“The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context” by Myron B. Penner

Last Edited: 7/30/2022
This is an experimental book discussion group. We will be discussing Myron Penner’s book “The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context.” See below for the blurb.

[EDIT 7/12/2022] In conjunction with the overall purpose of this Forum, as part of this discussion we will consider whether and/or how science plays a role in Christian apologetics.

We will (attempt to) read and discuss on a schedule in order to stay on track and finish the book. We will have read and then BEGIN discussion of each section by the date indicated.

Schedule:
July 18, 2022: Introduction, Optional Questions: Slide 34
July 25, 2022: Chapter 1, Community Sourced Questions: Slide 193
August 1, 2022: Chapter 2, Community Sourced Questions: Slide 274
August 8, 2022: Chapter 3, Community SourceQuestions: Slide 391
August 15, 2022: Chapter 4
August 22, 2022: Chapter 5 & Epilogue

The book is available to read online for free at: The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context by Myron Bradley Penner, : Myron Bradley Penner : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive. Two pages are missing. You can find them at the bottom of the Resources Slide. You can also listen to the book if you click on the headset icon in the bottom right corner of Internet Archive’s browser-based reading app.

The book is available through your favorite book sellers and libraries. The only ebook version I could find was the Kindle version. You can read about it and take a look inside at: https://www.amazon.com/End-Apologetics-Christian-Witness-Postmodern/dp/0801035988 .

As participants mention resources which can provide background information on the main concepts in the book or which can lead to further research later, I will continue to add them to Slide 9. You may wish to bookmark Slide 9 for easy access, since notifications are not sent out for edits.

This will not be a quick, easy read for everyone. (It certainly is not for me.) However, it is a fairly readable, and fair, introduction to some ideas and concepts relating to Premodern, Modern and Postmodern thinking. If you want to know more about Postmodernism, this is a very good, albeit “side door,” orientation to some aspects of the condition and critical thought associated with it.

Blurb from Amazon:

The modern apologetic enterprise, according to Myron Penner, is no longer valid. It tends toward an unbiblical and unchristian form of Christian witness and does not have the ability to attest truthfully to Christ in our postmodern context. In fact, Christians need an entirely new way of conceiving the apologetic task.

This provocative text critiques modern apologetic efforts and offers a concept of faithful Christian witness that is characterized by love and grounded in God’s revelation. Penner seeks to reorient the discussion of Christian belief, change a well-entrenched vocabulary that no longer works, and contextualize the enterprise of apologetics for a postmodern generation.

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Bin sayin’ this for years.

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Feel free to read with. I am half-way through and am anxious to see where his conclusions lead. As always, I am hopeful that he is truthful and accurate in his discussion of other writers’ work. I’ve encountered others, who weren’t. But my background is rudimentary and incomplete. It’s easy to find onself having been too trusting.

I bought the book at a recent, overly optimistic, field trip to a large bookstore that’s too far for frequent visits. When I read the back and started the intro, I hoped he would be answering (well) a number of my questions. The first half does.

@Klax, the more I read the more I see things that might resonate with you. Hopefully in a harmonious way.

could be part of a valuable discussion of the book, if you care to join.

I still have many questions, though.

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Thanks for putting this together. I look forward to the discussion. As this will be a more focused discussion than most, will be happy to use my moderation powers to keep on track, so just flag any posts not appropriate to the subject, Kendel

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I’m interested and planning on it. Like the Muslim cleric says to the Christian students visiting on a field trip, I’m not interested in anyone’s conversion but I celebrate each one’s perfection in the wisdom tradition journey they already are on. This comes from the book Holy Envy that @Mervin_Bitikofer got me interested in. It also forms the outline of a goal toward which any critique of apologetics should aspire. Maybe Penner will cause me to rethink that goal or maybe he’ll surpass it. I hope to find out so long as I am up to challenge.

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I love a reading challenge. At this very moment, though, my reading attentions are entirely absorbed by yet another book that I heard mentioned in this forum: “Jesus and John Wayne” by Kristen Kobes Du Mez. Thanks @Christy for that mention. I thought my own memories and overview of what has transpired over the last 20 to 30 years to be fairly accurate (and indeed it was), but Du Mez is filling in lots of details and names I was ignorant about. [and effectively showing me that it’s actually a lot worse than I thought it was.]

It sounds like this Penner book will be a similar thing, though from a perspective (2013) that may seem (to our eyes) to have aged somewhat in the intervening years. But that doesn’t mean it can’t have a solidly needed perspective for us to consider together. The best perspectives from thoughtful people are those that have had some time to ferment; so I need to fight against my enculturated appetite for “only the latest”.

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Pay special attention to the normative judgement with respect to a value free determination.

Penner concludes the introduction by noting that he is not against polemics, but a particular kind of apologetics. To that I am relieved! And look forward to a promising endeavor.

