The Word Enfleshed (Oliver Crisp)

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?  

Answer: Probably.

Some conclusions:
(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.  

Review: God Incarnate

I’ve gotten to the point that if someone asks me for a basic book on Christology, I point them to Oliver Crisp. Any of his works. I learned more Christology from this book than in my week long Christology course in seminary. Crisp’s stated goal is to use to the tools of analytic theology to focus on key areas in Christology. Show problems and point to solution. He succeeds magnificently.


try to find the picture where he has a beard

The Election of Jesus Christ

Standard received Reformed view: the sole cause of election is the good pleasure and will of God (Crisp 36). Turretin and others want to deny the claim that Christ’s foreseen merit is the ground of predestination.

Moderate Reformed view: Christ is the ground of election in just one important sense. God decrees election, and he decrees that Christ be one of the ends. Here is where the MRP view points out a tension in the standard treatment: if all of the ad extra works of the Trinity are one, Logos must also be a cause of election, and not just a means.

This section could have done more. I think he pointed out a key insight of the Moderate Reformed group, but he didn’t deal with Bruce McCormack’s reading of Karl Barth (he acknowledged it, though). There is still blood on the ground from the “Companion Controversy.”

Christ and the Embryo

This is where the money is. Chalcedonian Christology demands a pro-life position. If you aren’t willing to use your theology to fight a war to the death against Moloch, then go sit down. This honor isn’t for you. And it gives sometimes strange (yet welcome) implications. For example, human personhood and human nature aren’t the same thing. Christ is fully human, but not a human person.

We need to be clear on this, otherwise we fall prey to Apollinarianism. All humans are created with something like a built-in God-shaped port that the Word can upload himself at the moment of conception. Where this divine upload takes place, the Word prevents the human nature from becoming a human person (107). In other words, if God the Son doesn’t “upload/download” himself into human nature’s hard drive, then personhood begins at conception.

While the demons at Planned Parenthood probably don’t care about Apollinarianism, that line can work well against those who claim a high church conciliar Christology, yet are scared to fight this war. I have in mind the Rachel Held Evans and Calvin College faculty.  If you don’t believe personhood is live at conception (be it divine or human), then you are an Apollinarian.  Now, that should bother the “ancient/liturgy/conciliar” crowd. If you are in that group and you reject the Apollinarian implication, then you probably don’t need to be voting Democrat.  I am not saying you should be Alt Right and posting Crusader memes, but you need to move in that direction.

Materialist Christology

The upshot: not all alternatives to substance dualism are physicalist. Global materialism: the idea that all existing things are essentially material things; there are no immaterial entities. Christian materialists do not necessarily hold this view, as they would acknowledge at least two existing immaterial entities: God and angels.

Global substance dualism: all existing things are composed of matter or spirit (mind), or both matter and spirit. This position can include Christian materialists-about-the-human-person.

The problem in question: can a Christian materialist about the human person hold to Chalcedonian Christology? It initially appears not, as Christ’s has a rational soul? If Christ’s divine mind/soul were to substitute, then Apollinarianism would follow.

Reductive materialists: a human’s mental life can be reduced to some corporeal function.
Non-reductive materialism: the human’s mental life cannot be reduced to some corporeal function.
Property Dualism: a substance that has some properties that are mental and some that are physical.
Substance: a thing of a certain sort that can exist independently of other things of the same sort, has certain causal relations with other substances, and is the bearer of properties (145). A property is an abstract object that either is a universal or functions like one.

Crisp probably should have said why property dualism is false while he was at it.  Nevertheless, a simply grand book.

Review: Retrieving Doctrine (Crisp)

Crisp, Oliver.  Retrieving Doctrine: Essays in Reformed Theology.

Crisp highlights key (but often marginalized) ideas from several Reformed thinkers.  He is “retrieving” aspects of doctrine that aren’t usually talked about.  He analyzes Calvin on Creation, Providence and Prayer; Edwards on Original Sin; Turretin on sin and necessity; Barth on universal salvation, and others.

The book is a short model on how to do analytic theology.  It mostly succeeds.  There are a few chapters where Crisp either spent too much time with too little payout, or not enough time at all.  Nonetheless, some essays, like the ones on Barth and Nevin, score major gains.

Non-Penal Substitution

Crisp examines the argument of John Macleod Campbell who argues for a substitution but one that isn’t penal.  Christ isn’t punished for my sin, but he undergoes some kind of penitential act.  In response Crisp notes that this view doesn’t remove any of the key objections.  It’s not clear how Christ’s “feeling sorry” for my sin actually removes my sin.  Further, it’s not clear on what ground Christ has any right to “feel sorry” for my sin.  Therefore, in response, penal substitution is a more viable model. Or at least, the main criticisms against PS also obtain here.

