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Between Heaven & Hell (excerpt)

  • Dr. Peter Kreeft Author
  • 2011 10 Jan
Between Heaven & Hell (excerpt)

[Dr. Peter Kreeft submitted this excerpt from select portions of his book Between Heaven & Hell, which depicts a hypothetical postmortum dialog with John F. Kennedy (representing Humanism), C. S. Lewis (representing Christianity) and Aldous Huxley (representing Pantheism)—all of whom actually died on the same day. The subject of their conversation is the question of the identity of Jesus.  Dr. Kreeft will be speaking in Richmond, Virginia this Friday, January 14 on "The Worldview of C. S. Lewis and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" (more details here).]

Kennedy:  That's just what I can't buy: that old-fashioned theology of God descending from heaven like a meteor.
Lewis:  All right, then, let's be very specific.  Who is Jesus, according to your faith?
Kennedy:  The ideal man, the man so perfect and wise that his followers called him divine.  Not God become man but man become God.
Lewis:  A very nicely put summary of humanist Christology; but do you think this is Christianity?
Kennedy:  Old Christianity, no; New Christianity, yes.  The only form of it a modern man can believe without giving up his intellectual honesty.  I heard a preacher put it this way: you can be honest, or intelligent, or a medieval-style Christian, or any two of the three, but not all three.  Work that out for yourself.
Lewis:  Very clever, but the same barb can be used to sting anyone.  I can say you can be honest, or intelligent, or a modernist, or any two of the three, but not all three.  The substantive point, as distinct from the debater's nicety, is the identity of Jesus.  Let's zero in on that issue.
Kennedy:  Fine.  Who is Jesus?
Lewis:  God become man.
Kennedy:  Literally?
Lewis:  Yes.
Kennedy:  How can you as an educated twentieth-century man take such an outdated position?
Lewis:  As distinct from your new, modern one?
Kennedy:  Yes.
Lewis:  Because for one thing, your new position is as old as the hills.  Or, at least, as old as Arius.
Kennedy:  Who?
Lewis:  Arius, a fourth-century heretic who carried half the church with him even after the Council of Nicea addressed the issue by clearly and strongly affirming Jesus' divinity.  The same thing is happening again today with modernism and humanism.  Your so-called new Christianity is nothing but the old Arian heresy in new dress.
Kennedy:  Really, now, there's no need to call each other names.
Lewis:  I didn't call you a name; I just labeled your position accurately.
Kennedy:  I wish you would avoid using labels like heretic.
Lewis:  I used the label heresy, not heretic.  The position, not the person.
Kennedy:  I see.  The "love the sinner, hate the sin" distinction.
Lewis:  Quite.
Kennedy:  I still wish we could avoid that label.
Lewis:  Why?
Kennedy:  It's... so... so outdated.  So unenlightened.  So medieval.  So primitive.
Lewis:  Jack, do you tell time with an argument?
Kennedy:  What?
Lewis:  I said, do you tell time with an argument?
Kennedy:  What in the world do you mean by that?
Lewis:  When you want to know what time it is, what do you look at?  An argument or a clock?
Kennedy:  A clock, of course.
Lewis:  And what do you use an argument for, if not to tell time?
Kennedy:  Why, to prove something, of course.  Or to try to.
Lewis:  Something false or something true?
Kennedy:  Something true.
Lewis:  So you tell time by the clock and the truth by an argument.
Kennedy:  Among other means, yes.
Lewis:  Not vice versa?
Kennedy:  No.
Lewis:  But you were trying to tell truth by the clock a minute ago.
Kennedy:  Truth by the clock?
Lewis:  When I want to disprove an idea, I try to prove that it is falseYour argument against my idea that your belief was a heresy was simply that my idea was oldOutdated, I believe you said.  Medieval and primitive were two more of your terms.  Those are all clock words, or calendar words.  (Calendars are only big, long clocks, after all.)
Kennedy:  I see Aldous did well to warn me against you!  All right, my friend.  If you want to be so logical, I challenge you: prove to me logically that Jesus is God and not just man.

