Category Archives: Future trends

Living in an age of transition

First posted in 1999, and updated in 2005

Sometime between 1960 and 1980, an old, inadequately conceived world ended, and a fresh, new world began.
Hauerwas and Willimon 1989:15 (see bibliography at end for details)

The world of today is caught in the crack between what was and what is emerging. This crack began opening in the 1960s and will close sometime around the year [2020]. Trusted values held for centuries are falling into this crack, never to be seen again. Ideas and methodologies that once worked no longer achieve the desired results. This crack in our history is so enormous that it is causing a metamorphosis in every area of life. Today, the fastest way to fail is to improve on yesterday’s successes.
For many churches, the most disruptive discovery of recent years has been that few of today’s teenagers were born back in the 1950s or 1960s. A new generation of teenagers arrived with the babies born in the post-1969 era. What worked well in youth ministries in the 1960s or 1970s or early 1980s no longer works. Why? One reason is those approaches to youth ministries were designed by adults for an adult dominated world in which most teenagers looked to adults for wisdom, knowledge, leadership, affirmation, expertise, authority, and guidance. That world has almost disappeared and today largely in the heads of people age twenty-eight and over.
Schowalter 1995:8

An age of transition

My grandmother was born in 1916, in East London, South Africa. When she was born she had a reasonable expectation of growing up, getting married, working, living and dieing in a world that remained largely unchanged. After all, although there had been changes in the decades before her birth, most of these took more than one person’s lifetime to work their way into society. But not now! Since about 1950, the pace of change has exponentially increased. So, to help us understand the rate of change,consider that my grandmother was born before inter-continental air flights, jet-aircraft, space travel and moon walking, before individual telephone lines, before computers, before the first commercial motor vehicle in South Africa and tarred roads, before Johannesburg got electricity, before calculators, before “the pill”, before radar, before Elvis, before calculators and ballpoint pens, before faxes, PC’s and cell phones, before photocopiers, before miniskirts and bikinis, before television, before video machines, CDs and DVDs, before satellites and before the Internet. (Yet, every Monday morning, she sends an email to her children and grandchildren, spread around the world).

Yet, it is not just these things, and the speed at which they have arrived, that separates the young from the old in the world at the beginning of the third millennium – today’s young people are separated from their elders by incredible, fundamental shifts in thinking. There is a yawning chasm between todays adults (over 30) and youth (under 30) – in virtually every country in the world. In the last 10 to 30 years major shifts in every sphere of life have fundamentally changed the world: in South Africa it is largely defined by before and after apartheid (and earlier, before and after June 16, 1976), in Germany by the fall of the wall (9 Nov 1989), in America by Vietnam and Watergate, in Britain by trade unions and the Iron Lady, in Iran by the Islamic Revolution (1979), in Portugal by the Carnation Revolution (April 1974), in Estonia by the Singing Revolution (June 1988), in Czechoslovakia the Velvet Revolution (November 1989), in New Zealand by the end of socialism (and by the Eden Park Springbok test match that sparked Maori resurgence), in China by Tianamen Square (June 1989), and everywhere by PCs and the Internet.

We are living in an age of transition, between what was (the Industrial Age) and what will be (as we work through the Information Age into the Biotechnology era we are only beginning to discover the new socio-polital-economic geography of the world). The older generations are frustrated because the young don’t seem to listen to their advice or follow their footsteps. The young are frustrated because they see no guiding light or words of wisdom applicable to the path they’re on. We are in a dangerous place at this moment of history. So, does the Bible have any assistance to give us in such an age?

Continue reading Living in an age of transition

More on “cheap grace”

This was originally posted on 29 March 2005

Following on from my previous post, I wanted to add that this concept of “cheap grace” is one of the biggest problems facing the “established” church (by this I mean orthodox, traditional, and/or evangelical churches/denominations) is that many of them have a rotten image amongst non-Christians. I do not simply mean that they are not attractive to non-Christians (at one level, of course, the cross is an affront to non-Christians, and cannot be “attractive” in a simple sense). The problem goes a lot deeper.

