Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Quote: C.S. Lewis on Jesus Christ

"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 be either a lunatic — on a 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."

- C.S. Lewis


M said...

There are a couple of problems with C.S. Lewis’s Trilemma argument. There is the problem of knowing what Jesus claimed. Did he really claim to be the Son of God? One first has to accept the Gospel accounts to be accurate in order for this argument to work. In addition, this argument is a false dilemma. Even if Jesus claimed he was God he could simply be mistaken, not a lunatic. It is quite possible for someone to be a good moral teacher and yet be wrong about whether he was God. Furthermore, the New Testament itself indicates many people around him including his own family thought he was crazy. Personally, I wish this argument was as open and shut as people often present it as. It would make my struggles with doubt easier.

Brian said...

Mark, thanks for reading and for taking the time to respond with your feedback.

"Did He really claim to be the Son of God?" Yes, very much so. I have touched on it in some of my writing on The Case for the Lordship of Jesus Christ. (I also talk about the resurrection and such).

Another GREAT resource for showing Jesus' claims of divinity is this page. That one I like the best, and I would recommend you read that one first. But another one also addresses the ideas that perhaps he didn't really claim to be God: Did Jesus Claim to Be God?

I would also encourage you to look into the large numbers of Old Testament prophecies that have been fulfilled in the life of Christ. This was further authentication of Jesus' identity that He often pointed to himself.

"You must first accept the Gospel accounts to be accurate." I agree, and I think there are very good reasons to trust the Gospels. I would check out Mark D. Roberts' book "Can We Trust the Gospels?".

Craig Blomberg has written a nice piece on the Gospels: The Historical Reliability of the Gospels. I also wrote about it in my article A Case for Gospel Reliability. I have written there a brief summary of what has helped me. The web site has a fair selection of articles which summarize the common case for Biblical reliability.

"This argument is a false dilemma."
I would agree with those who say that Lewis' logic is not perfect (as he leaves out other possible options, such as the possibility of myth). Personally, I think Lewis only included three options because to him those were the only "live options".

As for the possibility of Jesus being mistaken, I first heard this objection when I read the God Delusion. But it seems to me that if someone thinks they are God and are mistaken, they fall into the lunatic category. I think the objection is more of a hand-waving rejection but fails to take into account what being mistaken means in such a context. If I said I was God, I would not only be mistaken, I would be either a flat out liar, or a lunatic (if I believed it). John Lennox (who debated Dawkins a few times now) has also called Dawkins on this when he used the argument. I admit that it sounds good initially as an objection, but I think it fails to stand up under scrutiny.

You also said that the New Testament indicates many people around him including his own family thought he was crazy. Perhaps they thought he was crazy because they thought he was mistaken.

You mention that some people present this argument as "open and shut". I don't completely hold to that view, as I think it could run the risk of being too simplistic. However, I think this excerpt by Lewis is a great starting point for further examination, as it IS correct in its focus on Jesus and his claims. Jesus' words are very important when he asked: "Who do you say that I am?"

M said...

All great points. I'll concede on the mistake/lunatic point. I agree that it’s not that strong. I’ve just seen it around and thought I would throw that one out too. But it looks like we can both agree that this argument does depend on ones view on the reliability of the Gospels. Again I’m convicted of researching this topic, it’s just I’m so dang busy. I’m currently going through page by page, one of Habermas’ books and so far its not as intellectually honest as another book I’ve read of his. Oh, well. Do you recall if Mark Roberts and Craig Blomberg’s books honestly address both sides of the arguments?

Brian said...

Thanks for taking the time to read the blog and to post your thoughts and to examine the issues.

I want to just look at the points made by Lewis for a second... if we do both agree that the "mistaken" objection is not a good one, then what are we left with? As I look at it, I still see we have the original trilemma -- and for me, although other possibilities could be thrown on the table, so to speak, those still seem to be the "live options." The myth doesn't do anything for me of course.

Before we move on to the Gospel reliability, I do think it is important to emphasize that site I listed previously about all of the scriptures that point to Jesus' divinity. In addition, I think of the many Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled in Christ. Also, the rest of the New Testament writings all point to it as well.

The point I am trying to emphasize here is that the Gospels are not the only ones pointing to this. The entire Bible is a unity on this topic and I think that says a lot to the issue.

Regarding the Habermas books... may I ask which ones you are reading -- that is, which one did you think he was honest in and which one did you think he was not being honest in? What points seem intellectually dishonest?

In my reading of Habermas he has always seemed to be very careful only to grant those things which are very strong in proper historical methodology. That is the whole point of his approach in using the "minimal facts" - he will argue for the resurrection only using the points that are almost universally agreed upon by all contemporary scholars.

As for Craig Blomberg, I reviewed his book here. That book is the book that covers the topic very well. He shows you all the ins and outs and issues. He's a first-rate scholar (as is Habermas, I might add) and gives it to you straight. The book is a heavier read... one that takes some time to work through.

Mark Roberts' book is a very easy and understandable read -- but I think he does an excellent job in giving a thorough and honest presentation. He's a Harvard dude with no shabby resume. He mentions a number of times that he doesn't agree with some more conservative scholars on some points. This is the book I always recommend first. Some of his sermons and talks can be found here.

Mark, I admire your patience and diligence to work through the hard questions. For me, I have found that the answers don't all come at once, but they unfold over time.


M said...

