSchreiner argues the ascension of Christ is far more important than a brief footnote to the resurrection. It is spoken of in the New Testament more often than as soon, and it is included in the first Christian sermons. He considers the ascension to be a “canonical hinge” between the ages. The ascension is when Jesus begins to reign, and only after he has ascended all the Father’s right hand does he send the Holy Spirit to his people. “On the dime of the ascension, the Bible transitions from the age of Jesus to the age of the church” (13). It is possible another author could write a book on the importance of Pentecost and use that same language. It is important to see the entire Jesus event is including the incarnation, the death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Each of these events are important for understanding the Christ event.

The following three chapters use the rubric “prophet, priest and king” to present the ascension as the culmination of the mission of Jesus. Each chapter presents a brief description of a prophet, priest, and king in the Old Testament and then shows how Christ fulfills these roles in his ministry. The ascension is the culmination of Christ’s work since he now performs his role as prophet, priest, and king from heaven and through his church. Here Schreiner is following the popular view that Adam served as a prophet, priest, king in the garden. After the fall these roles pass to Israel and are ultimately fulfilled in Christ and are now the activity of the church.

Of these three roles, it is easiest to see the role of king in the completed in the ascension. The ascension is essentially an enthronement, Christ is returning to the right hand of the Father. Schreiner says, “Jesus rose to the Father, he was installed and recognized as Lord of all. The ascension and session were the triumph of the king” (89). As expected, the role of priesthood focus is almost entirely on the book of Hebrews. In the ascension, Jesus completes his ministry as a priest by presenting his blood in the heavenly tent. Regarding Jesus as prophet, Schreiner argues the Spirit empowered Jesus to proclaim the word of God and performed signs and wonders to demonstrate the authority of his preaching. In the ascension, Christ pours out the Spirit to empower his witnesses so that they will continue to speak the gospel. He downplays the importance of performing signs and wonders by saying that the ascension made Christ the head of the body, which is his hands and feet on the earth.

The final chapter seeks to position the ascension in relation to other doctrines. With respect to the Trinity, the Messiah’s ascent “finds its meaning, coherency, and significant from the triune God” (103). The ascension fulfills and completes the goals of the incarnation, including Christ’s work on the cross. He argues the ascension both confirms and reveals the truth of the cross (107).

By way of critique, I find the lack of Philippians 2:5-11 in this treatment of the ascension problematic. This important early theological statement concerning the incarnation, humiliation and exaltation of Christ is only mentioned in passing late in the book. It is not difficult to read “God has highly exalted him” as a reference to the ascension. In addition, the ascension is only narrated in Acts 1. Schreiner is correct that the ascension is an enthronement of Christ as king, but this point could be made more forcefully by seeing the ascension in Acts 1 in the light of imperial language at the announcement of this birth in Luke 2:8–14. Jesus is clearly described as the Lord, the Messiah at the beginning of both volumes of Luke-Acts. The birth narrative represents the incarnation; the ascension is the exaltation of the incarnate Lord.

The goal of the Snapshots series is to engage “significant issues in contemporary biblical scholarship” and make them “accessible to busy students of the word and applicable in the life of the church.” Schreiner presents the essential ideas of the ascension of Jesus in a clear and cogent manner, one that focuses on both the theological importance of the ascension and the practical application of the ascension in the church’s life today.

NB: Thanks to Lexham Press for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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