Karl Barth’s denial of universal salvation

Barth’s problem was that he posited a model of Christology and election that entailed universal salvation, yet he denied this was his teaching.  Crisp shows that it was. Introductory premises:

A1. There is a domain of moral agents comprising all human agents.

A2. By Christ’s death atonement is procured for the sin and guilt of those for whom he died.

(1) Given A1 and A2, Christ’s death atones for the sin of all human agents.

(2) Christ’s death is sufficient for all human agents (CD II/2, p. 271).

(3) This work is completed at the cross.

(4) This work is appropriated, not on the traditional gloss of ‘repent and believe,’ but by agents coming to realize that ‘this is what God in Jesus Christ has done for you’ (Ibid., 317ff).

(5) Christ is the Elect One.

(6) Christ is the Reprobate One.

(7) All human agents are elect only in a derivative sense of having a saving relation to the set of the Elect and its single member, Christ.

(8)The Sin of all human agents is atoned for by Christ, the Reprobate one.

But (8) seems to entail universalism, which Barth does not want.  So perhaps he means it in this sense: 

(8*) All human agents are reprobate only in the derivative sense of having a relation to the set of the reprobate and its single member, Christ.

But this would entail: 

(9) All human agents are simultaneously members of the sets ‘elect-in-Christ’ and ‘reprobate-in-Christ.” 

But this is incoherent.  Therefore, Barth must mean (8) instead of (8*).  Given (8) we now have: 

(9*) All human agents are members of the set ‘elect-in-Christ.’ 

At this point Barth can escape (9*) by affirming some sort of Libertarian free-will, but Barth doesn’t do this (and he gives good reasons for not doing it).  Therefore, Barth must hold to something like,

(10) All human agents are necessarily (and derivatively) elect-in-Christ by virtue of his universally efficient atonement.

But now we are back at universalism, unless Barth can posit a new way out:

(11) A human agent whose redemption Christ purchased may reject Christ and may ultimately not be saved.

This is fallacious, given (1)-(4) and (5)-(8) and (9*).  Further, (11) is Arminianism, which Barth claims to reject.

John Williamson Nevin on the Church

Instead of the visible/invisible church, Nevin posits the Ideal Church and its manifestation in time.  It is an organic whole springing from a common ground.  While Nevin has much good to say, it’s not clear he can fully escape “visible” and “invisible” categories.  For example, he would rightly want to affirm OT saints as part of the church, yet since they have died they aren’t “visible.”

For all of Nevin’s problems, though, much of his teaching is simple Augustinian realism.  One wonders, though, what it would take to shore up Nevin’s conclusions without using his German Idealism.

Another difficulty: if there is a metaphysically real union with the old Adam and a metaphysically real union with Christ, then how are these two distinct? This isn’t a problem but only a place where he isn’t clear.

Crisp gives a fine summary of Nevin’s conclusions on p. 172:

(1) The Church is mystically united to Christ.

(2) The church isn’t the Incarnation, part two.  Rather it is a continuation of the new creation brought about by the Incarnation.

(3) OT sacraments are largely preparatory (I think Cocceius held to a similar view).

(4)The Church has an ideal aspect and a concrete (externalizing) aspect.

(5) The ideal is perfect in all respects; the concrete is imperfect but gradually realizing the perfect.

(6) Adam and his progeny are an organic whole.

(7) Christ and the church are another organic whole.

Analytical Outline of American Augustinian

While the title appears to limit the book’s scope, this treatise is nothing less than a masterpiece in explaining key loci in Reformed theology.  Oliver Crisp outlines how William G.T. Shedd’s “Augustinian Realism” shapes his theology–and he makes us love Augustine even more in the process.  Augustinian realism, in whatever variety, is the claim there is a real metaphysical connection between Adam and his descendants. See my earlier pieces on Shedd.

In Defense of Traducianism

For Shedd (and Augustine) human souls are not created individually by divine fiat, but are propogated from one generation to another (Crisp 17).  We were all seminally in Adam, or at least in some unformed lump of human nature.  This unique position allows Shedd to affirm the imputation of original sin without falling prey to the charges of injustice on God’s part.

