Is Apologetics Counter-Productive? An Evaluation And Critique Of Myron Penner’s “The End Of Apologetics” -- By: John J. Johnson

Journal: Global Journal of Classical Theology
Volume: GJCT 12:3 (Dec 2015)
Article: Is Apologetics Counter-Productive? An Evaluation And Critique Of Myron Penner’s “The End Of Apologetics”
Author: John J. Johnson


Is Apologetics Counter-Productive? An Evaluation And Critique Of Myron Penner’s “The End Of Apologetics”1

John J. Johnson

Virginia Union University
Richmond, Virginia, U.S.A.

Abstract: In The End of Apologetics, Anglican priest Myron Bradley Penner argues that the discipline of apologetics, especially rationalistic, evidentialist apologetics, is very much a fruitless enterprise. The purpose of this paper is twofold: one, to point out what I take to be the errors in Penner’s position regarding the Christian apologetic endeavor. These errors concern the differences between Christian evidences and Christian “proofs;” the “secular” reasoning process versus the Christian reasoning process; and the pre-modern versus postmodern understandings of knowledge. My second goal is to show that much of what Penner advocates is actually useful for the apologist, and can be used to forge a more powerful apologetic presentation. Penner’s emphasis on things like church tradition and personal experience of Christ can only add to, not diminish, the apologist’s efforts.

In The End of Apologetics, Anglican priest Myron Bradley Penner argues that the discipline of apologetics, especially rationalistic, evidentialist apologetics, is very much a fruitless enterprise. In fact, he goes as far as to say that Kierkegaard (from whom he takes his anti-apologetic starting point) may have been right when he suggested that apologetics was actually counter-productive, and, according to Penner, “apologetics itself might be the single biggest threat to genuine Christian faith that we face today.”2 Penner’s argument is largely based on the oft-heard mantra that we live in a post-Enlightenment world, and that the very idea of using arguments to persuade people about religious truth is an approach that had validity in the Middle Ages, but not for us in the twenty-first century. There certainly is some truth to this charge. Some of the classical theistic arguments of, say, an Aquinas or an Anselm do not appeal to the modern mind in the same way they once did. Penner also has a point when he chastises Christian apologetics for having a tendency to devolve into “big business,” with prominent apologists writing book after book, slogging it out on the lecture circuit, and endlessly engaging with the so-called New Atheists3 in public debates. Certain Christian apologists, like certain atheists, may come across as too cocksure, when in fact neither side can prove that their position is undoubtedly true. Penner is right again when he insists that apologetics sometimes tends to downplay the effectiveness of Christian witness and lifest...

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