May 30, 2012
An Interview with James Emery White, author of A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom
James Emery White takes his readers on a pilgrimage to some of the most important sites in the history of Christianity in his new book Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom. From Martin Luther's Wittenberg to The Eagle and Child Pub where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and other Inklings met, this book reflects on the Christian life across the world and throughout past centuries.
Get a closer look at this unique book through this Q&A with Dr. White:
What is the significance of this book being a "traveler's guide"?
It carries something of a double meaning. Each chapter is rooted in a place of spiritual significance that I take the reader to, and then each place/chapter introduces a bit of a traveler's guide to the Christian life through that place. Pilgrimages have long been significant to Christian life and thought, as have mentors. This is something of an attempt to combine the two.
You have written Serious Times, Christ Among the Dragons and A Mind for God. Why did you decide to write this Traveler's Guide and how does it compare with your other books on Christianity and culture?
I've always had my feet in several camps: the church and the academy, culture and apologetics, and spiritual formation. I wrote a book called Embracing the Mysterious God that won several awards--and was later released as Wrestling with God, also through IVP--on life in Christ. This is something of a return to that. But in truth, I reject separating life into compartments.We can't engage culture apart from a life in Christ; we can't journey with Christ apart from our minds. It's all one thing.
Why do you say that place matters, particularly as it pertains to this Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom?
From the beginning of human history, we have invested certain places with significance and meaning, sometimes because of their historical significance, sometimes because of their symbolic significance. To this day, people travel to the Holy Land to walk where Jesus walked. Or to Dachau. Or Iona. But it's not simply what happened at these places, or the personalities involved. It's the meaning of what took place. And that it took place. So in the book, when we "travel" to St. Catherine's monastery at the foot of Mt. Sinai, it reminds us that there is a God, and he has not been silent. He has been making himself known from the very beginning. Our God is the God of Moses. Our God is the God of Sinai. Our God is the God of the burning bush. Our God is the God of everything, and everyone, you read of in the Bible. Standing there conveys that with a weight unlike any other experience; so yes, place matters to us as humans.We are temporal, earthly creatures. It's difficult to underestimate its power.
Give us a glimpse of what we learn from Iona Abbey in Scotland.
That particular chapter explores the spiritual life proper. I have traveled to many places that seemed "spiritual." I have never been quite sure whether it was because it was steeped in religious history or full of mystery, or whether my soul simply resonated with the atmosphere. All I know is that Iona is, for me, a spiritual place. It feels like you are standing on the edge of the world, alone with your spirit before the Spirit, in nature's great monastery where buildings are only a part of the cloister. There are few places on the planet that call us to such powerful reflection and interaction with God. In the book, I explore the idea that we don't really have a spiritual life.We just have our life, and it is meant to be lived spiritually. Then I explore the myths that surround the life we pursue in Christ--and there are many--and the realities of how to truly develop an intimate relationship with God.
What are three things you hope readers take away from this Traveler's Guide?
Obviously an appreciation for these places. Our Christian history is being lost. A life such as Corrie ten Boom's, and her "hiding place," is virtually unknown to many younger Christians. Places like Iona, even Dachau, must be remembered. Second, I would hope for a sense of what the journey with Christ is meant to hold for us, and how it can hold it for us--again, the mentoring element. And finally, to see that we are creating history with our own lives in our own day, creating places and living lives that may inspire future generations, if we will prove faithful.