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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

The Decade from Hell (Naming the 00’s)

  • Dr. James Emery White
    James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
  • 2009 Dec 21
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So what do you want to call the 00's?

As an article in the New York Times noted, it didn't roar like the ‘20's, and they weren't about ‘me' like the 70's.  

It started with the fear and worry of the Y2K millennium bug (remember that?) which we thought would crash computers, crash planes, and crash the infrastructure.  Little did we know that the real horror associated with "two" would involve towers, not computers.  Then came a war in Iraq, and then a war in Afghanistan.  Just when many felt that hope had arrived through the historic election of the nation's first African-American president, the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression reared its ugly head.  What started with the dot.com bubble and Enron ended with the mortgage and stock market crisis.

So no surprise that Billboard magazine named Daniel Powter's "Bad Day," which reigned on top of the Billboard pop charts for five weeks in 2006, the decade's top one-hit wonder.

So what should we call the last ten years?

Some have suggested the "Era of Misplaced Anxiety."  

Walter Isaacson has put forward the "Decade of Disruptions," and offers the following explanation:  "We had coasted through the ‘90's with irrational exuberance.  Between the fall of the Berlin Wall until the fall of the twin towers, there was nothing unnerving us.  It was the decade after the cold war and it seemed like we were done with global struggles."

Some call it the decade when the "North went South."  Not meaning geography, of course, but when the economy went from developed economies to emerging economies.

Another candidate is the "Decade of the Unthinkable."  

In truth, decades are not best named until there has been sufficient time to look back with a wider sense of assessment.  Or as I often tell my theology students, "providence is a doctrine best seen in retrospect."  For example, the Twenties were not labeled as "roaring" until a few years after they had ended.  

And some decades, as David Segal notes in the New York Times, are just hard to label.  Quick - what did we label the ‘90's?  You remember, the era of Clinton and Pamela Anderson?  Don't worry - you're not alone.  No one else knows what to call them yet, either.

But I'll go ahead and cast my vote.  I resonated with the editors of Time magazine.  In a recent cover story, they called it "The Decade from Hell."

Though they did not invest much theology into that title, I do.  Throughout the last ten years, our culture has searched for handles on all that has taken place:  Enron, 9/11, Abu Ghraib, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood; the word we searched for, and never could seem to find, was "evil."  

It brings to mind Jean Bethke Elshtain's experience on the first Sunday following the attacks of 9/11.  She went to a Methodist church in Nashville.  The minister, which she describes as having a kind of frozen smile on his face, said "I know it has been a terrible week."  Then, after a pause, he continued, "But that's no reason for us to give up our personal dreams."  She thought, "Good grief!  Shouldn't you say something about what happened and how Christians are to think about it?"  But then she realized that if one has lost the term evil from his or her theological vocabulary, then it is not easy to talk about such a thing.

But a robust and deeply theological discourse on "evil" was precisely what the world needed to hear at that moment and throughout the ensuing decade, and would have been uniquely served in hearing.

So Time magazine got it more right than they realized.

Sources

"Naming the ‘00s", David Segal, The New York Times, Sunday, November 15, 2009, The Week in Review, p. 1 and 8.