“I trust it will be obvious that, while I am engaging in a polemic against a certain form of Christian apologetic discourse, my ultimate goal is to open a pathway for faithful witness, not to close down its possibility.”

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J&J is well worth your time.
Penner is a very different type of book. You can read it any time you can fit it in and certainly see how it gets hashed over here.

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RESOURCES FOR BACKGROUND CONCEPTS, DEFINITIONS, ETC.
Last edited: 7/27/2022
Back to OP

I’ll add to this list as I put my finger on things that may be useful to folks who want some background or definitions. I’ve looked up much reading this book and will continue to.

Cultural Periods/Historic Eras (Premodern, Modern, Postmodern)
1.6 Cultural Periods – Understanding Media and Culture.

I find the table on this page a helpful quick reference. The author’s commentary is mostly helpful for an explanation of his decision-making process in developing the table.:
http://www.darc.org/connelly/religion5.html

Enchantment
@jpm shared these blog posts about enchantment

End
The book title, The end of Apologetics, has a double meaning. It is, in part, a reference to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q.1:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.

Kierkegaard:

Kierkegaard in 19 Minutes (recommended by @MarkD ) Kierkegaard in 19 Minutes - YouTube

Kierkegaard’s Concept of Irony

Timestamps 00:31 (What is irony?), 02:26 (Philosophy begins with doubt.), 07:11 (The Philosophy of Socrates), 11:20 (The phenomenon is not the essence); 12:44 (The highest form of irony), 16:11 (The Dark Side of Irony), 16:49 (The difference between irony and other phenomena), 19:17 (The Ironic Subject), 24:13 (Controlled Irony).

Penner, Myron
@Mervin_Bitikofer shared this excellent introductory interview with Penner about the book.

@heymike3 shared this article by Myron Penner
The Unknown Mover (Or, How to Do “Natural” Theology in a Postmodern Context): A Review Essay

A list of some of Penner’s publications from Trinity Western University, where he is currently listed as a prof (in addition to being the rector at St. Paul’s Anglican Church.)

Sermon videos list from St. Paul’s Anglican Church,

@Mervin_Bitikofer shared this *Unbelievable* podcast interview between Myron Penner and Sean McDowell.

Postmodernism

Postmodernism from PBS’s Faith and Reason Glossary (recommended by MarkD)
https://www.pbs.org/faithandreason/gengloss/postm-body.html

Postmodernism in a nutshell
An excellent “Cliff’s Notes” level blog that provides some basic touch-points to Postmodernism.

The introduction to this extended essay provides a good overview:
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/postmodernism/

FOR FURTHER READING IN POSTMODERNISM AND CHRISTIANITY

Articles and Blogs

Books

Butler, Christopher, Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2002. (recommended by @heymike3 )
Smith, James K. A., Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?, Baker Academic, 2006.
Taylor, Charles, A Secular Age, Harvard University Press, 2018.

(recommended by @heymike3 )

Videos

Missing Pages (51 and 52) from Internet Archive’s PDF of The End of Apologetics:

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Comments on the Introduction

MacIntyre’s post science-apocalypse world is believable, but his imaginary pre-enlightenment morality as a science world is total poppycock! The comparison is preposterous. If anything, the opposite is the case – where morality is a chaos of varied social constructs until we demanded that morality be put to the test of rational examination.

But then, I have made my utter contempt for authoritarian morality quite clear – something which is appropriate for toddlers only and utterly inadequate for mature human beings trying to navigate the intricate moral challenges of a changing world. The ONLY absolute morality is one which provides REASONS for why some things are good and other things are bad. The only objective morality is one which provides scientific evidence of the harm done by things which are designated bad and scientific evidence for the benefit done by things designated good.

This does not mean there is no place for the subjective morality of religion! NOT AT ALL! It only means you have no reasonable basis for expecting others to accept them. But you have every right to make those standards a guide for living your own life, the same as any vegetarian who refuses to eat meat.

And the above is also the answer to the author’s “moral debates are deadlocked.” With the proper distinction between objective morality for all and subjective morality for personal standards only, there is no problem. Tolerance becomes the principle morality imposed upon all members of a free society.

What this means for Christian apologetics is that its task must be restricted to defending the rationality of Christian belief system abandoning the traditional task of arguing for the irrationality of any other belief system. I think the author is confusing these two when he suggests that “defending Christian belief is not an unqualified good.” Defending the rational coherence of your beliefs is simply a requirement for them to be considered meaningful at all. The only trouble is when “defending Christian belief” is equated with denouncing all other belief systems to be irrational.

So the author asks, “what does the faithful witness to Jesus Christ look like in a post modern context?” But for what reason should we presume that we are addressing someone who has accepted the post-modern outlook? The faithful witness to Jesus Christ is to explain how we were led to where we are from wherever we were and thus dealing with the post modern outlook is a task for those who came from that way of thinking. Certainly trying to attack other ways of thinking as a complete outsider to that way of thinking is not something I recommend.

