Monday, March 26, 2007

Divinity and Humanity by Oliver D. Crisp

I recently received my ‘hot-off-the-press’ copy of Oliver Crisp’s new book, Divinity and Humanity. In due course, I hope to offer my more substantial thoughts on this work. I bought it with the intention of exploring Crisp’s rejection of the notion that Christ assumed a fallen human nature in the incarnation. This view was first articulated by Crisp in his 2004 article, “Did Christ have a Fallen Human Nature?” (IJST 6.3, 170-88). This essay has essentially become the fourth of his six chapters, in the course of which he addresses perichoresis as a christological category, the anhypostasia-enhypostasia distinction, and kenosis, among other topics.

At some point in the near future, I hope to write an essay which will explore why Crisp misunderstands Barth and Torrance (among others) in their affirmation of the fallen human nature of Christ. The conflict rests, I believe, in radically different ontologies, such that Barth has an actualized-historicized account of what “nature” means, while Crisp works with a traditional, essentialist account. While this by no means exhausts the issues at stake, I believe this is where one must begin in order to unpack the christological ramifications.

I eagerly look forward to reading Crisp’s book. If others are ahead of me and can offer some more substantial reflections on this new book, I would be happy to hear them.

Note: It may be of some interest to know that the picture of Jesus on the cover was done by none other than Crisp himself! It is not the most flattering portrait of Jesus ever drawn, but it is surely commendable that a theologian like Crisp is also somewhat skilled in art.

12 comments:

Halden said...

Metzger and I may be reviewin this book together for column in Neue Zietschrift, but I'm not sure yet. I think you're right, Crisp is basically essentialist in his ontology.

He's certainly very dogmatically precise, but I think that sometimes dogmatic precision comes at the price of creativity and lasting contribution.

Ben Myers said...

I haven't got a copy of this yet, but I hope to get it soon -- and I'd be interested to read your further thoughts on it.

Speaking of his art: at the moment I'm reading Paul Helm's book, John Calvin's Ideas -- the portrait of Calvin on the cover is also by Crisp (who was one of Paul Helm's students).

Shane said...

"essentialist" = not creative or lasting contribution?

what if it were to turn out that essentialism were actually true? Maybe Crisp really does understand "actualized ontology" and just has some rational argument that it is false?

D.W. Congdon said...

Shane, my contention would be that essentialism is not simply uncreative, but that it is actually false.

But this is a separate issue. For Crisp, the problem is that he reads Barth from an essentialist perspective without even attempting to understand the ontology that Barth actually has, which is non-essentialist. If Crisp wishes to debate Barth's christology, he has to deal with his ontology.

Ben Myers said...

David: Speaking of essentialism, it's interesting that you mentioned Torrance as well.

I wonder whether Torrance also misunderstands Barth when he tries to press Barth's theology into a rather essentialist christological framework? The underlying historical-actualist structure of Barth's christology seems pretty hard to find in Torrance.

In any case, I'm with you: I reckon the problem with essentialism isn't that it's old-fashioned or unimaginative; the problem is that it's mistaken.

D.W. Congdon said...

Ben,

You're right. I mentioned Torrance in the post only in reference to God assuming a fallen human nature in Christ, but I didn't mean to say that Torrance holds Barth's ontology. In fact, I am sure he does not. Hence, I only mentioned Barth in my last comment.

I think Torrance does a lot of good things, but he makes some critical mistakes in christology -- one of which is the ontology question.

Ben Myers said...

Yeah, I'd agree with you there. It will be interesting to see what Paul Molnar says about incarnation in his forthcoming book -- I assume he'll be advocating something like Torrance's ontology.

In my view, the problems with Torrance's christology are clear as soon as you consider the fact that he has no real taste for the sheer historicity of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth.

Shane said...

ok,

why is essentialism false?

Halden said...

Just to make it clear, I didn't say that "essentialist = not creative or lasting contribution".

My point was that I think Crisp is very dogmatically precise and systematic, but in my experience of him and others like him, their theology tends not to be creative or make a lasting contribution. In other words, I wasn't refering to his ontology, but to how I percieve his work as a whole.

And Shane, I love how you won't let theologians get away with anything! Bravo!

Ben, where do you see Torrance as being uncomfortable with the historicity of Jesus?

Ben Myers said...

Hi Shane -- "why is essentialism false?" Here's a one-word answer:

History.

Shane said...

Ben, I think I'm missing a step in your argument, so indulge my lack of imagination and make it a bit more explicit, please.

Shane said...

Also, as a bit of a conversational aid, let me hazard a definition and a distinction:

First the definition. An 'essence' is a property or collection of properties which pertain (1) universally and (2) necessarily to each member of a particular class of objects. Furthermore the essence (3) unique identifies the class of which it is predicated, separating it from other classes. There might be other properties some thinkers would want to ascribe to essences such as (4) immutability, (5) metaphysical simplicity, or (6) transcendence above the sensible world, but these are more contentious, so we will only assert (1)-(3) for our basic definition of 'essence' and leave the demonstration of (4)-(6) for some other time.

Now I also propose distinction. We should distinguish between a strong essentialism and a weak one.

Weak essentialism is the claim that there exist such things as essences.

Strong essentialism is the claim that everything that exists has an essence.