Featured Reviews, VOLUME 7

Myron Bradley Penner – The End of Apologetics [Review]

[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0801035988″ locale=”us” height=”160″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51ekOCzr3zL._SL160_.jpg” width=”104″]Page 2: Myron Bradley Penner – The End of Apologetics

If the model of apostle must replace the genius of modern apologetics the question must be asked: how does an apostle do apologetics? Penner unpacks the prophetic nature of the apostolic approach, illustrating the ways in which it is different than that of “the genius” (chapter 3). Being prophetic means Christian witness is both personal and ironic. Prophetic witness is personal in the sense that the apostle is addressing people in their cultural and temporal locality and not just attacking floating propositions (84). It is ironic because the apostle speaks truth without fully grasping truth (92). They receive their authority because they bear witness to what they have experienced and not because they possess the correct propositional truths, which they have obtained by their own cognitive strength.
Prophetic Christians who bear witnessing in ways personal and ironic are still speaking a true message. Penner unpacks the relationship between apostolic witness and truth, attempting to maintain truthfulness in Christian proclamation without falling back into a reliance on the genius (Chapter 4). The nature of Christian truth claims in this postmodern approach switch from correspondence to edification. While the modern approach would emphasize the transmission of propositional truths that represent a metaphysical reality beyond the claim itself (truth is captured in propositions), this approach looks at truth as being post-metaphysical (it must be embodied). If Christian witness is going to move past its captivity to modern propositionalism, then how we believe is more important than what we believe (127). It is more important to live the truth than to believe disembodied truth statements.  If how Christians believe is of supreme importance, Christian witness, then, must always seek to be edifying to those to whom it speaks (138). He then attempts to describe the politics of apostolic witness as non-violent in nature (Chapter 5). Truth, as testified by Christian apostles, can only edify, it cannot tear down (139-140). Those who bear witness to this truth must therefore consider the ethical dimension of speaking and deploying arguments (141-142). Penner introduces Gabriel Marcel’s distinction between “coercion” and “appeal” urging Christian witness to approach others with “sympathy” and see their task as one of persuasion rather than force (133-145). Following this approach, it becomes clear that prophetic witness is “person preserving,” avoiding “apologetic violence” of lumping the whole of another person into the category of “unbeliever” (148). By following this escape of modern apologetics Christians acquire a healthy posture allowing interaction with others as living human beings and not primarily as walking propositions that must be defeated.
For all the virtues of this study (especially its devastating criticism of modern apologetics), Penner seems to think that a postmodern exit is the only possible escape from our captivity to modernism, making sure to remind the reader that a retreat to pre-modern ways of thinking are neither possible nor advisable (13n30). Though not setting out to attack pre-modern alternatives, He realizes that to sustain the importance of his argument he must dismiss any other way to escape the modern apologetic nightmare in which we find ourselves.  There is no other solution except realizing that modernity is our situation and it “must be gotten past” (13). So while the book does accomplish its goal of showing the crippling problems of modern apologetics and providing a way out of the modern apologetic situation through a postmodern approach, it does not convincingly close the back door to other pre-modern options. The validity of such a pre-modern solution may not be sustainable, but the brief dismissals scattered throughout the work have not been a substantial addition to such a discussion. Myron Bradley Penner’s The End of Apologetics reveals the nature of the problem of modern apologetics and presents an interesting solution. Whether it is a good solution remains to be seen.

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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