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

You’ve pricked my curiosity. Was the warning in regard to his puzzling prose or a hint of heresy triggers?

In Lutheran theology, there is The Invisible Church, known only to God, and The Visible Church consisting of living human beings with all our faults: people that my father began referring to in the 1970s and thereafter as: "defective saints. Kierkegaard, if I remember correctly, took a stick, in his Attack Upon Christendom on “leaders of The Visible Church”. Of course, if I don’t remember correctly, then the reason for the warning is lost, but I still remember it. Anyone can warn me, but when I warn myself I tend to believe that I had a good reason for doing so.

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So many puzzling domains: quantum mechanics, postmodernism and all things supernatural. Perhaps the invisible church functions like quanta? Of the three, PM is probably the one I have the best shot at understanding and discovering if it makes any difference. I think it does but, like the other two, you never know if anyone else has the same thing in mind if you try to talk about it. But at least it seems to have some bearing on making sense of the world in which we do live. I know those wired differently than me would likely say the same of the supernatural but my old brain is convinced that one is an unnecessary category or at least an unhelpful one. All three make me want to take a walk or putter in my garden.


Penner would not be surprised. He informed us that “fideism” is how Kierkegaard has been understood, to the point of traditionalists ever since using him as a sort of whipping boy to help train young apologists about how to dismiss it. Given the frequent power plays of so many highly politicized Christians wielding the “traditional” apologetics, I think I’d be willing to revisit Kierkegaard, and move the ‘Caveat Lector’ over to the apologists’ offerings these days.

There’s probably a decent chance your father would also have stamped this entire web site with “Caveat Lector” if we could time machine it back to him at that same time. (and a good many of us here would have done the same. Times change. And it isn’t always for the worst.)

[But … to be fair, I haven’t read Kierkegaard directly either, and am just forming my impressions through Penner’s charitable eyes. Maybe if I read K directly, I’d find lots of stuff that would make me hold him at arm’s length too. But so far I have heard nothing of his work that raises flags, and I guess I escaped having any initial negative impressions to deal with as I doubt my own dad knew who Kierkegaard was.]

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Puttering and walking provide perfect opportunities for comtrmplation and rumination.

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One thing I have in favor of Kierkegaard is an analogy that is apparently his in something I’ve posted before a while back…

And why would anyone not want that category? This paradise will have no survivors, and it’s much cooler seeing the King’s M.O. in it, increasing pleasure, not lessening it!


Sometimes PoMo does make the wheels come off. In another thread, I mentioned a college friend;

Bill had been immursed in literature and theory longer and deeper than I ever could be. He absorbed and breathed it, while I was distracted more by eyestrain and having to look things up and rereread. But more troubling than Bill’s immursion was that he had no Christian mentor who could help him make sense of the truths he was confronted with, while still maintaining faith. The only Christian writers I’d found until recently avoided the whole matter of Postmodernism (or any critical theory) by condemning it as a package, rather than allowing themselves to be confronted by hard truths that should lead us to confession and repentence along with a deeper understanding of the world and what obedience to Jesus’ commands looks like. Helping students deal intellegently with PoMo would be so much more beneficial than merely labelig it “dangerous” “Here be dragons!” I’ll add, that the same is true for Marxist criticism, which does an outstanding job of highlighting oppressive systems in which Christians participate. If we (Christians) enter into the study of PoMo and other critical theories, seeking with the understanding that all truth is God’s truth, it’s still going to be a rough, bruising ride for sure, but the wheels don’t need to come off, even if you have a flat or two.


Right on. I have been fortunate way beyond desert not to have had much trauma, but it all fits, even through the few more difficult episodes with some very cool interventions and enjoyment connecting the dots.

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So there was something to my memory.

Maybe, … maybe not. He was until his last years, a face-to-face person, and always kind of mystified by my on-line forum activities.


You have to hope you have some of those genes yourself. That is quite good mental acuity for someone pushing three digits I imagine.

