Modern Philosophical Apologetics in a Postmodern Milieu

“Apologetics is the discipline that deals with a rational defense of Christian faith…Socrates said ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ He surely would have been willing to add that the unexamined belief is not worth believing. Therefore, it is incumbent upon Christians to give a reason for their hope (1 Peter 3:15). This is part of the great command to love God with all our mind, as well as our heart and soul (Matt. 22:36-37). People rightly refuse to believe without evidence. Since God created humans as rational beings, he expects them to live rationally, to look before they leap. This does not mean that there is no room for faith. But God wants us to take a step of faith in the light of evidence, rather than to leap in the dark. Evidence of truth should precede faith…The rational person wants evidence that God exists before he places his faith in God. Rational unbelievers want evidence that Jesus is the Son of God before they place their trust in him.” –“Apologetics, Need for” in Norman L Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (1999), pp. 37, 38)

Let me say that I agree that the Christian faith is rational, and that God provides evidence for his existence and his redemption all around us (in His Creation, in His people, and in His Word). I also believe that the ultimate evidence of God’s existence and redemption is found in the person of Jesus Christ.

But Norm Geisler’s underlying presumption is that the Christian faith can be rationally defended to such a degree that one is led to faith. Apologetics in the modern era adopted the mentality and methodology of the analytic philosopher—that reason is the ultimate arbiter of truth and therefore we must use the rules of logic to prove the truthfulness of our faith.

In a postmodern culture, however, the unbeliever is less likely to need to have a rational explanation about things of faith. She is willing to take a step of faith into a dark mystery. Yes, she is seeking to do this in the light of evidence, but it is not rational evidence that she is seeking. She is seeking a compelling reason to do so; she wants to know that this faith leap is real, authentic, relational, transformative. She wants to know that if she makes the leap, she won’t be sorry. The leap will connect her with God in mysterious ways and will make her a better person because of it.

Myron Penner offers a different way to do apologetics in a postmodern milieu:
But what sort of model should we have for apologetics—“the rational defense of the faith”—other than the analytic philosopher, with her emphasis on demonstrating or proving the propositions of Christianity are both universally and objectively true? Make no mistake: I greatly value the insights of analytic philosophy and admire its rigor, but perhaps we should consider the New Testament apostle (or Old Testament prophet) as an alternate model for our apologetic efforts. Paul never tires of pointing out that apostles and prophets, unlike modern philosophers, do not predicate their authority on clever arguments, logical coherence, rhetorical brilliance, or anything like the modern conception of human reason, but on the divine source of their message. It is not so much that the apostle cannot or even will not engage in rhetorical brilliance or philosophical and logical argumentation—as St. Paul is certainly capable and often does; it is rather that the apostle does not base the authority of his or her message on his or her own intellectual resources. The apostle’s primary mode of address is, then, kerygma, proclamation or preaching, and any argumentation is a secondary discourse designed to facilitate the primary one. - Myron Bradley Penner, "Postmodern Apologetics" in A New Kind of Conversation: Blogging Toward a Postmodern Faith

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T said...


I completely agree that people's decision to trust someone isn't a purely logical-analytical process, regardless of the context. If we thought more about what generally creates trust among people, we might do better at helping people trust us and trust Jesus.

On a related note, I don't know what you believe about these things, but it's hard to talk about how the apostles or even Jesus earned people's trust and not talk about miracles. Biblically, it seems that miracles served as one of the main ways Jesus and the apostles demonstrated "the divine source of their message," if not the way. Obviously this has been on my mind lately, and reading this post of yours immediately brought it to mind again. I just hope that this author brings this facet of the apostolic "apologetic model" into his discussion, just for the sake of academic honesty if nothing else. Good post.

Ted Gossard said...

Yes, I like that. I can remember seeing Myron when he was a lad at Prairie Bible Institute where I was acquainted with his father. Great to see how he and also that school has developed.

thunderbeard said...

bob, i read your blog quite often, and i just wanted to say that i love your it. it's nice to see some good reformed folk (but not combatively so) who aren't scared of postmodernity. also, ohio is number one, and i'll always be a buckeye, even if a displaced one.

Bob Robinson said...

You probably have a good point. I see the miracles as less to do with "Jesus earning people's trust" or "demonstrating the divine source of his message" as I see it as the demonstration of Christ's ushering in the Kingdom. The Kingdom of the future (when all will be healed and all will be freed from bondage) was being initiated by Jesus.

Not all were healed, not all prisoners were set free. But it showed that Jesus was not kidding in Luke 4!

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks for your encouraging words. Keep commenting! I want to hear your point-of-view.

Bob Robinson said...

How old is Myron?