I’m going to comment on parts of an interview that’s getting some buzz:
Crisp gives a number of good answers. I’m not going to comment on what I agree with, since that would be redundant. I’d just be paraphrasing what he said. And he can express himself quite well without me.
Theology that is not done in the service of the Church is seriously defective, in my view. Although I work in a so-called 'secular' university, I am very conscious of the need to address the Church in what I do. I hope that in some small way my own work may be of use to the Church through the trickle-down effect of students of theology and prospective ministerial candidates getting trained in theology and reading the sort of stuff I write. I have taught in both secular and confessional contexts in the UK and North America, and I think effective theological education is of vital importance for the life of the Church. If we want an educated and effective laity, we need an effective and educated clergy to teach them.
I largely agree with this, although I’d add two caveats:
i) I’d actually broaden the vision. I think theology should be done in the service of unbelievers as well as believers. It should have an evangelistic, outward thrust as well as an ecclesiastical, inward thrust.
ii) In principle, theological insights can have practical value even if the theologian wasn’t consciously practical, but just pursuing a line of thought. It’s like spin-offs in math and science, where pure math or scientific speculation is developed without any practical application in view, but the results have an unforeseen practical payoff. Sometimes we can solve a problem better by looking away from it. Because all of reality is interrelated, solutions may not occur to us if we’re too focused on the problem before us, whereas work in apparently independent fields can pay unexpected dividends.
No, I don't. The creedal heritage of the Church is very important. We cast it aside at our peril.
There’s some truth to that. In particular, we shouldn’t clean out the attic and discard the contents without even looking inside the boxes to see what we’re casting aside.
On the other hand, there’s the opposite peril of following the path of least resistance by letting others make all the important decisions for us.
Some evangelicals are very much embedded in the tradition (e.g. some Episcopalians or Lutherans or Presbyterians).
i) And that can be a problem. That can foster an unquestioning, chauvinistic herd-mentality. Let’s not confuse following Christ with following our forbears. Unless we can see Jesus apart from our forebears, we don’t know if they were headed in the right direction.
ii) Different theological traditions present different reading strategies. You can read the Bible with Lutheran spectacles, Anabaptist spectacles, Catholic spectacles, Calvinist spectacles, and so forth. Although we may always be reading the Bible with tinted glasses, it’s useful to try on different glasses, comparing and contrasting one view with another.
But evangelicals in what we might loosely term 'non-confessional' traditions, such as some baptistic denominations, and charismatic/Pentecostal traditions tend to be less concerned about confessions, thinking they can simply leap over the tradition to Scripture. This is a mistake.
i) As a matter of fact, it is possible to “simply leap over the tradition to Scripture.” That’s the point of the grammatico-historical method.
And this isn’t limited to the exegesis of Scripture. When Crisp studies Jonathan Edwards, I assume he tries to immerse himself in the social and intellectual milieu of Edwards. Likewise, when Crisp studies Barth, I assume he makes allowance for the historical and political situatedness of Barth’s theology.
For that matter, when we read Homer, Dante, or Lady Murasaki, the point is to escape our own cultural mindset and step inside a very different culture. To see the world through a different pair of eyes.
Of course, initially, we bring our own framework to whatever we read. But in the course of reading, it’s possible to put some distance between our hereditary viewpoint and the viewpoint of the narrator. That’s a useful exercise. That provides a valuable contrast to our prereflective assumptions.
ii) In fairness to Crisp, I suspect he has a particular type of individual in mind. The kind of “Bible-only” Christian who’s oblivious to the impact of his own nationality, education, social class, and religious prism on his reading of Scripture. A Christian who’s unconscious of the degree to which his approach to Scripture has already been framed by a tacit, internalized tradition.
It’s important to become self-aware of our operating assumptions. Both confessionalism and “Biblicism” are vulnerable to the bias blind spot.
We read Scripture in the household of faith, in company with the saints before us, not in isolation from them. And in so doing, we learn from our forebears (from their triumphs and their mistakes). It is folly and hubris to think one can set this great cloud of witnesses to one side in theologizing. Not that I think the fathers and Reformers of the Church trump Scripture. But they help us to understand Scripture better just as a teacher helps the student to understand matters that might be difficult to grasp were the student to be left alone with the class textbook.
Up to a point that’s true, but one-sided. The household of faith includes the faithful who went before us, as well as those who come after us, as well as those who walk beside us. We can learn from them, but they can learn from us.
At the end of the day, we’re not answerable to our forbears. Rather, we are directly answerable to God.
Because he is a theological titan. I am a critical, but I hope appreciative, reader of Barth. In some ways, I am more sympathetic to Barth than I used to be, though it is sometimes a sort of love-hate relationship! But Barth is a profound theologian by anyone's estimate, and someone worth wrestling with. One is unlikely to find any theologian with whom one concurs on every point of doctrine. Yet great theologians like Augustine or Anselm or Thomas or Calvin or Luther or Edwards or Barth are the sort of thinkers with whom we can engage with fruitful results.It is very difficult to isolate one voice from the great chorus of those who have gone before us as THE person I would like to meet if I had the chance. But in my top five (and in reverse diachronic order) would be Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm of Canterbury, Augustine of Hippo.
To judge by this answer, Crisp’s methodology isn’t really confessional. He isn’t using the lens of the church’s creedal heritage. Rather, he has a theological meritocracy. A short list of the most intellectually impressive or challenging theologians. He picks out these thinkers to be his sparring partners. He tests his theology against them. Develops his theology in a dialectical conversation with the theological giants. That’s selective rather than collective.
Robin Parry in his book Worshipping Trinity makes this point really well when he says that too many evangelical Christians he speaks to are effectively binitarians, not Trinitarians. Their understanding of the Trinity is borderline heretical.
It’s funny to see a heretical universalist be so judgmental. But I guess the best defense is a good offense.