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Reading ahead I’m getting the feeling Penner may yet circle back to a position a Christian can cozy up to. But I confess my God-dar is not very good at recognizing what credal Christians are likely to be happy with. If it were up to me I’d love to show into something far more revisionistic where everything credal is held poetically. But then you’d be as close to my neighborhood as to your old one.

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“they nonetheless agree with Craig regarding the central goal of apologetics, which is to make Christian beliefs rationally warranted (or justified) for both the believer and the unbeliever”

I know that Penner doesn’t mention rhetorical violence until chapter 5, but I’m wondering if this is the black and white issue he’s making.

There’s the first type of rhetorical violence that we are all capable of by failing to love and care for our audience, and then there is the second type that Penner sees modern apologists committing by the very nature of their understanding.

“They attempt to understand postmodernism as something primarily conceptual—and therefore without a lived context—rather than in terms of its overall ethos. And they do so with no regard to the concerns and circumstances in which postmodern discourse emerges”

Take that last sentence, and let’s change a concept:

And they do so with no regard to the concerns and circumstances in which the person emerges.

Apologetics and evangelism is about meeting people where they are at, and answering the questions they are asking or dispelling the myths they hold.

Edit: Wise words from Mario Russo about how to listen and be compassionate.

This verse came to mind in thinking about how we share what we know to be true about God:

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

And that can be terribly offensive or rhetorically violent no matter how gentle and respectful you are.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”

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Hi guys. I’m just letting everyone know I’m joining the convo. I just read the intro and chapter 1 last night. I had this big lengthy analysis of postmodernism typed up, but I deleted it because it was largely concerned with the topic of modernism vs. postmodernism (generally)… which is not the topic of Penner’s book.

The fact is, you don’t need to be a postmodernist in order to learn something from a postmodernist critique. So, as tempted as I am to launch into several concerns I have with postmodernism (namely that it struggles to form a solid epistemic basis for its claims), I’m reminded that it is first and foremost a method of skepticism and criticism of modernity rather than a fledgling replacement for modernist thought or epistemology.

With that out of the way, I hope I can give some thoughts on the introduction. But I promise to stick with the current chapter from here on out.

“Kierkegaard’s rejection of apologetics is not new news, after all. It is some- what of a standard requirement in introductory apologetics courses to be able to fashion a response to Kierkegaard’s alleged fideism—a view that sees faith and reason as fundamentally opposed to each other, and in matters of faith rejects reason altogether in a so-called leap of faith to embrace the absurd.” This is in fact MacIntyre’s assessment of Kierkegaard as well, and it leads him to believe Kierkegaard has nothing substantial to offer us beyond yet another version of Nietzsche’s nihilism.” However, my thought-experiment is built on the premise that Kierkegaard’s point will be incomprehensible from the standpoint of modernity. This means the typical treatment of Kierkegaard as a fideist is not quite accurate—or at least it is not the way I wish to read Kierkegaard.” (Penner 12-13)

The important point I think is being made here is that Kierkegaard doesn’t work within the modernist framework. And so, in order to understand him, we need to adopt a non-modernist point of view (not as an axiom… but as a postulate). Say what you will about postmodernism, but one thing it’s good at is detecting institutional prejudice as it pertains to truth-claims or worldviews. We don’t need to reject modernism in order to understand Kierkegaard (or Penner) here. But we ought to see how a modernist lens distorts what Kierkegaard has to say rather than clarifies it.

Anyway, I have a bit to say about the critique of William Lane Craig, but I’ll save that for a future post. I more just wanted to say hi and lay out some preliminaries with this post.


Intriguing… I’m glad you joined the convo and looking forward to what else you have to bring.

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Not sure how much of the conversation you followed, but this was the strength of Butler’s introduction to postmodernism.

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Hopefully I’ll be forgiven for skimming most of the thread thus far. I’m pretty unfamiliar with what has already been discussed in thread.

I read the intro and chapter one, so I’m caught up in that regard. But it seemed a little much to read the entire thread on top of all that.

From this point on, I’ll be reading all the thread posts, though. If there’s any important “in thread” matter that I might have missed, feel free to mention it or direct me to a previous post.


Glad to have you here!

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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