Book Reviews Systematic Theology

Book Review: Analyzing Doctrine (Oliver Crisp)

Oliver Crisp is Professor of Analytic Theology at the University of St Andrews and specializes in analytic theology, philosophical theology, and historical theology (see his list of works here). Since not everyone knows what analytic theology is (and neither did I before this book), Crisp describes analytic theology as “a way of doing systematic theology that utilizes the tools and methods of contemporary analytic philosophy for the purposes of constructive Christian theology, paying attention to the Christian tradition and development of doctrine” (32, 239).

This is important because constructive work is “world building.” Systematic theologians work hard to produce “a conceptual structure that hangs together in a coherent way” (2). They work to understand two thousand years of theology, history, philosophy, the sciences, etc., and then they need to synthesize it in a way that rightly represents God and his Word. Analytic theology, made up of eleven chapters, is Crisp’s contribution “at such theological conceptual world building” (2). Though it is “not a complete system of theology… it is a step in that direction” (2).

Through eleven chapters Crisp covers the doctrines of God (chs 2–3), the Trinity (4), God’s purpose in creation (5–6), sin (7), and chapters 8–11 look to the solutions to man’s sinfulness through the work and person of Christ as seen in the virgin birth (ch 8), Christ’s two wills (ch 9), participating in the divine life of salvation (ch 10), and the bodily resurrection (ch 11).

Crisp is precise in his language, and he stays true and consistent with orthodox, creedal Christianity as well as within Reformed theology. That said he isn’t afraid to push against ideas he doesn’t see as biblical. In chapter 7, Crisp agrees with a minority within Reformed circles who affirm original sin without original guilt. That is, humans after Adan and Eve inherited a sin nature but not the guilt that accompanies a corrupt moral nature. It is inevitable that people will sin, and this possessing original sin “will lead to death and exclusion from the presence of God” without salvation through Jesus “(151). Crisp agrees with Zwingli here. He disagrees (rightly, I think) with Augustine and those who follow him that babies and severely mentally impaired individuals who die without knowing Christ will be excluded from God’s presence in the eschaton. He states that “such a view [is] morally repulsive,” which, it is.

After making the case that analytic theology is (or at least can be) a way of doing systematic theology in chapter 1chapter 2 brings us to the doctrine of God. Crisp looks at two pictures of God—the classic theistic picture and theistic personalism—and then considers their relationship to the debate over theological realism and antirealism. Basically, is God “mind independent” or is he the “product of human imagination” (7). He argues for what he calls chastened theism which presumes that God, the creator of all things, is a mind-independent entity (47). God can be known, and he reveals himself to be known.

Chapters 3–4 look at God’s unity and triunity. Chapter 3 develops an account of divine simplicity. Chapter 4 argues for Trinitarian mysterianism—we simply cannot fully understand the Trinity. Theologians use various models of the Trinity to understand the Trinity, but they are at best piecemeal ways of understanding the Trinity.

Chapter 5 looks at God’s eternality and how that relates to his purposes in election and creation. He critiques the likes of Robert Jenson, Jürgen Moltmann, Wolfhart Pannenberg, Nicholas Wolterstorff, and Adolf van Harnack over God’s eternality (Crisp believing that God is atemporal and eternal). In chapter 6 Crisp argues that even if mankind hadn’t sinned “God would have provided an incarnation” as a fitting means to provide humans with a way to participate in the divine (245). Chapter 7 was looked at above.

In chapter 8 Crisp argues that while Jesus could have been incarnated without a virgin birth, it was a fitting way for Jesus to be incarnated and it set him apart as a divine agent. Chapter 9 argues for the creedal and confessional stance of dyothelitism—Christ having two wills—and against Moreland, Craig, and DeWeese’s neomonothelitism.

Chapter 10 is a constructive chapter. The process of transformation and participation, that of being united with Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, goes on forevermore (247). Chapter 11 looks at the resurrection body of Christ in relation to hyperspace. That is, at the ascension, Christ’s body moved out of our three-dimensional space and he will return to it at the start of the eschaton.

Recommended?

Crisp is very well-read, and is a careful thinker and theologian. His books require careful and patient reading. This book comes recommended to those familiar with either analytic theology or Crisp’s other works. This book was a real struggle for me to work through. Sometimes it was because I hadn’t read who Crisp was critiquing, such as Michael Rea, Jeff Brower, and Peter van Inwagen concerning the Trinity and Robert Jenson concerning the resurrection, although Crisp does present their arguments to bring his readers up to speed. His own discussions are well informed by metaphysics and philosophy, topics in which I am not so well informed—not to mention historical and systematic theology in general. I read and review a lot of biblical studies on this blog, but wanted to ask for this book to stretch myself. However, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into until I got the book. If you have a good handle on systematic theology or analytic philosophy or you’ve read and enjoyed other works by Crisp, you will want to pick up Crisp’s account of “world building.” 

Lagniappe

  • Author: Oliver D. Crisp
  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Baylor University Press (July 1, 2019)

Buy it from Amazon or Baylor University Press!

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baylor University Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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