Chapter 7 of NT Wright’s Surprised by Hope deals mostly with the idea of “the ascension”: the event of Jesus going to heaven. Wright argues if we misunderstand the ascension, then we get into some murky theology.
The part of this chapter that struck me the most are these two sentences:
“What happens when you downplay or ignore the ascension? The answer is that the church expands to fill the vacuum. If Jesus is more or less identical with the church—if, that is talk about Jesus can be reduced to talk about his presence within his people rather than standing over against them and addressing them from elsewhere as their Lord, then we have created a high road to the worst form of triumphalism.” p. 112
I believe see the affects of ignoring or downplaying the ascension in North American Christianity’s decline, in the United Methodist Church in particular. For too long, instead viewing the church as a means to God’s ends, we made the church the end in and of itself. Instead of proclaiming a Risen Jesus, who transforms lives and the entire cosmos, who is Lord over heaven and earth, the church proclaimed an institutional message that forgot who was the Creator and who was the created.
Having a healthy view of the ascension allows us as Wright states, “to give up the struggle to be God (and with it the inevitable despair at our constant failure), and to enjoy our status as creatures: image-bearing creatures, but creatures nonetheless.” P. 114
In other words we acknowledge that Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth…including the church…including our lives. Then we seek to live out God’s agenda and not our own.