The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The Restrained Power Model of the Incarnation

The mystery of the incarnation is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, remained fully divine while becoming fully human. Almighty divinity became a human.[1] Many philosophers say that such an incarnation is “impossible, self-contradictory, incoherent, absurd, and unintelligible” because the divinity that supposedly created the universe with almighty power cannot also be a human with finite power.[2] This brief introduction of the “restrained power model of the incarnation” proposes an analogy of how an almighty deity can temporarily restrain himself to use only finite power.

As stated above, many philosophers claim that an almighty deity is incapable of temporarily limiting himself to human finiteness. However, there are many examples of power with temporary restraints. For example, a particular power ratchet wrench has a maximum torque of seventy foot-pound force while the wrench torque adjusts from one to seventy foot-pound force. In some uses of the wrench, the seventy foot-pound force would destroy the bolt so the wrench is sometimes set to a lesser torque such as ten foot-pound force. Likewise, for a particular job, the wrench operates at no more than ten foot-pound force while the wrench was fully compatible with working at seventy foot-pound force. The wrench never lost its full power, but temporarily used a setting of a lesser power. Also, when the wrench goes back to it full power, it never loses its ability to operate at lesser powers.

The example of the adjustable power ratchet wrench is a powerful analogy for the incarnation. The Son of God, the Almighty, temporarily limited his power to human limits on earth while remaining fully capable of creating new universes and knowing all possibilities. There is no impossibility, self-contradiction, incoherency, absurdity, or unintelligibly in this analogy of the incarnation. In fact, it appears absurd to insist that a maximally powerful deity could not temporarily limit himself to a finite human life on earth.

  1. The term almighty requires a caveat. Almighty means “all possible power, within the context of consistency.” For example, an almighty deity cannot make an unbending rod that he cannot bend because this scenario is logically impossible and physically inconsistent. In other words, an almighty deity has maximal power, all possible power.

  2. Murray, Michael and Rea, Michael, “Philosophy and Christian Theology”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =

  3. Murray, Michael and Rea, Michael, “Philosophy and Christian Theology.”

It looks like you’re arguing a standard kenotic Christology, where the eternal Logos temporarily surrenders his enjoyment/possession of certain divine attributues.

I think this can work for SOME attributes, like ‘power’. There’s no divine attribute at stake in God’s granting us power or ‘say-so’ to choose freely, even to say ‘no’ to God. Your wratchet analogy works well here.

But the analogy doesn’t work so well with other attributes traditionally thought to be essential to being divine, like omniscience. If omniscience is ‘knowledge of all truths’ and such knowledge is definitive of divine being, then it’s hard to imagine the Logos giving this up to incarnate. Omnisciences isn’t the sort of thing one gives up but still possesses in potential (like potential power). One is either all-knowing or not, and if not, then one is ignorant of some truths. I have difficulty saying the Logos (in whom the universe coheres and is sustained) is ignorant of any truth. But surely Jesus was not omniscient. The traditional answer to this dilemma is the two-minds Christology. Do you combine the two-minds view with a version of the kenotic view?


Thanks, Tom. I’m still crunching through the philosophical material on this. Perhaps you could help me think through some of the critical details. I know that I’m at least close to kenotic Christology, but I’m unsure if there are some catches to it that I reject. However, perhaps I’m soon to concede that I hold to standard kenotic Christology.

I don’t suppose that the two co-existing/unified natures of Christ include two co-existing/unified minds, but perhaps this is hard to pinpoint. In any case, I definitely reject belief that Christ ever had two separate minds, if that’s what your asking.

I stated, “The Son of God, the Almighty, temporarily limited his power to human limits on earth while remaining fully capable of creating new universes and knowing all possibilities.” For example, Jesus said in Mark that the Son knew less than the Father about the appointed time for the return of the Lord. And I suppose that Christ temporarily filtered/restrained his omniscience during his earthly life. During that time, he could have accessed his omniscience at any moment. But Christ restrained his omniscience until perhaps when he ascended back to the heavenly dimension of the Father.

Do you see any inconsistency with this scenario?

Is this still kenotic Christology?

I hold that the divine nature of Christ never reduced in power during the earthly life of Jesus, so if that’s inconsistent with kenotic Christology then I don’t hold to kenotic Christology. Also, I see that knowledge is a subset of power, as did the imperial church fathers. For example, omnipotence by definition includes omniscience.


