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.

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