I will stand at a distance and watch and listen.
I often feel as if I have inadvertantly wandered into the men’s locker room. I will shield my eyes.
“The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context” by Myron B. Penner
I will stand at a distance and watch and listen.
You read him right.
It is absolutely a frontal assault on the entire industry and everything that goes with it. Penner’s arguments subsume the entire kit and caboodle, because of the catastrophe of modernism that we talked about earlier, the divorce of faith in God and Jesus from talk about them (except in the most abstract ways) and the entire separation of ways we talk about Christianity from the actual practice of it.
I read a few reviews of Penner’s book by people who favor modern apologetics. (They may have been important in the industry, but I don’t know it that well.) They clearly misread Penner’s thesis and didn’t understand the claims of PoMo well enough to recognize the difference between using reason to critiquue a method and using reason to defend supernatural matters of faith. This is similar (just in a different key) to what I saw when I read Doug Groothuis’s book Truth Decay to try to make sense of my experiences with PoMo. I eventually concluded Groothuis didn’t really understand it as well as he thought he did. Ultimately, he didn’t answer my most important questions, either.
Uhhgg! That’s heavy and way more severe than idolatry.
It’s hard to accept given Penner’s blanket view of pre-modernity, and I’m uneasy without there being any consideration of Aquinas or the synthesis I’ve heard he accomplished.
I hope you don’t mind that I took the liberty of editing your quote of me in the post above … so it would be clear that those words weren’t mine (though I reserve the right to still agree with them - or not - as our quest through Penner’s book continues.)
Thanks, Mark for your link to the Enns interview which must have been back closer to 2013 when the book was still fresh on the market? In any case, perhaps the following snippet, lifted from that interview will help soften the “body blow” that defenders of apologetics generally might feel from Penner. When Enns asks Penner if he is against all apologetics, here is [part of] Penner’s response:
No, I am against a specific way of thinking about faith – and really an entire way of imagining the world, including God, ourselves, and other people – not the act of responding to specific questions about Christian belief or practice. So I am not against what might be called “mere apologetics.”
I am not a fideist who thinks Christian belief negates or is against human reason, or that faith is opposed to any critical reflection on its beliefs whatsoever. I object to an exclusive emphasis on the modern form of reason because it empties faith of its Christian content and robs it of its authority. In this way Kierkegaard’s genius/apostle distinction suggests modern apologetics is itself a symptom of the nihilism (or meaninglessness) that is at the core of modern thought.
And then Enns also asks (my shortened paraphrase here): So what about all the apologists up and down the centuries then (including Aquinas) … did they all get it wrong then?
No, I am not against all apologetic discourse – just the kind that tries to imagine the foundations of Christian belief in terms of modern epistemology. As I suggested above, we continually forget or ignore or suppress the fact that the way we see the world and our assumptions about human reason and the way it relates to faith is just one way to think about those things.
Ancient and medieval Christian apologists thought of the world and God and human reason in very different ways than we do. They literally could not imagine that our reasons for believing things conform to the dictates of modern secular reason. When, for example, medieval theologians engage in “natural theology” (arguments for God’s existence) they do so from within a specific set of assumptions, practices, and beliefs of a community of faith.
Many months ago I was warned off invoking Kierkegaard, publicly by a moderator. What changed?!
In 2019 I responded to an article I read in the Evangelical Philosophical Journal. I found the email of the author and wrote him a note.
I just tracked down the email and confirmed it was Myron Penner.
So I have it in Penner’s own words:
“I heartily agree with your statement regarding philosophy (traditionally understood) not being able to answer those sort of questions.”
Which were in response to me writing:
“You had a very nice article in the EPS journal and I was able to identify meaningful similarities to my approach of showing how reason proves an ‘unknown’ mover. While I often use the cosmological argument, I will quickly admit that it does not prove whether the uncaused cause is aware of its action. Which is ultimately, I think, a question of theism and solipsism. Neither can this question be answered using philosophy.”
That’s news to me! Perhaps context is everything.
So cool! One wonders if Penner is still giving interviews or how all this stuff has played out for him now in the intervening years. But I feel like I still need to come up to speed with his “2013 life and work” before I’m ready to dive into all the reactions to such work.
I’m totally excited about it and will track down the EPS article later today. It was from 2019 so it should be valuable for the reading list.
Well it weren’t you! The context was not questioning Evangelical sacred cows.
Do you have a link?
Sacred cows aren’t for questioning, they’re for milking … but only after you’ve made sure your hands are clean and warm, not forgetting to say please before and thank you after goes without saying.
@Kendel please add this to the reading list:
The Unknown Mover (Or, How to Do “Natural” Theology in a Postmodern Context): A Review Essay by Myron Penner
“Andrew Shephardson contends in Who’s Afraid of the Unmoved Mover that the combined postmodern objections of Carl A. Raschke, James K. A. Smith, and me, to natural theology, fail. Here I focus only on the issue of idolatry and natural theology, as one way of demonstrating a fundamental inadequacy characteristic of Shephardson’s rebuttal of postmodern challenges to evangelical appropriations of natural theology. I argue that contrary to Shephardson’s contention, Acts 17 does not support evangelical appropriations of natural theology, but operates with a view of reason consistent with my postmodern one and opens postmodern possibilities for understanding natural revelation.”
It’s in there. Thanks, Mike! It looks worth reading.
Going forward I think it’s important to notice Penner’s distinction between natural theology and natural revelation.
The article will be useful to me, as I am not familiar with either really.
From the article just mentioned:
(and, in fact, does) position Christian faith as a form of “philosophy,” but he
does so by effectively subsuming pagan philosophical wisdom into the biblical story. He confronts the philosophers of the Aeropagus with a paradigm shift a change of allegiances, a call to a new way of living. In keeping with his times (per Pierre Hadot’s thesis), Paul does not think of philosophy as a theoretical inquiry, whose interest is “an encyclopedic knowledge in the form of a system of propositions and of concepts that would reflect, more or less
well, the system of the world,”but as a way of life, an art of living, a practical and spiritual activity aimed at personal transformation so that one lives well. Now this tact might just sell.
Edited to say I have no idea why all those little pictures were injected into the text. Maybe to prevent excerpting?
I have thought of this discussion of Paul’s as a likely example of the difference in ways of approaching apologetics, but honestly didn’t have the confidence to bring it up. There are other NT examples of apostles telling about Jesus as well. None of them resemble what I am familiar with as apologetics today.
However, I don’t think that lifting the text from the NT discourses as a script would work very well in our world today, either. We have developed within the intellectual soup of modernism and still swim in it. A premodern approach without modification would make no sense.
Uhhh, … June 10, 2013.
Thanks for that. If it was posted earlier in this thread, I missed it. It saves me the heartache of reading his book, at best, and provides me with a brief Intro if I try to anyway.
Would you summarize this difference for us?