Book Review: The Word Enfleshed, by Oliver Crisp

Oliver Crisp, The Word Enfleshed: Exploring the Person and Work of Christ (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), xviii +190pp. $26.99.

After having written in a more episodic, piecemeal fashion with various Christological essays, Oliver Crisp’s latest work on Christology provides a contiguous story about Christ. The sequence of topics are logical and tight, beginning with the divinity of Christ (chps. 1 and 2), then turns toward the constraints upon and possibility of the humanity of Christ (chps. 3–5), then to how it might be that Christ became human without compromise to his divinity or oneness of Person (chp. 6), and finally to what the union of divinity and humanity does for us (chps. 7–9). This is, in effect, a modern rendition of Anselm’s classic project of Cur Deus Homo, bringing together the Person and the work of Christ that many theologians have torn asunder.

The virtues of the book are many. With the tragic divorce between the person and being of Christ, Crisp’s “joined-up” account is refreshing. He clearly demonstrates the ramifications of one aspect of Christ upon the other. Though this requires sustained attention, nonetheless this is the way theology ought to be conducted—drawing implications and constantly recalibrating in light of other theological loci.

One might complain that it is not as technical as his previous work. Be that as it may, it might actually be a virtue since the technicality of Crisp’s previous work might be an obstacle for many. Here, we have one continuous, systematic Christology from divinity to humanity to work, readily accessible by upper division undergrads, grads, and possibly informed non-academics.

One might also complain that much of the material can be found in other sources, which is fully admitted by Crisp himself in his acknowledgment of the editors and publishers for allowing him to re-use and expand that previous material. And to that degree, one might object against the need for this new volume. That would not be entirely unjustified. On the other hand, when one goes about her daily business, does she really want to carry around a backpack full of various tools? Or would she be more content with the streamlined multitool that is conveniently portable? Mutatis mutandis, Crisp’s work. I suppose we educators could assign the various segments from the other works. Or we can have all of those centralized and arranged into a convenient, portable package.

The drawbacks, as to be expected, are few. Although I had just praised this work for being less technical, that also harms the overall quality when it comes to segments that require a more comprehensive defense. I will highlight one prominent example.

Crisp defends a particular version of compositional Christology (sometimes referred to as Model A). This version sees the Logos (who is identical with his divine nature plus whatever it is that makes him a Divine Person distinct from the Father and the Spirit) as being a part of a greater complex object, Jesus Christ. The other components is the human nature, which is itself composed of the body and the soul. In this way, the Logos is a co-part, so to speak, with the human nature to make up Jesus Christ (pgs. 25, 45, 99, 111). Clearly this view has the benefit of preserving a classical theist portrayal of the Second Person—including simplicity, immutability, and incorporeality (pgs. 25, 31). The major disadvantage, as admitted by Crisp himself, is that the Logos is not strictly speaking identical with Jesus Christ.

Such a controversial view requires more explication, it seems, for I was not entirely clear how the Logos could be ascribed human properties. If the configuration of the Incarnational components was slightly different, I could understand how the Logos could be said to have human properties since some properties of the parts transfer to the whole. For example, the apple is green in virtue of its skin being green. So too, perhaps, the Logos is said to suffer in virtue of its human nature, its part, suffering. But if the Logos is a part alongside other parts, as Crisp argues, then it is hard to see how properties from parts transfer to other parts. Just because my liver is squishy, that does not (thankfully) make my bones squishy. Part of the confusion here is that Crisp takes it that divine simplicity applies to the divine Persons. I am not clear on why that must be the case. As I have understood it, and I admit my limited experience in this matter, simplicity is a characteristic of the divine nature or the divine substance, not of the Persons.

Still, this is an enjoyable and thought-provoking read. Although I still regard his Divinity and Humanity as his magnum opus, I still recommend this book. I could see myself using this book as one of the core texts for a Christology course since it neatly and tightly covers key aspects of the doctrine of Christ in a contiguous, comprehensive manner while highlighting Crisp’s usual sharp thinking and clear writing.

My thanks to Baker Academic for a review copy.

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About Kevin W. Wong

Ph.D. student in systematic theology at Wheaton College, studying with Marc Cortez.
This entry was posted in Analytic Theology, Book reviews, Systematic Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

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