"He Descended to the Dead": An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday, By Matthew Y. Emerson alt

"He Descended to the Dead"

An Evangelical Theology of Holy Saturday

by Matthew Y. Emerson

"He Descended to the Dead"
  • Length: 272 pages
  • Dimensions: 0 × 0 in
  • Published: December 24, 2019
  • Imprint: IVP Academic
  • Item Code: 7053
  • ISBN: 9780830870530

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Christianity Today Book Award
The Gospel Coalition Book Award

"I believe he descended to the dead."

The descent of Jesus Christ to the dead has been a fundamental tenet of the Christian faith, as indicated by its inclusion in both the Apostles' and Athanasian Creeds. Falling between remembrance of Christ's death on Good Friday and of his resurrection on Easter Sunday, this affirmation has been a cause for Christian worship and reflection on Holy Saturday through the centuries.

At the same time, the descent has been the subject of suspicion and scrutiny, perhaps especially from evangelicals, some of whom do not find support for it within Scripture and have even called for it to be excised from the creeds.

Against this conflicted landscape, Matthew Emerson offers an exploration of the biblical, historical, theological, and practical implications of the descent. Led by the mystery and wonder of Holy Saturday, he encourages those who profess faith in Christ to consider the whole work of our Savior.

"It would be an understatement to say the descent of Christ is overlooked in the evangelical tradition. Emerson puts our eyes back on this important event and demonstrates how it is biblical, historical, and clarifies and informs other doctrines. Once you see the descent, it is hard to go back to neglecting it. This book shines a helpful light on this derelict doctrine. Tolle lege."

Patrick Schreiner, assistant professor of New Testament language and literature, Western Seminary

"Matthew Emerson has ably recovered a theology of Holy Saturday, Christ's descent into the place of death, for churches that are normally suspicious about ancient creeds. He shows that it is biblical, theologically necessary, integral to the work of Christ, and even intrinsic to the very identity of the God we worship. A concise and convincing account of a contested topic."

Michael F. Bird, academic dean and lecturer in theology at Ridley College in Melbourne, Australia

"A treasure trove of biblical and theological wisdom! Matthew Emerson has read everything on the subject. For Catholics, his correction of Balthasar needs to be listened to—especially given that, with Balthasar and the creedal tradition, he insists upon the profound importance of Christ's descent to the dead. This book is a word that needs saying in our death-despairing age."

Matthew Levering, James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology, Mundelein Seminary

"Emerson's book retrieves a seriously neglected yet helpful doctrine—Christ's descent to the dead—with exegetical insight, theological acumen, and a pastoral heart. I highly recommend it."

Walter R. Strickland II, Associate Vice President for Kingdom Diversity Initiatives and assistant professor, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

"I can't recall the last time I read a new book that gave me so much insight into an event from the mission of Jesus Christ. In this retrieval of the doctrine of Christ's descent to the dead, Emerson clears away misconceptions, corrects erroneous interpretations, establishes solid foundations, and explores the vast implications of this single line of the classic creed. This book deserves a wide readership but will be especially helpful for evangelicals who have mumbled their way through, or have misunderstood, the creedal descent clause."

Fred Sanders, professor at the Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University

"Matthew Emerson has given us here a major study of the historic, but too often distorted and neglected, doctrine of the descent of Jesus Christ to the dead. In doing so, he demonstrates the coinherence of biblical and historical theology and their relevance for the Christian life."

Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and general editor of the Reformation Commentary on Scripture

"This is a tour de force! Emerson has given us a superbly written, incisively argued volume that makes the case for a doctrine that is often neglected or rejected outright by Protestants, illuminating many facets of its theological, liturgical, and pastoral importance along the way. Not everyone will agree with all the details, but this is an outstanding biblical, historical, and theological survey of Christ's descent to the dead. I expect it to become the benchmark Protestant account of the subject for years to come, and it also opens up rich and fruitful avenues for further exploration."

Suzanne McDonald, professor of systematic and historical theology at Western Theological Seminary



Part I: Biblical, Historical, and Theological Foundations
1. "I Believe": Evangelicalism, Creedal Authority, and the Descent
2. "He Descended to the Dead": A Biblical Defense of the Descent
3. "On the Third Day He Rose from the Dead and Ascended into Heaven": A Historical Defense of the Descent

Part II: The Descent and Christian Dogmatics
4. "God the Father Almighty . . . Jesus Christ, His Only Son, Our Lord . . . and the Holy Spirit": Classical Trinitarianism and the Descent
5. "Maker of Heaven and Earth": The Descensus and the Doctrine of Creation
6. "Conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary": Christological Anthropology in Descent Perspective
7. "The Forgiveness of Sins": The Descent and the Doctrine of Salvation
8. "The Holy Catholic Church and the Communion of Saints": The Descent and Ecclesiology
9. "The Resurrection of the Body and the Life Everlasting": The Descent and Eschatology

Part III: The Descent and the Christian Life
10. "Amen": Pastoral and Practical Implications of the Descent
Author Index
Subject Index
Scripture Index


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