Does Faith Have a Future?

by Dr Jay Gary, Feb. 28, 2003

handofgod-mNo matter who you are, whatever your spiritual background, you have probably asked yourself, What is the future of faith? What role will religion and spirituality play in our world 25, 50, or 200 years from now?

I am a professional futurist. I earn my living by helping businesses, cities or nonprofits—religious and civic—learn more about the future and how to respond to change. Not too long ago the future was more like the present. But given increasing social and technological changes, our future will likely be qualitatively different from our present.

There are two kinds of change. The first is the change that happens to us. The second is the change we create. In talking about “Does Faith Have a Future?” we should talk about both kinds of change. We need to talk about how the future might change faith, but also about how faith might change the future. As followers of Jesus, we are not fatalistic. We just don’t let the future happen to us, we create a different future by faith in God.

A Post September 11th World

There’s hardly a way to talk about the future of faith in our day without thinking about the context of faith heightened by September 11, 2001. This is particularly true for the United States.

The attack on the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon by Osama Ben Laden and Al Qaeda has created a different world for faith. Different trajectories are either more closed or more open in a post-September 11thworld. We are faced with three defining factors: Islamic terrorism, Israeli territorialism and U.S. unilateralism. Islamic terrorism is the growing discontent with the West and its perceived injuries to the Islamic world. Israeli territorialism is the counter-opposite of Islamic terrorism, working to occupy and settle Arab land from Egypt to the Euphrates. And U.S. unilateralism is the new, defined sense of America empire post-September 11th. With all this money and power, speaking as a U.S. citizen, what is it good for? Is this America’s finest hour, or something less? Will the U.S. repeat the mistakes of the British in Rhodesia, South Africa, Palestine, or Ireland? Or will we learn from history how to use its power to establish peace and justice? To ask this in a larger context, Will the U.S. and Europe use religion to legitimize a fortress mentality or will we find a way to address the economic injustices we have created, in part, for those in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

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I pray we will move beyond the status quo of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam being locked in a battle for God. Islamic terrorism, Israeli territorialism, and U.S. unilateralism is the world at its worst. We must admit that this is a possible future for the 21st century. In his book, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford, 2002), Dr. Phil Jenkins has emphasized that the center of gravity of the Christian world has shifted to the Southern Hemisphere. By 2050, only one Christian in five will be from America and Europe. In a short time, cities such as Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa, and Manila will replace Rome, Athens, Paris, London and New York as the focal points of Christian faith. He sees this  third church of the South far more apocalyptic, puritanical and mystical than its historic Western or Eastern parents. The potential for an enduring clash with Islam will remain. Given these demographic shifts in Christianity, Jenkins writes: “The 21 century will almost certainly be regarded by future historians as a century in which religion replaced ideology as the prime animating and destructive force in human affairs.”

In other words, what Marxism and Fascism was to the 20th century, religious Fundamentalism could be for the 21st century. That’s not the kind of future I want to give my kids. May God save us from 21stcentury religion replacing ideology as an “animating and destructive force in human affairs.” A proper response to these “religious wars” will demand more, not less from us. Christians must put their house in order and work towards reconciliation with other children of Abraham, both Jews and Muslims.

Post-September 11th, any scholar or news commentator can wax eloquent on these destructive aspects of religion. We all know what religion is at its worst. The key question for us is, What is faith at its best? What are the constructive aspects of religion? And in view of these factors, Does faith have a future?

Of all institutions, religion seems to have a greater measure of alarmists. But are we doomed to discontent? Has God put us here just as contrarians, to languish in discontent until the world ends? Or has God placed us at the very heart and soul of civilization to bring forth an entirely different future, one that has never before been possible, through the power of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection?

Faith Beyond the End

To envision a different 21st Century will require we have faith in God to take us beyond the end. The “end” I refer to is the apocalyptic “end” invoked by saints and the end of the Modern age constructed by scoffers. William Van Dusen Wishard has written a marvelous book about this transition. In Between Two Ages, Wishard calls this transition the “Interregnum.” And he shares how the next three decades may be the most decisive 30-year period in history.

