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NEWS: Alan Lenzi Invents New Trilemma – On Biblical Studies and Christian Faith

Posted by NT Wrong on June 7, 2008

Alan Lenzi, Professor of Hebrew Bible and ancient Near Eastern Studies at University of the Pacific, has invented a new ‘trilemma’.

The original ‘trilemma’ was coined by C. S. Lewis, who famously argued that Jesus must either be Lord, a Liar, or a Lunatic. This caught on immediately, due to the catchy alliteration.

Now, Prof Lenzi has discovered a trilemma which applies to biblical scholars who claim Christian faith. These are the good professor’s own words:

“Ultimately, I think one must exercise a kind of intellectual schizophrenia, engage in [at least] implicit mysticism, or turn a blind eye to some major critical issues if one is going to maintain Christian faith as a Biblicist.”
Alan Lenzi [, with systematic emendation]

Let’s break that down.

A self-professed Christian doing biblical studies today, after all that has been discovered over the last 200 years or so, must either:

    1. Be an schizo, intellectually holding to two opposite things at once;
    2. Be a mystic, appealing to some lame ‘God works in mysterious ways’ theology, Barthianism, some other obscurantism, or all of the above;
    3. Be intellectually dishonest, choosing to ignore the ramifications of what she or he has learnt.

‘The New Trilemma’, as it has been coined, manages to avoid the charge of ‘false trichotomy’ which undermined C. S. Lewis’ formulation – because it leaves open the possibility that faith-professing biblical scholars can do all three (sometimes, even, within a single sentence).

A New Trilemma has been born.


8 Responses to “NEWS: Alan Lenzi Invents New Trilemma – On Biblical Studies and Christian Faith”

  1. jimgetz said

    Why do I have to chose only one? I’d like to be an intellectually dishonest, mystical schizophrenic.

  2. ntwrong said

    But it’s not an either-or, Jim. You’re quite entitled to intellectual dishonesty, mysticism and schizophrenia all at once. And with cream on top.

    This is the beauty of The New Trilemma.

  3. Where would I fit in? I’m an explicit mystic? 🙂

  4. ntwrong said

    Darn it, James. You would have to go and point that out.

    I’ve altered Alan Lenzi’s formulation, just for you:
    “engage in [at least] implicit mysticism”

    Now I feel like a systematic theologian. It’s just like systematizing a stray remark by St Paul buried within a badly thought-out letter, so as to make it into some abstract statement of absolute dogma … I like it.

  5. jimgetz said

    Hmmm. With cream on top? I think I’m liking The New Trilemma. It’s the theological equivalent of a mocha-caramel iced latte with whipped cream.

  6. ntwrong said


  7. Alan Lenzi said

    Getting here sort of late. Nice post. Thanks . . . I guess.

  8. ntwrong said

    I had wondered if you had taken offence and were giving me the silent treatment. I’m relieved to see we’re still on speaking terms.

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