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

I didn’t find a whole lot to chew on in the intro but found it hopeful. Chapter one had at least one solid idea but chapter two is full of meat and three looks like still more substance from little bit I’ve looked at.

I’ve always thought rationalism and empiricism (ie the enlightenment) were insufficient for the big questions regarding what we are, what the world is and what we’re here to do. I’d rather reserve “reason” for something more in a specific way that seems to align with Penner to some degree. But that requires chapter two so later.

For me postmodernism represents the cure for the tendency to argue from what we are most sure of about the world so far to definite limits about what else can be true. Over confidence in the ability of science to answer every sort of question seems to be one major flaw in modernist culture. The belief that advancements in science and philosophy ensure an ever brighter future is a related flaw.

We face major relational challenges about how to live in productive communities now that a return to premodern uniformity and authoritarian order are no longer possible. The first step in solving a problem is recognizing it exists and modernism in its overconfidence doesn’t much take these seriously. Traditionally religion was an organizing force for society. Can it ever be that again? Clearly more pluralism will need to be accommodated in whatever form it takes but I find Penner’s contribution hopeful.


Agreed. I waded into chapter 2 and also found it quite meaty and excellent.

But we are on chapter one, and so we must discuss OUNCE and other (decidedly) less meaty things.

Ounce --the “objective-universal-neutral complex” plus E for some reason-- actually seems pretty decent to me (Penner 32). I don’t think Penner put the final nail in its coffin. It’s not like there are a bunch of modernists out there insisting that we ought to accept objective, universal, or neutral things dogmatically. Somewhere in that socio-philosophic apparatus of modernism is the means to challenge OUNCE as a standard. There are things worse than OUNCE.

I’m on board with the notion that OUNCE is incomplete. But I’m not convinced that it’s dispensable.


I like the way you put that.

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How could one be convinced that convictions are dispensable? It’s a genuine contradiction and nothing can contradict itself.

Or only nothing can as opposed to what one may do.

Added back with major corrections to sections 3 and 4.
Thanks for the valuable replies, @heymike3 and @MarkD

Penner pp 26and 27
In the section Secular Apologetics (pp. 26-36) Penner weaves into his discussion of Modern/Secular apologetics most of the information some of us have been hoping for about the premodern world view.

After looking over this section a few times, I noticed Penner’s very deliberate choice of words, when he describes the modern Condition of Secularity. Take a look:

It is possible…to imagine the world and ourselves in such a way that the existence of God, and a transcendent or “higher” realm that makes sense of our world, is optional.
[I]t (the modern public sphere) is imagined as a neutral, common space free and disengaged from either the political or religious sphere.
It (the modern public sphere) is envisioned as a kind of shared space…
They imagine themselves to be engaged in a “discourse of reason outside power, which nevertheless is normative for power.”

This emphasis on how we conceputalize what we’re doing acknowledges that our understanding of the very things in which we participate may not actually reflect the reality of what we are doing or are participating in.
This acknowledgement is un-modern. Modern thinkers seek intellectual certainty, established through a “discourse of reason.” Penner points out the uncertainty of the very concept of the project. This type of uncertainty leads me to ask, “What if we aren’t doing what we think we’re doing?” and “What
are we actually doing then?”

Two: “THIS!”
“THIS!” is the note I wrote next to footnote # 16 at the bottom of page 27.

16 …. [T]he crucial question asked by modern theorists of the public square is the question as to who is administering that neutrality, its norms, and its rules.

This question of who is administering seems fairly straight forward. We want to know that someone is keeping the “space” neutral and enforcing the norms and rules of neutrality.
Postmodern theorists ask differently.
What is neutrality?
Who defines neutrality?
What are the terms of neutrality?
On whose terms is neutrality established?
Whose purposes do the terms of neutrality serve?
Whom do the terms of neutrality benefit? Whom do they harm?
What are the power relationships between the persons involved?
Etc, etc, etc.
and finally, Does neutrality exist?

Actually, the last question will already have been established and will be delivered by the statement: Neutrality (in this context) is impossible and therefore does not exist.


Penner gives us a helpful mnemonic in OUNCE: Obective-Universal-Neutral Complex. This useful tool helps keep in mind the main components of the modern view of reason.

Postmodern theorists, however, demonstrate that each of these components is a fiction, many are bold enough to say “a fiction in every possible application.”