He opens his book with a Herman Hesse quote, “There are times when a whole generation is caught in this way between two ages, two modes of life, with the consequence that it loses all power to understand itself and has no standard, no security, no simple acquiescence.”

Contrary to millennial neurosis, cultural pessimism is not necessary. After the collapse of Rome, Augustine could have lost hope. By faith he refused to believe that God was finished with the church or society. Although the sun did set on the Classical age, Augustine proclaimed, “Christ came when all things were growing old. He made them new.”

The same kind of transition or overlap of ages happened between the Medieval and Modern age. As whole generations were caught between two ages, they had to ask, What is faith? It took the convictions of the Protestant Reformation, the imagination of the Italian Renaissance and the boldness of the American Revolution to pull us out of that second Dark Age.

The Modern age entered its “Interregnum” in 1914, as World War I began. In 1918, Oswald Spangler captured the intellectual feeling of his time in his book, The Decline of the West. In this transition, the West began to shed its reliance on racism, colonialism, and nationalism. In the wake of colonialism’s collapse, the West was left with apocalyptic anxiety. And as the 21st century begins, we are still in this transition period, perhaps for another 50 years.

We are asking, What is spirituality? What is meaning? What does it mean to be human in the third millennium? These are the profound inquiries behind our question, Does faith have a future? Even those who have given up hope for organized religion, frame similar questions, such as, Does the church have a future? Or, Does the future have a church?

Five Schools of Religious Futurism

If we’re going to engage the 21st century world of science and technology, if we’re going to build the people of God for the third millennium, how should we approach that future?

For the past five years, I’ve given leadership to the Christian Futures Network. I have worked to gather leaders from theological think tanks, global study centers, ministry associations and doctoral studies programs to address these questions.

According to historian Warren Wager, there have been five different schools of religious orientation to the future.[1] He sees these as overlapping dimensions of thought in human history. In chronological order, these five layers of faith are:

1. Divination: including oracles, astrology, numerology, augury, palmistry, magic, occultism, tarot, dreams, horoscopes, soothsaying, and clairvoyance; with its first literature by BC 1760.

2. Revelation: biblical prophecy, adventism, messianism, apocalypticism, millennialism, eschatology, across all religions; literature from BC 700 onward.

3. Progressivism: inevitable progress, evolution, enlightenment, golden ages, utopias, optimism; literature from BC 360 onward.

4. Historicism: histories, critiques, criticism, historiography, historical analyses, historical novels, dystopias, failed utopias, predictive drama, devolution, pessimism; beginning in the Middle Ages, with notable classics from AD 1609 onward.

5. Future Studies: grounded in the Social sciences, such as sociology, anthropology, economics, political science, social analysis; in the Physical sciences such as physics, chemistry, biology; also in the Earth sciences, astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology. This dimension also includes future fiction or science fiction, plus future research, whether in general or applied to issues, through methods such as computer modeling, forecasting, technological forecasting, scientific predicting, resources, polls, planning, strategizing, or management. This dimension emerged successively in AD 1771 with science fiction, in the late 1800s with social sciences and then in the 1930s with issue oriented surveys.

Since 1986, I’ve been carrying out my work from this fifth dimension of religious futurism which transcends, but critically builds on, the previous schools. As a Christian leader in the 1990s, I gave a great deal of attention to number two, Revelation—the field of redemptive history. Traditional Catholic and Lutheran theology have two tracks running down through history, redemptive and universal history paralleling each other. Rather than dichotomize theology and history, I see them as interwoven. I consider redemptive history as the fountainhead of universal history, as its interior wellspring. This “transformational” view of Revelation sees God at work in history through New Covenant dynamics to bring forth higher order living and learning.[2] Redemptive history, in this view, nurtures the inward, interior or internal dimensions of the outward, exterior or external universal history.