Lewis:  Aut deus aut homo malus.
Kennedy:  What? Are we speaking in tongues now, or what?
Lewis:  That's my proof, or its summary.  It's Latin for...
Kennedy:  I know.  I was just kidding.  "Either God or a bad man."  Now how is that a proof?
Lewis:  Let's go through the logic of it.  The first premise is that Christ must be either God, as he claims to be, or a bad man, if he isn't who he claims to be.  The second premise is that he isn't a bad man.  The conclusion is that he is God.
Kennedy:  The logical form seems to be correct, but why must I accept either premise?
Lewis:  As for the second premise, even his opponents do not usually say he was a bad man.  They try to make out that he was only a good man whom his disciples "divinized."  But the first premise states that "just a good man" is the one thing he could not possibly be.
Kennedy:  Why?  Prove the first premise.  That's the nub of the argument.  The second is a platitude.
Lewis:  Right.  Consider this: Christ claimed to be the "Son of God."  Remember what that implies.
Kennedy:  What?
Lewis:  What is the primary thing a father gives to his son?
Kennedy:  Love, I suppose.
Lewis:  Try again.
Kennedy:  Education?  Caring?  Time?
Lewis:  All those can be given only if the primary gift is given first.
Kennedy:  You mean existence.
Lewis:  Yes.  And what kind of existence?
Kennedy:  Human existence, of course.
Lewis:  Yes.  Human existence, human life, human nature.  Human parents give humanity to their children.  And what do oyster parents give to their oyster children?
Kennedy:  Oyster nature.
Lewis:  Brilliant deduction!  And wolf parents give wolf nature to their wolf children.  And Martian parents give Martian nature.  So the son of an oyster is what?
Kennedy:  An oyster.
Lewis:  And the son of a wolf is...
Kennedy:  A wolf.  And the son of a Martian is a Martian.
Lewis:  And the Son of God?
Kennedy:  I see.  The title does seem to imply divinity, doesn't it?
Huxley:  You're giving in too easily, Jack.  Actually, the term son of God is sometimes used in Scripture to refer to creatures.  Angels are called sons of God in some places, and all Christians are called sons of God.
Lewis:  Shall we review some of the other things Jesus said that more clearly claim divinity?
Kennedy:  Before we look at that, I'd like to be clear about the logic of the argument.  Suppose Jesus did claim divinity.  That doesn't prove he was divine.  Lots of people claim things that aren't theirs.
Lewis:  But a mere man who claimed to be God would not be a good man, don't you see?
Kennedy:  Hmmm.  What would he be, according to your thinking?
Lewis:  A bad man, just as the argument says.
Kennedy:  Suppose he was just confused?
Lewis:  Then he was intellectually bad.  You see, he either believes his claim to be God, or he doesn't.  If he does, then he is intellectually bad—very bad, in fact, because that's a pretty large confusion!  And if he does not believe his claim, then he is morally bad: a deceiver and a terrible blasphemer.
Kennedy:  So what are all the possibilities?
Lewis:  An intellectually bad man, a morally bad man, a good man or God.  In other words, insane, blasphemer, nice guy or God.  And the one of those four that he couldn't possibly be is the third.  But that's what you and the millions of other humanists think he was.

Kennedy:  What I want to say is this: how can you talk about a person in such stark, extreme alternative categories?
Lewis:  With him, you have to.  He forces you to one of two extreme positions by his claim, the most extreme claim anyone ever made.
Kennedy:  Well, I don't feel forced into your extremes.
Lewis:  Look here: suppose I claimed to be the greatest writer of the twentieth century.  What would you think of me?
Kennedy:  Why, that you were insufferably arrogant.
Lewis:  Yes.  But not quite insane?
Kennedy:  Not necessarily.
Lewis:  Now suppose I claimed to be the greatest human being who ever walked the earth—wiser than Solomon, more enlightened than Buddha, holier than any of the saints.  What would you think of me then?
Kennedy:  That you were an incredibly egotistical fool.
Lewis:  A bit closer to insanity, right?
Kennedy:  Probably well over the edge.
Lewis:  Fine.  Now suppose I claimed to be God—the God who created you and this whole universe, the cosmic Mind or Logos that has always existed.  Suppose I claimed to be your Savior, to forgive your sins, save your soul from hell and take you to heaven if only you believed in me and worshiped me.  Suppose I said I was utterly sinless, and that I would rise from the dead, and because I would rise, you would rise too.  What would you think of me then?
Kennedy:  If you said that?
Lewis:  Yes.
Kennedy:  That you were quite insane, if you really believed it.  What's the principle you're trying to prove?
Lewis:  That the difference between what you really are and what you claim to be is a measure of your insanity.
Kennedy:  I see.  Then it would have to work for claims to be less than you really are as well as more.
Lewis:  It does.  If I claimed to be the stupidest and wickedest man in the world, you would say I was suffering from a very severe inferiority complex.  If I said I was really an ape, not a man, you would say I was insane.  If I said I was a teakettle, you would think me even more insane.  Correct?
Kennedy:  Correct.
Lewis:  And the gap between God and creatures is greater than any other gap, any gap between any two creatures, because it's infinite.  Correct?
Kennedy:  Correct.
Lewis:  So it follows that the greatest insanity would be claiming to be God.

