I’m a big fan of C.S. Lewis. I was first exposed to his writings with The Screwtape Letters and since then I have enjoyed many of his other books and essays. His “trilemma” is one of the most well known of his propositions and has been repeated in numerous apologetic sermons, speeches and books.
This is how he presents it in Mere Christianity;
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 said the sort of things 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. 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.
If true then we are left with only three possible descriptions of Jesus;
- Lunatic: Jesus was not God, but he mistakenly believed that he was.
- Liar: Jesus was not God, and he knew it, but he said so anyway.
- Lord: Jesus is God.
Makes perfect sense doesn’t it? I’ve used this argument numerous times myself. But there may be a problem with his conclusion. There is a actually a fourth (or perhaps even fifth) option remaining;
Misunderstood: Jesus never actually claimed to be God but rather the Son of God (as Lewis states)
Misrepresented: The accounts of Jesus in the Bible are inaccurate or false
(The last of these two options would have the effect of reducing Jesus to that of a fiction-like legend in the eyes of the skeptic).
I think that, for Christians, Lewis’ trilemma can certainly be comforting – it rationally backs up what we accept to be true in our hearts. But as an apologetic argument I now think it leaves something to be desired and would hesitate to present this as support for Christianity. I am unsure if there are any ‘rational’ arguments for the Incarnation. The very idea is too fantastic, if not just scandalous.