Jason Dulle’s Oneness Pentecostal Christology

Jason Dulle is a Oneness Pentecostal writer who has received some formal training in theology, and has clearly studied philosophy as well. In particular, it’s clear to me that Dulle has been (perhaps heavily) influenced like William Lane Craig, as he takes a number of positions that Craig does. In particular, Dulle seems to adopt Craig’s view of God’s relationship to time, and also seems to conceive of natures as abstract rather than concrete.

I think that Dulle is an original and lucid Oneness writer, and that what he has written deserves attention. In particular, he has defended a particular view of the Incarnation that avoids Christ’s prayers entailing that Jesus and the Father are two persons.

As I have said elsewhere, his suggestion is what I had in mind when I wrote my recently-published journal article on Jesus’ prayers. In this post I want to explain Dulle’s view and how it avoids the entailment I just mentioned.

Two to Tango?

Sometimes those who object to the Oneness Pentecostal view of God and Christ act like Oneness folks haven’t thought through the implications of their views. In my experience as a former member of the UPCI, it was not uncommon to hear something like this quip as if I’d never heard it before: “If Jesus just is the one God Incarnate, then who was he praying to? Himself?”

Now, I admit that the problem lurking here needs to be taken seriously, but simply asking that question isn’t a smackdown argument as some would suppose. The intuition behind the objection, of course, is that if Jesus prays to the Father, he must be numerically distinct from the Father. Otherwise it seems like he isn’t really praying like you and I do. Instead, he’s perhaps thinking out loud or something else.

At the very least, I think Dulle agrees with me on this: If Jesus doesn’t know “what it’s like” to pray as other humans pray, then it’s difficult to make sense of his prayers to the Father. So the Oneness Pentecostal needs to come up with some Christological model that not only allows for Jesus to know “what it’s like” to pray like ordinary humans, but also that blocks the claim that his prayers necessarily entail that Jesus is numerically distinct from the Father.

This is what Dulle attempts to do across a couple of pieces he has written. He suggests that, subsequent to the Incarnation, the one divine Person who just is God has two minds (and consciousnesses). Here’s what Dulle says in this regard:

When God became man He took up a human existence, being conscious of Himself exclusively as man in that mode of existence, all the while continuing to be conscious of Himself as God transcendent to the incarnation in His continued divine mode of existence. Understanding this existential distinction in the one person of God is paramount to understanding the communication between the Father and Son. . . .

Subsequent to the incarnation, then, God exists in two distinct modes, and is conscious of Himself in two distinct ways: as God, as man. In His continued mode of existence transcendent to the incarnation He functions exclusively as God; in His incarnate mode of existence He functions exclusively as man.
“Jesus’ Prayers: It Doesn’t Take Two Persons to Tango”

He then provides a diagram that illustrates his suggestion, which I have not received Dulle’s permission to share. I’d recommend you view that diagram from the link I provided above.

Because they are so important, I need to clearly reiterate two of Dulle’s central claims, lest they be overlooked:

  1. Subsequent to the Incarnation, God is conscious of himself in two ways: in a divine way, and in a human way.
  2. In each of these ways that God is conscious of himself, his conscious experiences are relativized to that consciousness. God’s conscious experiences of himself as a man are not experienced in God’s conscious experiences as God (and vise versa).

Dulle doesn’t say exactly how God’s two minds/consciousnesses relate to one another, other than they are both “had” or perhaps “belong” to God himself. Minds (and consciousnesses) must belong to persons. Since Dulle wants to say that there is only one Person, yet two natures, in the Incarnation, the divine and human minds/consciousnesses both belong to God himself.

The fact that God has two minds/consciousnesses allows God, through his human consciousness, to have truly human experiences. This includes the truly human experience of prayer. Jesus can experience “what it’s like” to pray to God just like you and I do, because those conscious human experiences are distinct from the conscious experiences God has through his divine mind/consciousness. This seems to be a logically possible way to make sense of Jesus’ relationship with the Father without requiring that Jesus and the Father are two persons.

Some Corollaries

There are a couple of other things that are true on Dulle’s proposal. Some of these he explains himself, while others are logical corollaries of his proposal.

The first is that “Father” and “Son” do not refer to persons, but rather “modes of existence,” or “ways” that the one God exists. The only term between “God,” “Father,” and “Son” that refers to God himself is, well, “God.” The Father and Son are not persons on this understanding, but rather ways that the one God exists. Otherwise we have two persons in the Incarnation, which ought to be an unwelcome result for Oneness Pentecostals.

Furthermore, “Father” and “Son” seem to refer to “God-as-he-is-aware-of-himself-through-consciousness-x,” where x refers to either his divine consciousness or human consciousness. That large, hyphenated “mode” isn’t a divine or human person, but rather the sum total of God’s conscious experiences through a particular consciousness that God has. It’s a way the one God has conscious activity.

If “Father” and “Son” refer to two “modes of existence,” or two numerically distinct ways God has conscious activity, then “Father” and “Son” are not numerically identical. Also, God is not numerically identical to either the Father or the Son. This is why Dulle claims the following:

Because Oneness Pentecostals understand that the person of the Father is identical to the person of the Son, we are often tempted to use “Father” and “Son” interchangeably, calling Jesus (Son) the Father and calling the Father Jesus (or Son). In light of the modal distinction these appellations represent, however, I think this temptation needs to be overcome.

