Neil Shenvi - Apologetics

Prepared to Give a Reason (Part 1) - Lord, Liar, Lunatic

This post was originally written on the blog for Summit Church - West Club Campus

Hello fellow West Clubbers,

Brad asked me to write a series of blog posts related to an upcoming class on apologetics that I'll be teaching starting July 11th. 1 Peter 3:15 exhorts us to "always be prepared to give a reason for the hope that we have in us." The goal of the class will be to prepare us to explain and defend our faith in Christ so that we are equipped to share the gospel with non-Christians in the home or workplace. In this series of posts, I'd like to give examples of challenges to the Christian faith that we might encounter and responses that we should be prepared to give.

Objection 1: Jesus was a good, moral teacher but not God.

Jim and his coworkers are having lunch and discussing their weekends. Jim talks about a housing construction project he participated in with his church. "That's great," says Susan. "To me, that's what Christianity is all about: doing good deeds, not a lot of religious dogma. After all, Jesus was a moral teacher, not some kind of religious fundamentalist lunatic."

How do we respond to this objection? First, Jim should try to understand the reason for Susan's reaction. Was she raised in a very legalistic church as a child? Is she motivated by what she perceives as a lack of social concern in the church? Does she view Christians as hypocrites who confess God with their mouths but live unchanged lives? Second, Jim should take care not to alienate Susan with his response. Often, non-Christians (and Christians) can make statements with little if any factual support. We must resist the sinful temptation to show off our knowledge and to humiliate those with whom we are conversing. Our goal is never to win the argument; our goal is to win the person to Christ. Although Susan's statements are historically indefensible, Jim needs to respond to her with gentleness and respect (1 Pet. 3:15).

Jim should actually see Susan's statements as an fantastic opportunity to present what is known as the Lord, Liar, Lunatic argument. This argument was put forward in its most famous form by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. Lewis observed that a mere man who made the kind of statements that Jesus made 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." Jesus claimed to be the Savior of Israel, the only way to God, and the judge of all humanity. He claimed that he could forgive sin, heal the sick, and raise the dead. He claimed that our love for him must be greater than our love for our parents, our children, or our own lives. Now if any modern person made these claims, we would either throw them into jail or into an asylum. Why is Jesus any different? If the New Testament gospels present an even generally accurate portrait of Jesus, then we are confronted with this very difficult and inescapable Trilemma. As Lewis said: "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 patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

I believe it is the force of this Trilemma that has motivated scholars and many non-scholars to posit a fourth alternative: Legend. "Perhaps," they say, "the Jesus of the gospels was not the historical Jesus after all. If the historical Jesus never said or did the things recorded in the gospels, then there is no Trilemma. We are not forced to confront the Jesus of Scripture and can avoid this whole, uncomfortable issue." Although this alternative is certainly emotionally appealing to the non-Christian, I believe that it is not historically tenable. There is extremely strong evidence that the NT gospels reflect direct, eyewitness testimony and therefore present an accurate portrait of the words and deeds of the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth. For those who are interested, I recommend this short video featuring Dr. Peter Williams, which presents just a small portion of the evidence that the gospels transmit eyewitness accounts. For those who would like even more information, you can come to Week 1 of my apologetics class, which will focus on the Lord, Liar, Lunatic argument and its historical validity. The class will run for four weeks, starting on Monday July 11th at 6pm. If you are interested, RSVP to neil -AT- for details.

Sincerely, Neil

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Related essays:
If anyone reading this essay has questions about it or about Christianity in general, feel free to e-mail me at Neil -AT- I also highly recommend the book The Reason for God by Tim Keller and would be happy to send you a copy for free if you email me your mailing address.

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