C.S. Lewis’ famous trilemma is as follows:
“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 — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — 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 patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.”
Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, London: Collins, 1952, p54-56. (In all editions, this is Bk. II, Ch. 3, “The Shocking Alternative.”)
Was Lewis the first to use this, however?
Phillip Schaff, in his history said the following:
this testimony, if not true, must be downright blasphemy or madness. The former hypothesis cannot stand a moment before the moral purity and dignity of Jesus, revealed in his every word and work, and acknowledged by universal consent. Self-deception in a matter so momentous, and with an intellect in all respects so clear and so sound, is equally out of the question. How could He be an enthusiast or a madman who never lost the even balance of his mind, who sailed serenely over all the troubles and persecutions, as the sun above the clouds, who always returned the wisest answer to tempting questions, who calmly and deliberately predicted his death on the cross, his resurrection on the third day, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the founding of his Church, the destruction of Jerusalem—predictions which have been literally fulfilled? A character so original, so complete, so uniformly consistent, so perfect, so human and yet so high above all human greatness, can be neither a fraud nor a fiction. The poet, as has been well said, would in this case be greater than the hero. It would take more than a Jesus to invent a Jesus.
We are shut up then to the recognition of the divinity of Christ; and reason itself must bow in silent awe before the tremendous word: “I and the Father are one!” and respond with skeptical Thomas: “My Lord and my God!”
Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 1 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 109.
Lord, liar, or lunatic?
It is not for the reader to decide. The truth is there to be accepted and acknowledged.