Last year Foreign Affairs offered an article with the arresting title, "The New Population Bomb: The Four Megatrends That Will Change the World."
Author Jack Goldstone argues that in the twenty-first century international security will be affected by four major demographic trends:
1. The relative demographic weight of the world's developed countries is dropping;
2. Those countries' labor forces are aging and declining;
3. The populations of the poorest, youngest, and most heavily Muslim countries are growing the most;
4. And, for the first time in history, the world is becoming more urban than rural.
Goldstone concludes that policymakers will have to adapt current global institutions to these new realities.
These are, without a doubt, significant trends. Each holds great consequence for us all.
But it prompted me to reflect on what might be the four megatrends of our day that are most pressing for the interplay of church and culture.
1. The locus of Christianity is shifting from the north and the west to the south and the east.
The expansion of Christianity southward in Africa, Asia and Latin America can only be called explosive. With this comes the globalization of Christianity. Philip Jenkins asserts that by the year 2050 only one Christian in five will be a non-Latino white person and that the center of gravity of the Christian world will have shifted firmly to the Southern Hemisphere.
2. Communication of the gospel is becoming increasingly electronic.
The means of communication has changed dramatically in the last ten years. The currency of discourse is the text, the tweet, the download and the blog. Case in point: what is arguably the world's newest and most popular Bible program is an app created for mobile phones. As of early January, 12.5 million people have downloaded the YouVersion Bible application and spent 4 billion minutes reading the Bible with it.
3. We are returning to a medieval climate.
The founder of Harvard University's department of sociology, Pitirim Sorokin, argued that the pendulum of civilization generally swings in one of two directions: the "ideational" and the "sensate." Ideational cultures are those that are ascetic in nature, focusing on the transformation of someone's inner life. Sensate cultures, on the other hand, are materialistic, and are based on the improvement and modification of the outer world. Thus the ideational civilization is more theological and spiritual, and the sensate world is more rational or scientific. Sorokin contended that the classic ideational period was the medieval. From the Enlightenment forward, we have lived in a sensate world. Now, there is a swing back toward the ideational. We are rediscovering the validity of faith, once again making room for insight, intuition and even revelation.
4. We are facing a clash of civilizations.
Global politics is being reconfigured along cultural lines; three in particular: the West, the East and the Islamic world. In a compelling thesis that seems more prescient with every passing day, Samuel Huntington argued that the real clash is between the West and the Islamic world, and that the Islamic world may hold the upper hand because it is unafraid of militaristic action to advance its culture.
There are other megatrends to consider, such as the decline of denominations and even parachurch groups balanced by the rise of the local church and the redefinition of marriage and family, particularly in light of the growing acceptance of homosexuality.
But regardless of the megatrend, Goldstone is right: leaders will have to adapt their institutions to these new realities. That adaptation may mean compensating accordingly, employing new strategies or taking a counter-cultural prophetic stance - but respond it must.
And included in those responding institutions must be the church.
James Emery White
Jack A. Goldstone, "The New Population Bomb," Foreign Affairs, January/February 2010, Volume 89, No. 1, pp. 31-43.
Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity.
"Lifechurch.tv's Bible app attracts millions of users," Bill Sherman, Tulsa World, January 4, 2011, online at http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=11&articleid=20110104_18_A9_CUTLIN353055
James Emery White, Serious Times: Making Your Life Matter in an Urgent Day.
James Emery White, Christ Among the Dragons: Finding Our Way Through Cultural Challenges.
Pitirim Sorokin, Social and Cultural Dynamics; see also Morris Berman, The Twilight of American Culture.
Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.
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About 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.
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