Dr. Lukáš Novák e-mails:
I am writing to you personally concerning your last post on your blog, "The Lewis Trilemma." I would like to offer you two things: first, a criticism of your criticism of the "trilemma" (you are right with your terminological quibble, but is there any other word to use instead?), and second, an answer to your question why it isn't possible that Jesus was just "exaggerating" or a "mystic".
I understand that I am quite flooding you with my texts lately, so please feel free not to respond to or even to read this! [Thank you for carefully addressing what I said. It is good so I am publishing it here. Comments are open.]
1. I think that you are mistaken in claiming that "people like Kreeft inadvertently concede [that there is a fourth horn to the trilemma] when they discuss the further possibilities that Jesus never claimed to be divine and that he might have meant his characteristic sayings mystically."
I think that it is clear that to claim that there are just X horns to a trilemma does not mean that it is impossible to suggest or even defend any additional (or seemingly additional) alternative. It is a platitude that to any x-lemma there can be potentially infinitely many other alternatives one can think of. I can think of several others, in this case: Jesus was an extraterrestrial making some research on humans, Jesus was a collective hallucination, Jesus was an incarnation of Quetzalcoatl who could not speak clearly in the Jewish milieu...
When someone is presenting a x-lemma, he must mean something else then: not that these are the only thinkable alternatives, but these are the only thinkable alternatives consistent both in themselves and with certain given data and reasonable assumptions.
[I see your point, but isn't it an extremely reasonable assumption that no man can be identical to God? On the face of it, that is an egregious violation of the logic of identity. I would say that that is a very reasonable assumption despite your attempt, in another thread, to defend a metaphysical framework which renders the Incarnation coherent. So if one grants that it is reasonable to assume that no man could be God, then it is reasonable to consider whether Jesus' words can be given a mystical interpretation or else interpreted as dramatic ways of making a claim that does not violate standard logic. Note also that you are not being quite fair in suggesting that my view opens the floodgate to a potentially infinite number of wild alternatives. It does not, because the mystical interpretation is not unreasonable, has been put forward, and is arguably much more reasonable that that a man is actually God. Its reasonableness is heightened by the extreme unreasonableness of the God-Man identity theory. Tertullian, Kierkegaard, and Shestov, you will recall, embrace the identity precisely because it is absurd. Of course, you will not grant that it is absurd. But I hope you grant that it is reasonable to believe that it is absurd. (I would argue that it would be unreasonable for you not to grant that it is reasonable to view the identity as absurd.) So although I agree that we must consider "the given data and reasonable assumptions" there is room for disagreement as to what these are.]
Thus in order to prove a x-lemma false, it is not enough to point to the fact that someone somewhere has discussed an additional alternative. It must be shown that the suggested additional alternative is consistent with the base data and general reasonable assumptions. In this case, it is in the first place all the historical data of Jesus' life, the circumstances etc. It seems to me that in this regard the trilemma "liar-lunatic-lord" is arguably exhaustive. You say regarding the "exaggeration" interpretation: "I am not saying that this is a good interpretation of Scripture; it is beyond my competence to engage in Biblical hermeneutics. I am saying that it is a possible interpretation that shows that the notion that there are exactly three possibilities is dubious." But this is precisely the point: the trilemma arises only _after a careful piece of biblical hermeneutics_. Only when we have done our homework and are positive about the basic data can we reasonably assess what are reasonable alternatives and what is nonsense. Before that we can just make up anything and present it as an alternative to be considered. Perhaps Jesus was a disguised Chinese emperor - why not? I am not saying that this is a good exegesis, I say that it is another possible interpretation...
[Again, you are not being fair. To say that there are possibilities other than liar, lunatic, or God-Man is not to say that any old thing is a possibility.]
2. Thus we come to the other point. Given the biblical background, why Jesus was not just "exaggerating" (and neither a liar nor a lunatic)? Well: simply because this alternative can hardly be made consistent with the data. If Jesus were just exaggerating, but did not wish to make God of himself, then at the first occasion he was accused of blasphemy he would say: "no, wait, you've misunderstood me, I did not mean that I am God, I was just exaggerating". Instead, he never made the
slightest attempt to evade the accusation of blasphemy, he even several times conceded the accusations and finally got executed exactly for that. So he was very clear that he is understood so that he is making a God of himself, and still made no attempt to disclaim. This is a behaviour of either a liar or a lunatic; no sane and morally competent person who is NOT God would ever do that.
[This is a good point, assuming that Jesus really made the utterances that are imputed to him.]
The "mystic" alternative is similar. He was understood in quite a different way, and made no attempt to correct neither his disciples nor his adversaries. Besides, the "mystic" interpretation is in such a strong discord with so many Jesus's explicit statements that if it were true, it would make a liar of him right away. Read for example John 6:22-59, John 3:16-21, or John 8:31-59, especially 8:54-58.
So, I think that the situation really is the following: You need not engage in biblical exegesis; but then you can think just anything of Jesus. But when you do the exegesis (or let an expert do it for you), then you are really left with the three L-alternatives.
[Again, you are being unfair. Please understand, I have read the New Testament, many times, in English, in German, and (a little) in Latin. My point about Biblical hermeneutics is that I am not a trained scholar of these matters: I don't know New Testament Greek; I am not familiar with the Enstehungsgeschichte of the text; I am mostly unfamiliar with the scholarly literature written by Bible experts. I was concerned with the logic of the situation. But you have now forced me to look for evidence for a mystical interpretation.]