Thursday, February 20, 2014

More Quotes From Chapter Two of the End of Apologetics

Here are some quotes from Chapter Two.

One of the serious problems for modern apologetics is that it treats Christianity as if it were an objective "something" (e.g., a set of propositions or doctrines) that can be explained, proven, and cognitively mastered.
Well, Christianity does seem to have some of that, propositions and doctrines, but I am coming around to a belief that Christianity is not one thing but a moving, shape-shifting, adaptive, progressing, thing that is growing and changing with those who live in it.
Kierkegaard's favorite response is to point out that being a Christian is far less a matter of knowing the truth than that of becoming the truth - that is, of being truly rather than thinking truly
Everyone would agree with this.  It seems that one should be able to figure things out mentally.  The Enlightenment inside me would agree with this.  But this statement does not support that.  One can only know the true if one practices truly. There is something about that which rings true.  I can intuit that but I wish I knew better how to put it in words, coming up with a rational explanation for it.
In order to accommodate this, we will need to shift from an epistemological approach to something like a hermeneutical one.
The next quote expands on this.  We have a text and a tradition that we have received.  It is a reality that is here and now.  Myron says that it is the Word from God.
The pressing issue is not solving an abstract set of theoretical problems but interpreting the symbols and texts of a received tradition in order to understand their meaning and significance in relation to a concrete set of problems and exigencies that we encounter.
This is how many Jewish thinkers have approached the scriptures through the centuries and that now makes a lot more sense to me than it did when I was younger.
Reason is useful to us when employed to understand where and how we live, but is "suspended" (or limited) in this paradigm, as it does not plumb the depths of reality, nor is it capable of functioning as a context-free judge or standard for human belief and action.
Important to the developing narrative in Myron's book is that "reason" is limited.  It has a gaping wound. He says in one place.
We are in some respects, then, caught between the rock of modernity and the hard place of the premodern worldview.  Premodernity, with its hierarchical universe and naive picture of the world, is simply no longer viable, but we are also far too aware of the problems of the modern paradigm to find its program tenable.  A shift to a hermeneutical approach to Christian faith, like the kind I propose, carefully negotiates faith in reference to the texts and traditions out of which we hear the apostles and prohets speak.

Next to chapter 3

Friday, February 14, 2014

Thoughts on Chapter 2 of The End of Apologetics: Apologetics, Suspicion, and Faith

This was the most difficult chapter to comprehend and summarize.  Here Penner draws from S. Kierkegaard for an insight and critique of our present situation.  In the time before the modern era, that is, before the Reformation, appeal to tradition and supernatural revelation provided the guidance and authority for how things are to be done and life is to be lived.  Kierkegaard observed even in his time, the mid-nineteenth century, that this had changed and this was replaced by something he called "genius" though Penner states that what K is getting at may better for us be described as "expertise".  And K looks to someone different than that, one whom he calls an "apostle", one who is called and who appeals not to reason but to revelation.  To quote Penner

The apostolic message does not have authority because it is demonstrably rational or exceptionally brilliant but because it is a word from God.  God's word does not come to us as the result of human calculation or brilliance and cannot be improved upon, nor will it ever become obsolete.  The truths of revelation are not realities humans will inevitably discover through their research projects, nor will they be able to assimilate them into their collective potential.  

Aside #1.  It is not discussed in this chapter how we know what is revelation and what is not.  That is not the subject here but is a question I had.  I think it is indirectly addressed later.

Aside #2.   I'm thinking that in K's day and even way far back in the mid-twentieth century when I was starting out, there were fewer experts and they were held in higher respect and awe than today.  Right here and now everyone is a specialist in something.  We recognize that we have to call on experts every day for help to fix our car, plan our finances, cure our ailments, buy and sell a house, choose our paint, etc. To keep a job we all have to become experts in something,   For this reason, in our current situation we do not ascribe the same respect that earlier generations of the modern period did to the smart, the intelligent, the expert.  And when we are in our right mind, we do not accept everything the expert tells us without asking questions and making sure we communicate with each other properly and that there are no hidden agendas or misunderstandings.  Life has become so complicated and there are so many possibilities and contingencies that it is best if we partner with the expert and develop a relationship when possible.

Now back to the book, Penner recounts that for Kierkegaard,

the claims of revelation are what Kierkegaard describes as a "paradox" to human reason, because they seemingly eclipse the rational reach of any human epistemic community - yet, as genuine truth claims, they are not utter nonsense to reason either.

Penner states that reason is always conditioned and that it ultimately, because of sin, deteriorates to an ideology because of the spirit of the times, the age, the crowd.  Human reason often turns out to be the product of bias and prejudice and a battle of power relations. That is basically the postmodern critique, that reason has no external reference point, there is no absolutely fair and unbiased location from which to stand and announce the absolute truth.  Penner connects this to nihilism and that others like Nietsche and K saw this coming.