The Quantitative Future of Religion

wreligionsWhat can social science tell us about the future of the church? In the late 1980s I worked with Dr. David Barrett, editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia(1981, 2001) doing statistical studies of the world’s religions and forecasts of the future of Christianity. A friend of mine, Dr. Todd Johnson, joined him at that time to forward this unique work. Combining United Nations and country population data with religious census data, Barrett and Johnson have established baseline demographics for the future of religion. Their statistics reach back to the year 1900 and chart the status of Christianity and world missions throughout the 20th century. They don’t stop there. They take their data, using birth rates and death rates, and project it forward 25, 50 and 100 years. Their work is so authoritative, that the Encyclopedia Britannica uses their statistics each year in their annual tables on world religion. Here is their table for mid-year 2003.

But what would the picture look like in 2025, or 2050? Barrett and Johnson are continually updating their figures and doing extrapolations. Johnson’s done some very good work lately related to quantitative scenarios for the year 2200.[3]

Scenarios for the Year 2200

Johnson’s “Scenarios for the Year 2200: Adherents of World Religions” below, offers three projections for 2200 from baseline data of today (column one). Column two offers the “Most likely” scenario for the year 2200, based on U.N. demographics from the year 2025 plus assumptions on population growth and possible change of religious affiliations.

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Comparing Column one to Column two, Johnson shows Christianity increasing from 33 percent in 2003 to 37.9 percent by 2200, while Islam also increases from 19.90 percent to 22.6 percent of world population. Nonreligious persons and atheists, on the other hand, grew rapidly over the period 1900-1990, then decrease from a combined percentage of 20.5 percent in 1990 to 12.58 percent by A.D. 2003, and rebound only slightly up to 14.00% by 2200.
In the right two columns, Johnson modifies his assumptions about growth rates to produce two alternative scenarios. The column labeled, “Muslim Revival,” shows a plausible future in which Islam makes unprecedented inroads into the Western world. In this scenario Christians lose 0.9 percent of the world’s population, dropping from 37.9 to 37.0 percent, while Muslims gain from 22.6 to 23.5 percent, over the 175-year period, 2025-2200.

A second alternative scenario is constructed in the far right column by an assumption that Muslims in Asia are hard hit by secularization, losing 0.5 percent every twenty-five years from 2025 to 2200. The result, presented under the column “Secular Islam” is that Muslims lose 2.1 percent to Non-religious populations over the 175-year period.

The interesting thing about this work is that it is the first time that substantial quantitative data have been used to forecast the future of religion. The results are that the world’s leading religions, Christianity and Islam, will continue to grow, occupying a larger mind-share of the planet’s population. Much of this growth is fueled by demographics.

The second interesting feature of this work is how minimal the changes are, given the variables. The figures for Christianity, given an Islamic or Non-religious Revival vary by less than 1% of world population. As the French are fond of saying, “the more things change, the more things stay the same.”

In other words, forecasted demographics overturn the conventional western scholarly notion, held up until the 1979 Iranian revolution that humanity would wean itself from religion. These institutions have sustaining power, far beyond what social scientists thought.

What about Cultural Trends?

While U.N. data, multi-country analysis and forecasting can show us possible quantitative futures of religion, there is a real limit to how much this can tell us about the quality of faith. Beyond the quantitative, there is the qualitative future of religion. This looks at cultural and theological trends to inquire into faith’s future state of health.

Within Christianity, there are six major confessions, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglicans, Protestants, Independents and Marginals. Here is a proportional pie chart of total churches within each bloc of the Christian faith. It represents all varieties of Christianity from Orthodox to Unitarian.

varieties

The Barrett/Johnson scenarios tell us nothing about shifts from one block to another, such as from Catholic to Protestant. Nor does it tell us anything about internal shifts within the Anglican Communion over the next 200 years. There’s a limit to what demographics can tell you about the Catholic confessions state of mind a half-century out. You might be able to project how many Catholics there might be in 2050 down to the country level, but you will not know what form Catholicism may take and how that faith is related to its roots in Scripture or tradition. So we need to combine both qualitative methods with quantitative analysis, examine both possible externals and possible internals.