In his excellent book, A Generous Orthodoxy, Brian McLaren writes a great introduction in which he addresses a number of different types of people who might be reading his book. Here is a short excerpt:

“You may not be a Christian and wondering why anyone would want to be. The religion that inspired the Crusades, launched witch trials, perpetuates religious broadcasting, present too-often boring and irrelevant church services with schmaltzy music – or else presents manic and overly aggressive church services with a different kind of schmaltzy music – baptises wars and other questionable political programs, promotes judgementalism, and ordains preachers was puffy haircuts… doesn’t make sense to you why anyone would want ‘in’ on that.

You may not yet be a Christian, and you’re thinking of becoming one, but you’re worried that if you do you’re become a worse person – judgemental, arrogant, narrowminded, bigoted, and brainwashed… Do I have to like organ music? Do I have to say ‘Praise the Lord!’ all the time? Do I have to vote Republican? Do I have to oppose civil rights for homosexuals?… you wonder if there is any way to follow Jesus without becoming a Christian.

You may already be a Christian, struggling, questioning, and looking for reasons to stay in. Or you may have officially left the Christian community, but part of your heart is still there, and you wonder if you might some day return. So many of us have come close to withdrawing from the Christian community. It’s not because of Jesus or his Good News, but because of frustrations with religious politics, dubious theological propositions, difficulties in interpreting passages of the Bible that are barbaric (especially to people sensitised by Jesus to the importance of compassion), and/or embarrassments from recent and not-so-recent church history. Or perhaps it’s simply boredom – dreary music, blase sermons, simple answers to tough questions, and other adventures in missing the point. Or perhaps it’s fatigue – a treadmill of meetings in books and programmes and squabbles that yield more duties, obligations, guilt trips, and stress.”

And that’s just the introductory page…

The point I want to make is quite simple: I believe that in an attempt to deal with the declining image and acceptance of the church in general society, and, paradoxically, in moves by the existing leadership of churches to entrench their positions of power over laypeople, we have created churches that firstly make it too easy to become Christians, and secondly give too easy answers to the tough questions that fill the lives of people inside and outside their congregations.

We are currently living with the awful consequences of decades of cheap grace. There are many churches beginning to attempt to deal with some of the problems this has caused. There are many ways of approaching this problem and looking for solutions. There are many practitioners experimenting with new practice, many authors are beginning to write about it, a few theologians are attempting to systematise it, and some philosophers are trying to fathom it.

I find myself wondering between these different categories, continuing to look for questions, answers and markers for the journey. This issue of cheap grace seems to me to be an important marker.

Synthetic Life created – this changes everything

I have been predicting it for some time, and today it was announced! Craig Venter runs the company that first sequenced the human genome. Now, his team has created what they’re calling synthetic life.

They’ve actually created an entirely synthetic genome, built from chemicals in a lab. They inserted the genome into a cleaned out cell. When they did so, the new genome fired up exactly as if it were a “natural” genome.

Read the press release here.

Of course, everything has gone crazy. The media are in a frenzy. Some claim he’s playing God. Others are freaking out that these things will “escape” into nature and destroy life. And some are saying that it will end disease and bring about paradise on earth. The truth, as always, will lie somewhere in between these extreme views.

But this changes everything. Mark this day. A new era has dawned.

Hannah’s Rules and ethical consumers @ TGIF

Originally posted on 24 February 2008

Recently I spoke at TGIF (Thank God it’s Friday), a Christian discussion group that meets at the (ungodly) hour of 6:30am every Friday morning. I was asked to record it, and make the recording available, so it is available for downloading, by right clicking here and selecting save as. It’s about 8 Mb in size.

The content is a version of my presentation, Hannah’s Rules on the rise of the ethical consumer. It’s since been renamed, “The Future is Now” – see details here.

