[Originally published July 23, 2007]
Apologetics is, by its very nature, an inherently bandwagon-y enterprise, so it’s not too surprising that David Limbaugh, in his foreward to I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST , can’t resist the temptation to toss in his own two denarius’ worth:
As C. S. Lewis observed, if Christ is not God, then he could not have been an exemplary prophet or a great moral teacher, because he claimed to be God. If he was not who he said he was, then he was either a liar or a lunatic, hardly a great moral teacher or prophet.
This is a classic piece of Christian apologetics, and quite widely circulated among Christians. It’s so popular, you’d think there was some substance to it. But is there?
Let’s consider another of Jesus’ famous sayings:
I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. (John 15:1-5)
Applying the logic of C. S. Lewis to the above statement of Jesus, we can see that one of three things must be true: either he’s a liar, or he’s a lunatic, or he’s a leafy green fruit plant. That’s it. Those are the only three alternatives that Lewis allows us, so one of them must be true. Right?
Lewis makes so many assumptions in such a short space. For example, he assumes that Jesus was a morally perfect man (and thus inconsistent with the “liar” and “lunatic” alternatives). But the assumption that Jesus was morally perfect is based on the assumption that he was the incarnation of a morally perfect God. Indeed, all the Gospel records of his life are written under this assumption. Lewis bases his conclusion that Jesus is Lord on the assumption that Jesus is Lord.
Lewis also assumes that when Jesus claimed to be God (IF he claimed to be God), he intended his words to be taken literally. For a man who called himself a door, a vine, a loaf of bread and a glass of wine, this is not necessarily a safe assumption.
Lewis also assumes that no liar or lunatic could have preached a gospel of morality and self-denial. History, however, has many instances of popes, prophets, and preachers who were strait-laced, outwardly moral, and inwardly corrupt and deceptive, whatever their followers may have claimed.
Even if Jesus were being honest (as far as he knew), he might still have been mistaken. Lewis assumes that if Jesus was of honest disposition, he could not be mistaken about the degree to which he was indwelt by God. Many have been, and have contradicted one another. Again, delusions are no guarantee that the deluded one will behave inconsistently with his idea of God’s righteousness. There might be occasional irrational outbursts (like, say, suddenly attacking vendors in the Temple complex), but by and large the deluded person stays as consistent as possible with his delusion.
In short, the “Liar, Lord or Lunatic” argument is simply an exercise in self-justification. The believer knows beforehand that he wants Jesus to be Lord; the “3 L’s” argument merely gives a pretext for doing just that.