One of the major spiritual trends in America today was defined by Paul Ray and Sherry Anderson in their book The Cultural Creatives (Harmony, 2000). It’s a masterful study of consumer research in relation to what Ray considers a “new America.” Throughout the 19th and 20th century, America was divided into two Americas, saints and scoffers, believers and unbelievers. Ray calls these two cultures “Traditionals” and “Moderns.” Based on lifestyle research, he has identified an emerging third America he calls “Creatives.” By 2000, the percentage of Creatives had overtaken the Traditionals, 26% to 25%.

Who are the Traditionals? These are heartlanders that want to restore things back to the good old days. They broke off from the urban “Moderns” in the 1860s over rural issues. The Moderns want to stay the course; they are the official story of America, bigger is better, and self-dependence. The Creatives are leaning forward saying, “We have to find a new story. Things are breaking down.” Six out of ten Creatives are women. They’re interested in personal healing and wholeness. They are concerned about environmental issues. One out of four Creatives claims to be “born-again” in Jesus Christ, although there are no “Creative” churches to speak of.

The Creatives came from the 1960s: they are grown up baby boomers. They launched the alternative consciousness and green movement. The interesting thing about this study is that Ray claims that “New Agers” are only a small postage stamp on the letter surface of the Creatives. Creatives are into the new culture, the new physics, the new story, integral worldviews, sustainability, and international foods, with all the pluralism and diversity of life.

If this culture is growing, the question becomes, What is the future of faith in this context? Is the church so married to the Modern age that it will be a widow in the next, shaped in large part by the Creatives? Or we could ask this differently. Are the Creatives a passing fad or an enduring movement? Is Oprah Winfrey a hairstyle or a lifestyle? It may be too early to say definitively, but this study suggests that the context of Christian ministry in the United States has changed.

Wild Cards—Out of the Blue

creatives-tree-lAs a futurist one can talk about the future, but none of the quantitative or qualitative futures can prepare us for the unexpected. Sometimes things just come out of the blue! Futurists call these “wild cards.” The best illustration is when you’re playing cards and out of the deck pops a wild card. You didn’t expect it. Wild cards turn up. Whether it be the equivalence of a Berlin Wall falling or another September 11th, surprises are in store.

Most of the time, social scientists don’t give much time to study these low probability—high impact events, because they come from the fringe, fed by pop culture and conspiracy theories. But as a professional futurist I make room for wild cards, or uncertainties. John Peterson has written a great book on this subject, Out of the Blue: How to anticipate big future surprises (Madison, 1999). Peterson claims that wild cards can originate anywhere, and can be positive or negative. They can generate systemic breakdowns or breakthroughs. They can be “acts of God” or cascading failures of human systems.

What are examples of possible wild cards? In the next century, an asteroid could hit the earth. It has happened before. It could happen again. Statistically, it’s not probable, but it is possible. Another wild card in religion is that Israel might be defeated in a surprise attack, and call on the U.S. to restore the balance of power through nuclear warfare. The entire confrontation could feed another round of apocalypticism in Christianity, Judaism and Islam for 50 years.

Another wild card in religion—time travel could be invented. Then we could really go back and study the Jerusalem of 2,000 years ago! Another Wild Card might be Extraterrestrial contact with Earth. Richard Braastad has done a fascinating study, at the M.A. level, called “The Extraterrestrial Sermons.”[4] This is a serious study of how the reception of extraterrestrial transmissions might affect world religions. Braadstad creates twelve scenarios or plausible stories of how Islamic, Christian, and Hindu clergy in Houston, Texas might react to three different types of extraterrestrial messages.

While Wild Cards are possible, they are low probability events. To answer the question, Does Faith Have a Future?, more mileage can be obtained by focusing on probable futures. One key tool futurists use to do that are scenarios.

Most para-church groups build their ministries on “vision.” They see a need and share their vision with others that this need must be met. Vision answers the question, “What should happen?” Scenarios ask, “What might happen?” The answer, of course, is a range of futures, from worst-case to best-case scenarios. What vision is to the heart, scenarios are to the head. In building scenarios, futurists seek to broaden their thinking about a domain.

In building scenarios for faith, 10, 20 or 30 years out, we are not just dealing with incremental changes or straight-line forecasts of demographics. Rather, we are looking at how major cultural shifts and technological change might create various futures, any one of them plausible.

