In his book The Case for Christ, Lee Strobel plays out a pantomime of skeptical inquiry, asking what he thinks to be “the hard questions” about the supposed divinity of the character Jesus Christ, smiling and nodding at Christian theologians’ pat answers, and asking you to smile and nod along with him on the path to Christian conversion. It’s just theater, though. Strobel is a Christian pastor asking other Christians what makes Christianity so great. He never in the book allows skeptics an independent voice, a choice that is strategically smart if intellectually bereft because Strobel’s logic just can’t stand scrutiny.
Strobel finishes his book with a sales pitch:
In the end, however, remember that some options just aren’t viable. The accumulated evidence has already closed them off. Observed C. S. Lewis, the brilliant and once skeptical Cambridge University professor who was eventually won over by evidence for Jesus,
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic… or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at
His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
When a salesman tells you “that some options just aren’t viable,” you’d be well advised to look into those options, because those tend to be the options that have thwarted his sales in the past. It’s a funny thing, but I don’t remember ever thinking “that some options just aren’t viable” in the first place.
Why isn’t it possible for someone to be a great moral teacher and also to have failings? Mohandas Gandhi reinvented resistance with non-violent satyagraha, having much to teach the rest of the world. He also slept naked with little naked girls, had them massage him and give him enemas, rejected his own nonviolent philosophy at times and let his wife die rather than be injected with British penicillin. Martin Luther King, Jr. had some great things to say about the unity of the human condition. He also refused to let women into leadership positions and regularly violated his marriage vows.
Do these personal failings mean that the moral teachings of Gandhi and King are useless and that there is nothing to learn from them? Only if people fall into only two categories, either absolutely perfect or tainted and abysmal. This was the dichotomous way in which C.S. Lewis thought about Jesus. Do you notice the ellipses in Lee Strobel’s quote of Lewis? Strobel cut out the part in which Lewis says that either Jesus is a great moral teacher or he was “on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg.” That’s absurd, extremist, inflexible, and just plain inaccurate when it comes to understanding people. People are not dichotomies. We’re complexities, filled with yearnings and strivings and ideals and compromises and more than occasionally some insanities.
Can a man who once cursed a fig tree have something useful and instructive to say about the human condition? Sure. You don’t have to be perfect to have perfectly good ideas. C.S. Lewis, and Lee Strobel following him, insist you ignore this middle ground. They need you to believe that the only choices for the Jesus Christ character are for him to be either utterly worthless or infinitely divine. Only then does the divinity of Jesus make sense.