Interview: discussing the doctrine of the Ascension with Dr. James F. McGrath

In this interview with Prof. James McGrath, the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University, we talked about the Christian doctrine of the Ascension, how it has been understood, how it should be understood, how it connects to the Parousia, and why any of this matters at all. I hope you enjoy!

Here are the questions I asked Prof. McGrath:

  1. Explain to my students why I’m talking to you about this subject. In other words, what’s the focus of your research and academic career?
  2. This week my students will be reading the Resurrection Narratives in the (canonical) Gospels. They’ll notice that only the Gospel of Luke mentions Jesus’ ascension directly (though there’s a sense that Jesus will be departing soon in the others). Why is this?
  3. If I were living in the first century, and I was told that the Messiah had gone to be with the Father but would return, and that when he had gone to be with the Father he ascended into the sky, how would I have understood this? Would I have thought he went into the sky, literally? Would I have understood this to be a metaphor?
  4. What purpose did the doctrine of the Ascension serve for early Christians and their proclamation of the Gospel? In other words, what’ the point of the doctrine?
  5. As modern people, our cosmology is different from that of the ancients. In your opinion, how should modern Christians understand the doctrine of the Ascension? Does it have worth today?
  6. The Ascension seems to be connected closely to another doctrine that my students will encounter soon: the Parousia or ‘Second Coming/Appearing’ of Jesus. What’s the connection between the Ascension and the Parousia? 
  7. While many of my students identify as Christian, many others don’t. In your opinion, why is studying ancient texts like the Gospels of the Book of Acts, and thinking about Christian doctrines like the Ascension, valuable exercises? Are they valuable for Christians only or is there a reason that non-Christians should have at least an academic interest in these topics? 

3 Replies to “Interview: discussing the doctrine of the Ascension with Dr. James F. McGrath”

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