The problem that both Penner and Kierkegaard have with modern apologetics is that it bases apologetics on secular reason and "genius" to ground the faith.  They are on the same page with the new atheists, playing the same game and with the same drawbacks.  It devalues what it is trying to prove.

The paradoxical result of the modern apologetic defense of Christianity, then is that when God's existence is established according to modern secular reason, all that really is demonstrated is the dispensability of anything that resembles belief in belief must be coaxed and cajoled from the crowd in terms they find acceptable and appealing.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Thoughts on Chapter 1 of The End of Apologetics

Here are some quotes from Chapter One, Apologetic Amnesia of The End of Apologetics by Myron Penner.

Philosophical modernism and the Enlightenment is marked by an attempt to free human thought from its dependence on external sources - such as traditions, assumptions, or other authorities - for the grounds of belief.
In the modern philosophical paradigm, then reason forms what I will call the "objective-universal-neutral complex".  ....No longer is reason thought of as the structuring feature of the world external to the human mind, as in the premodern view.  Instead, reason is internal to (and possessed only by) human beings in a way that is universal, objective, and neutral.
It is true that postmodern perspectives usually understand human consciousness and rationality as the product of the cultural, social, linguistic, psychological, and other historical forces at work in a person's concrete situation.
For my part, I believe postmodernism functions as a genuine critique of modernity and its atheistic impulses.  This means that postmodernism has a relative value to Christians who are trying to think in different categories than the inherited modern values and assumptions that shape our culture. 


Postmodernism makes the point which is undeniable to me that we are deeply dependent on our environment and personal history etc.  Up until ten years ago, I still held to the belief that a person could, if they were disciplined and honest enough, be objective and neutral.  I still think that is what a person should try to be.  It is a goal to strive toward.  It seems to me that to a large extent science, engineering and technology are based on it.  To properly practice these one has to do that.  If you design a bridge or a medical device and it does not work properly it could lead to human suffering on the part of others as well as oneself.  Such consequences aid mental honesty and discipline.  When it comes to religion and politics however, one can state just about any thing and there are no direct consequences of this type.  It seems there are financial and personal incentives to do and say almost anything from whichever perspective, however extreme. 

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The End of Apologetics

We are finally settled in to our new home and now I'm ready to resume blogging as a useful form of discipline.  I have been reading "The End of Apologetics;  Christian Witness in a Postmodern World" by Myron Penner.  Gave it to myself for Christmas and am reading it a second time.  When I read books that involve postmodernism I usually think as I go that I comprehend it, or most of it, and am ready for the next one.  But I have always realized that when I'm laying awake at night in my bed and I rehearse the arguments and thinking, I cannot explain it to myself satisfactorily.  The few times I've attempted to communicate to close friends and family, I haven't been able to do it as well as I wanted.  It is my new year's resolution to improve upon this.  Hence my second time through this book I'm underlining important points because it helps me when going back and forth.  I may go through it a 3rd time. 

By the phrase 'the end of apologetics', Penner means that the main approach to apologetics that is advertised, marketed, and conducted through debates and in books is misguided.  To quote:

So it is that many attempts to articulate the reasonableness of Christian faith in our context paradoxically end up doing something different than defending genuine Christianity.

I agree.  I did not find them helpful when I was in college and undergoing a change in my thinking.  In my twenties I read Francis Schaeffer and heard Josh McDowell but did not find in them what I'd hoped.  C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity was the best thing but it was not enough to satisfy my struggles.  

Penner goes back to the mid-19th century Christian writer, Soren Kierkegaard, for guidance and builds upon his insights.  Kierkegaard diagnosed some of the same problems even in his day and time.  An aside here, it is my impression that K is written off by many conservative/evangelical Christians because he is identified as an existentialist and is hence basically wrong.  I was briefly introduced to K in the spring of 1971 when I took a Philosophy of Religion course at Harding University.  We discussed him and I remember the teacher saying that reading him was a boring and good for putting one to sleep.  That colored my thinking about K till the last decade.  I still haven't tackled his writings but his name and influence keep coming up in meaningful and insightful things I'm reading. I keep coming across pithy quotes that capture and convey wonderful insights.  And then he provides inspiration for wonderful books such as this one. 

I'll close this post with another quote from the introduction.

I begin by noting that the goal of traditional apologetics is to justify the objective truth of the propositions of Christian doctrine.  Christianity, the "essentially Christian," is therefore assumed, implicitly or explicitly, to be captured in these propositions.  The Christian truths defended by such modern apologetics are taken to be ahistorical, unsituated, abstract, and universal.  I then use Kierkegaard's concept of truth as subjectivity to launch a critique on apologetic propositionalism and to provide an alternative way to think about Christian truth. 

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