Yes the trilemma is ok, but it still hinges on the assumption that the Gospels are accurate with regards to what Jesus said.

Regarding the Roberts website link, where was the scripture references? I just saw dozens of sermon MP3s was there a specific one you were suggesting?

The evidence of the prophesies both OT and NT, still rely on the reliability of the Gospels. It is easy to retrofit a story to “fit” prophesies. Also the Jews were always looking for their Messiah, so they probably knew what to possibly write into a Messiah story.

Regarding the Habermas books. The one I’m reading now is “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus”. So far in this book he’s not giving the strengths and weaknesses of specific evidences, like he did in “The Historical Jesus”. It comes across as not as intellectually honest. For example he (they) mentions 5 non-Christian sources that references Jesus crucifixion, but I would say that less than half are historically significant. Where as I recall in his other book, he went over the weaknesses of some of these historical references. Maybe it’s just a different style of book. But it causes me to doubt the strength of the evidences that he writes about. Again, I’m not done reading it, so my impression may change. Habermas is still a great author, and his books are a great resource. I’ve found Wikipedia to be helpful also. It seems that it tends to have both sides of the evidences since both sides can add content.

Quick question regarding Craig’s book. Does he try too hard to harmonize the Gospels? I’ve seen some of the loops some have to jump through to completely harmonize the accounts. These have in the past seem to distract me as I get frustrated with their “need” to complete harmonize everything. I really don’t care if they are 100% accurate, I just want to know whether it’s true or not. Heck, I know I couldn’t be 100% accurate with regards to what I did last week, let alone decades from now. If so, I’ll probably hold off getting it, since I’m trying (sometimes unsuccessfully) to stay away from any stumbling blocks for me. I’ll look into the Roberts book more.

Thanks for caring for this lost soul,

Syllabus said...

I think the reason that Lewis rejected the Myth argument is that he knew his subject too well. He was a linguist and literary critic by trade. He had a virtually encyclopaedic knowledge of mythology, and indeed did point out many of the similarities between the Christian account and myths like those of the Corn King and Osiris and such. He regarded Christianity as "myth become fact", which I found to be a rather interesting position (though not a very concise or particularly helpful one). In certain chapters of his books Miracles he does deal with the similarities.

Of course, I assumed that you meant the whole "Christians borrowed from earlier myths to create the Christ story". I don't know enough about the subject to give a good explanation of the subject, so I won't get into that.

If you mean the whole, "The Gospels represent the mythical accretions that were later added to a small historical core regarding Christ" position, that has also been addressed by various people. Some of W. L. Craig's earlier work did a rather good job of addressing this question, and I highly recommend it. But, apart from the Gospels, what do we really know about Christ?

We know that early Christians - circa 80 or 90 AD - were worshipping Him as God and thinking Him to have risen from the dead. We know this from secular Roman historical records, and from historians and writers of the time like Tacitus and Pliny the Younger. These writers were decidedly anti-Christian, so it's unlikely that they are mere fabrications. There is a passage allegedly written by Josephus that does date earlier than these, but is is the subject of some dispute, so I'll leave it. We also know from similar sources - that is, Roman ones - that Christ was crucified by the Roman government of Palestine.

We know from Jewish writings that date near the period - within 60 or 70 years or so, if I'm not mistaken - that Christ did, or at least claimed to do, miraculous works. They attributed it to black magic and called Him a sorcerer, a blasphemer and a heretic, but the fact that He at least did things that seemed to be miracles. Also, the writings imply that there was something not totally on the up-and-up about His birth. Again, these were highly hostile witnesses, so it's not terribly probable that their testimonies were mere fabrications.

So, from those sources alone emerge certain parts of the traditional view of Christ.

Syllabus said...

First, that there was something fishy about His birth. While this does not explicitly confirm the Virgin Birth, it at least leaves in the pool of options. It's not as if they had just claimed that, "Oh yeah, Yeshua's birth was absolutely normal. Nothing fishy about his parenthood at all."

Second, that He both made claims that were considered highly heretical and seemed to back up His claims by performing some form of "signs". The exact nature of these acts is, I think, not relevant to the argument at hand. Only that some acts were done is.

Third, that He was crucified by the Roman government. This is really nor disputed by the majority of NT scholars, secular or Christian.

Fourth, that people were, within a rather small amount of time all things considered, claiming that He had risen from death and were directly worshipping Him. Again, it's not terribly likely that these were fabrications.

So what does this mean? Well, in my opinion, it means that we can at least trust the Gospels on the broad strokes of Christ's life. As to the specific saying of Christ, there are some people that will argue that that is all fabrication. Yet, when we look at the earliest creeds of the early Christians found in, I believe, 1st Corinthians (and though this is actually in the Bible, it is widely regarded as at least reflective of early Christian belief) we see that several of the other details about the traditional Christ are affirmed as being believed in. Though none of this proves that Christ returned to life on the third day, it does, I think, give the Gospels sufficient credibility to not dismiss them out of hand.

But it's largely a matter of what a certain person finds convincing. As a bouncing board for further reading, I suggest Lee Strobel's The Case For Christ. Not because of his arguments or the book proper, mind you; it's not technical enough for my tastes, since Strobel is more of a popularizer. It does, however, reference a good amount of relevant material that warrants further inquiry and study. Another book that I found fascinating regarding the Empty Tomb was The Jesus Inquest by Charles Foster, published by Thomas Nelson.

Peace out.


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