While modernism is seen as a Great Disembedding (pg. 28), postmodernism demonstrates that we are all “embedded” in a variety of somethings, and those somethings are very different. The blindness of modernism that Penner mentions is a blindness to our own embeddedness in culture, world views, results of experiences, exposure to oppression or exploitation, gender, race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, non/faith traditions, and so on. Postmodernism acknowledges this and shows that, because we humans experience the world in vastly different ways, a single point that is objective and neutral simply does not exist universally. We are not all educated, middle-class, safe, technologically equipped, white, Western men, for example.

Four: Going Back & Secular Apologetics
In slide 343 I published a table with notes I lifted nearly straight from the book, in an attempt to organize Penner’s contrast of premodern and modern selves for MYself.

Earlier in the thread there was some discussion about Penner’s claim that we can’t go back to a premodern world view, and I think he even hints that we wouldn’t want to, if we could. I certainly wouldn’t want to. Being established at the bottom of the Western hierarcy of authority and position, by my gender and inability to produce no more than one child and that one a female, really holds no appeal for me. Along with other aspects of premodernism.

However, as a Christian, looking over this table, I recognize that I hold on to some remnants of that premodern world. Considering the differences between then and now helps me understand, in part, why there are things that are simply hard to integrate with a life in (an old) faith.

Additionally, seeing these differences closely contrasted helps me understand better why I feel like the apologetics I’m familiar with seem like a mismatch for what they attempt to convince people of. One could be using similar tools to develop a mathematical proof, or demonstrate the validity of an educational model, or show the superiority of one sort of alternative energy over another.

While we live in a world that does not bolster faith or see God/god-belief as part and parcel of our concept of the cosmo. However belief in God is still a matter of faith in God, and here specifically in Jesus. The tricky thing is that Jesus is not mathematics or any other similar thing that can be demonstrated through (maybe even exists because of) logic. And even once a belief in Jesus may be established, it’s not the same as faith. Assent to a set of propositions regarding the existence of God or Jesus’s resurrection is a secular kind of belief that we use daily with all sorts of statements of “fact.”

Believing that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, saves, is not quite so straight-forward to demonstrate with “provable” propositions. It could be a result of sacred apologetics, I suppose, but I”m not sure what that looks like. I’m anxious to see how Penner describes them.

Earlier in the chapter Penner hints that Christianity is actually altered by the use of “secular apologetics.”
On page 36, I think Penner gives us an idea of what he means.

What is essential to being a Christian is an objective event: the cognitive acceptance (belief) of specific propositions (doctrines).
While there are facts and doctrines involved in Christianity, cognitive acceptance of those facts and doctrines does not comprise the faith. A system that relies soley on belief in facts and doctrines cannot be Christianity.

Honestly, I strongly doubt that Craig believes that he is promoting by his apologetic model, something like a secular Christianity. However, it’s essential that we continually ask ourselves if the process we are involved in actually produces the desired results, and maybe even ask, why?


I really put this table together for myself, but I’ll share it in case it’s of use to anyone else. It is only a reorganization of the information regarding premodernity and modernity that Penner presents, woven into his discussion of secular apologetics.

It’s probably incomplete. As usual, I’m in a rush. I’ve focused on not altering meaning, although I have sometimes altered phrasing to make the lifted bits make sense in this format. If you see problems with my presentation of Penner’s ideas in the table, PM me, please, so I can make changes.

Discussion/clarification of logos would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!


Helpful summary of chapter 1. Good catch on Penner’s use of imagination.

The pre-modern analysis is helpful if it identifies emphasises of the period, and not in total descriptions. Like the apparent view Penner has for natural theology being valid then and ‘rhetorically violent’ now.

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What dogged the rational systems of modern philosophy was the misfortune or absence of providential perception to consider what can and cannot be determined by pure reason.

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So having finished chapter 1, I don’t feel like Penner adequately accounts for how he began the chapter:

“E. J. Carnell’s Introduction to Christian Apologetics convinced Craig that “reason might be used to show the systematic consistency of Christian faith without thereby becoming the basis of faith.”

“This ethos of modernity is defined by secularity, in which the existence of God is not intuitively plausible and the reasons we have for believing in God—or anything else—must be objective, universal, and neutral.”

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Of course this Christian maintains that we have (yet again ; - ) objective evidence for God’s providential interventions* into the lives of his children. Those denying it are just refusing to connect the dots outlining, in a word picture, the flashing neon arrow that points to him.

*Discussed here.

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I agree we are all already embedded and certainly in a variety of somethings. And we cannot set aside every thread of the somethings in which we are embedded to build for ourselves an embedment of our own design anymore than we can step out of existence in order to step back under terms more to our liking. If a person can’t undertake re-embedment of his own accord, what chance will anyone else have of haranguing that person into doing so whether or not he is willing and without regard to his stance toward the proposed new terms?