I’m not exactly ‘up’ on this either. I do know that kenotic views fall along a continuum, some more radical than others. There are disagreements over just what (attributes?) were given up or abandoned temporarily.

I think what your second paragraph describes is the two-minds view (much debated and ultimately adopted as orthodox by the Eastern Fathers, I’m guessing by the Western as well, but I’m not sure).

The eternal person of the Logos, in whom all created entities cohere and are sustained, can’t abandon this relation to the created order. Creation only exists by means of this relationship, and it entails the Logos’ omniscient apprehension and sustaining of the cosmos in its entirety. So that has to stay in tact. However, it’s difficult to attribute this same apprehension of the cosmos to the conscious duties of the earthly Jesus. He was ignorant of many things. So how do you account for both, which you seem to want to do as well? You posit two minds, or two spheres of consciousness. Perhaps the created mind of Jesus can lie within that of the Logos (like a smaller circle drawn within a larger circle), instead of two circles that don’t overlap at all. I think this was Millard Erickson’s view. Can’t remember.


The power of God - though omnipotent, does not necessitate being perpetually “used” in an infinite scope, in a way that is “dramatic”.

Christ broke bread and made it multiply, rebuked the sea, etc. I’d think that the power of God is often misunderstood by Man in his fallen state. Christ’s power I don’t believe was restrained, or anything just because he is God expressed in a human form. Being emptied of his glory does not necessarily mean that he became helpless, or weakened, I’d rather state that he emptied himself of that overwhelming presence that he had as the Angel of the Lord, or that he has in Revelation. Going from white haired divine Lord with every kind of fearful, and angelic feature wrapped in flaming cherubim sitting majestic on a sapphire throne shrouded in fiery, lightning riddled cloud…to being a humble carpenter…Well one can see why Paul would write such a thing as “emptying himself of his glory”. But the reality of the situation, is that his “outward” expression of his glory was more what was put aside, rather than his inner majesty, which was clearly present even to the end of his life, and then all of his expression of glory returned when he lived again, just as it had when he was transfigured on the mount. He was not “restrained” by any means, but simply expressed that same infinite power in a different medium, I believe.

I think it is important to understand that the power of God is in Himself, not in his size, or in how dramatically it is expressed.

Firstly, because God was also expressing his omniessential self as the infinite Father at the same time as the divinely-human Son (Trinity). It was not as though God stuffed himself into a pinpoint in his creation and left his post as Father entirely. He was both pinpoint (human), and everywhere (infinite spirit) at the same time.

Secondly, the power of God is not about the ability to part seas, and tear down meteors to besiege the Earth, or calling down legions of angels to obliterate the Romans. Christ could do these things even while he was carrying his cross and bleeding to death. When it comes to the power of God, and Christ, we should remember what he said to the Pharisees; “Which is easier? To say to this man ’ get up and walk’ or that your sins are forgiven?”

The power of God is not mere dominance over creation, or superiority over it by means of force from outside of himself; the power of God is something more profound, his power is the assertion, or insertion of his very self over, and within his work. Creator interacting over, and within, the Created.

Christ’s power was not restrained because he was “finite” in terms of his envesselment, because his (God’s) power does not depend on how he expresses himself, his size; his ability to express himself depends on his power which depends on him - he does not depend on his power to be God. And aside from all of this, the power of God to forgive sins is one of his greatest miracles, if Christ could do this - then he is little “restrained”, only it is a different sort of infinite power that man (being ignorant) isn’t impressed by, when he should be.

His power to create (more bread and fish), rebuke and control his creation (rebuke the sea, call down angels, wither fig trees, heal the sick, etc), and the weightier powers (cleaning hearts, and rising from the dead) were not “restrained” - they were in fact made infinitely more profound and higher so, because it became known that God’s power is not dependent on his size, but perfectly dependent on himself whether expressed incarnate, or not.

God is truly free in himself, and his power - he does not have to perform as a divine magician trying to hide his tricks. He can walk amongst us as the perfect human, and still be perfectly divine, unrestrained - but meek and gentle.

Wind does not forever have to be a hurricane to be the wind.


Thank you for helping me to think through this. I suppose that I hold to kenotic Christology and two natures of Christ’s mind. I feel comfortable saying “two natures,” “two spheres,” or “two modes” of Christ’s mind, but I don’t feel comfortable saying “two minds” of Christ. Perhaps some people say “two minds” and mean “two natures” and nothing more, but I want to avoid possible misinterpretation of saying “two minds.”

