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

I’m not sure if Kendel was referring to this question I posed?

Or the earlier poll (I think from Ch. 1) where I had put forward 5 different options beginning with … was one committed most to 1: Truth … or 2: Christ … etc.

Or was there some other place I asked questions? I’m having trouble remembering at the moment.

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Meanwhile … (and without forgetting your question to me, @Kendel - I do want to respond to that, but like Mark, want to be sure which question you asked about); here is an initial observation I have about Penner’s view of apologetics as highlighted in Ch. 3.

It seems to me that Penner is to the apologetics industry what Wendell Berry is to the agricultural industry.

I.e. (for those who may not be familiar with Berry), he laments - and sees no good coming of - the vast majority of us distancing ourselves from the land, and our food sources. Farming has now become professionalized (and fossil-fuel dependent) to a degree such that very few larrge corporate operations are now responsible for so much of our food production in the west. And highly-processed food it is, generally not good for our bodies or the land either one.

In the same way, I hear Penner lamenting the “professionalization” of our (or now their) witness for Christ. (p. 82). So could we say Penner is advocating for a return to a more ‘organic’ form of witness?


@markd and @merv
Not enough sleep. I was thinking of the previous chapter. Sorry for the muddle.

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Thanks, Merv. I had been confusing the second, which I still hoped to answer, and the first, which I had already answered.
I still want to work on the second, relevant to this chapter question.

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Very good then. So you had asked what I might have learned from any resonses to (the second?) question where I asked “What age or decade might be identified as any kind of ‘zenith’ for modernism.”

And I speculated something of an answer of my own, but if anybody else ever addressed it, it escaped my notice.

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Another chapter 3 gem catching my eye here this morning … (p. 83)

When I witness, I do not take up a self-centered, asymmetrical stance closed off to the needs, wants, desires, goals, dreams, story, or insights of the person to whom I witness. That is to say, witness is not a monologue but is dialogical in nature.

I think this may be key to why so many people are turned off by apologetics today. So much of it is assymetrical. I.e. I have something for you … you have nothing for me. You need to shut up and just listen to me. I am the teacher … you are the learner. You are nothing more than a repository for the wisdom that I have to deliver to you, and in fact you are a responsibility of mine, which I mean to discharge by informing you of my received wisdom, thereby washing my hands of further responsibility for you and your rejection of my message. On judgment day, I want a checkmark beside your name so that I don’t get dinged for not fulfilling my obligation to you. Because it is all about me, and my own self-perceived standing before God.

That is putting it all in the direst, uncharitable terms - and (one hopes) that any self-styled modern apologists with any human sensibility at all would be properly horrified at the above characterization and think to themselves … “surely I don’t do that!!?”

And yet that is how so much of it is perceived and received (or more commonly … rejected). And when it is received, it might invoke the warning that “you travel far and wide to win a single proselyte, and when you do, you turn him into twice the son of hell that you yourselves are!” (or words to that effect, spoken by somebody who I think we all agree knew what he was talking about.)

Christians would do well to take stock of “the other side of the ledger” in this assymetrical imbalance that we unwittingly or even wittingly perpetuate.

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Definitely a gem.

This frequently comes through loud and clear. Oh what a burden we nons can be!

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PM me questions, please, to add to this slide, while we read chapter 3.
Check for additions. Last edited: 8/11/2022

From Kendel:

These are Penner’s stated goals for Chapter 3 (pg 76):

  1. To look at the question of how we can think and talk about God in a way that focuses on edification (building up).
  2. To explore the question of how we may believe and witness to Christian truth in a postmodern situation in light of human finitude and fallibility and the fragility of faith.
  3. To pursue the connection between hermeneutics and edification, and to attempt to reorient the task of Christian apologetics around this notion.

Okay I have a question for the rest of the book regarding a complaint I’ve had with apologists. That has to do with the whole “you’ll be sorry” shtick. I always feel if you’re not already feeling it, that shows something is off for you. It shouldn’t be about pie in the sky after you die. So I’m hoping he’ll touch on this too.

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OMG! Now you’re really gonna be sorry!


This is a gem as well as your unflattering portrait of the worst kind of apologist. Like George Burns checking the obits to see if his name had appeared yet, it’s good to look at myself and ask, if I fit the description. In many, many ways and contexts I do/have/probably will again.

