James Emery White. 2004. Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day. Downers Grove.
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Walking through the bookstore at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary  in Charlotte, NC a book by James Emery White caught my eye. The title was: Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day. Being a serious guy, I bought a copy.
White begins with a proposition: mankind has suffered not one but two falls. The first fall occurred when God expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. A second fall occurred when modern society turned its back on all notions of transcendence, including God (18). The mantra of the naturalist has become the watchword of the age: nature is all that there is. If it cannot be empirically verified, it does not exist (47). By the processes of secularization, privatization, and pluralization, White argues that we have come to a time when Christianity is treated as a preference fit for private discussion only within the walls of one’s own house.
White’s book is organized into 7 chapters:
- The Second Fall,
- The World that Lives in Us,
- The City of Dreadful Delight,
- Deeping Our Souls,
- Developing Our Minds,
- Answering the Call, and
- Aligning with the Church.
He apologizes up front for writing a mile wide and an inch deep (15). He need not have apologized: the hardest part of problem solving is arriving at a clear definition of the problem. For White, spiritual anemia (78) is the pressing problem of our age. We are lukewarm in our faith, in part, because we do not know what we believe. To deal with this problem, White commends the spiritual disciples of prayer, study, and worship.
Of these, the most interesting is worship because he views each Christian as called to treat his vocation as an act of worship. White writes: The Reformation idea of vocation follows from the monastic vision. Luther, himself a monk, was clearly familiar with the monastic conviction that all tasks needed to be offered as worship of the living God (116). This view flies in the face of society’s picture of worship as a Sunday morning activity confined within the walls of a church. Rather than being religious entertainment, worship defines who we are. Here is our identity in Christ.
Christ calls us to ask a question of every moment of every day: to what purpose has God called me to this particular time and place? In the words of the Apostle Paul: Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men (Colossians 3:23). If we answer this call, every moment of every day has purpose. If God is present in our lives, we can perform a ministry of presence in the lives of those around us.
A writer’s packaging matters. Even if a writer rambles a bit, my rule of thumb is that a book is worth the time if I find myself quoting from the book and applying its lessons in my life. Two passages from Serious Times come to mind.
In the first passage, White cites a story by Walter Truett Anderson (57) that is helpful in highlighting the distinctions among modernists, postmodernists, and deconstructionists—three important worldviews today.
Three umpires have a beer at the end of the day. The first one says: there are balls and strikes and I call them the way they are. The second one says: there are balls and strikes and I call them the way I see them. The third one says there are balls and strikes and they are not anything until I call them. The first umpire is a modernist who believes in (unconditioned) objective reality. The second umpire is a postmodernist who believe that reality is conditioned on our perspective of it. The third umpire is a deconstructionist that believes that reality is conditioned on who is in charge.
This story sticks in my mind because I can put faces to each of these umpires.
The second passage is his highlighting of the broken glass theory of criminologists James O. Wilson and George Kelling (158) . The idea is that crime is contagious. It starts with a broken window and spreads to an entire community. Cleaning up trash, graffiti, and broken windows and minor violations of law, New York City substantially reduced crime in the 1980s. For those of us who grew up scared to walk the streets of New York, this reduction in crime was a big deal. After reading White’s account I suddenly found ammunition to argue for cleaner kid’s rooms in my household and greater attention to detail in the office downtown. The broken glass theory has a familiar ring: I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy (Leviticus 11:45). Small stuff matters.
I enjoyed Serious Times immensely and have already gifted half a dozen friends and colleagues with copies. Perhaps, you will too.