To arrive at a perceptual map of the future, it is first necessary to identify major drivers of change related to a domain. We need to ask, What is happening at present that might continue to increase and shape my field? In religion, one could list twenty major shifts but, for our purposes, I would like to profile two “change drivers” and then show how uncertainties in these two areas can produce four quadrants or four alternative futures of faith over the next generation.

The first driver of change that has been present and likely will continue to define society is religion’s private to public expression. Think of this as a left to right horizontal axis. Along this horizontal axis, religion and spirituality could move in either direction. Lately, in the past century, expression is largely moving from public to private. Sociologists call this the privatization of religion, the disestablishment of religion, or the separation of church and state. But movement is not only uni-directional as religion moves back into the public square to assert itself morally. [5]

Two Drivers of Change in Religion

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The second driver of change I want to isolate is the macro-shift in our time from Pre-Modern to Modern to Post-Modern. Picture this as a vertical axis, with pre-modern values up top, shifting down to Modern, and finally post-modern values at the bottom. This shift from Pre-Modern to Post-Modern, is the shift we looked at earlier from Medieval to Modern to post-Modern. John Drane, a Scottish theologian has written a great book illustrating this vertical driver of change, called, Faith in a Changing World(HarperCollins, 1994). He summarizes this shift from modern to post-modern thinking as a shift from a Scientific to a Poetic worldview. This is the shift from relying on reason alone, to relying on reason and intuition. This is the shift from the permanent to the provisional. Moderns emphasize the absolute, post-moderns the ambiguous. Moderns emphasize western culture, post-moderns value ethnic worldviews. In short, Moderns emphasize religion, post-Moderns talk about spirituality.

Drane asks whether religion has faced a shift like this before. Sure enough, biblical religion did move from a Hebraic to a Greek way of thinking between the 2nd and 5thcenturies. The Greek way of thinking was rational, precise, and quantitative. The Hebraic way of thinking was metaphoric, whole and spiritual. In essence, Drane claims the church shouldn’t be threatened by Post-modern values as, ironically, many are nearer the Hebraic way of thinking that gave birth to the church.

If we juxtapose these two drivers of change we would get four quadrants. Each of these is a possible future of religion in the American context. In answering the question, Does Faith Have a Future?, this approach would respond, Yes, it has at least four futures or four scenarios.

matrix-4-futures-l

I’ve named these quadrants to make them mind-easy. Quadrant one would be “Roosters,” quadrant two “Eagles,” quadrant three “Hens,” and quadrant four “Owls.”

1. Roosters:

In quadrant one you have Roosters. These are pre-modern, private people in terms of religion. They see God as apart from culture and against this world. They may practice their religion privately, but usually they are not quiet. They are often raucous roosters in the barnyard, proclaiming the end. As each day begins they cry out, “Wake up! The end is at hand!” Roosters expect the world to change by God’s initiative, not human’s. Many Roosters are revivalists, rather than just linear apocalyptics. These birds are waiting for God to bring about a renewal of religion. They pray and live for a latter day visitation of the Holy Ghost. Granted, Roosters are a minority culture in American religion. They tend to be sectarian, divisive, with each group convinced it has a corner on truth. They are often, more than not, Christian Zionists, supporting Jewish territorialism as a Divine right, over and against Palestinian Christians and Muslims. While Roosters are a minority in American religion, they have a base that could grow. Even scholars have been surprised at the staying power of apocalyptic thinking beyond Y2K through Left Behind marketing dollars.

2. Eagles:

In quadrant two you have pre-modern, public people. These are Eagles, or religious nationalists. They see God over culture. When their tribe gets in trouble, the eagle flies over and rallies the troops to fight the evil that is always out there. Eagles talk about how America was founded on Christian principles and how far it has strayed from this heritage. Their aim is to take this country back to God. They are theocratic, in that they mistrust democracy or the will of the people, and believe the country should be run by conservative elites or by Old Testament law. Lately, the Bush administration has been promoting faith-based initiatives, or public funding of religious organizations doing public work. While not theocratic, this initiative falls in this quadrant, marshalling public support for religion.

