Book Review: The End of Apologetics
Myron Penner’s The End of Apologetics argues that much (if not most) of the practice of contemporary apologetics is hopelessly wedded to Enlightenment assumptions that undermine the very enterprise of apologetics (to commend the Christian faith). Penner is an priest in the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. As he states in one online interview, “I no longer see how modern apologetics (and by that I mean the attempt to give reasons for Christian belief that are objective, universal, and neutral) is really all that helpful – for me or anyone else.”
On the upside, he does present some stinging criticisms of apologetic neutrality and provides helpful reminders that apologetics should aim at more than mere acceptance of a few additional propositions like “God exists.” The kind of faith we hope to lead a person to is full blooded and thrives in community and is aimed at the flourishing of other image bearers.
This was also quite the frustrating read. In some parts I really agree with Penner’s thesis (that much of the modern apologetic project is in bed with modernism), but even in the places where I tend to be sympathetic, I still think he erects strawmen to make his debate partners looks more naive and un-nuanced than they really are. He writes as if [what we could call] evidentialists reduce the faith to a mere acceptance of propositions. I’m a Van TIlian of the Framean stripe, but even as I disagree with their method, Christian charity demands that I fairly present their position. Contrary to their representation in the book, apologists such as William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland believe that true Christian faith flourishes (and needs) discipleship, community, etc. Instead Penner tends to present them as bald rationalists. Also, his (brief) discussion of presuppositionalism is superficial at best, downright uninformed at worst. If he paid closer attention to Van Tillian apologetics he wouldn’t (essentially) condemn the entire modern apologetic enterprise.
With the exception of one short section toward the end of the book Penner seemed more concerned with kierkegaardian categories of analysis than biblical and theological ones. And his painting of his debate partners in the worst light was a put-off. This is a helpful book in terms of presenting a contemporary argument against apologetics, but the book’s weaknesses outweighed its strengths.