While it is true that the Father and Son are the same person, “Father” and “Son” are used in Scripture to distinguish God’s divine mode of existence (Father) from His human mode of existence (Son). “Father” speaks of God’s cosmic mode of existence, while “Son” speaks of that same God’s existence as man. To use the two appellations interchangeably on the basis that we know the Father and Son are the same person not only disrespects God’s revelation, but it also tends to confuse the distinction between God’s cosmic and human modes of existence.
“Avoiding the Achilles Heels of Trinitarianism, Modalistic Monarchianism, and Nestorianism: The Acknowledgement and Proper Placement of the Distinction Between Father and Son”

The following is also implicit from what Dulle says just above: The statement “God is the Father” and “God is the Son” are both true when the copula (“is”) is predicative. “Father” and “Son” are apt (or true) predicates of God because it is God who “owns” these ways he has conscious activities. But, on Dulle’s view, this doesn’t grant the Oneness Pentecostal the right to say the Father is the Son (and vise versa).

Additionally, a subject’s rational nature is what grants that subject the right sort of capacities that give rise to particular ways of being conscious. In other words, having a rational nature of a particular kind means the subject who has that nature can be conscious in a particular way (among other things). Dulle conceives of natures as properties, or perhaps sets of properties, and therefore accepts an abstract nature view. He says:

A nature is the generic substance that is common to all men, being that which makes humanity what it is; a nature is a set of essential characteristics or properties which mark off what sort of thing an individual is. . . .

Jesus’ human nature does not pray, but God, the person, utilizes the human attributes inherent to the human nature to pray in the manner allowed by that nature. God prayed as man in and through His human existence, via the human properties that were His by virtue of the hypostatic union.
“A Oneness View of Jesus’ Prayers”

Finally, following on the heels of the prior quote, Dulle interestingly admits that it is not only true that “there was a time when the Son was not,” but also that there was a time when the Father was not:

The deity of the Son is known as “YHWH” prior to the incarnation, and “Son” only after the incarnation for the purpose of distinguishing God’s new existence as a human being from God’s continued existence as God. “Father” and “Son” are relational terms arising in the incarnation to describe the temporal relationship between God’s cosmic and human modes of existence.
—”A Oneness View of Jesus’ Prayers”

Neither the Father, nor the Son, are eternal. Only the one God, who is (predicatively) Father and Son subsequent to the Incarnation is eternal.

As we’ll see in the next post, Dulle puts many of these ideas to use in his proposed solution to Patripassianism, which, in a narrow sense, refers to the view that the Father suffered (and died) on the Cross.

4 thoughts on “Jason Dulle’s Oneness Pentecostal Christology”

  1. Hi Skylar,

    As I noted in my comments on your previous post, I’m continuing to respond to some areas that are in need of clarification.

    You wrote: “The first is that “Father” and “Son” do not refer to persons, but rather “modes of existence,” or “ways” that the one God exists. The only term between “God,” “Father,” and “Son” that refers to God himself is, well, “God.” The Father and Son are not persons on this understanding, but rather ways that the one God exists.”

    It’s true that I would say “Father” and “Son” are different ways in which the one God exists/experiences Himself, but I would not be averse to saying the Father is a person and the Son is a person. Since the Father is God, and the Son is God, and God is a person, then it follows that the Father is a person and the Son is a person. The real question is mathematical. Does this make one person or two? My answer depends on the perspective through which one is asking that question. If they are asking it from an ontological perspective, trying to answer the question of how many personal identities there are, then I would answer “One.” If they are asking it from a functional perspective, then I would say “Two.” From a functional perspective, there must be two persons involved because there are two different consciousnesses and two different loci of activity. Unlike Trinitarians, however, I would not claim that these are two divine persons, but rather one divine person and one human person. Again, this is just from a functional perspective, because if one were speaking metaphysically, to say Jesus is a human person would be Nestorian. In summary, ontologically speaking, the Father and Son are one and the same person, but functionally speaking we could say that the Father and Son are distinct persons (one divine, one human) because each has a different conscious experience via the two natures. So I have no problem saying the Father is a person and that the Son is a person.

    You write, “Finally, following on the heels of the prior quote, Dulle interestingly admits that it is not only true that ‘there was a time when the Son was not,’ but also that there was a time when the Father was not. … [then you quote me] … Neither the Father, nor the Son, are eternal. Only the one God, who is (predicatively) Father and Son subsequent to the Incarnation is eternal.”

    It’s not so much that what you have written is inaccurate as it is that this could be misleading to some of your readers. It could sound like I’m saying God gained two modes of existence at the incarnation, when in fact I only affirm that He gained one. So what do I mean when I say God is neither eternally Father nor eternally Son? God is not eternally “Son” because “Son” refers specifically to God’s incarnate mode of existence, and that began a finite time ago. Likewise, God is not eternally “Father” because “Father” is a term that specifically refers to God’s relationship to the incarnate human being that He became. But I don’t mean to imply that the mode of “Father” did not exist eternally (and by “mode” I am specifically thinking of metaphysical identity and function/experience). The person identified as “Father” did not change either His identity or His function at the incarnation. Both before and after the incarnation the “Father” was the divine person and functioned as the divine person. The only change He experienced due to the incarnation was relating to the human being whom He had become, and due to this relationship, you might say He experienced a “name change” (from YHWH to Father). I put scare quotes around “name change” because (1) I don’t mean to imply that God literally changed His name, nor (2) that God was never called “father” or likened to a father prior to the incarnation. As you probably know from my writings, I only mean to say that the way in which God is called “father” in the NT is markedly different from the way He was called/likened to “father” in the OT.

    Jason

    Like

    1. Hi Jason,

      Thank you for taking the time to respond to my posts. Just a brief note on this for now: Unless you are sympathetic to some relative identity thesis, it seems to me that your actual view both collapses God’s modes, and is at bottom incoherent. I’d be glad to expand on that if you’d like. If I’m right about that, then I think the way I have interpreted you is more charitable and plausible.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s