Kenny and Lewis
By Alan Jacobs
No, not that Kenny.
Anthony Kenny’s review of Alister McGrath’s recent biography of C. S. Lewis is a tad embarrassing — or, I should say, Kenny ought to be embarrassed at having failed to do some elementary homework before writing. Setting aside the several errors of fact — for example, Kenny’s odd belief that Lewis died from prostate cancer — I’ll focus on two more substantive issues.
Here’s the first one:
Lewis’s principal apologetic arguments have not worn well. One line of argument he made popular went like this. Jesus said that he was God. Jesus was neither a deceiver nor deceived. Therefore Jesus was indeed God. Mocking the idea that Christ was simply a great moral teacher, Lewis wrote that a man that said the sort of things Jesus said “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”. Yet even most conservative biblical scholars today think it unlikely that Jesus in his lifetime made any explicit claim to divinity, so that the argument fails to get started.
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Obviously Kenny knows absolutely nothing about what “conservative biblical scholars” believe and has no interest in finding out. Now, Lewis’s trilemma argument does indeed have a serious weakness, and Kenny gropes towards it: Lewis’s argument depends on the assumption that the Gospels faithfully record Jesus’s words, but if you doubt the reliability of the Gospel accounts, then you can easily believe that Jesus was a “great moral teacher” who had certain words put in his mouth by later disciples. This is the assumption that underlies most skeptical redactions of the Gospels, from the Jefferson Bible to the work of the Jesus Seminar. But the great majority of biblical scholars today, as throughout the history of the Church, do indeed believe that the Gospels faithfully record Jesus’s teachings, which puts the trilemma into play…
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