Friday, 26 October 2007

The Trilemma: an introduction.

Voting is compulsory for Australian citizens, and on November 24 we’ll all be required to head to the polls and have our say. In an attempt to ride on the back of this event a nearby church has launched an “election themed” parish mission.

These parish Missions have a long tradition with Sydney Evangelicals, and broadly speaking they’re as bad as they sound. The idea is to have a parish-based marketing assault on local residents, resulting in widespread conversion and an ensuing revival spreading to surrounding suburbs. Essentially they are attempts to recreate in minature the 1959 Billy Graham crusade; a watershed event at which many of the current hierarchy were “saved", and the highpoint of a mythical golden age for which they still yearn.

If you’re very lucky not too many people get burned out in the 2-4 week hysteria, and church attendance doesn’t fall too much, although in my experience you had to be very lucky indeed to escape so lightly. More commonly the resulting failure to meet anticipated expectations sends the parish into a decline only ending when the incumbent responsible “moves on” – but I’m a cynic with an endless supply of funny mission anecdotes (it was compulsory for Ordinands to participate in one mission each year) that have a habit of slipping out when friends ply me with cheap red wine.

As far as missions go, this one has appears to have a pretty impressive budget: banners this large don’t come cheap, and since my local Woolworths doesn’t stock giant papier-mâché pencils I’m not too sure how much they cost, but I’ll bet it’s more than the parish gave to AIDS charities in the last 12 months. Certainly the Rev. Diocese McDiocese (or whatever the name of the Rector behind all this is) must be popular with the powers that hold the purse strings, because he was able to buy not just one of the things, but three! As I’ve always said, when it comes to ministry you can never have enough giant imitation pencils.

In parallel with the “Voting is Compulsory" theme the parish is pushing the old Josh McDowell “Trilemma” from “Evidence That Demands A Verdict”. Published in 1979, McDowell argued that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or Lord of all; all other responses being invalid. This is actually a reworking of CS Lewis’ argument in “Mere Christianity” (itself based on a series of BBC broadcasts Lewis made in 1943), although Lewis was less succinct: Jesus, he said, was “either a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell.” Failing these, Lewis continued, Jesus “was and is God.”

The picture on the left doesn’t show it very clearly, but someone's climbed several metres off the ground and made a faint tick next to the “Lunatic” option on this second banner in the church grounds, which is probably a fair indication of the mission's impact on local residents. Still, the whole affair has got me thinking...

There’s no shortage of web sites web pointing out the Trilemma's poor logic, and the inherent falsehood of the premise that no other options exist, but it seems to me the best answer is “All of the above”, which is undoubtedly not what we're supposed to conclude.

So… in-between whatever else crops up here in the next week, I’m going to spend a bit of time blogging about each of the options. It’ll be interesting to see which offends the fundies most: “Jesus the Liar” or “Jesus the Lunatic”? Now that Mad Priest won’t let me feed his troll anymore, I might even be lucky enough to catch one of my own!