Thursday, May 18, 2006

C.S. Lewis and Jesus

Professor Bainbridge, in his review of The Da Vinci Code (linked to on Instapundit), uses this famous C.S. Lewis quote on how one can and cannot validly think of Jesus:
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 one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of thing Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be 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.

Bainbridge says, then, "All Dan Brown, Ron Howard, Tom Hanks, and that whole crew have accomplished is getting richer by saying that 'really foolish thing.'"

I've heard the quote before, and have always found the argument flawed. Can't someone legitimately believe that the gospels were written by people who added details in order to inspire religious followers? Is it foolish to think that Jesus may have presented himself as a philosopher, and that the supernatural aspects of his teachings were fabricated after his death?


Anonymous Luke G. said...

The quotation leaves out the greater context. Lewis makes it clear in Mere Christianity that, in order for this trilemma to work, you must assume the gospels' reporting of Christ's words is accurate.

If you do not, then of course the objections you raised would render the point moot.

11:38 AM  
Blogger Christopher Althouse said...

Luke: Thanks for the insight. He's certainly relying on an unproveable premise, if nothing else. It kind of begs the question, since you have to believe in His divinity in order to find the gospels completely accurate. I suppose you could believe the reporting of His words are accurate and not believe the reporting of His actions were accurate. It seems like that would be an unlikely position for everyone Lewis is describing to take...especially if he's " prevent ANYONE saying the really foolish thing."

1:52 PM  
Anonymous Luke G. said...

Yes, good points.

I can’t speak for Bainbridge, but I feel I know Lewis’ writing well enough to comment. Essentially, what he’s trying to say is this: if one wanted to call Christ merely “a great teacher” but not divine, one would have to pick and choose quotations from the gospels to support one’s theory while disregarding other quotations. For example, the gospels record Christ saying that he and the Father are one, and elsewhere that he was the way, the truth, and the life, but no one could come to God except through him.

In other words, if one counts the gospels authoritative enough to quote from to support one’s argument that Jesus was just a great teacher, this same source also describes him as a son of God. Why would one point to Christ’s words about treating the poor kindly as a great truth, for example, while ignoring his words about his own divinity? And if one regards all his words as authoritative, then one is led to Lewis’ trilemma (madman, liar, or God).

Now, granted, many contemporary scholars will point to certain parts of the gospels as more authoritative than others. They’d say that certain quotations are likely said by Christ but others not very likely, and so forth. I find, however, that this practice a bit circumspect: it often seems to reveal more about the scholar’s prejudice than the likely truth of the matter.

4:50 PM  
Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...

It's circular: you have to find the Gospels completely accurate to believe in Jesus' divinity, and you have to believe in Jesus' divinity to find the Gospels completely accurate.

I'm not knocking it, but the bottom line is that it's a question of faith, and Prof Bainbridge doesn't seem to want to recognize that.

Also, I think that position is kind of sad, because it essentially means that non-Christians shouldn't bother to try to learn anything from Jesus' teachings.

12:39 PM  

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