Michael Scott Horton, ‘Transforming Culture with a Messiah Complex’ (9Marks, November/December, 2007).
Today – 21 May 2009 – is Ascension Day…
Michael Scott Horton has written in several places about the significance of the ascension, including in the above essay from which I freely draw here.
The ascension, recorded by Luke (Luke 24:50-53; Acts 1:6-11) often gets bound up with the resurrection rather than treated as an event in its own right. In fact, Jesus’ ascension opens up a stage within history that keeps us looking forward to his return.
In ascending, Jesus does not abandon history. On the contrary, arguably he redefines all that has gone before. The time that the church now occupies because of the ascension is defined neither by full presence nor full absence, but by a tension between ‘this age’ and ‘the age to come’.
In such a situation, the church, as the body of Christ, can come to see itself as his visible and earthly replacement – his ‘incarnation’ on earth. In fact, however, Horton discourages such talk of the church being the continuing incarnation of Christ, the active agent of redemption, which completes the work that Christ came to accomplish.
The problem with the language of the church being ‘incarnational’, he holds, is that it risks depriving Christ of his specificity and uniqueness. His person and work becomes a ‘model’ or ‘vision’ for ecclesial action rather than a completed event to which the church bears witness.
Moreover, the substitution of the church for Christ’s incarnation and reconciling work risks distracting our attention from Christ’s parousia. The church needs to acknowledge Christ’s ‘absence’ as well as his presence. And this shapes the way we minister and engage in culture meanwhile, and what we might rightly expect as we do so, looking forward to the time when he returns in glory and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and of his Christ.
Meanwhile, we are called to increase in godliness through the ordinary means of grace in the church. And in our secular vocations we are called to ‘aspire to lead a quite life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside and that you may lack nothing’ (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12).