Review and Critique of
When God Prays by Skip Heitzig
Review by Barbara Buzzard
In the first three pages of this book we have a contradiction startling and dramatic but so unnoticed that no proofreader or editorial board apparently objected. As a foreword to the book, John 17:1-26 is quoted. Verse 3 says this: “This is eternal life – to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent.” Next, author and Pastor Skip Heitzig says this: “What makes this prayer so remarkable and so deserving of both study and emulation? For one thing, Jesus himself prayed it. This intrigues me. Why, of all people, would Jesus Christ, Israel’s Messiah and our Saviour, need to pray? After all, he’s God, right?”
Actually no, not according to John 17:3 just quoted, which states that the Father alone is the true God. Nor according to 1 Corinthians 8:6 which phrases it this way: “For us there is but one God, the Father…” So at this point, I think, we are entering dangerous territory. We have just had a terrifyingly blatant contradiction: the Father is being addressed by the Son as being the only true God, and then the author says of Jesus, “After all, he’s God, right?” No, not right at all, sorry, that position has already been taken. It is occupied by the Father. At the very least we deserve a “Hey, wait a minute; I thought you just agreed that the Father was the only true God.” As A. H. Newman says of the Trinity and this sort of mental gymnastic: “It is a contradiction, indeed, and not merely a verbal contradiction, but an incompatibility in the human ideas conveyed. We can scarcely make a nearer approach to an exact enunciation of it, than of saying that one thing is two things.”
Praying is a very serious activity; one needs to know to whom one is praying. To pray is not to be God. It is to seek God. We are being asked to believe that one God is praying to another. Pastor Heitzig states that “The primary goal of prayer should be to deepen our relationship with God.” He also says, “We begin to see prayer for what it really is – a source of spiritual strength. Prayer fortifies us and gives us the strength to stand immovable.” And please consider this from Pastor Heitzig: “In a real sense, that’s what balanced prayer is like. Instead of being an exercise in self-gratification, it’s one of spiritual edification as we spend time with God.”
Let us now examine what was just put forth in this book, and not offered as theory, but as doctrine: one God trying to deepen his relationship with the other and one God who is apparently weak and prays to the other for spiritual strength. And we have one who is praying to the other for spiritual edification. In doing this, one has to change God’s own definition of Himself as being all powerful and we inevitably end up with a figure of our own imagination. Surely as Christians we are to be committed to Jesus’ view and also to his creed: “Jesus replied, ‘The most important commandment is this: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord” (Mark 12:29).
Is it not a tragedy of gigantic proportions that in this technically sophisticated 21st century we are still arguing that one can really mean two?! Or that you can have more than 100% (in the assertion that Jesus was 100% man and 100% God)? Pastor Heitzig states that Jesus “didn’t empty himself of being God.” However, there are certain things that are impossible. We all know that there are things which God cannot do. He cannot lie; he cannot die; he cannot commit unholy acts. I would even venture to say that in defining Who God is – we might even say that God is One Who does not pray. He is all sufficient. He is where the buck stops. We must not malign His own character as the brilliant Being who set things up this way. For example: you cannot have a glass that is full of water and full of milk at the same time any more than you can have a lady who is pregnant and not pregnant at the same time or a man who is both married and unmarried. We have been taught that Jesus is a God-man. How very odd that there was a perfectly good word meaning God-man in the Greek language and yet that word was never once used of Jesus. Words, misused, corrupt the thinking. Scripture refers to Jesus as a man, even after his ascension (1 Tim. 2:5). And again, never as a God-man.
Pastor Heitzig: “In his prayer to the Father in John 17, Jesus again demonstrates his omniscience.” However, on the back cover of the book, it is stated that “Throughout his life on earth, Jesus demonstrated his dependence on the Father by spending time in prayer.” Can we really have a God who is dependent and yet omniscient? Is this sound? Words cannot mean what we want them to mean. Let us leave that to Alice in Through the Looking Glass. In Lectures in Divinity, however, note what is admitted: "It might tend to moderation and in the end agreement, if we were industrious on all occasions to represent our own doctrine (the Trinity) as wholly unintelligible."
I am not naïve in these matters. I have felt the bitter sting of the tongue of a pastor who cursed me for not conforming to convention. I understand that most of orthodoxy engages in thinking like this: 1+1+1=1. But why if these doctrines are secure is there so much hatred, persecution and name-calling? I would venture to say that the true church is persecuted but never persecutes. What is there to fear from me? If it is true it can surely stand up to questioning and critical thinking (the very reasoning which God invites us to engage in). I am like an ant attacking an elephant, but to allow thinking like this to remain unchallenged when God gave us logic, reason, and skills to study and understand His Scriptures seems awfully wrong. There are so many scholars, seminarians, professors, writers, and historians who know that orthodoxy took some wrong turns and created or invented its theology for private motives. For example, “No responsible NT scholar would claim that the doctrine of the Trinity was taught by Jesus, or preached by the earliest Christians, or consciously held by any writers of the NT.” “It must be admitted by everyone who has the rudiments of an historical sense that the doctrine of the Trinity formed no part of the original message. St. Paul did not know it, and would have been unable to understand the meaning of the terms used in the theological formula on which the Church ultimately agreed.”
Consider, please the following points which you would have to adhere to in order to maintain the orthodox belief that “after all, He’s God, right?” (And please note what Pastor Heitzig said re: Jesus, while on earth: “He did not exchange deity for humanity. He didn’t empty himself of being God. Divinity was his very nature. He only gave up certain aspects of his position.”) So please do not feel free to justify an action by saying “that was when he was human.”
 Skip Heitzig, When God Prays, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., p. 4.