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premodern vs. modern

Tuesday’s episode of James White’s podcast The Dividing Line [link|mp3] is a real keeper for a couple of reasons.

The first segment deals with an ongoing post-debate discussion between James White and Catholic apologist Robert Sungenis regarding the authority of the Roman Catholic Church to interpret Scripture and decide what is and isn’t orthodox Christianity. White’s description of his disagreement with Sungenis sounds to me like what I call for lack of a better term a conversation between a premodern point of view and a modern point of view.

In the premodern point of view an authoritative source decides what is true; in a modern point of view the authoritative source agrees with (plausible, verifiable, or whatever) objective truth claims. That’s the best description I can come up with, and when I use these terms that’s more or less what I mean. In truth most Christians as best I can tell live with one foot in one world, the other in the other most of the time. I don’t think the term “premodern” here is standard, but I use it because it is sort of the natural analog to the popular “postmodern,” which holds that there’s no central narrative, only local communities, and no absolute truth, only conversations. There’s also a kind of weak form of postmodernism that says that there is such a thing as objective truth, but there isn’t nearly as much of it as we’d all like. I tend to fall into this latter category sometimes.

This episode of The Dividing Line is also interesting because White wades into what he calls “convert syndrome” or which I occasionally hear called “convert as expert:” the tendency for people in category Y to consider a convert from X to Y an expert on X, not considering that they may have converted because they were a weak or lousy X in the first place. For example: we Evangelicals should have asked more questions about Ergun Caner as an ex-Muslim before considering him an expert on Islam. This is also a question that springs unbidden to mind whenever I hear a former evangelical, now Lutheran on Issues Etc. and I simply do not recognize the Evangelicalism (theology or practice) they describe.

I still think James White is a jerk; this episode of The Dividing Line is a good example of why I listen to him closely and regularly anyway.

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