3. Hens:

In quadrant three you have post-modern, private people. These are Hens, people who are into natural spirituality. They have moved away from Rooster or Eagle conceptions of God out there, to thinking of the divine as something internal. Hens build their own nests and talk about expanding their consciousness. In this sense, God is “hidden from culture.” He may be assumed, but not objectified, apart from the “Spirit” being with us. Oprah Winfrey operates in this quadrant as well as Richard Gere or American Buddhists and many post-confessional Jews.

4. Owls:

In quadrant four you have Owls. They are post-modern, public. They talk about renaissance culture, not just revival like Roosters or reformation like Eagles. Of all the quadrants, this culture is the least developed in America today. The best example of Owl culture would be the philosophical writings of Ken Wilber and his focus on integral culture. Wilber calls for an integration of exterior and interior domains, of scientific sense and religious soul, of objective knowledge and personal subjectivity.[6] Wilber speaks of the reintegration of spirituality, morals, and technology. Owls in general talk about the reconciliation of science and religion, natural theology and sacred theology. They focus on both local and global development and speak of the Triple Bottom Line, balancing economic, ecological and ethical growth. They can be critical of Hen-based “woo-woo spirituality” and feel that rigorous scholarship or spiritual disciplines should guide our search for wholeness. Except for Christian scholars, whether theologians or scientists, most people of faith don’t operate in this quadrant. They could, but it would require moving beyond pop-ministry fads and considering what it means to be a follower of Jesus in an epistemological or cosmological level.[7]

In Ray’s terms, those in the lower hemisphere of this matrix, Owls and Hens, would be Creatives. Those in the upper hemisphere of this matrix, Roosters and Eagles, would be Traditionals. The dividing line would be the difference between pre-modern and post-modern spirituality.

What about the Ducks?

These four futures of faith are side-stream futures from society. Hypothetically, any one could move toward the center of America and shape it. But there is a fifth animal in the barnyard, Modern Ducks. Ducks, whether liberal or conservatives, define faith in America far beyond the previous four animals we have looked at. The modern project has defined our lives. While many younger believers are talking about “post-modern” Christianity, they are only there at the philosophical level, not in terms of lifestyle. As the diagram shows, Modernity has four sentinels standing guard, protecting itself against these alternatives futures. Ecumenism protects Ducks against Rooster sectarianism through focusing on unity. Individualism protects Ducks against theocracy or the unilateral rule of God through clerics as in Christian reconstructionists. Secularism protects mainstream Duck faith from inroads by Hen’s cosmic consciousness. And Commercialism shields Duck faith from considerations other than self-interest or economic gain. Modern Ducks and the modern project is the main story in American religion both now and in the near future. Both liberal and conservative Ducks are foundationalists, and believe all life is built from rational foundations.

So when we speak of four futures of religion, these four quadrants, the key question is how will these alternatives change that prevailing space occupied by Modern Ducks? They certainly aren’t Lame Ducks, at least not yet. The modern experiment will go on. The question is, Will we see a synthesis of modernity and Eagle fortress culture? Or will we see a synthesis of Duck and Hen culture? Will George Bush’s faith-based initiatives strengthen theocratic Eagles? Or will Owl culture move Modern Ducks toward sustainability and integral thinking?

Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Scenario

Over the next ten to thirty years anything is possible. The value of creating scenarios is that it gives us multiple ways to think about the future, rather than just one. Once you begin thinking in terms of future possibilities, rather than in one future destiny, it opens up new paths to talk about how we should nurture faith. We can ask, In their own way, what strengths do Roosters, Eagles, Hens and Owls bring to society?

Roosters have strengths, because they let you form your identity by your tribe. You know your boundaries very well and you don’t have to deal with differences. It’s just us and them, and we are on the good side. The downside is that it’s all private. The divine becomes a tribal God that only vindicates your tribe at the end. What’s the strength of Eagles? They are strong in times of war when you need to rally religion to bolster national defense. The downside is that people may lose civil liberties or privacy at the expense of national security. This is happening in Israel today through its Likud, or religiously inclined Eagle party. Israeli citizens have lost numerous civil liberties, including the right to marry non-Israelis. While this xenophobia serves a cause, a majority of Israelis now wonders whether their current support of Settlements is worth hanging onto if that means forgoing living in peace in a two-state solution.

