Exalted Above the Heavens: The Risen and Ascended Christ. By Peter C. Orr. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2018. 238 pp. Paper, $25.00.
This book by Peter Orr is part of the New Studies in Biblical Theology (NSBT) series. The primary purpose of the book is to address something that is lacking in Christological studies. Such studies usually address what Jesus has done (life, death, and resurrection) and what He will do (return and reign). Works that deal with Christ in His exalted state are rare (p. 1).
The book is conservative throughout and takes a high view of the Scriptures. The author discusses what continuity exists between the “earthly” Jesus and the exalted Lord. There is a continuity, but there is also a change. Only after the resurrection does He obtain the name above all names (Phil 2:9). Orr says it is only then that Jesus experiences the full expression of His identity as Son, Lord, and Christ (pp. 35-36).
One of the best treatments in the book is the relationship of Jesus with the Spirit. Some verses, such as 2 Cor 3:17, seem to equate the Spirit with the Lord Jesus. Orr’s position is that Paul does not identify the Spirit with Jesus. However, in their impact on the Christian, they are “inextricably linked.” Both the Spirit and Christ are divine, but they can be distinguished. The Spirit is called by Paul the “Spirit of the Lord.” This means that the Spirit is perfectly suited to mediate Christ. For the believer, to encounter the Spirit is to encounter Christ (pp. 46-52).
Even though the Spirit and Christ are not to be equated, to have the Spirit is to have Christ (Rom 8:9-10). Christ is bodily absent from earth, but since believers have the Spirit, they experience the presence of Christ (John 14:23; pp. 37-44, 60).
In chapter four, Orr discusses the relationship of the exalted Christ with the Church (pp. 63-75). Based upon 1 Cor 12:12, he concludes that after the resurrection, we can conceive of Christ as a corporate Person who is united spiritually with the bodies of believers.
This reviewer particularly enjoyed Orr’s discussion in chap. 6 about the body of Christ (pp. 99-113). He maintains that Jesus, in His exaltation, retains a body and cannot be “collapsed” into being identical to the Spirit or the Church. Philippians 3 teaches that Jesus, though exalted, has an “ongoing humanity.” As such, the Lord will bring human believers to glory.
Probably the weakest part of the book is chap. 8, which deals with the “epiphanic” presence of Christ in the believer (pp. 133ff ). This refers to any manifestation of the risen Christ to the physical senses. Orr does not say we experience them through the Scriptures. His discussion leaves one with the idea that we can have this through mystical experiences wrought by the Spirit. According to Orr, based upon 2 Corinthians 2–4, the believer can experience Christ in various ways through preaching and seeing suffering, for example.
It is a minor part of the book, but Orr believes in an “already but not yet” view of the kingdom (p. 172). Christ is present in the world in a salvific sense in the churches through the Spirit. At the same time, He is not bodily present.
Orr takes a Reformed/Lordship view of the High Priesthood of Christ. He believes that the warning passages in Hebrews teach us that believers need to persevere in order to enter the kingdom (p. 196). Christ keeps the believer from falling away or not persevering.
In his “Concluding Reflections,” Orr stresses a fact about the exalted Christ that many western Christians have forgotten. Because Jesus has a human bodily existence, believers will also have a body forever. It will be transformed, but it will be a bodily existence as well. Too many Christians think of their future existence in “heaven” as simply floating around on the clouds and see too sharp a distinction between the physical and the spiritual (pp. 200-201).
While JOTGES readers will not agree with everything Orr says, this book has much value. It causes the reader to think about how the exalted Christ is different from the One who conducted His earthly ministry. It also gives different options on how to see the relationship of the Holy Spirit with the Lord, especially in regards to the Church. Orr is correct. We do not spend much time on these topics. I recommend the book.
Kenneth W. Yates
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society