At this point, I feel that I’ve got an excellent analogy for the incarnation while I still need to work on details of the ascension. I suppose my main idea for the ascension is that the human nature of mind is made in the image of God while there are no limits for the expansion of the human mind after the resurrection.

I’ll also clarify that no creature will ever have omniscience, but perhaps all creatures will forever grow in knowledge.

Good stuff Jim.

The main reason the Fathers give (if I’m not confusing things) for saying two “minds” in Christ is in order to preserve the full humanity of Christ. The Logos had to assume to himself (i.e., to his already full slate of divine capacities and attributes) all the kind-essential attributes of human nature. So whatever is definitive of human nature per se is what the Logos embraced, and the Fathers aruged (correctly I think) that a human mind is definitive of human being. But IF the Logos merely supplies his own already divine mind in the place of the human, THEN you get the supplanting of the human by the divine and not the embracing or taking up of the human by the divine.


This is more difficult than I supposed. I’ve been seeing the Son temporarily restraining his omniscience in the divine nature of his mind. This is no reduction of omniscience, but a self imposed restraint. And this is in the context of seeing knowledge as a subset of power. And I also suppose that for the sake of the universe, the Father couldn’t do the same thing at the same time.

If you understand what I’m describing, does this appear as a major problem to you?

I also caution against saying “two minds” because it could be seen as two persons, which was proposed by Nestorius in the 5th century and clearly rejected by the church fathers. Of course, many evidently hold to “two minds” and reject Nestorianism.

Maybe because God being love and God being light (and in him there is no darkness) are the only 2 essential attributes that Jesus needed to posess to remain Divine in his earthly incarnation?

So it looks like you want to limit the knowledge of the Logos, during the incarnation, to that of Jesus. During those earthly years, the Logos doesn’t know anything more than Jesus knows. And you want the Father to pick up the slack during this time, stepping into those relations that we usually attribute to the Logos (like sustaining the universe, having all things hold together in one’s self, etc.).

Personally I don’t think the parallel between ‘knowledge’ and ‘power’ works here. One can possess power in potentia and so choose to limit the exercise of that power and we can still (I think) rightly say such a being is all-powerful. I’m not sure this works with omniscience to say that one is still omniscient if one is ignorant (even by choice) of certain truths but has the potential to know that of which he’s ignorant, for omniscience is the knowing of all truths, not the potential knowing of all truths. To not know some truth is what we typically call ignorance, right? And I’ve always (as I think the Fathers did) thought of the Logos as continuing his cosmic role as he in whom all things are held together, sustainer, etc., during the incarnation. That means the Logos’ experience as a personal, knowing, choosing, feeling being isn’t limited to that of Jesus (during the incarnation). The Logos is now owner of a divine experience (necessarily) and a human experience (contingently). The former (i.e., divinity) involves a necessary omniscience, no?


Not quite. During the earthly years, the Logos was omniscient and self-restrained to functional ignorance.

The Father and Logos always partnered in the sustaining of creation. I don’t suppose that all of the Old Testament verses about the Lord sustaining things referred only to the Logos. The Logos temporarily assumed a functional unconscious partnering with the Father while the Logos temporarily focused on a three-decade earthly mission with functional ignorance and total dependance on the Father.

In short, I’m strongly convinced that omniscience and functional ignorance are logically compatible. I suppose that there is some analogy in our memory. All humans have memories that they don’t actively think about on a daily basis. This might have something to do with our subconsciousness. This has been bubbling in me for many years. I’ll develop this in detail in a future article or chapter.

I typically never saw the Logos in a conscious role in sustaining the cosmos during the earthly mission. (Perhaps I’ve gotten slack for this.) But I maintain that the Logos remained omniscient and self-restrained to functional ignorance.

This is a hard question: Can you explain how the Logos can be functionally omniscient in his divine mine and functionally ignorant in his human mind at the same while remaining one person? Also, even if this explainable, I don’t see this doing justice to Jesus saying that the Son knows less than the Father.

I suppose that I hold to what Murray and Rea call “functional kenosis.”

I skimmed through the first part of this thread, but I wanted to offer two suggestions before I go on with my day:

  1. Is it possible that the Son did not limit Himself, but that the Father limited Him? This would work well with the idea of the Son’s eternal submission to the Father.

