My Review of Myron Bradley Penner’s The End of Apologetics

“Do I, as an African, have first to study and learn Greek philosophy and master its conceptual categories [so he can understand what the orthodox creeds really mean] before I can convert to Christianity and believe in Jesus?”  Mabiala Kenzo in chapter 5 “The Politics of Witness” (Emphasis authors and his)

Several years ago I sat with a couple who had asked me to perform their marriage ceremony and as we debriefed their responses to a well-known pre-marital instrument which I use in helping couples prepare for marriage, we came to the spiritual segment of the survey and as we talked the bride-to-be blurted out, “I want God in my life, but I don’t how to do that!” I simply invited her to ask God into her life and I would pray in support of her as she did! There was no “gospel presentation” (the view from a ‘program’ that I unwillingly trained to do in the 1980’s only because I was required to as a staff member of the church I was serving) but simply a simple sharing of encouragement and support as she took that significant step of faith. Today, she is a faithful member of the congregation I currently serve.

I have thought about these two approaches to a personal faith commitment as I have read 16241757Myron Bradley Penner’s The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in A Post-Modern Context.  (Baker Academic Books, 2013)

Written with the goal of reorienting “the discussion of Christian belief and change a well-entrenched vocabulary that simply does not work anymore, whatever its past uses might have been,” Penner attempts an ambitious effort “from a deep conviction that the modern apologetic paradigm does not have the ability to witness truthfully to Christ in our post-modern situation.” (Emphasis his.) To do this Penner critiques the dominate modernist apologetic approach and concludes that it is too tied into a propositional approach whose vocabulary “simply does not work anymore.”

The result is a book that offers an alternative to the long dominant propositional approach to “defending the faith” and instead, as Penner increasingly outlines in chapter 4, depends “on the witness of Christians-our full testimony to the truth that edifies us and builds us up.”

Utilizing diverse sources from Kierkegaard to Augustine, as well as the Biblical text, Penner argues for a new apologetic approach in this post-modern era in which testimony of experience must be raised (I suggest re-raised)  alongside a hermeneutical view that uses the Scriptures as a series of texts  to give witness to what Penner calls an “edification” that enables a believer to talk about faith “in such a way that it explains me to myself and enables and empowers me to live honestly and meaningfully – with a clear conscience – with God and others. (Emphasis his)

I liked this book as it laid out to me what I recall hearing (in more simple terms) from Sunday School teachers and pastors as a kid in the 1960 that Christ is best seen when a faith commitment is lived out in the community of faith and in the public community. Or as Penner puts it, “The proof of Christian truth does not depend upon a rational apologetic procedure but on the witness of Christians-our full testimony to the truth that edifies us and builds us up.”

This book was a challenging read and required me to dig into my memory of philosophy but I am glad that I read it.

I give this book a ‘very good’ rating.

Note: I received a galley copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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One thought on “My Review of Myron Bradley Penner’s The End of Apologetics

  1. This is an edited comment as noted in a second post comment from the same person regarding an electronic misspelling of a word corrected below.

    Penner sets up a false dichotomy of either arguing for belief in Christ, or testimony and edification. I am often asked by friends and coworkers why I believe what I believe. Craig and Moreland’s info is helpful. These conversations are “pull” not “push” due to the deep respect I have for others world views. Know where I first was encouraged to have deep respect for other views, you guessed it, William Lane Craig.

    In a recent interview Penner rejected rationality as an invention of the Enlightment. He seemed unaware that this approach was used by every NT author. A cursory review of Acts 13-19 will demonstrate that Paul and Barnabas traveled across Greece and Asia Minor arguing in synagogues and public forums like the Areopagus and lecture hall at Tyranus for the rationality of the Gospel.

    I use a multi-step approach that starts with developing a relationship (this can take years), followed by eliciting their world view, followed with sharing some experiences of God impacting my life. One individual who was an athiest thought I was an airstrip atheist as well due to the fact that I helped him defend his world view against crayon-toting Christians throwing up he four spiritual laws. Only after ten months did I surprise him. When he asked how I could possibly believe I shred some incredible experiences with God. Later we talked about some classic arguments for God’s existence over a 2-hour cigar. Once he realized that faith was based on evidence and rational reasons he gave his life to Christ. Why would I throw being able to give a defense (apology in the Greek text), away? Just because some people need to see Christ-likeness, and others need to here our experience of Christ.

    Finally, if Penner thought the content was legitimate but the style (namely debate) was not then why not say so. Because it seems clear that for Penner there is no meaning in the text of the New Testement. The text must be deconstructed like a child with disgraphia disassembles and reassembles words into nonsense. Kind of the way my 3-year old use to make up a story to go with a picture book that had no relation to the actual words on the page. Both my 3-year old and Postmodern scholars are making things up that have no relation to the text.

    Did you see what I just did in that last sentence? I used a hasty generalization and created a straw man out of Penner and attacked the straw man. How rude you say? Yes it is. It is also what Penner did to Craig, Moreland and others. Penner is guilty of the very disrespect he accuses them of. How downright hypocritical of him.

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