Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The End of Apologetics

Myron Bradley Penner, The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context. Baker Academic, 2013. 180 pages. ISBN 978-0-8010-3598-2

Penner in his book, The End of Apologetics sates that "this is a book about apologetics. Or, more precisely, it is a book against apologetics" (4). Is this a book of apologetics against apologetics? In some sense, it is a book against apologetics. The author thinks popular apologetics is not relevant to the current postmodern context. The author means by apologetics "the Enlightenment project of attempting to establish rational foundations for Christian belief" (7). The author seems to assume the truth of postmodernism in arguing against popular apologetics as represented by William Lane Craig and the Biola School.

Penner is an Anglican priest in Canada. He previously taught at Prairie College and Graduate School. He is the editor of Christianity and the Postmodern Turn.

Penner argues that Enlightenment apologetics "are taken to be ahistorical, unsituated, abstract, and universal"(17). The author used Kierkegaard as a model for a different type of apologetics that is more fitting to the postmodern context. In the introduction the author declares he does not argue for postmodernism but assumes "postmodernism as a starting point" (14) to show the deficiencies of modern apologetics. Some readers might think his depiction of William Lane Craid, J. P. Moreland, and other are straw men and a little harsh.

In chapter one he describes the apologetics of Craig. He gives much attention to Craig's background and how he does apologetics. He calls Craig's type of apologetics the "objective-universal-neutral complex" (32). This is a typical point made by postmodernists. The idea that there is no netral, objective, universal truth. Everyone sees from a particular perspective. Penner sees that both conservatives and liberals are captivated by the enlightenment view of the intellect.

There are many things to like about this book. It shows the weaknesses of popular apologetics. It shows how apologetics have been used to abuse certain individuals. There is much truth in the idea that truth is not ahistorical, unsituated, abstract, and universal. However, there are particular problems with this view. I might be misreading this view though in these criticisms. How will we decide truth claims if we are all caught in our particular perspectives? Are there no ways to decide between particular differences? Postmodernism has contributed much to discussions on how many Christians are imprisoned to Enlightenment views.

The End of Apologetics is a good book to see problems with popular apologetics. It also shows us what an apologetics would look like that assumed postmodernism. I was able to follow the author's thought for most of the book and agree with much of it or see how the position was a valid alternative. However, I had a problem following and accepting the last chapter, "The Politics of Witness." It is in this chapter that the author connects popular apologetics with violence. I might have taken him to connect the two together where he is arguing there is the possibility. He seems to be using stronger terms than I could accept. In addition, It did not seem called for in certain instances.

One other note, this book won honorable mention in Christianity Today Book awards 2014. It has also received endorsements from Jonathan R. Wilson, Fergus Kerr, John R. Franke, and others. I have mixed feelings about this book, but I do recommend it. I think the author makes some good points that are beneficial. For example, Kierkegaard's distinguishing between a genius and an apostle. Another idea is the faith based on an elite who have the gifts, time, and education to be an apologist like Craig. What about ordinary Christians? Popular apologetics seem overly cerebral.

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