It’s that time of year again; time to look back at the year that was, and look forward to the year ahead.
For most of us, that’s taxing enough. Attempting to predict 2013, much less assess the whirlwind of 2012, is beyond our scope.
So what to think of predictions for 2030?
Strangely, we may know more about that than we do the year to come.
A new report, Global Trends 2030, has been prepared by the National Intelligence Council which comprises all 17 U.S. government intelligence agencies. Prepared every four years, largely to guide incoming presidential administrations, the goal is to identify “mega-trends.”
Ready for the findings?
By the year 2030, a majority of the world’s population will be free of poverty. Middle classes will be the dominant social and economic sector of society. Asia will once again enjoy the global power status it last had in the Middle Ages, while the 350-year ascendancy of the West will be largely reversed.
While global leadership may be shared, and the world likely to be democratizing, the planet may also be racked by wars over food and water and an environment threatened by climate change. New and lethal technologies will be used by individuals to inflict widespread harm, and global economic crises could well be recurring.
The report notes that the breadth of global change is comparable to the French Revolution and the dawning of the Industrial Age in the late 18th century, but unfolding at a far more dramatic pace. Adding to the challenge is that the new global era is likely to be less organized. Under the “mega-trends” category, the Global Trend authors predict that “power will shift to networks and coalitions in a multipolar world."
It’s difficult to know how much weight to put in the report. An article in The Atlantic points out the many mistaken “predictions” which were offered in previous reports. As the article’s author, Joshua Foust, notes:
“There is an entire industry devoted to futures studies: their acolytes, called futurists, give PowerPoint presentations and write books about how the world will change in the future. I used to work for one: Alvin Toffler, who wrote a groundbreaking book in 1970 called Future Shock. His book, four decades after the fact, remains a fascinating artifact: his description of "information overload" (a term he invented) rings especially true in an age of Twitter and Facebook, but his description of cities running out of oxygen, and disposable clothing made of paper, sounds a bit silly.”
Regardless, as Matthew Burrows, director of the NIC Long Range Analysis Unit and the principal author of the report, notes, “Should no group of countries prove capable of … leadership, the world could suffer. … You probably don't want to live in [that world]."
The last time the world broke down under seismic change, leading to cultural collapse, was with the fall of Rome. During the ensuing Middle Ages, the church rose to prominence as the sole provider of social glue. This led to many negative things, such as the rise of “Christendom,” but the initial role of the church was undeniably decisive. As the only institution left standing, the church alone provided order and support, education and welfare, justice and order.
But is the church ready for the next “future shock”? Foust writes of the peril of meeting the future of 2030 with institutions which were designed in the 1940s. Of course, he is referring to government, corporations and schools and their need to rethink their structures and strategies.
But I think of the typical church.
It isn’t working on a 1940s model.
Try the 1840s (and this might be generous).
All to say, there is great irony that the hope of the world is arguably the least poised for what might be the world’s great crisis.
But at least we have 17 years to get ready.
James Emery White
Tom Gjelten, “The World In 2030: Asia Rises, The West Declines,” National Public Radio, December 10, 2012, read online.
Joshua Foust, “The World in 2030 Won't Look Anything Like You Think,” The Atlantic, December 11, 2012, read online.
Michael Cooper, “Census Officials, Citing Increasing Diversity, Say U.S. Will Be a ‘Plurality Nation,’” The New York Times, December 12, 2012, read online.
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity (Baker Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.