Lacking, Ludicrous, Or Logical? The Validity Of Lewis’s “Trilemma” -- By: Donald T. Williams

Journal: Global Journal of Classical Theology
Volume: GJCT 11:1 (Jun 2013)
Article: Lacking, Ludicrous, Or Logical? The Validity Of Lewis’s “Trilemma”
Author: Donald T. Williams


Lacking, Ludicrous, Or Logical? The Validity Of Lewis’s “Trilemma”

Donald T. Williams

Toccoa Falls, Georgia

dtw@tfc.edu

Abstract. No argument C. S. Lewis ever made is more well known—or controversial—than his famous “Trilemma” or “Lord/Liar/Lunatic” (not his phrase) argument for the deity of Christ. N. T. Wright observes, “This argument has worn well in some circles and extremely badly in others.” Some of the sharpest critiques have come from within the believing community.

Note: A shortened and popularized version of this paper was published as “Identity Check: Are C. S. Lewis’s Critics Right, or Is His ‘Trilemma’ Valid?” Touchstone 23:3 (May-June 2010): 25–29. The full paper was originally published in Midwestern Journal of Theology 11:1 (Spring 2012): 91–102, and has also been reprinted as chapter four of Dr. Williams’ book Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012).

It is curious that an argument that has become a staple of Christian apologetics should be rejected as fallacious by many who accept its conclusion. With not only the validity of a much used argument but also the competence of the greatest apologist of the Twentieth Century at stake, it is time to take a fresh look at Lewis’s argument and its critics. Can we still use the Trilemma? If so, how should we approach it? How does Lewis come off as an apologist? We will expose the fallacies committed by Lewis’s critics and explore the conditions under which the argument is valid and can still be used effectively. Special attention will be given to the new edition of Beversluis’s C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion.

Lewis’s unique combination of wide learning, no-nonsense clarity, elegant language, and apt analogy remains the standard to which we should all aspire. When examined carefully, the Trilemma supports that conclusion; it is not an exception to it.

No philosophical argument that C. S. Lewis ever made is more well known—or more controversial—than his famous “Trilemma” (not his word), or “Lord/Liar/Lunatic” (not his phrase) argument for the deity of Christ. N. T. Wright observes accurately that “This argument has worn well in some circles and extremely badly in others” (32). And some of the sharpest critiques have come from within the believing community.

It is curious that an argument that has become a staple of Christian apologetics should be rejected as fallacious by many who presumably accept its conclusion. With not only the validity of a much used argument but also the competence of the greatest apologist of the Twentieth Century at stake, it is time to take a fresh ...

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