Sunday, October 05, 2008

The Real Absence of Christ

Michael Horton begins People and Place, the fourth and final volume of his project to integrate systematic and biblical theology around the locus of covenant, with a description of what he calls the "eucharistic tension" that results from Christ's real absence and real presence.

The key, Horton argues, is a proper doctrine of the ascension. If, as the angel insisted, Jesus will descend from heaven in like manner as he ascended to heaven, then our view of the age to come is bound up in our understanding of what happened 40 days after Easter Sunday.

"One problem in the history of interpretation," Horton argues, "has been to treat the ascension as little more than a dazzling exclammation point for the resurrection rather than as a new event iin its own right." When we do this, Horton argues (citing Maddox), "resurrection comes to mean 'going to heaven,' which in some theologies makes it rather hard to distinguish from dying!" But when we realize that there is a direct correlation between Jesus' going and coming, we will avoid any Gnostic ideas about what the age to come will be like.

"Thus the 'earthiness' of the redeemed creation in the consummation depends entirely on whether the ascension was a historical, bodily, and pneumatologically constituted event. If Jesus is the firstfruits, a docetic ascension requires a docetic consummation."
Horton concludes by saying that the church emerges in the context of Jesus' absence after his ascension. Still, our Lord is not fully absent, nor is he fully present with us. This in-between time that obtains in this present age is defined by the eucharistic tension between this age and the age to come.

It seems to me that evangelicalism's lack of appreciation for the church stems from a faulty notion of the presence of Christ, and correspondingly, a failure to truly recognize his absence. Simply put, Jesus isn't here anymore, at least not in the way he once was. The fact of the matter is, the way we know him is through his church, the way we hear him is through his preached Word, and the way we "taste and see that the Lord is good" is by receiving the bread and cup of Communion.

If this won't cut it, then maybe you're more of a Gnostic than you care to admit....