In this postmodern era, is a classic approach to apologetics appropriate? Penner argues that there needs to be a new approach to apologetics. Belief in God is not intuitive in our secular era. God's existence is no longer “self-evident” or “reasonable.” Using reason is no longer an effective way of arriving at truth, as truth is no longer seen as objective or universal in time and place.
Penner is “against the notion that our task as Christians is to demonstrate the intellectual superiority of Christian belief – as if we are Christians by dint of our genius.” (72) To come to this point he uses Kierkegaard's views on genius/apostle, faith, truth, reason, and modern apologetics as a guide.
If Penner's critique of modern apologetics is valid, there needs to be a new way of doing apologetics. He suggests an approach using metaphors of conversation and dialogue rather than the model of trial and debate. Rather than asking, “Is it true and can we prove it?”, he suggests, “Is it intelligible and meaningful?” (68) There needs to be a shift to a hermeneutics focusing on understanding the life of faith, apologetics in terms of faithful witness. We should no longer treat Christianity as a “thing” to be known and proven, but rather as a way of being, thinking, understanding and living. There is a concern for others, not as things, but as persons needing edification.
I'm a Christian steeped in classical apologetics. Postmodernism defies my logically trained mind. Yet I greatly appreciate Penner's timely argument, even if it was hard to accept at first. Do we really come to faith as a result of rational persuasion (modern apologetics)? Or do we come to faith in the context of living life? Do we witness because we hold rationally proven beliefs or because we have heard God speak?
Penner argues that apologetics is not to be left to the brilliant thinkers who have the skills to out argue atheists. Each of us is an apologist because each of us has a proclamation from God – the gospel. We ask others to accept our message because it comes from God, not because of some clever argument. We ask them to accept the message because we have been with them, interacted and listened to them.
Academics involved in apologetics need to read his book. Penner covers a great deal in this book designed for their community and scholars will have much to consider, such as what truth is and how truth is conveyed, confession and witness, and the ethics of witness.
Yet for the layman, Penner's message is thought provoking. What people need today is not a theoretical answer to an intellectual challenge. People need personal responses to their spiritual problems. Our task as Christians “is not to know the truth intellectually but to become the truth.” (127) Also, we need to be concerned not only with what we witness as Christians but how we do so.
This book will certainly stimulate thinking on apologetics.
Myron Bradley Penner (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is an Anglican priest in the Diocese of Edmonton, Alberta. He previously taught at Prairie College and Graduate School and served as a human development worker.
Baker Academic, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 180 pages.