Oneness Pentecostalism, the Two-Minds View, and the Problem of Jesus’ Prayers (Part 3)

Some time ago I discussed the introduction and section 1 of my paper in TheoLogica. I am now picking up my running explanation of the paper in light of my recent podcast interview on London Lyceum.

In this post we’ll cover section 2, which I call “Oneness Pentecostal Desiderata.” There are two questions here that I need to answer:

  1. What do Oneness Pentecostals typically believe about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
  2. What do Oneness Pentecostals typically believe about the Incarnation?

The section leaves much of (1) unanswered, which I will fill in here. I mostly focus on question (2) there. Let’s discuss these questions in order.

The Oneness Doctrine of God

As I say in this section, I am mostly following David K. Bernard’s work, since I am both former UPCI and because I am most familiar with him. Besides, in my estimation, he’s the most important Oneness Pentecostal author to discuss anyway.

There’s one mistake I made in this paper: Using the term “Person” of God. Bernard actually repudiates the term with relation to God himself. Nevertheless, due to space and consideration of the audience (which, let’s face it, is probably unfamiliar with Oneness), I felt that using the term was appropriate. However, when I have Oneness in view, I now prefer to speak of “subjects” rather than “P/persons.”

So, I say, “Oneness Pentecostals hold to the firm conviction that there is only one divine Person.” I don’t think there’s much need to quibble over “Person,” rightly understood. But here’s what I mean: On Oneness, there is only one ultimate subject of predication who is God. If Jesus (and the Holy Spirit) are also God, then they are one and the same subject as the Father. Whatever is true of Jesus (and the Holy Spirit) is true of the Father, without any distinction between these subjects as subjects. The only truly divine subject is God himself, who Oneness Pentecostals identify as the Father of creation and of Jesus Christ.

Nevertheless, Onenesss Pentecostals realize that the Bible speaks of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. On their explanation of things, it must be the case that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one and the same “he.” Typically, they say (as Bernard does) that this means that God reveals himself “as Father in creation, Son in redemption, and Holy Ghost in regeneration.” These are not three subjects; they are rather three ways that God himself—the only truly divine subject there is—reveals himself to humanity.

Now, we have to realize what Oneness Pentecostals do not affirm here. For some reason, “Sabellianism” seems to typically refer to the idea that God’s manifestations are sequential in time: God is Father until a certain time, and from then on is the Son, and from then on is the Holy Spirit. Oneness explicitly denies this; all of God’s manifestations can occur at once (e.g., the baptism of Jesus).

For anybody who is actually charitable to the Oneness view (and many aren’t), this has to be the case to make sense of the central claim of (what I call, standard) Oneness Christology.

“Jesus is the Father Incarnate”

That is, unless God’s manifestations can occur simultaneously, the central Oneness claim that “Jesus is the Father Incarnate” is literally unintelligible. If God is Father and stops being such at some time in order to become the Son, he isn’t the Father Incarnate (since that manifestation has ended). Again, anybody who tries to think about Oneness must recognize this, otherwise they are simply providing a straw man of the Oneness position.

Oneness Pentecostals largely affirm what conciliar Christology claims about Christ; except, of course, claims that are only true on Trinitarianism (such as that Christ has two nativities, per 2 Constantinople). I provide evidence for this in the paper, but what this means is that they accept:

  • the Chalcedonian definition of Christ as one subject with two distinct natures: human and divine; 
  • that Christ has two wills (dyothelitism) and therefore, arguably, two minds.

That’s enough to do some work in the paper.

What I also point out is that Oneness Pentecostals use “Jesus,” “Son of God,” and “Son” equivocally. Since I’ve been understood by Bernard himself, at this point, to be attributing deception to Oneness because I say “equivocally,” I need to clear that up.

This paper is within the genre of analytic theology. As such, I am using the term “equivocal” in the technical sense it’s used in logic. It simply means to use a term with more than one sense, or meaning. I have never said, nor did I imply, that by “equivocal” I mean something like a dictionary definition of using terms in a sneaky way. In my exchanges with him, Bernard has simply (and irresponsibly) read that meaning into my use of the term—again, despite the genre of discourse in which this paper appears and within which I am unmistakably operating.

There are three “things” to which “Jesus,” “Son of God,” and “Son” can refer:

  1. God himself—the only truly divine subject there is.
  2. The Incarnation in its entirety (God plus the human nature plus the relations between them).
  3. Christ’s human nature in particular.

I give evidence from Bernard to the effect that:

  • “Jesus” may refer to any of (1)-(3);
  • “Son” and “Son of God” refer to (2) and (3). Neither can refer to God himself, that is, God simplicter, without regard to the Incarnation.

At this point I need to clear up another confusion that Bernard has had when I have interacted with him on his Facebook page about this. It is Bernard himself who says that “Son” can refer to the human nature “alone” (his term, not mine!) as in “the Son died.” He seems to think I’m some ex-Oneness curmudgeon or something, because he doesn’t realize that I actually understand what he means here, and I prefer to say that “Son” can refer to the human nature in particularHe has taken me to be saying that “Son” refers to the human nature all by itself or something, which I clearly am not.

Let me give an example. Suppose I cut my hand and I say, “I am bleeding!” When I use “I” here, I’m not referring to myself apart from my body or something. That would be ridiculous. What I’m technically saying that this body that I possess is bleeding, in virtue of the fact that my hand is bleeding. Now, if I say “my hand is bleeding,” to refer to that part of me in particular that’s bleeding, that doesn’t mean I’m assuming my hand is some independent thing from me. I have no idea why Bernard hasn’t grasped this from what I’ve said, but this is not what I’m saying when I say Oneness uses “Son” to refer to the human nature in particular.

Hopefully if he or somebody else responds to my paper, they won’t credit me with caricaturing the Oneness claim here when I haven’t.

Moving on. I then go on to discuss models of the Incarnation, and what I think Bernard is committed to, based on his writings. I give arguments for this in the paper, and I say that Bernard’s model has to be a Model A compositional Christology. I’m not coming up with this stuff out of thin air, and I think Oneness Pentecostals need to carefully consider the analytic literature here so that they can be clear on what they mean.

Anyway, I’m not saying that every Oneness Pentecostal should take a Model A compositional Christology, and in fact I think they shouldn’t. The only reason I get into this in my paper is to show that I’m not arguing against (what I take to be) Bernard’s view of the Incarnation in particular. What I go on to argue about Jesus’ prayers hold no matter what Incarnation view one wants to take.

In the next section of the paper, we get into the fundamental problem of the paper that I am setting up: Oneness Pentecostals make inconsistent claims about Jesus Christ, and need to give something up.

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