Lunatic, Liar, or Lamb?

At a recent Theological Diversity Team meeting, I thought we made a little head way in terms of finding commanility in scritural interpretation. The the more conservative interpretation in the room centered around the argument that the Bible is the ultimate truth and we should believe it because it’s a reliable source when it says that it is true.

To defend this position, the proponents used what it usually called the “Liar, Lunatic, or Lord” argument. As best I can tell, this arument is from C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, c. 1952. Josh McDowell, author of More than a Caprpenter and Evidence that Demands a Verdict, quotes it, I assume with proper citation. I belive Lee Strobel does as well in Case for Christ.

Anyway, it goes like this: A man walks up to you and tells you he’s God. He is either a. wrong about this, or b. right about this, and therefore worth listening to in everything else he says. If he’s wrong, he either a. knows he’s not god but is saying he is so he is a liar and you can believe nothing else he says, or b. believes he is god and is clearly therefore insane and you can’t believe anything he says. So your choices are that he (Jesus as portrayed in the Bible) is either a liar, a lunatic, or the lord.

I let my collegues make this argument without interruption. Then I said, very simply, “I don’t agree with your first point. I don’t agree that he either has to be right or wrong about being God.” When asked, I gladly explained further.

“Let’s say the same man walks up to you and says, ‘I am a lamb.’ Now, by your argument, he is either lying, insane, or possessing a very nice wool coat. But we know that he’s not a sheep, clearly. We can see that. And yet, he is communicating something *true* about himself using the metaphor of Lamb, is he not? If I say I’m an otter, I might be trying to communicate that I am playful and intelligent, possessing skills to use simple innovative tools, or embodying native american women’s magic. I don’t mean that I have a wide tail and a nice pelt. I assume you agree with me that Jesus is not a sheep, but that he is using metaphor when he calls himself a lamb. So he is either a Liar, a Lunatic, a Lamb, or speaking metaphorically. A lyricist, if you will.”

Here, my collegues conceeded that they do indeed interpret the bible metaphorically. “I don’t beleive that trees can clap their hands,” one said. Good. So we agree that we interpret the bible metaphorically.

“Then the only place you and I differ is in how far we take the metaphor and when we choose to see it not as metaphor. You clearly believe that ‘Lord’ is intended literally, and I think it’s yet another metaphor.”

Next time, historical criticism, and the Bible’s defense of slavery and polygamy and it’s condemnation of women’s menstruation and homosexual actions. Clearly, conservatives read some of these things as products of a less enlightened context, and at least one of them as not. But the only difference is where they choose to draw a line. And, you know, what appalling and condemning things they chose to say and do because of their poor choice.


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