Where then do we stand? Is the MBG argument a successful argument, or not? Can it be used as a convincing piece of Christian apologetics (as Lewis clearly thought it could), or not? The conclusion we reached earlier is that the argument, as outlined in steps (1)—(8), is valid. But of course that does not show much. The argument:
(13) Everybody in Tibet believes in Jesus;
(14) Bertrand Russell lives in Tibet;
(15) Therefore Bertrand Russell believes in Jesus is also a valid argument, but is obviously a rhetorically useless device for providing rational support for its conclusion.
43 Witherington argues convincingly that these words are authentic. See Christology of Jesus, 221-8.
44 See O'Collins, Christology, 60-2.
45 There is a curious tribute to this argument from an unexpected source in George W. E. Nickelsburg's entry, 'Son of Man', in the Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday. 1992), vi. 149. He argues that Jesus could not have implied that he was the 'Son of Man', because that would mean (what Nickelsburg cannot accept) that he went around claiming to be the eschatological judge of all.
46 A brief note about the Christology of the Fourth Gospel: it is often pointed out that alongside the texts such as those cited above that seem to indicate Jesus' oneness with God and equality with the Father, there are texts that point toward Jesus' dependence on the Father, who is greater than he (see 7: 16; 5: 19, 30-1; 14: 28). My only comment is that the best way to keep both sorts of texts theologically in view is the classic doctrine of the incarnation, where Jesus is both 'fully divine' and 'begotten of the Father'.
But is the argument sound (i.e. valid plus true premises)? Well, as we have seen, premise (2) is virtually beyond reproach; and while premises (3), (4), and (5) can be disputed, an excellent case can also be made for their truth. But premise (1), which I take to be the crux of the argument, not only can be but frequently is disputed, even by some who believe in the incarnation. I take it that the perceived weakness of premise (1) is the most important reason why the MBG argument has not often been used or defended by Christian theologians and exegetes (as opposed to a few apologists) since Lewis. But, as we have also seen, a strong (and, in my view, convincing) case can also be made in favour of premise (1), a case that does not depend on viewing the Gospels ahistorically. The MBG argument also seems immune to such informal fallacies as equivocation, question-begging, arguing in a circle, etc.
Whether the MBG argument is a successful argument accordingly depends on what 'success' for an argument amounts to. That is, it depends on what is taken to be the goal, purpose, or aim of the argument. And of course there are many quite diflErent ways of envisioning the goal or purpose of the MBG argument (or indeed of any deductive argument). Suppose the goal of the MBG argument were to convince all nonbelievers in the incarnation of Jesus to believe in it or to constitute an argument that rationally should convince all nonbelievers in the incarnation ofJesus to believe in it. Then one must doubt that the MBG argument can count as successful. Few nonbelievers will be converted by it; no matter how hard we argue for the truth of premise (1) (or even premises (3), (4), or (5)), the nonbeliever can go on disputing it (or them). Indeed, it seems a nonbeliever in the incarnation can always say something like this: 'I do not know whether Jesus was mad, bad, honestly mistaken, or never said or implied that he was divine— after all, that was twenty centuries ago, and by now it's hard to tell—but one thing I do know is that he was not divine.'
But suppose the aim of the MBG argument is to demonstrate the truth ofthe incarnation ofJesus or (see the very end of Section I, above) to demonstrate the rationality ofbeliefin the incarnation ofJesus. If one of these constitutes the true aim or goal of the MBG argument, then it will not matter whether nonbelievers in the incarnation can rationally reject one or another of the argument's premises.
My own view is that the last goal mentioned—to demonstrate the rationality of belief in the incarnation of Jesus—is the proper goal or aim of the MBG argument. And given what we have concluded in this chapter, I believe it succeeds in doing that very thing. Accordingly, the MBG argument can constitute a powerful piece of Christian apologetics.47
47 I would like to thank C. Stephen Evans. Daniel Howard-Snyder, Brian Leftow, Carey Newman, Gerald O'Collins, SJ, Alan Padgett, Dale Tuggy, and an anonymous referee from Oxford University Press for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this chapter.
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