Crisp, Oliver D. The Word Enfleshed: Exploring the Person and Work of Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2016.
As with all of Oliver Crisp’s works, this volume brings rigorous analytical clarity to weighty discussions. Furthermore, the essays are connected. Some of Crisp’s earlier works (i.e., Retrieving Doctrine) seem more like collections of essays, even though they are quite good. This is a valuable intermediate-level text for Christology.
Eternal Generation and Paul Helm
Crisp explores some “varieties of Arianism,” so to speak and whether Paul Helm’s criticisms of eternal generation (EG) hold water.
The problem for adherents of EG: “if God the Father eternally causes the existence of God the Son, then his existence is logically dependent on the eternal causal action of the Father” (Crisp 5).
Response #1: Logically dependent isn’t temporally dependent, so Arianism is blocked. Another important point is that since this generating act is spiritual and non-physical–its being generated from within the mind of God–it is “an eternal divine act of internal self-differentiation” (13). It is a “de re” necessary relation, so Helm’s claim that it moves economy into ontology doesn’t work (though this might be a problem for ESS).
Christ Without Flesh
Crisp rebuts Robert Jenson’s later criticisms of the logos asarkos. Robert Jenson notoriously claimed that Christ is identical to the 2nd Person of the Trinity. This has the bizarre implication that Jesus’s flesh is eternal.
Jenson might not mean that, though. He clarifies that Christ is the narrative pattern of Israel
Incorporeality and Incarnation
Problem: how can a simple God the Son possess a material body, yet not be made of parts? Crisp gives a fascinating discussion of Neoplatonism and panentheism.
Christological Doctrine of the Image of God
Crisp explores the various proposals for the image of God, calling particular attention to the difficulties in the Plato/Calvin view. If the image of God is what we have to the exclusion of everything else in creation, and I think all sides would agree with that, and if the image is reduced to the soul/rational faculties, then we have the uncomfortable position that angels (and perhaps demons) are also in the image of God. Few want to go down that road.
On the other hand, attempts to get rid of any “substance talk” concerning the image of God and/or human nature don’t work, either. For those who hold that the image is connected with ruling and dominion (which I think it is), we still have substance ideas. Someone who is ruling has the metaphysical properties and capacities for ruling. I think the dominion idea is correct, but you can’t avoid substance-talk.
Desiderata for Models of the Hypostatic Union
Pace Bruce McCormack, we have to deal with substance. Even Barthians like McCormack make claims about the properties or concrete particulars of Christ (78).
The problem: Does Chalcedon commit us to a particular metaphysics?
(1) The Son didn’t assume a personal human nature. This is the an/enhypostatic distinction.
(2) For Chalcedon, a hypostasis “was essentially a particular individual within a universal species, identifiable as such or such a thing by the qualities” it/he/she shares with other individuals (Daley, quoted by Crisp, 86).
(3) Persons are concrete things. A person is a substance (or supposit) that instantiates a substance-kind by a de re relation.
(4) This does not entail Nestorianism, though. While almost all human natures are human persons, they don’t strictly have to be. In philosophy a proper part of a person isn’t a person. There is the famous Tibbles-the-Cat experiment. Tibbles is a cat with all of the properties of a cat. He has 1,000 hairs on his fur. He also has the property part of all of Tibbles’ hairs-minus-one (T -1). Does that constitute a new cat? What if he also has the part T -2, and so on until T -999?
(4*) Therefore, God the Son, though he has the property of human nature, is still only a divine person and not also a human person.
The Union Account of the Atonement
What’s the difference between a “model” of the atonement and a “metaphor,” with the latter term being more popular today? A model of the atonement is a thicker description. It actually–with varying degrees of success–attempts to explain the “mechanism” for how the atonement works. Metaphors don’t do that. Crisp (rightly) opts for models in this chapter.
Aulen: Ransom/Christus Victor. Gustav Aulen’s historiography has been thoroughly criticized. So does his claim work on the deeper level? No. It seems that the ransom is being paid to the devil.
Anselm: Satisfaction. God’s nature requires that he be satisfied for the wrongs against him. Human sin was committed against an infinite good and requires an infinite sacrifice. The strength of this view is that it actually explains the mechanism better than earlier views. There are some problems, though. Nothing is said about penal substitution. It isn’t necessary for Anselm’s view, so Protestants might balk at this point.
Crisp then discusses the moral and penal views, with the standard arguments pro and con. His own view, so it seems, is what he calls a “Union Account.” He has Augustine’s philosophical realism do “all the heavy lifting” (130). If traducianism (T) holds (and I think it does), then there is no injustice in God’s punishing me for Adam. I am metaphysically united to Adam.
There are some difficulties at this point, though none of them are fatal. If T obtains, then there isn’t any need for imputation language. Further, are souls fissile? Crisp says no. I think they might be, so that’s not a problem for my traducianism. Further, if T obtains and if the issues resolving sin and human nature are resolved, this doesn’t explain anything about the actual atonement. T only works regarding sin, not righteousness.
Crisp then augments his view with a “mystical union” account. He doesn’t actually develop it in this chapter. He does pick up some ideas in the following chapter on the Spirit and Christ.
The Spirit’s Role in Union with Christ
This section gets interesting as Crisp ties in Nevin’s realism with Edwards four-dimensional ontology and identity with time.
There is some overlap in the book and Crisp does use material from previous essays. Nevertheless, there is a conceptual “flow” to the book.