My podcast interview with theologian Oliver Crisp on Christology drew several interesting responses.
Was Jesus the best at everything?
For example, Fox observed:
“If Christ were a barista, would he have made the best doppio ristretto possible? Oliver Crisp imagines so.”
I addressed this similar point in my essay “Can Jesus make a better Caesar salad than my wife?” Questions such as these, absurd though they may seem, identify a very important issue. What does it mean to say that Jesus was fully divine? For example, does it mean, as Dallas Willard claimed (see his essay “Jesus the Logician”), that Jesus would have been the world’s best logician? What about the world’s best chef? The world’s best barista?
One obvious problem here relates to the obvious fact of physical limitations. For example, it is highly doubtful that Jesus had the training and conditioning to be the world’s best martial artist. (I recently watched the film “Ip Man”, a truly awesome biographical tale about Bruce Lee’s teacher. I have no doubt that Ip Man could have beat Jesus in a martial arts competition.)
Definitely Jesus wasn’t the world’s best shot putter or sprinter. He lacked the physical conditioning for both these events.
Gender and social roles also place obvious constraints on Jesus’ perfection. By definition he couldn’t have been the world’s best mother. And so on.
Consequently, I have long argued that while a Christian is obliged to think of Jesus as sinless and morally perfect, a Christian ought not think that Jesus was the best or most knowledgeable logician, or chef, or barista or shot putter or sprinter.
Does theology destroy mystery?
One comment in particular stood out. Matt Stemp wrote: “Speaking as a Christian, I found Crisp’s responses excruciatingly embarrassing.”
This perplexed me so I asked Matt to clarify and he explained:
“I am not a philosopher or theologian by any reasonably academic definition of those terms, so to say that I am unfamiliar with Christology – particularly of the analytic variety represented by Crisp – would be a gross understatement. I simply wouldn’t know where to start if I had to respond to his positions on his own terms.
“My response is much more of an aesthetic one. Beauty seems to have been sacrificed on the altar of logical consistency. Crisp is able to speak about the incarnation with no sense of wonder. One could listen to this conversation and come away thinking that the incarnation was, at best, an intellectual curiosity.
“So, if this way of speaking is representative of analytic theology as a whole, you could say I “disagree” with the methodology being employed. I appreciate the importance of precision when it comes to theological language, and that this is a key motivation for the analytic enterprise. But my “disagreement” is really the worry that this is not the kind of precision the theologian should be aiming for. Sometimes silence is the most precise response to a theological question, not just to maintain a healthy agnosticism but in order to express something positively true and beautiful about the incarnation.”
My response to Matt is two-fold. First, I think it is wrong to criticize a theologian for the fact that their logical analysis and precise propositional articulation of a doctrine lacks aesthetic appeal for the same reason that it is wrong to criticize an architect for producing blueprints that lack aesthetic appeal. Blueprints aren’t intended to be aesthetically appealing. They have a different function entirely. Nor is the systematic theologian aspiring to fulfill the role of the poet or painter. He too has a different end in sight. But the formulations of the systematic theologian are not illegitimate because they lack aesthetic appeal.
This brings me to my second response. Here I question the entire assumption that theological enquiry doesn’t have its own aesthetic value. Matt speaks as if mystery has beauty but that beauty disappears when we peak behind the curtain of mystery. I see no reason to think this. Indeed, I address this very question in Finding God in the Shack (Biblica, 2009), chapter 1. In this chapter I address several objections to theology, in particular the objection that theology erases mystery. In my response I quote from physicist Richard Feynman who dealt with a similar objection, though in his case it was the charge that natural scientists erase mystery. Feynman’s interlocutor claimed that scientists undermine beauty by seeking explanation, and she insisted that scientists can’t appreciate the beauty of a flower like an artist can. Feynman replied:
“First of all, the beauty that [the artist] sees is available to other people and to me, too, although I might not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is; but I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time I see much more about the flower than he sees. I can imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension of one centimeter, there is also beauty at a smaller dimension … the inner structure…. All kinds of interesting questions which shows that a science knowledge only adds to the excitement and mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds; I don’t understand how it subtracts.” (Cited in Finding God in the Shack, 5-6)
From the perspective of a theologian something similar is true of systematic theology. All kinds of interesting questions show that a theological knowledge only adds to the excitement and mystery and awe of God. It only adds; I don’t understand how it subtracts.