  2. We know that our subconscious is generally more aware than our limited consciousness which is only able to focus on certain segments of thought/data at a time. Not only does our subconscious aid in processing sensory data, but it also seems to imbue things with meaning or read meaning out of them beyond what we’re typically aware of. This is corroborated by the effect of subliminal messages. Thus, is it possible that the divine knowledge of the Logos remained present and became a part of His subconscious as Jesus? EDIT: regardless of this case or not, amnesia can cause temporary memory loss. Is it not possible that the Son could induce something related to amnesia in himself (or that the Father could induce it in the Son)?

This also seems to be related to something that’s bothered me before: how did the Logos, who seems to run our universe, run it during the earthly years of Jesus? Was it a sort of automatic running of the universe, or WERE there two minds (a suggestion that is abhorrent to me), or is it really that the Spirit runs it, being the active force of the universe, and that the Logos merely oversees that? (EDIT: I see now that was addressed, although I’d suggest that by directly interacting with anything, I would think that the Father would perhaps be limiting himself or at least making it possible in some sense to see His form or hear His voice which the Son denied anyone can do but him? Of course that may only imply that the Father does things beyond our immediate detection and understanding… hm.)

Ah, how vastly incomprehensible the divine is!

Actually, I just now had another idea: we do have record of the “Word of God” appearing to people in old testament times and interacting with them, or in other words what you could call pre-incarnate Christophanies.

Is it possible that the Son, while for the most part transcending the dimensions that we are subject to, is able to know everything without necessarily knowing the entire future, like someone seeing an aerial view of earth? And when his Father subjects him to limitations this awareness decreases. After all, if he’s the image of the invisible then he’s somehow a part of the fabric of space-time, or rather space-time is part of the fabric of HIS being (Col. 1:17).

And while transcending time would seem to indicate that He would know the entirety of it including His own second coming, it is possible that the Father could keep specific portions of the future from the Son’s grasp at certain times. Of course, even saying that there are different times for the Son would seem to indicate that He is not timeless, necessarily. Hm…

Those are more elusive difficulties, I suppose. For the time being, maybe our view of the incarnation needs a little revision:

We know that Jesus Christ was both God and man. But how was this unified being constituted? Was it merely that God took on a human appearance (just a body), period, end of sentence? This would seem to indicate that temptation was impossible for Him, for can God even be tempted? I suppose that could debated, but He would also not have all of the normal mortal vulnerabilities that we have in order to fulfill the priestly role perfectly. Thus He was human at least in some extent of the soul. Perhaps the whole extent. Is it possible therefore that He was God in spirit only? Is it possible that the Logos, while still remaining transcendent, formed a human body and soul for Himself to move through? But some have said that a soul is formed through the combination of the spirit and body. Would such an occurrence constitute the amount of human vulnerability that we find in Jesus? Vulnerability which perhaps was merely a tension between the weakness of the body and the spiritual realm? (Of course, the Christian creed in Philippians 2:7 seems to deny that the Son remained transcendent during Jesus’ earthly ministry. Also, it implies that the Son did the limiting Himself, though not necessarily denying that the Father helped.)

These are some profound, bewildering questions. Not sure how close we can get, but it sure is interesting.

This is definitely causing me to have to rethink my theology a bit! I think I’ve adopted some views in the past that are frankly causing me some concern now as I guess I was approaching God from too much of a mechanistic metaphysical viewpoint. That viewpoint just seems untenable in the face of both reality and scripture - thankfully! I’d rather be worshipping a personal, interactive and dynamic God, not a force or mere state of being. However, I still value the viewpoint that the different members are explicitly different and have intrinsically different roles and characteristics, even if they’re not so distinct that they constitute almost as entirely different states of being that a modalist might insist upon (although I’m not entirely familiar with modalist theology) - states of being that might require almost an impossibility of communication between them. But at least at this point, I would insist that whatever the role that the Son has in creation and the sustaining of the universe, it must somehow bring a distinct flavor to it apart from the Father (perhaps he merely concerns Himself with direct interventions, for instance, which may happen far more often than we think).

Guess it’s time to start erasing things off the whiteboard and do some heavy thought about this, as I have time. Prayer and meditation helps, along with communing with God in nature. And scripture reading, of course (although that can confuse the issue without dealing with some assumptions first).

And actually, probably the preeminent issue is finding out what the authors of scripture intended, what the then-current theology was, what the earliest Christian writers had to say, etc.