Dr. Gavin Ortlund’s defense of C.S. Lewis’s “Liar, Lunatic or Lord” trichotomy, and Why I think it won’t work on skeptics

Hello, BioLogos readers. It’s been quite a while since I last visited here. I just wanted to bring folk’s attention to a blog post here by Catholic philosopher, Vincent Torley. I just thought it might be of interest to some of you.

I am never a fan of any argument being established in terms of a framework like this, where the logical perameters have been established beforehand and one must argue from within that, without ever having examined the validity of the framework itself.
Sometimes the framework is valid, but that really is rarely the case. Usually it reflects the motives of the proponent, or at best the proponent’s lack of creativity or bounded thinking.

Worse still is when the proponent deliberately “steers” the apparently open discussion in a way to “prove” the framework, before employing it, pretending that the logical flow of the discussion could only have lead to the now “established” perameters of thought.


Then you must have a pretty strong disagreement with me arguing against atheism… probably even from day one

My disagreement with Lewis’s argument is that I was once convinced Jesus was a total myth, so while I recovered from that, it still kind of lingered. So it wasn’t totally improbable that Jesus wasn’t lying or crazy, that stuff about him was just made up.

A fine example of the limitations of such a framework. Used by the guileless, it hems in the thinking and hinders or eliminates the ability to understand genuine objections. Used by the guileful, and it is a dishonest cheat, used to score points and “win” without ever getting to the heart of the matter.


Which is why such things should be openly objected to and maybe through vigorous discussion the truth of the matter can be laid bare.

If it wasn’t for my experience with doubt, I don’t think I would have seen the brilliant meaning in Peter’s argument or John’s exhortation. Acts 2:36 and 1 John 2:27.

Want to flesh this out?

Maybe you’ve seen me write this already:

In Acts 2:14-36 there is a most overlooked apologetics passage. Peter supports his conclusion of “therefore know for certain” with three types of evidence: OT prophecy, eyewitness testimony, and a self-evident work of the Spirit.

The book of 1 John also seems to have this threefold witness: the fulfillment of OT prophecy “it is the last hour,” eyewitness testimony “we have seen,” and the Spirit’s self-evident testimony “you have been anointed by the Holy One.”

Or how blessed (anointed?) will be those who have not seen and yet have believed.


No. I haven’t.
So, thanks.

Nice, I think it’s a better approach… does anything you just said apply here?

Do you mean in my criticism of the use of frameworks?

Sure, or more simply, do you have any objection to my understanding of Peter and John? Am I mislead or misleading?

I vaguely remember you objecting to my understanding of Peter in the Acts passage. Thought it was in the Penner thread, but I can’t seem to find it.

Found it:

I’d have to review this. None of it is available to immediate access in my mind.

Don’t have a huge amount of time to unpack this right now. However, I think that the biggest issue with Lewis’ trichotomy is that it was built for a different era. Most sceptics I’ve spoken to start with the assumption that Jesus is a legend. And so, in my opinion, trichotomy defences leave sceptics behind before they’ve even left the gate.

EDIT: Just saw this from @heymike3. Great minds. :sweat_smile:

Teach me not to read the thread before replying!


I would guess that you probably think other religious texts (e.g. Book of Mormon) from religions you don’t belong to are mythical or made up. It may be good practice to ask if the same argument would convince you to believe what is in those texts.


This skeptic would be a bit more charitable and say that the Gospels can’t be verified. I would say that you first have to establish the truth of the Gospels before we can ask questions about the characteristics of the people in the Gospels.


I think that is completely fair. I shouldn’t expect you to put your mind on ice and ‘just’ take my word for it.


Lewis or Peter’s argument? In my limited view, I haven’t seen either argument in other religions.

If they were used in other religions, would you find the argument compelling and convert to those other religions?


I don’t see how the arguments would work in other religions… I don’t mean to be trivial. For me, the testimony of the Spirit was the conviction of my sin. And other religions don’t adequately account for that the way Jesus did. And then there’s the OT prophecies and historical evidence to back it up.