I just became aware of a forthcoming book by Myron Bradley Penner, The End of Apologetics: Christian Witness in a Postmodern Context (Baker Academic, 2013). The book's description from Amazon reads:
The modern apologetic enterprise, according to Myron Penner, is no longer valid. It tends toward an unbiblical and unchristian form of Christian witness and does not have the ability to attest truthfully to Christ in our postmodern context. In fact, Christians need an entirely new way of conceiving the apologetic task.The book caught my eye given an interview with the author by Peter Enns at his blog. One section of the interview is particularly striking in one section where the author discusses the idea of "apologetic violence." When this happens on a personal level, Penner defines this as "apologetic arguments [that] are used to treat people badly...When they are used to demean, ridicule, show-up, or hurt another person in any way, I call that a form of violence."
This provocative text critiques modern apologetic efforts and offers a concept of faithful Christian witness that is characterized by love and grounded in God's revelation. Penner seeks to reorient the discussion of Christian belief, change a well-entrenched vocabulary that no longer works, and contextualize the enterprise of apologetics for a postmodern generation.
The term apologetic violence may push the issue too far, and I'm more comfortable with a term like "predatory apologetics," but the idea is the same and I agree with his basic premise. In my view Evangelicals engage in apologetic violence, no matter how well meaning and "evangelistic," when they engage in apologetic argument or doctrine over person, or when they engage in identity contestation through confrontational "preaching" in the sacred spaces of others, whether among Mormons at General Conference and various pageants, or among Muslims at the annual Arab American International Festival in Dearborn, Michigan. Instead, Penner offers an alternative, a form of apologetichs which he calls “person-preserving” and that "involves Gabriel Marcel’s concept of sympathy, which propounds a fundamental concern with others as persons, not things."
Penner also discusses apologetic violence on a social level, such as
when Christian apologetic practice merely reinforces and defends a given set of power relations operative within an unjust social structure. We then overlook real people and proclaim to them the “truths” of the gospel packaged in “universal” concepts and categories (as well as practices) to which they cannot relate in any personal way and which have often played some role in their mistreatment or exploitation.I am sensitive to this as well, and in some of my conversations with Pagans I have been reminded that this may also be playing out among Evangelicals in regard to minority religions in America.
Regardless of whether readers agree with Penner's overall thesis, his forthcoming book includes elements that sound tantalizing and worthy of thought by reflective Evangelicals.