Oneness Pentecostalism, the Two-Minds View, and the Problem of Jesus’ Prayers (Part 1)

Sometimes those who are former adherents to a particular worldview are the better-qualified when it comes to criticizing it. One famous example of this, which anybody with a modicum of knowledge about the history of Christianity knows, is St. Augustine’s interaction with the Manichees.

For most of my life, Oneness Pentecostalism was my religious milieu. Unlike the Manichees in Augustine’s day, I have found that Oneness Pentecostals are largely unknown by the rest of Christianity. Other than in the Society for Pentecostal Studies, there has been little sustained interaction with Oneness writers on a scholarly level. And over the years, there have been only a handful of books introducing Oneness views to wider Christendom, mostly by way of polemics. There have been some well-publicized debates with Oneness Pentecostals in the past, but they now seem to be almost entirely forgotten. Those that are aware of them have very few conversation partners.

In fact, to see what Oneness Pentecostals claim about God and Jesus, please see my post on “An Inconsistent Triad about the Father and Jesus” before you read on.

One of the main projects I hope to have in my career is to draw Oneness Pentecostals into further dialogue with the rest of the Christian world. And as one privy to analytic theology, I hope to get Oneness Pentecostals to clarify for the rest of us precisely what they mean to claim. I am particularly interested in what Oneness Pentecostals say about God and Jesus Christ.

This is where my first published journal article comes in. Earlier this month, the open-access journal TheoLogica published my paper “Oneness Pentecostalism, the Two-Minds View, and the Problem of Jesus’s Prayers.” To my knowledge, this is the first article that has ever been published on Oneness Pentecostal theology in the mode of analytic theology. In this post and for a few following it, I want to give some background information about this article and clarify some of my arguments. Since this is my first foray into the academic world, and since I expect to come under fire from a number of fronts, I think that this is necessary.

In this series of posts, I’m less concerned about clarifying myself for academics, although there will be some of that. Primarily, it’s important to me to be able to explain how this paper came about, and to explain as many things as I can for family and friends with whom I no longer share a worldview. I recognize, and I will point out, that I make some bold claims in the paper. As a result, this series will be partly biographical and partly explanatory.

First Steps

I made a definite commitment to live for Christ when I was about 15. I had grown up around Oneness Pentecostalism since about age 5 by this point, and when I was 11 I “received the Holy Ghost.” When I made that commitment, my father and stepmother challenged me (graciously, I should add) to consider whether I was following a religion because I wanted to, or because I was told to. They asked me all kinds of questions about my faith because they were themselves non-religious.

All of the major adult influences in my life have been readers and, at least to some extent, autodidacts. These include my grandparents, my biological parents, and my stepmother. So when I was met with challenges to my faith, I already had a proclivity toward looking for answers in books and (thanks to being a “Millennial” I guess) the Internet. That’s when I discovered Christian apologetics.

The real goal for me was understanding. I wanted to be able to answer the general questions that non-believers have about the Christian faith: whether God exists, whether the Bible is reliable, etc. At the same time, I wanted to be prepared to defend my particular claims about Christianity against objections other Christians had. In particular, I took an interest in debates between Oneness Pentecostals and Trinitarians about the nature of God and about salvation.

Any Oneness Pentecostal who has delved into these waters as well knows that Trinitarians like to make this quip: “If Jesus was the Father, then who was he praying to?” Honestly, that question bothered me for a long time. I just didn’t understand how Jesus’ prayer life could be genuine if he knew that he was the Father all along.

At the beginning of 2018, I decided to attend my first theology conference. Thankfully I was able to make some great connections, and also to gain some new friends. Among them were a couple of the participants in Fuller’s Analytic Theology project. In conversation, Steven Nemes encouraged me to try to get published even as a Master’s student, and that’s what I sought to do immediately. Thanks to some other conversations I had at the conference, I thought I had a good idea of what I wanted to write about. Not long after that I saw TheoLogica’s call for papers on “the Son of God” and decided to write on Jesus’ prayers. When I first considered writing the paper, I actually thought that I could argue that the Oneness view of Jesus’ prayers involved a contradiction due to Jesus having contradictory states of awareness. But in the published paper, I take a different approach.

