Ascension Theology, by Douglas Farrow

A  friend of mine, a professional scholar of the New Testament but no great fan of attempts (such as Rudolf Bultmann's) to "demythologize" its witness, recently told me about his visit to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. Standing there in the arid wind, the geography of the place adamantine, vivid and real to him for the first time, my friend felt the force of Bultmann's and others' efforts to translate some of the New Testament's events into conceptualities more readily accessible for us post-Enlightenment folk. "Jesus actually ascended? Right here from this rocky outcrop? Next thing I know, I'm supposed to believe he was wearing a cape and a superhero mask!" my friend joked.

Within the Chapel of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, theologian Douglas Farrow writes in Ascension Theology, "one is directed to a footprint-like depression in the rock, said to be the exact point from which Christ parted from his disciples and from our world—as if he sprang into the heavens with such vigour that the very rock underneath his feet was compressed in the act!" For Farrow, it's precisely this absurdly material construal of the ascension—minus the mask and cape—that represents the real promise of the doctrine for theology and spirituality today.

Farrow, a professor of Christian thought at McGill University in Mont­real, is best known for his monograph Ascension and Ecclesia: On the Signif­icance of the Doctrine of the Ascension for Ecclesiology and Christian Cos­mology, a study that Princeton's Ellen Charry hailed as "nothing less than a theological breakthrough" when it appeared in 1999. In that book Farrow, then a Protestant in the Anglican fold, suggested that the patchy biblical record of the ascension—accounts of it are offered only in Luke 24:50–51 and Acts 1:6–11, while the theologies of Paul, John and Hebrews arguably assume some version of it—might yield more resources for Christian faith than one might think. Now, in the wake of his conversion to Catholicism, Farrow offers in Ascension Theology a more accessible version of the same argument, aimed at "the adventurous undergraduate, the seminarian and . . . the person in the pew."