Wednesday, 11 September 2013

C.S Lewis's Trilemma as THE Christian moment

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In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis made a famous, perhaps notorious - and I believe profoundly true statement: 

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 patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

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This is saying that Jesus intended to present Himself as someone who was either The Christ and Son of God; or else must be regarded as either insane or evil. A trilemma - a three way choice.

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For me, the shocking nature of Jesus's behaviour is very well brought out in this four minute dramatization of John 8: 12-58 - the 'I am the light of the world' section - especially the contrast between Jesus's calm and emphatic manner of speaking, and the response of the priests and of the crowd

http://tinyurl.com/ph342pc 

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Indeed, I think this is something of a key to Christianity, and to becoming a Christian.

We need to come to that point where we see that the claims of Christianity are - on the one hand - coherent, and that there is evidence to support them; but on the other hand that the evidence is not conclusive, nor compelling of assent - but rather that the claims are vast, shocking, extraordinary...

And that having come to this point, a point of balance - our free will has been brought to a moment of decision, of choice between two divergent paths, two contrasted world views.

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So it is not un-reasonable nor utterly counter-evidential to reject Christ, in the sense that the whole thing can be regarded as a tissue of falsehoods and misunderstandings and coincidences; a horrible scheme of exploitation.

In this sense, militant atheists are perfectly correct to regard Christianity as evil or insane - if it is not true, Christianity in an individual is either evil or stupid-insane; and long-term strategic organized Christianity (The Church), which cannot be regarded as insane, is therefore and necessarily evil: some kind of elaborate trick, disguise and conspiracy.

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Since we really are free agents, this point and no further is how far God can bring us: to the point of recognizing the necessity of a choice for which there is no safe default decision and for which we bear individual responsibility.

God can bring us to the Trilemma, and after that we are responsible for what happens. 

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This point of balance, of treble choice - Lewis's Trilemma - is something we feel if the strategy is has worked, if - that is - the circumstances or argument has succeeded in bringing us up to this point... but of course the attempt to bring people to this point may not work on any particular instance.

In which case the apologist must try again. 

But this is the proper goal of evangelism: not to bludgeon the potential convert into submission by pretending that Christianity is the one and only necessary sane consequence of irrefutable arguments and evidence; but to bring the potential convert to that point at which he sees Christianity as reasonable but extraordinary: and perceives the road branching ahead - and acknowledges that in this exact here-and-now, it is up to him and to nobody and nothing else.
 

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