Wednesday, May 27, 2015

week 3 Trilemma

Lewis's trilemma

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Lewis's trilemma is an apologetic argument traditionally used to prove the divinity of Jesus by arguing that the only alternative was that he was evil or deluded.[1] One version was popularised by University of Oxford historian and writer on religion C. S. Lewis in a BBC radio talk and in his writings. It is sometimes described as the "Lunatic, Liar, or Lord", or "Mad, Bad, or God" argument. It takes the form of a trilemma — a choice between three options, each of which is in some way difficult to accept.
This argument is very popular with Christian apologists, but largely ignored by theologians and biblical scholars, who do not view Jesus as having claimed to be God. Some argue that he identified himself as a divine agent, with a unique relationship to Israel's God .[2] Others see him as wanting to direct attention to the divine kingdom he proclaimed. [3] The current majority opinion among Biblical scholars is that the proclamation of the divinity of Jesus was a product of the Christian communities in the years after his death.[4]


This argument was widely cited in various forms in the nineteenth century. It was used by the American preacher Mark Hopkins in his book Lectures on the Evidences of Christianity (1846), based on lectures delivered in 1844.[5] Another early use of this approach was by the Scots preacher "Rabbi" John Duncan (1796–1870), around 1859–60:[6]
Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable.
Other preachers who used this approach included Reuben Archer Torrey (1856–1928)[7] and W. E. Biederwolf (1867–1939).[8] The writer G.K. Chesterton used something similar to the Trilemma in his book, The Everlasting Man (1925),[9] which Lewis cited in 1962 as the second book that most influenced him.[10]

Lewis's formulation

C. S. Lewis was an Oxford medieval Literature scholar, popular writerChristian apologist, and former atheist. He used the argument outlined below in a series of BBC radio talks later published as the book Mere Christianity.
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.[11]
Lewis, who had spoken extensively on Christianity to Royal Air Force personnel, was aware many ordinary people did not believe Jesus was God, but saw him rather as "a 'great human teacher' who was deified by his supporters"; his argument is intended to overcome this.[1] It is based on a traditional assumption that, in his words and deeds, Jesus was asserting a claim to be God. For example, in Mere Christianity, Lewis refers to what he says are Jesus' claims:
  • to have authority to forgive sins—behaving as if he really was "the person chiefly offended in all offences."[12]
  • to have always existed, and
  • to intend to come back to judge the world at the end of time.[13]
Lewis implies that these amount to a claim to be God and argues that they logically exclude the possibility that Jesus was merely "a great moral teacher", because he believes no ordinary human making such claims could possibly be rationally or morally reliable. Elsewhere, he refers to this argument as "the aut Deus aut malus homo" ("either God or a bad man"),[14] a reference to an earlier version of the argument used by Henry Parry Liddon in his 1866 Bampton Lectures, in which Liddon argued for the divinity of Jesus based on a number of grounds, including the claims he believed Jesus made.[15]

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