  1. The problem with Creationism (i.e., God creates each soul brand new).
    1. It cannot account for the transmission of what is purely mental.  If there is no metaphysical link between me and Adam, then exactly how is the nonphysical parts of my being “tainted” by Adam’s sin?
    2. Logically, this must mean that each soul apostasized from God by itself.
  2. Soul-Fission
    1. Shedd gives a good critique of the creationist view, but his position, while probably the biblical one, still has difficulties.
    2. Souls are immaterial substances, so how can a soul “split” from the original lump?  Most of Christian reflection viewed souls as indivisible. We will come back to this problem.
  3. Human nature
    1. Human nature (for Shedd) is a substance in its own right.  It is not a property of a substance (which he says Hodge holds).
      1. Human nature consists of body + soul.
      2. It is a concrete particular that exemplifies certain properties.  Human nature is not itself exemplified by other entities (35).
  4. Critique of Shedd
    1. Crisp: Are species-natures (Thomas Morris’ ‘kind-natures’) concrete particulars or are they abstract objects?  It seems they must be the latter, for this is no concrete entity called “humanity.”
    2. Are souls fissiparous?  This is the only objection to Shedd that has any weight.  Simple substances like souls just aren’t divisible.
      1. But maybe there is a way out.  Souls aren’t physical objects, so we aren’t talking about a physical separation.
      2. Other creationists’ objections are that souls are incorruptible, hence indivisible.  But this isn’t a strong objection.  Must incorruptibility entail indivisibility?  Maybe, but we Crisp doesn’t list any arguments.
    3. Another objection: if souls are fissile, then how can souls be what anchor’s a substance identity across time?  This is a good objection, but maybe there is a way around it.
      1. The individual soul itself isn’t being divided.  What is being divided is the soul from the original Adamic lump.  
  5. Creationism and Imputed Sin
    1. He returns to problems with the creationist view. Shedd’s argument is that there is no metaphysical link between the newly created souls and Adam’s soul.

Augustinian Realism and the Imputation of Adam’s Sin

  1. Original Sin contains two parts: the lack of original righteousness and the vitiated moral nature.
    1. Original sin comprises a reatus, or liability.
    2. The loss of original righteousness leads to macula (blemished nature).
  2. Legal fiction: Crisp advances the old line that imputation (whether of sin or righteousness) is a legal fiction.
    1. There is no real transference of properties (61).
    2. God constitutes these things in an “as if” relation.
    3. Hodge, for example, denies that the guilty involved in original sin is grounded in Adam’s guit (ST II:94).  Thus for Hodge there must be an immediate imputation of original sin to me, and then, and only then, can I be held guilty because of original sin (Crisp 79).
  3. Augustinian Realism
    1. Because all of humanity is somehow present in Adam at the moment of his first sin, the original sin can be applied to all of his posterity with no legal fiction.
      1. This is a forceful and clean response to the legal fiction charge, yet Crisp has problems with it.  
      2. If Shedd is right, then evolution is wrong!
      3. Crisp wants a “strong metaphysical union” between Adam and us (66), buit it’s not clear how he can get it.

The Theanthropic Person of Christ

  1. Shedding the Classical Doctrine
    1. Shedd argues that the Word assumed a body-soul composite, which themselves can loosely be called “natures.”
      1. These are unpersonalized natures (87).
      2. Crisp argues that Shedd must hold that Christ’s unpersonalized human nature must exist prior to the Incarnation.  Maybe, though it’s not clear on the mode of that nature’s existence.  That’s not a problem.  The problem is that this nature must be tainted by sin when the Word assumes it.
    2. Many of Shedd’s Christological conclusions are standard anhypostatic/enhypostatic terms, so I won’t belabor the point.
  2. Realism and Christ’s Human Nature
    1. Shedd’s main problem is the nature the Word assumed was tainted by sin.  Thus, the Holy Spirit must have immediately sanctified it.
    2. But that leads to another problem: sanctification is a work of redemption, which is applied apart from Christ, yet to Christ!
    3. Concrete particulars. If my soul is unique, then my human nature isn’t a universal.  This means that Christ didn’t assume the universal of human nature, but only a concrete particular (because he assumed body + soul).

The Impeccability of Christ

  1. Christ can be tempted to do certain things, but not all sorts of things (some temptations require the person to be in a prior state of sin). Shedd’s main argument is Hebrew 13:8.  This applies to the whole character of Christ (116).
  2. If I can fall prey to sin, this means I am deceived into thinking that the sin is a perceived good, yet we wouldn’t apply this to Christ.

Sin, Atonement, and Representationalism

  1. Shedd’s take on the atonement is standard, except perhaps his analysis of the word “extent.”  Rather, we will focus on sin and imputation.
  2. The problem Shedd has to overcome is how his correct analysis of creationism and immediate imputation do not backfire when he wants to apply representationalism to the atonement.
    1. His first way around the problem is that the two are asymmetrical because Christ opts to represent us.  True enough.
    2. On a realist gloss, how can I metaphysically have the benefits of Christ’s work without Christ having the metaphysical realities of my sin?  I think there are rebuttals to this.