Tom Morris and the Two-Minds View

Due to my immersion in Christian apologetics in my teens, I came under the influence of William Lane Craig. I’ll have a lot more to say about this some other time, but for now this is how he fits in to this story: During some presentation of his (I can’t remember which), a student asked about the Incarnation and (I think) whether or not it was contradictory. That’s when Dr. Craig held up a copy of Tom Morris’ book The Logic of God Incarnate for the audience’s consideration. I know that I read the book after that, but I don’t recall precisely when.

Essentially, Morris argues in that book that the Incarnation does not involve saying that Christ has a certain property (like being omniscient) and its negation (like being limited in knowledge) in the same way. The reason is because, Morris says, we can imagine a possible case where Christ has two minds: a divine mind and a human mind. Because Christ’s human mind is “contained by” his divine mind, and therefore both belong to the same subject (i.e., God the Son), we can avoid the worry of contradictory properties. Of course, there’s a lot more to Morris’s view than this, and I’ll explain it in a later post.

Ironically, I came across some writings by a Oneness Pentecostal named Jason Dulle around the same time I learned about Morris’s book. (Honestly, I can’t remember if it was before or after I first read Morris’ book.) Dulle argues that Christ’s prayers do not involve two divine Persons—as Trinitarians he has interacted with have apparently repeatedly claimed—because he has two minds. In his human mind, God is completely aware of himself as a man. But this isn’t the case with Jesus’s divine mind. From his writings (which are still available, by the way),[1] I can’t tell if Dulle has ever read Morris. But it occurred to me, as I was preparing my article for TheoLogica, that Dulle could make use of Morris’s “two-minds” view. My paper gives substance to Dulle’s suggestion.

The Crucial Concession

In fact, Morris himself lends his two-minds view to this very project. At the end of The Logic of God Incarnate, he concedes that one might argue that Jesus’ prayers imply that there are two divine Persons who are (in a predicative sense) God. In the context of that paragraph, he has Social Trinitarians in mind, but I think this point doesn’t require Social Trinitarianism at all. That’s because other unitarian-types can make the same argument. All that’s required is the conclusion that Jesus’ prayers imply that Jesus and the Father are two persons, regardless of whether Jesus is also a divine Person.

This is Morris’ crucial concession on this point:

I should point out, however, that the two-minds view of Christ can be taken to block this common inference. For it seems possible to hold, on the two-minds view, that in prayer and other spiritual exercises engaged in by Jesus the earthly mind or consciousness was relating itself consciously to the overarching, properly divine mind, both of which, on the view developed, belong to one and the same divine person.
The Logic of God Incarnate (Ithica: Cornell University Press, 1986), 209.[2]

So here’s a respectable analytic philosopher directly saying that modalists (of which Oneness Pentecostals are a variety) can have a view of Jesus’ prayers that doesn’t require Jesus and the Father being two persons. If there has ever been a crucial concession for Oneness Pentecostals to capitalize on, its this one.

As I came to see, even if Oneness Pentecostals want to appropriate the two-minds view for their purposes, this seems to commit them to denying that Jesus is ever conscious of his divine identity while he is praying. That’s because, if he is ever conscious that he is the Father while he is praying, his experience of prayer isn’t sufficiently like an ordinary, human experience of prayer at all. If there’s anything that Jesus knows, it’s “what it’s like” to pray as a human. In fact, David Bernard and others have emphasized that Jesus prays as a man when they have attempted to explain Jesus’ prayer life. This is what I’m getting at in my thesis statement.

So, my claim in the paper is twofold:

  1. Oneness Pentecostals can use Morris’ two-minds view to avoid (what I agree with him is) the common claim that if Jesus prays to the Father, Jesus and the Father must be numerically distinct persons. If this part of my claim is correct, the argument that “Jesus prays to the Father, Q.E.D.” is not a sustainable one.
  2. If Oneness Pentecostals want to do this, though, Jesus cannot be conscious that he just is the Father while he is praying. If he is conscious of this fact, he doesn’t have a truly human experience of prayer. That is, he doesn’t know “what it’s like” to pray as you and I pray. A major consequence of this is that popular Oneness proof-texts for Jesus’ numerical identity with the Father lose their luster. Here I have in mind texts like John 10:30 and John 14:9. I’ll have more to say about this later on.

