Friday, 22 September 2006

Theology for beginners (15): Ascent

Summary: God’s deity in Jesus is the event of salvation, in which our humanness is raised up into fellowship with God.

We have seen that, in the death of Jesus, God’s deity descends to us as our salvation. But that is not the end of the story. For the man Jesus is raised up by God. And in this raising, in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we too are raised into fellowship with God.

Our salvation, then, consists both in this descent and this ascent – in the humiliation of God and the exaltation of our humanity. Both these events take place in the history of Jesus – or rather, Jesus is this twofold event of divine humiliation and human exaltation. This event, this movement in which God is lowered and we are lifted – this is our salvation.

The dead man Jesus is raised into fellowship with God. His human life is transformed and translated into the new life of God’s future. Just as Jesus has dedicated himself wholly to the will of God, so now God expresses his unqualified acceptance of Jesus. Jesus becomes the first fully human person – the first human being to arrive at the true goal of created humanity. In his resurrection from the dead, Jesus is lifted into the future, into the final goal that has awaited creation right from the beginning. Above all, this means that the man Jesus is raised into perfect fellowship with God. He is gathered up into the life of God’s coming kingdom – the kingdom for which we humans were created.

In all this, the man Jesus stands in our place. Just as God had descended into the depths to take our place, so too this particular human being is lifted into fellowship with God on our behalf and in union with us. In the raising of Jesus, we too are raised. The exaltation of Jesus is the exaltation of our humanity: along with the crucified Jesus, we are lifted from our darkness and are led towards the future life of God’s kingdom. This is our salvation.

Salvation means wholeness. It means that my entire life is held together as a unified whole. It means perfect harmony and completion. And this is exactly what takes place in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. My own humanness – so fragile and fragmented and scarred – is now completed and made whole.

Beforehand, my life was like a story with no conclusion – there was no proper end that could bring unity and wholeness to my life. But the man Jesus is raised into the life of the future, so that he himself appears as the true goal of my life-story. And so now, in him, my life-story is completed and unified at last. The fragments are picked up and pieced together – and, like a stained glass window, even the fragmentation of my life now contributes to the beauty of the whole. My life is transformed by the risen man Jesus into a new life, a life that is whole and complete for the first time – a life whose wholeness lies solely in the risen Jesus himself!

This, then, is the event of salvation. In the death of Jesus, God descends to us and meets us as the God who is our friend – and in the resurrection of Jesus, our humanness is lifted into the healing life of God’s future, so that we are completed and made whole.

This is our salvation: God descends to us, and we are raised up to God! God becomes like us, so that we can become like him! And these two movements of descent and ascent are simply two aspects of exactly the same event: the event of God’s deity in the humanity of Jesus. That is our salvation: “Immanuel,” God with us, now and forever, in the crucified and risen Jesus!

Further reading

  • Balthasar, Hans Urs von. The Glory of the Lord, Vol. 7 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1989), pp. 239-317.
  • Barth, Karl. Church Dogmatics IV/2 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1958).
  • Bauckham, Richard. God Crucified: Monotheism and Christology in the New Testament (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1998), pp. 56-69.
  • Berkhof, Hendrikus. Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 307-319.
  • Kasper, Walter. Jesus the Christ (London: Burns & Oates, 1976), pp. 197-225.
  • Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus – God and Man (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1968), pp. 365-97.
  • Torrance, T. F. The Mediation of Christ (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1992).

12 Comments:

churchpundit said...

Thanks for the VERY thoughtful post! I will never forget the impact Barth had on me one day when I was reading his commentary on Romans, when he explained so well that in Jesus, being wholly God and wholly man, is the perfect union of the two. It is in him where my perfect fellowship with God is found. thus spoke churchpundit!

kim fabricius said...

Excellent, as usual, Ben, as was "Descent". Without splitting hairs, one searches in vain for anything with which to disagree with you about, and one is grateful for your sharpness and concision.

But a question - one that covers all the loci you're covering, really. For Barth, theology and ethics are inextricably connected. To re-coin a Kantian phrase, doctrine without ethics is empty, ethics without doctrine is blind.

To wit, the ascension of Christ has been called the most political of all Christian doctrines - Christ as cosmic Lord who rules not just the church but the world with truth and grace. Any thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I've just posted on Bonino on Barth on my blog from Argentina.

Ben Myers said...

Good to hear from you, Rachel, and thanks for your excellent post.

Churchpundit: I agree, this is really one of the greatest themes of Barth's theology.

Kim: Thanks for raising this point. I agree about the political implications here, even though I haven't had the space to discuss these implications. But you'll be glad to know that I've just finished drafting the post entitled "Freedom" -- the theme of this post is that the Lordship of the risen Jesus sets us free from all other social, political and economic "lords".

byron said...

Again, I feel I am missing something. I find these posts quite moving, yet many of your phrases sound adoptionist:
The dead man Jesus is raised into fellowship with God. His human life is transformed and translated into the new life of God’s future. Just as Jesus has dedicated himself wholly to the will of God, so now God expresses his unqualified acceptance of Jesus. Jesus becomes the first fully human person – the first human being to arrive at the true goal of created humanity.
I'd love to hear further thoughts you might have on this issue.

Terry said...

Can a truly biblical christology be articulated without it sounding adoptionist (which isn't the same as it being adoptionist)?

byron said...

Why is that terry?

D.W. Congdon said...

Ben,

You did a phenomenal job of summarizing CD IV.2 in just a few hundred words. Excellent post!

Ben Myers said...

I quite like Terry's point -- since a christology "from below" has to start with the man Jesus, not simply with a theology of pre-existence or incarnation.

Thanks, David: I'm glad you noticed the echoes of CD IV!

Terry said...

I guess Ben makes my point, Byron - the writers of the New Testament were dealing with this man Jesus and only upon reflection realised that he was God acting amongst them. They didn't start with Chalcedonian categories - which isn't, of course, to say that Chalcedonian categories are wrong. But it's a matter of how we understand them. I don't think Scripture tries to assert that Jesus is fully God, fully human by means of trying to reconcile them, as I think much modern christology tries to do. It's a question of identity: this man is this God.

Ben Myers said...

Terry said: "it's a question of identity" -- yes, absolutely! Richard Bauckham's superb little book makes this point with great force and clarity.

Terry said...

And so I bet you can't guess which book's on my 'to read' list!

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