Liberal politics, freedom and the role of Christianity in Britain

Originally posted on 1 September 2009

I don’t agree with the political leanings of The Spectator magazine in the UK, but it certainly contains the finest writing in the English language of any magazine in the world. I read the mag regularly, just to experience excellent English. It also contains the type of opinionated columnists I enjoy. They get you thinking, and they’re inteliigent.

In their Christmas edition, there was an excellent analysis of what the official religious institution of England (The Church of England) should do. I need to think this one through in more detail, but I hope it sparks as much thought for you as it did for me.

Does England need an “official” church? Would it be better, both for the church and State, to change the current state of affairs? The original article can be found here, or read it below.

The C of E should follow John Milton’s lead

by Theo Hobson, Friday, 12th December 2008, The Spectator

Milton was a great poet but an even greater theologian, says Theo Hobson. His vision of tolerant Christian liberalism should be our template for the future
Continue reading Liberal politics, freedom and the role of Christianity in Britain

Gary Hamel speaks to church leaders on Shifting Tides

Gary Hamel is one of my favourite management gurus. His books are well written, and I have heard him speak live and in person on a number of occasions as he addressed business leaders in South Africa a few years ago. Gary was initially famous for his thoughts on innovation and helping companies create the right type of environment for innovation. More recently he has shifted his focus to the “future of management” – analysing the environment in which companies must now operate, and the structures that will help them achieve success. His book on the Future of Management is a great read – buy it at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net.

What I didn’t know was that he was a Christian and has done some research on the challenges facing the church at the moment (especially in the USA). He spoke at his home church a while ago, and the talk was recorded and made available. After cataloguing the problems, he goes on to recommend some responses. And he brings his usual insightfulness to all of it. Well worth taking an hour out and watching.

Continue reading Gary Hamel speaks to church leaders on Shifting Tides

The Present Future

Originally posted on 19 April 2005

I am currently reading a very significant book, “The Present Future” by Reggie Mcneal (Buy it at Kalahari.net or Amazon.co.uk).

He argues in the book that there are six wrong questions that churches ask, and suggests six questions we should be asking in their place. In each chapter, he outlines the problem, a solution, and then gives a biblical and cultural contextual reason for his suggestion. Briefly, here are the six wrong and right questions:

WRONG QUESTION TOUGH NEW QUESTION
How do we do church better? How do we deconvert from Churchianity to Christianity? (How do we redfine ourselves around ‘mission’ rather than ‘club’?)
How do we grow this church? How do we get them to come to us? How do we transform our community? How do we hit the streets with the gospel?
How do we turn members into ministers? How do we turn members into missionaries?
How how do we develop church members? How do we develop followers of Jesus?
How do we plan for the future? How do we prepare for the future?
How do we develop leaders for church work? How do we develop leaders for the Christian Movement?

Here are some extracts from the introduction…

Continue reading The Present Future

The poor you will always have with you

Originally posted on 2 October 2007, updated on 2 March 2010

Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matt 26:11).

So, should we try and even solve the problem of poverty? Some people have used this verse to say that it is impossible to eradicate poverty. Others have argued that it is not only possible, it is possible within a decade – you can read Jeffrey Sachs in his best selling book, “The End of Poverty” (buy it at Amazon.co.uk or Kalahari.net) or connect with the Global Poverty Project and see their presentation, “1.4 billion reasons”.

Who is right? If Jesus himself said we’d always have the poor then maybe we shouldn’t even try to get rid of poverty. Is this what Jesus meant? I don’t think so.

Well, Jesus was quoting from the Old Testament. And here is the context:

Deuteronomy 15:11
“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land.” (NIV)

So, at very least, Jesus had in mind that we SHOULD give to the poor. He deliberately used a well known scriptural phrase to ensure that his audience would have this particular command brought to their attention, without him needing to make the additional points explicit. This was certainly a style of teaching used often by Biblical writers. It is one of the reasons that interpreting Scripture can be quite difficult, and why we must be open to new understandings and deeper interpretations.
Continue reading The poor you will always have with you