In the next post I’ll explain Morris’s two-minds view in greater detail, and show how he argues that Jesus can be tempted to sin even if he, as God the Son, is morally perfect. That post will cover Section 1 of my paper.


Footnotes:

[1] I’d recommend reading these articles:

  1. Jesus’ Prayers: It Doesn’t Take Two Persons to Tango.
  2. A Oneness View of Jesus’ Prayers.
  3. Avoiding the Achilles Heels of Trinitarianism, Modalistic Monarchianism, and Nestorianism: The Acknowledgement and Proper Placement of the Distinction Between Father and Son.

Then you can listen to some of Dulle’s presentations on the Oneness view of Christ. But note that in these presentations he makes the mistake of conjointly affirming that (1) Jesus is solely aware of himself as a man in his human mind/consciousness and (2) that Jesus claims to be the Father. As I argue in my paper, you can’t have it both ways.

[2] The book has since been re-printed by Wipf and Stock and uses the same page numbers.

5 thoughts on “Oneness Pentecostalism, the Two-Minds View, and the Problem of Jesus’ Prayers (Part 1)”

  1. I have been unsuccessful in posting this in times past. Trying again…

    Hello Skylar,

    I am Jason Dulle. I share your love of theology and apologetics (especially WLC), and apparently your Oneness background too. I would be interested to hear your story someday.

    Thank you for taking the time to digest and critique my theology. I think you have represented my take on the Father-Son relationship quite accurately overall. Rather than pointing out all of the areas of agreement, let me focus on the areas I think need some clarification and could help move the conversation forward.
    You wrote, “But note that in these presentations he makes the mistake of conjointly affirming that (1) Jesus is solely aware of himself as a man in his human mind/consciousness and (2) that Jesus claims to be the Father. As I argue in my paper, you can’t have it both ways.”

    I must admit that I have yet to read your paper (no time right now…sorry), but on the face of it, I don’t see why these two propositions cannot both be affirmed simultaneously. Knowing something and experiencing something are two different things. Why couldn’t Jesus know that He was identical in person to the Father, while at the same time experiencing Himself exclusively in a human way (Son) rather than in a divine way (Father)? While I believe that Jesus functioned as a human being 100% of the time, that doesn’t mean He was ignorant of His personal identity. He knew that He was the one eternal divine person, as well as the fact that He had become man. So while Jesus experienced Himself as fully human, He knew that His personal identity was none other than God Himself. While He did not experience Himself the way the Father experienced Himself (in a divine way), He knew that He and the Father shared the same personal identity. As such, Jesus could say “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” Why? Because there is no distinction between Jesus and the Father? No, there is a modal distinction. It’s because the Father is the one divine person, and Jesus is that same divine person in a human mode of existence. It would be similar to Jake Sully telling Neytiri (while in his Na’vi mode of existence), “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen Jake Sully the human being.” That wouldn’t mean that the blue Jake functioned or looked like the white Jake, but is merely to say that these numerically distinct bodies share the same personal identity. To know the blue Jake is to know the white Jake, despite their functional differences. In a similar way, the Father and Son share the same personal identity, though not the same experience.

    I’ll respond to the other points you have made in other posts in the comment sections of those posts. I hope to have a fruitful dialogue with you. Just know that I may be slow to respond at times due to my schedule.

    Jason

    Like

    1. Hi again Jason,

      Thanks for the comments.

      I address the knowledge vs. experience worry you raise here in the paper. In short, it’s because knowledge includes having a belief, and a belief is a mental state that philosophers of mind call an “access conscious” state. As I hope to have shown in the paper, access conscious states affect our experiences. These experiences have a certain “feel,” or “what it’s like” to have them that philosophers call “phenomenal conscious” states. If it’s the case that Jesus has the access conscious state “I am the same Person as the Father,” then I contend this will affect the phenomenal consciousness in his human mind. And if that’s the case, I argue further that Jesus cannot know, in his human mind, “what it’s like” to pray as you and I pray.

      Since I’m (slowly) blogging through the paper, I’ll break that down a little bit in another post as well. But it’s in the paper if you have a chance to read it before then.

      Like

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