Westminster Seminary California
Book Review: Divinity and Humanity by Oliver Crisp
Book Review: Divinity and Humanity by Oliver Crisp

Oliver D. Crisp, Divinity and Humanity: The Incarnation Reconsidered. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007, xiv + 220pp. $30.00.

In this short volume, Oliver Crisp uses an analytical theological method to discuss the relation between the divinity and humanity of Christ. Crisp explores three Chalcedonian Christological problems and then defends a Chalcedonian Christology against three perceived threats. Crisp deliberately points out that his approach is broadly Chalcedonian and is meant to be a descriptive rather than a revisionist approach.

Perichoresis and Christology is addressed in the first chapter. While the doctrine of perichoresis and the Trinity has been a popular topic in modern theology, Crisp argues that too little attention has been paid to the perichoretic relation between the divinity and humanity of Christ. Crisp makes a distinction between nature-perichoresis, pertaining to the hypostatic union, and person-perichoresis, which pertains to the intra-Trinitarian relations. In this chapter, Crisp is careful to mark out that nature-perichoresis is not to be confused with the communicatio idiomatum. This is so because nature-perichoresis has to do with how the two natures are united in the hypostatic union. Specifically, nature-perichoresis shows the divine nature penetrates the human nature without a confusion, mixture, or the transference of attributes from one nature to another. The two natures remain distinct while at the same time being intimately united.

In chapter two, Crisp traces the different ways theologians throughout church history have conceived of the human nature assumed by the second person of the Trinity. After examining Alexandrian and Antiochene Christologies, abstract- and concrete-nature views of Christ’s human nature, and two-part and three-part Christologies, Crisp tackles the question of monothelitism. Crisp argues that despite recent claims that two wills in one person implies two persons, there is still a strong case for dyothelitism. For if Christ was without a human will, he was not fully human.

Next, Crisp examines the an-enhypostasis distinction that was brought back to the forefront of theology due to the influence of Karl Barth. The anhypostasis doctrine is a negative doctrine which posits that Christ’s human nature has no independent existence apart from its assumption by the Word. Positively, the enhypostasis doctrine, on the other hand, states that the human nature of Christ acquires existence only through the Word. The Word personalizes the human nature. In other words, “It is the Word who is the logical subject of the body-soul composite that makes up his human nature” (p. 83). After discussing a few intricate philosophical categories in considerable detail, Crisp argues that the an-enhypostasis distinction is only coherent if one uses a realist, rather than a nominalist, account of the nature of properties.

In chapter four, Crisp rejects the notion that Christ assumed a fallen nature since fallenness and moral culpability go hand in hand. Crisp argues that there is no substantive way to understand fallenness without it implying sinfulness. This is so because fallenness necessarily entails original sin and thus sinfulness. Crisp is certainly correct to argue that if the fallenness of Christ’s human nature necessarily implies sinfulness it must be rejected. For the most part, Crisp follows the Reformed Orthodox in his understanding of original guilt, original corruption, and original sin.

In the fifth chapter, Crisp takes up the problem of kenotic Christologies. The major problem with kenotic Christologies, according to Crisp, is that they are forced to strip certain divine attributes from the Word, thus making him less than fully God. Another problem is that kenotic Christologies almost invariably reconfigure the traditional doctrine of God, usually dropping the doctrine of divine simplicity or divine immutability. As an alternative to these kenotic Christologies, Crisp suggests that the self-emptying should be understand as what he calls a kryptic Christology. Rather than a giving up of divine attributes or the restricted exercise of certain divine attributes, a kryptic Christology argues that the self-emptying of Christ should be understood as self-concealment. The main benefit of this Christology is that it focuses not on any notion of a loss of divine attributes but instead on the fact that the Word has assumed flesh. In other words, to put it crudely, the Incarnation should be understood in terms of addition rather than subtraction. In the Incarnation the Word does not relinquish divine attributes but takes on human flesh.

In the final chapter, Crisp engages with John Hick’s non-incarnational Christology. Hick argues that Jesus Christ was merely a human being and the Incarnation should be understood as a metaphor. Among other arguments for viewing Christ only as a human being, Hick argues that Jesus never claimed he was God and a metaphorical understanding of the Incarnation is better fitted for religious pluralism. Of course, due to the denial of the divinity of Christ, Crisp asserts that Hick’s Christology is “religiously inadequate as a Christian account of the person of Christ” (p. 155).

I will limit my critique to two issues. The first concerns Crisp’s discussion of the an-enhypostatis distinction in chapter three. When discussing this distinction, Crisp focuses solely on philosophical and metaphysical issues. While I do not disagree with the arguments Crisp made in this chapter, I think he misses the point of the distinction. Traditionally, the distinction is used to protect against the danger of Ebionite and Adoptionistic Christologies; yet Crisp fails to discuss the dangers of these types of Christologies. In other words, the traditional distinction is a theological distinction rather than a philosophical/metaphysical distinction. In the effort of trying to make the distinction logically coherent, Crisp unnecessarily neglects to comment on the theological importance of this distinction. My second critique also has to do with Crisp’s methodology. In chapter five, Crisp argues that the traditional Reformed doctrine of original sin is deeply flawed due to its concept of imputed guilt. The motivation behind Crisp’s criticism is that “guilt does not seem to be a notion of that admits of one person to another” (p. 98-99). Again, it seems that Crisp allows philosophical intuitions to control doctrines that should be controlled by scriptural exegesis.

Nonetheless, all in all, this work by Crisp is an engaging, clear, lively and carefully argued contribution to the modern Christological discussion. Specifically, I found his arguments against a strong communicatio idiomatum and the non-incarnational Christology of John Hick to be especially insightful. Crisp is to be commended for his respect and adherence to Chalcedonian Christology and his aversion to theological novelty. Crisp rightly notes that one must always have good reasons, especially theological reasons, for dissenting from an ecumenical council. Throughout the entire book, through the use of an analytical theological method, Crisp is able to deal shrewdly with some of the more complicated metaphysical Christological issues.

 Reviewed by MAHT Candidate Micah Throop

7 / 20 / 2011