What’s the strength of hens? They may be more connected to natural surroundings and rhythms of life. From a Christian perspective, their weakness is their lack of theism or revealed religion. What’s the strength and weaknesses of the Owls? In my opinion, the Owls have strengths in showing a way beyond the crisis of the modern spirit. The weakness is that we might be decades away from any integral culture. Between a wise culture and the present stand the challenges of the 21st century, in terms of economic injustice and environmental crises.

Creating Preferred Futures

whichfuture-lThe real power in asking, “Does Faith Have a Future?” is that it empowers us to create better churches and more integral ministries. On the diagram to the right, we see three kinds of futures. The largest circle to the right depicts all “Possible” futures. This refers to any number of futures shaped by any number of Wild Cards. Moving up the diagram, you have a medium-size circle of “Probable” futures. This is a subset of all Probable futures. In our matrix, the Ducks would qualify as a Probable future. Within that circle is a small “Preferable” or ideal future. If the Christian faith could find a trajectory in the Owl culture, this would be ideal. It would have the potential to be more holistic, more biblical and more kingdom-based. One of the goals of future fluency is to increase the chances that a Preferable future might become a Possible future, at least for those who choose it.

Taking Hold of Tomorrow

Today business is leveraged into the future, whether finance, economics, business, weather, population forecasters or futurists. How should the church think about the future? How should it shape its thinking about the future, beyond apocalyptic?

There are three ways faith relates to life: through Hindsight, Insight and Foresight. We look backward, upward and forward. Religion has majored on Hindsight, on interpreting the text and building tradition. Insight today leads us into a vital walk with God, where His Spirit awakens our conscience and intuition. It is not enough to believe what God has done for us, or realize that He can work in us, we must have faith for what He can do through us to improve our tomorrows.

Increasingly, we need to cultivate Foresight—the forward view of faith. How can we create and maintain a forward view of life and use these insights in redemptive ways? How can we enhance this aspect of our leadership? I invite you to join me in this quest to develop this vital aspect of our faith and use it for the greater glory of God to enlarge His presence among future generations.


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[1] This citation of Wagar and summary is from Barrett, David and Todd Johnson, World Christian Trends, AD 30-AD 2200, William Carey Library, 2001, pp. 844-845.

[2] See an article I wrote in August 2002, “The Pattern of Biblical Transformation,” at http://www.christianfutures.com

[3] Johnson, Todd. “Statistical Projection of Religions,” in Encyclopedia of the Future, edited by Kurian and Molitor, Macmillan, 1996, pp. 797-799.

[4] Braadstad, Richard, “The Extraterrestrial Sermons,” http://www.richardb.us/project.html

[5] A good book in this area is Os Guinness, The American Hour: A Time of Reckoning and the Once and Future Role of Faith (Free Press, 1993).

[6] The best entry-level book by Ken Wilber is A Theory of Everything, Shambahala, 2001. The website, http://www.worldofkenwilber.com is also a good place to start. While Wilber is not working from assumptions of Christian doctrine, his meta-framework makes allowances for what is called, “theology from below.” Given further critique, his meta- framework may be a starting point for building an integral Christian worldview for the 21st century. I plan to write further on this subject, offering both affirmation and critique of Wilber’s “integral methodological pluralism.”

[7] A good example of Christian theology leaning toward the Owl quadrant might be Ted Peter’s God: The World’s Future: Systematic Theology for a New Era, Fortress Press, 2nd Edition, 2000.

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Dr. Jay Gary is president of PeakFutures.com, a foresight consulting group. Over the past twenty years he has helped non-profits, foundations, civic leaders, and strategic alliances to create more promise filled futures. He also teaches strategic foresight, innovation and leadership at the graduate level and through professional development courses.

This article is adaptable from a talk first given to the local World Future Society on February 27, 2003 at Colorado College. To download a .pdf copy of his powerpoint slides, click here (800k file). Requires Adode Reader to view.

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