Lewis:  Aldous, what is the nub of your defense against by argument?
Huxley:  Your Biblicism, your reliance on the biblical texts.  We keep backing into the textual issue and then backing out of it.  I want to bail Jack out of your aut deus aut homo malus argument by challenging the premise that Jesus claimed to be the unique son of God, and I want to do that by challenging the historical accuracy of the New Testament texts.  How could we deal with that issue now?
Lewis:  The issue is quite complicated on the technical textual level, and it has been hotly argued for many years.  I don't think we're going to be allowed to review that long argument here.  But there is a second aspect to the issue that's seldom considered, and we could question that in a very short time.
Huxley:  What aspect?
Lewis:  The psychological.
Huxley:  We're talking about texts.  How do you get off into psychology?  That's a diversion.
Lewis:  No.  It's central.  It's human beings that study texts.  Human beings have motives.
Huxley:  But most of the textual study is scientific and objective.  Some is even mathematical.  Some is computer work.  Figures don't lie.
Lewis:  No, but liars figure.
Kennedy:  He's got you there, Aldous.  There's always the human factor.
Lewis:  And in fact most modernist biblical criticism has not been scientific and objective, as it claims to be.  It almost always approaches the text with a priori religious dogmas and unquestioned assumptions in mind, notably, disbelief in miracles.  From the psychological point of view the modernist reconstruction of the texts seems suspiciously like fudging the data to fit the a priori theory, altering the evidence, doctoring the tapes.
Huxley:  Don't you do the same thing from the opposite direction?  You do believe in miracles, so you accept the miracle stories.  Why isn't that just as prejudiced?
Lewis:  Because the texts are miracle stories.  I don't add miracles to them; the modernist subtracts them.
Huxley:  He thinks the early church added them.
Lewis:  And especially Jesus' claim to divinity?
Huxley:  Yes.  Only because of that claim does your aut deus aut homo malus argument work.  I say Jesus never claimed divinity, that later writers foisted those words upon him, and I don't see how you could possibly refute that now, two thousand years after the fact.
Lewis:  I think it is refutable.  Consider this: the modernist has to say that the writers of the New Testament were either very stupid or very bad, deliberate liars.
Huxley:  This sounds like the aut deus aut homo malus argument again.  Why the either/or?
Lewis:  Because if they thought Jesus claimed to be God when he didn't, they must be very stupid.  They were Jews, remember, not Hindus.  No one in the world is less likely to confuse the Creator with a creature than a Jew, and he is less likely to confuse Creator with any creature than to confuse any two creatures.  The first difference is infinite, the second only finite.  On the other hand, if the New Testament writers knew Jesus didn't really claim to be God and they falsified the story to make him say that, then they're not only deliberate liars but they foisted on the world the greatest hoax, the greatest lie, the greatest forgery in all of history.
Huxley:  How can you be sure they didn't do just that?  You can't cross-examine them two thousand years later.  You have no hard evidence.
Lewis:  But consider what that hypothesis entails.
Huxley:  What?
Lewis:  The psychological absurdity of saints living and martyrs dying for a blasphemous, stupid practical joke.
Huxley:  Too bad for them, but tragic mistakes happen.
Lewis:  But what could possibly have motivated the original creation of the lie?  What did its inventors get out of it?  Persecuted, exiled, tortured, imprisoned and killed, that's what.  People who lie and deceive, especially when the lie is so clever and complete and systematic, always do it for a reason, for a motive, for some personal advantage.  Who did it and for what motive?
Huxley:  It does seem psychologically unlikely.  No, most modernists don't take that line.  They don't think the texts were deliberate hoaxes, but myths.
Lewis:  That's even more absurd, both literarily and theologically.  Literarily because the Gospels simply aren't written as myths but as history.  Theologically, because no Jew could possibly confuse Creator and creature so blasphemously.

Huxley:  Hmmm...  Whether what you say is true or not, you have certainly given me a puzzle, perhaps a koan, certainly food for much thought.  I feel I ought to do some more of that—thinking—before I do any more talking with you.  For me, at any rate, our dialog seems to have come to an end, perhaps a turning point.
Lewis:  Perhaps a beginning.

Dr. Peter Kreeft is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and at the King's College (Empire State Building) in New York City. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of over 59 books including Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Christianity for Modern Pagans, Fundamentals of the Faith.

Dr. Kreeft's website is at