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Does it? And I’m not sure if this is Penner’s view:

“But, as I see it, the postmodern ethos may begin with the moment of suspicion—par-ticular- about how beliefs are justified in modernity—but it does not necessarily end in suspicion.”


Just a nitpick here before our chapter 1 week disappears …

I’m always a little suspicious of handy acronymns (like OUNCE). Because it seems to me likely in such cases that instead of the best word possible being chosen for each necessary point, lesser words were instead substituted in for their convenience to the acronym. Now, ‘Objective, Universal, and Neutral’ - those all do seem like stellar choices that fit really well with what Penner is saying. But why do I get the sneaking suspicion that if the spelling of ‘ounce’ had been ‘ounse’, that we would instead have ‘simple’ tucked onto the end there instead of ‘complex’? (and the ‘e’ was an awkward tag-along in either case - so there is that.) I don’t remember Penner making any remarks about the schema being ‘complex’, though pretty much anything could be called complex (or simple) and the vague case made either way. Did I miss anything or forget an argument he made somewhere that put some weight on the whole thing being ‘complex’?

Also before the week slips away, I think I’ll begin to venture an answer to the following scheme that I posted earlier which was inspired from Penner’s use of Craig’s story. Knowing that chapter 2 sheds substantial light, I realize this may need to be revisited, but here it is.

I think I would have identified somewhat more strongly with #1 many years ago, but see some other important things sharing that commitment space now. Numbers 2 and 3 might still have some defensible nuances, but all the first 3 seems to be a bundled deal somehow for the modernist Christian, and at this point, I share in Penner’s suspicion of that bundle - but without rejecting it; or in any case wanting to retain a commitment to any baby there is to be found in all that bathwater, and I think there is one!

Number 4 seems good enough on the face of it, and (as I’ve worded it) doesn’t even necessarily reject any of the 1st three. It just doesn’t want to put too much weight on those (except maybe a bit more weight on #2). But Penner is at pains to remind us that he doesn’t reject reason. He needs reason as well, to make these arguments and write this book. So it seems like #4 comes with an awful lot of wiggle room (wiggle room which Penner uses vigorously when in the same room with any potentially offended apologists.) But for all that, I don’t hold that against what he’s proposing, and still think the case may be there to be made, even if it isn’t so devastating to this or that particular apologist as Penner’s language would have the reader initially believe.


My answer is up in slide 291.

I agree. I find objective, universal and neutral easy to recall but I’m forever forgetting complex. And I can’t really think of any way it fits into what I’ve of heard from Penner so far.

How did I miss that! Thanks for the reference. One thing you wrote there …

Well stated. There are occassionally those urgencies of life such as the “Get out of the road NOW, because there is a truck barrelling down on you” kind of urgencies. But mostly it seems such urgencies as are urged upon us are from those who know that what they’re offering cannot survive sustained thought, so their entire sale is contingent on you not giving it sustained thought.


I’d have to claim #5, I guess. There are at least a couple of folks that might want to label me as solidly #3 and insensitive to others (and I have certainly and admittedly been less than gracious on more than one occasion). But I have seen numerous enough of God’s interventions in my own life and in multiple others’ lives, including the several others that are known to most here, that God’s objective reality is not any more of a proposition than gravity is proposition. Thus the realities of both God and propositional truth are integral and inseparable, and both are accessible.

I can’t find any post I made in answer to this question and I’m not sure it is asked widely enough to apply to someone with seemingly no skin in the game. But in some ways I identify more with the first choice except I see two intermediate choices short of that his professor indicated he’d choose. Or maybe we just need his prof to elaborate exactly what it is he’d have signed on to believing instead when he said he’d abandon Christianity. There would be an option to remain a Christian in your own mind even if no one else thought you were and in the other you’d recognize how brilliant Christianity had been in the development of humanity but no longer see a purpose in remaining one, which describes my position. To really get into those options I think we need chapter two.

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The #1 option (as I have taken it) is sort of the “heroically principled truth soldier” who is willing to just follow the evidence wherever it leads at whatever cost to himself or what he or loved ones want.

When somebody has the equally tenacious conviction that Christ is that truth - and Christ shows us God, then they won’t recognize any distinction between #1 and #2 (making them #3). And that can still be a heroic stand, as taking both of those things together can and has cost people their lives. (It’s just that they have no fear of giving up their religion because of #1, because they’ve already declared that to be an impossibility, and so … no truth-heroism is in play for them in that particular quarter.)

It was a provocative chapter opener Penner had somewhere … to this effect:

If someone decides to follow Christ and they aren’t killed, they apparently have some explaining to do.

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