One thing I really want from Penner is the positive side, that is, what message, how presented. We’re getting clues here and there, but I’m anxious for more.

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My thought is that it was probably the last part of the 19th century and early 20th, at least for the church, but also for society in general. As i understand it, the prevailing theology of the time was post-millennialist, with the optimistic views that we were entering into a golden age. There were the Great Awakenings that came about, reformist and social movements became active, we were moving away from the horrors of the Civil War and slavery. This was fueled by the Industrial Age, where modern machines would make for a utopian society, and perhaps by scientific advances that seemed to build on each other and make it seem as though through modern advances we had the world in our hands. World War I put a major damper on that, perhaps along with the influenza pandemic and later the Great Depression. With those events, the shine was off of modernism, and while it still was the predominant philosophy of many, the mood grew pessimistic, pre-millennialism became popular, and as society we seemed to search for something more.


Well if I am I’ll insist on making a declaration exonerating all the reasonable Christians whose lived example and kind regard sorely tempted me before naming all the self serving, expedience driven used car salesmen types who were just discharging their duty to enhance their own chances while obviously seething with contempt on God’s behalf for the mockery of my very existence.


“That is to say, witness is not a monologue but is dialogical in nature.”

Funny to read this and see how miserably Penner has listened to and understood Craig.

It is no doubt a balancing act of having a dialogue where one person is right and the other is wrong.

That is however an inescapable determinately violent religious thing.

I do wonder how the Apostle Paul was viewed by those who despised him.

Jesus was violent in the temple court, the moneychangers having the Pharisees support, those who pretended one thing but evidenced another, not allowing for the truth. Was he inadequately gracious?

He did not preach salvation by works, works to enhance your own chances!

You make a compelling case. I think I’ll buy that! I think some world fairs may have happened in there. First refrigeration and ice cream (beginning of the fall right there :yum: ). It’s also intersting to me that this was the heyday of Chesterton and his famous debates with G.B.Shaw and Wells. The twilight years of a very popular author by the name of George Macdonald, and formative years for one C.S. Lewis. They too, I imagine may reflect a kind of golden age on the modernist apologetics side, though I would feel inclined to defend them (Lewis and especially Macdonald) from the worst of Penner’s charges. But what Penner observes shines through so clearly in their writings I think - especially Chesterton’s.

[Also - interestingly enough, a political high time for one-time presidential populist candidate William Jennings Bryan. And if I’m not mistaken he saw a new era of peace on the horizon around the turn of the century. But later, as secretary of state for Wilson, Bryan thought the U.S. was being drawn and bullied into war by Britain and he eventually resigned when Wilson didn’t listen to him and sent a U.S. ship into U-boat waters to get torpedoed (some think) - thereby drawing the U.S. into the war. Our history books might read very differently today had events gone differently there. But it’s hard to imagine that with all the dry tinder in place, war would have been long avoidable in any case.]

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Does this era look about right?


There are SO many decades to choose from!
I’ll pick a few I find useful touchpoints:
1760s to 1770s here in southern North America. Modern reason says we can reasonably (not treasonably) divorce our colonial selves from the Motherland in the form of a tax revolt, AND frame a better, lasting, rational government. So much to love about it all.
I can’t say it was entirely unsuccessful. @Randy has given us good reminders of how other governments handle “peaceful transfers of power.” But we had to include justifications for the metastized cancer of chattle slavery and genocide and other forms of murder in the name of progress and Manifest Destiny. (We definitely see seeds of PoMo here in the enculturated defenses of unenlightened and irrational behavior—our painful metanarratives.)

@jpm mentioned unCivil War here.

Finally, skipping ahead again, I think about what is formally called The Modern Period in arts and letters as an expression of the then Zeitgeist, both in the U.S. and specifically in Germany. I am deeply moved by German Expressionist painting, particularly by Franz Marc and the Blaue Reiter. Marc, my favorite was killed in WWI and painted rapturously naive just-pre-cubist works featuring animals in gorgeous, saturated primary colors (particularly red cows and blue horses).
And only a few years later, the “interwar” years are filled with poetry that demonstrates the hideous damage done to the psyches of any thinking person. Gottfried Benn’s Morgue poems probably capture the exquisite dispair as well or better than anything else I could mention.

I could go on to the Dadaist and Man Ray, etc.

Postmodernism has been in the works for a very long time.

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