The great Christian writer and apologist, C. S. Lewis (one of my favourite authors), wrote a book called ‘Mere Christianity’ which I have read more times than I care to remember.
In that book, he stated (quotation above) that it is not possible simply to accept that Jesus Christ was just a great moral teacher. In fact, says Lewis, given the things that Jesus said, He must have been either a despicable liar, a bloke completely off his trolley, or in fact Who He said He was – God Himself. These are the only three alternatives.
In this excellent piece, Mike Douglas, author of the blog Getting Back to My Future, summarises Lewis’s arguments on this subject perfectly.
Over to Mike:
Even those who are not persuaded by the Bible often have respect for Jesus. Among those who reject the idea that Jesus was God, there are many who follow Him to some degree. “Jesus was a great moral teacher”, some say, “but he wasn’t God”. According to this view, Jesus is to be followed as a great human being, but not as a divine one.
This idea that Jesus was merely a great human being but nothing more, is, as C.S. Lewis argued in ’Mere Christianity’, indefensible.
Here is my take on what Lewis argued:
Jesus made incredible claims, not only about God, society and ethics, but also about himself. He claimed to have the authority to forgive sins, to be one to come to die to reconcile man to God, and to be the only way for people to recieve salvation.
Faced with the fact that Jesus made these claims about himself, there are three things that we may say about him: Either Jesus’ claims were false and he knew it, or his claims were false and he didn’t know it, or his claims were true. None of these suggests that Jesus was a simply a great, teacher.
Claims were False and He Knew it
The first thing that we might say about Jesus is that his claims were false and he knew it, in which case he was a liar. If Jesus did not believe that his claims about himself were true, then He was lying. If he was a liar, he was also a hypocrite-a guy who told others to be honest even while he taught and lived a huge lie.
Jesus’ claims about himself were so central to his teachings, though, that if they were lies then he can hardly be deemed a great teacher. If Jesus set out to systematically deceive people about who he was and how their sins could be dealt with, then he was among the worst teachers there has ever been.
Claims were False and He Didn’t Know it
The second thing that we might say about Jesus is that his claims were false and he didn’t know it, in which case he was a lunatic. If Jesus believed that his claims about himself were true, and they weren’t, then he was a delusional egomaniac. If an ordinary person believes himself to be God incarnate, then that person is, quite simply, insane.
If someone told you he was God, you would believe him about as much as if he said he was Santa Claus. You would call him deluded and self-deceived. Yet Jesus didn’t display imbalance that usually go hand in hand with being mentally unstable. Jesus was a guy who spoke some of the most profound words ever recorded-words that have set free many individuals, even some in mental bondage. Jesus Christ was no lunatic.
Again, if this were the case, if Jesus taught that this is who he was and was mistaken, then he was as bad a teacher as there has ever been.
Claims were True
The third thing that we might say about Jesus is that his claims were true, in which case he was, and is, Lord. If Jesus believed that his claims about himself were true and they were, then Jesus was not only a great human being, but was also God walking on earth.
If we take Jesus seriously, then we must take Jesus’ claims about himself seriously. We cannot say that Jesus was a great teacher whom we admire and look up to, but the basis of his teaching was a huge error.
Also, if He truly was who He said He was, then each of us most decide on how we are going to respond to this.
Jesus was not a great teacher; he was either much less than this, or much more.
The issue with these three alternatives isn’t which is possible. Any of the three could be possible. The question is, which is more likely? Determining who Jesus was can’t simply be an intellectual exercise. You can’t put him on the shelf calling him a great moral teacher. That isn’t a valid option.
If he was so great and so moral, then what do you do with his claim to be God? If he was a liar or a lunatic, then he can’t qualify as a great moral teacher. And if he was a great moral teacher, then he is much more as well. He is either a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord God. You must make the choice.
Those who respond to this argument by writing Jesus off as either a liar or a lunatic are just as reasonable as those who respond by accepting Jesus as Lord. My argument is an attack only on the view that Jesus was a great teacher but not God. You have a right to land on any of the three options.
To show that it is better to view Jesus as Lord than as either a liar or a lunatic, it would have to be demonstrated that there is some reason to take Jesus’ claims seriously.
You have two resources to help you make that choice. One is the historically credible record of Christ’s rising from the dead. The other is the Bible. Giving you solid reasons to believe is a huge reason God gave you his book. As John wrote, “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life” (John 20:31).
Your decision from these three – lunatic, liar or Lord – is the most important decision with the most far reaching consequences you will ever make. Will you join me in deciding Jesus is Lord?
Great piece, Mike – thanks! 🙂