I must admit I have some sympathy for Kierkegaard’s idea that traditional apologetics is a betrayal of Christianity. My reason is that it tends to replace a faith in God with a faith in the premises of the arguments made. I think this leads to many distortions of the Christian faith both in its system of beliefs and in practice.

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Really well said Mitchell. It should be enough to justify one’s beliefs to oneself and to those whose opinion we value. Beyond that is folly.

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I would like to read your insight on that book sometime, too. I have listened to it on audible. It sure makes for a deep read. Thanks.

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Nietzsche’s “there are no moral facts” is an important milestone.

That is like saying there are no rational conclusion because all conclusions depend on the acceptance of premises, or like saying there are no scientific facts because these are founded on the premises of scientific inquiry.

Sure any morality depends on some basic choices about the kind of world/society we want to live in. But many of these are no-brainers which nobody with a shred of decency would object to. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you is one such basic principle. And within the context of such choices there are relevant facts. For example, there is the experimental determination that second hand smoke is harmful. Thus we have moral facts as much as we have scientific facts or rational conclusions about anything. In this way your “important milestone” is not rational by the same twist of logic and thus self-defeating – for I will put up the premises of my claim for moral facts against every premise Nietzsche used to derive that empty piece of rhetoric.

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Nietzsche is generally accepted to be the precursor to postmodernism.

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@mitchellmckain thank you for your interest in this book and taking the time to read, think and write about it.

Penner points to the foundational differences between premodern (classical Christianity) and modern worldviews throughout this book as the basis for his critique of apologetics. For example on page 6:

By and large, apologetic argu­ments and natural theology are linguistic survivals from the practices of classical Christianity that have lost the context that made them meaningful and relevant. Subsequently, as with moral discourse, modern arguments around the existence of God, God’s goodness, etc., are subject to interminable disagreement and a deep confusion that stem from their dislocation from a premodern worldview.

I am curious what differences you see in the underlying assumptions of these two worldviews and how those differences would alter the way in which reasoning is carried out, if at all.

Thanks

Agreed. I don’t see much value in these apologetic arguments, and I would say further that “natural theology” is steeped in pagan thinking alien to Judeo-Christian Biblical thought. I also see considerable confusion between the artifacts of language and measurable reality which modern science has been of considerable help in distinguishing.

I accept the disagreements as natural and unavoidable when dealing with the highly subjective topics under discussion in religion and philosophy. I certainly do not accept any so called modernity or post-modernity as a requirement for any thinking to be meaningful.

To be sure I have frequently admitted that I do have a filter of meaningfulness and rationality quite disconnected from “premodern (classical Christianity)” but that is to be found in the unreserved affirmation of modern science and not in any modern philosophy. From there I forge ahead in building a basis for rationality (in Christianity as well as other things) borrowing from whatever seems useful. Some have noticed that I have found Aristotle useful while having nothing but contempt for the ideas of Plato (as well as derivatives such as Whitehead).

Sigh… sounds like work for the academic philosopher which I am not. For me it seems more useful to lay out the principles I have for rationality.

  1. logical coherence which is requisite for a belief to be meaningful.
  2. consistency with the objective scientific evidence which is requisite for a belief to be reasonable.
  3. compatibility with the ideals of a free society which is requisite for a belief to be moral in the kind of society I would want to live in (so that I do not take up arms against it).

Someone’s decision may be moral or immoral and thus the fact of the decision has a moral value, but how are there other moral facts, any more than there are moral raindrops? It is a fact, a neutral fact neither moral nor immoral that cigarette smoke is harmful. Where morality comes into play is in the decisions concerning it. So what kind of ‘moral facts’ are there besides peoples’ moral or immoral choices?

LOL is that all Nietzsche is claiming? That facts are not moral in themselves any more that the word red is actually the color red?

I thought the claim was something rather more than that. That there are no facts which inform morality as there are facts which inform science.

After all, in the story told in the introduction of the reading, we have an excellent example of how facts are not science and that people may recite all sorts of scientific findings without doing any science whatsoever.

Actually when I looked this up to find out where Nietzsche said this, I found that he said there are no facts at all but only interpretations. But I can go Nietzsche one farther to say that without interpretations there are only photons, molecules, and their motions. It is the brain using beliefs which turn these into a perception of objects and actions in the world. But so what? This doesn’t make the objects, actions, and facts (moral or otherwise) any less real or true. How is this any different than the rhetoric of Zeno arguing there is no such thing as motion?

I’ve barely touched Nietzsche, but in an intro to ethics I first came across the claim that there are no moral facts. This might be as simple as saying morality is not objective.

In your previous comment you detailed a number of examples that include harm to other people. And one moral judgement my class had to consider was whether it was acceptable to harm one person to save a group of others. Usually it’s a large group to add extra weight to the judgement.

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