This challenge comes in a few different forms, but they are all extremely common. The crux of it is that while they may admit there was a man named Jesus who taught some nice things, they are unwilling to believe he was in any way divine or miraculous. The best response to this challenge is to use the classic Lord Liar Lunatic trilemma that C.S. Lewis coined. If what we read in the Bible is what Jesus actually said, there are only three options on the table.
The 3 Options
- Lord: He could have been telling the truth. If that’s the case, he was God, and we probably better pay attention to him.
- Liar: It’s possible he was a regular man claiming to be God. That would make him a liar, and not a very good man.
- Lunatic: Or, he could have been a delusional man who thought he was God. But do we really want to call a raving madman a good teacher?
But why hear it from me, when the man himself can say it so much better.
“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.” -C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
Increasingly people respond to this with a 4th option: Legend. They contend that Jesus may have existed but was exaggerated overtime into something he never claimed to be. This assumes that the gospel accounts are wrong, making the whole trilemma irrelevant. However, this takes us into a completely different topic. If they claim that Jesus was a legend, you are not talking about Jesus, but the reliability of the gospels. That is a good challenge to address, but ultimately separate from the one posed today.
More often than not, this issue is simply a matter of education. The person presenting this view probably has very little understanding of what Jesus actually said. Sometimes the best way to answer a challenge is to simply point them in the direction of Jesus.
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