Do you know what’s coming in 2012? As we begin the 12th year of the third millennium, it is intriguing to try to look over the hill ahead of us. At the end of each year I try to take a peek at accelerating trends, upcoming anniversaries, and planned events. My look ahead is in no way comprehensive. It is selective and suggestive. Truth is, no one really knows what will happen in the year ahead—except that the earth will change and God is still our refuge and strength.
Events: This Spring will be filled with political primaries and caucuses in the US. Rio de Janeiro will host another large UN conference on sustainable development in June. Sometime early summer the US Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of the individual mandate of Obamacare. In July and August, all eyes will be on London for the summer Olympics. In the US, the Republican Convention takes place in Tampa in August. The Democrats meet in Charlotte in September. Election Day comes in November. And on December 21, according to an ancient Mayan calendar, the world is supposed to end. (One year Harold Camping, now it’s the Mayans!)
Anniversaries: Adoniram Judson was ordained as America’s first missionary 200 years ago (February). The Titanic was launched 100 years ago (March). This will be the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling that reciting prayer in public school violated the First Amendment (June). It will also be the 60 year anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign (June). Francis Schaeffer and Pope John Paul were born 100 years ago! Bob Dylan and the Beatle’s first single came out 50 years ago! It is the 50th anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe—not that I care, but it will be talked about. It is also the 50th anniversary of Vatican II. J.R. Tolkien’s children’s novel the Hobbit was published 75 years ago (September) and will be celebrated by a blockbuster film in December. It is the 500th anniversary of Michelangelo finishing his painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It will also be the 1700th anniversary of Constantine’s historic battle at the Milvian bridge.
A year of elections, leadership changes and discipleship opportunities: There will be presidential elections in Taiwan (Jan 14), Russia (March 4), France (April 22), Mexico (July 1), Kenya (Aug 14), Venezuela (Oct 7), China (October), and the US (Nov 6). In each country people will be looking for a political messiah (without actually using that word).
The presidential campaign in the US will be the most expensive ever. It will also be one of the most extremely negative and polarizing campaigns in a long time. That is because huge ideas are at stake and America is at a tipping point. Also, because of new laws, super PACS will be pouring more money into it than never. The time for churches to address key election issues, to get its people to think Christianly, and to underscore the Christian duty to participate and vote, is not in October, but this Spring!
The Conventional Wisdom on Economic Rebounds? Many news-heads are saying the worst of the Great Recession is over. Besides, this is a presidential year and conventional wisdom is that all levers are pulled to make it look like things are getting better. But conventional wisdom could be easily threatened this year by the deepening European debt crisis, or the deepening American debt crisis, or the dithering of politicians, or by some regional war that upsets the entire applecart. There will be more talk about budget austerity which will affect the way we do business, run local governments, non-profits and churches.
What is wrong with the economy? Conservatives say it is a matter of needing more tax cuts. Liberals want more cash stimulus. But both solutions are somewhat short sighted. The global market place is changing. It has been hit by the triple whammy of the recession, digital revolution, and global competition. Emerging economies will for the first time buy over half the world’s imports in 2012. Software, outsourcing, robotics and international competition are changing the market place. As I say to my children, “this is not your parent’s job market.” The recession may end, but these market realities will not go away. Employers will be more picky than ever in their hiring, looking for people who can add value more than a worker in India, or a robot, or….someone like Siri!
Technology will continue to shape our lives. Siri, the new iPhone personal assistant, will take off and most likely become part of the new iPads, lap tops, and home life, instantly attending to our requests. This is also the year Facebook goes public, (but continues to go global). Social media will play an increasing role in our churches and ministries. Expect other new technologies, like mobile payment capabilities in phones to grow in popularity as well.
All this technological dependence has a downside. Those born into this digital world are still blind to its short comings. We do less math in our heads, less memorizing, less imagining, and less interacting with the real people in front of us. Employers worry that more young people do not know how to interact personally or converse! For all our hyper-connectivity, many are more lonely and losing touch with non-virtual reality!
Entitlement mentality confronts reality: Europeans have come to expect certain benefits even though these benefits are threatened by unsustainable debt and a shrinking tax base. But this same mentality is at work in the US. Some 47% of Americans (the highest ever) now receive federal benefits. A recent poll of university students revealed they want free health care, free tuition, government provided jobs, and government help with down payments for their houses. The entitlement mentality says—“I deserve this and the government owes it to me.” Of course, God is marginalized in this outlook. It is all about our rights. This mindset brings to the church a new challenge as we try to tell people about grace that we don’t deserve, and as we stress the importance of human responsibility.
The so called Arab Spring increasingly looks like Fall or Winter. The “wind of Arab freedom,” so celebrated in 2011, may look more like an Islamic rising in 2012. The church in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Jordan (not to mention Iran and Iraq) has been hit really hard. Many Christians have become victims in this uprising. While liberals in the West hail these events as the birth of democracy, first rounds of voting seem to favor radical Islamic parties. Will it turn out that the old autocrats were preferable to the new authoritarian Islamists? The church in the Middle East thinks so.
A Showdown in the Middle East. It appears that a showdown of some sort will occur in the Middle East this year. There has been a covert war going on all through the Fall. Iran is playing a dangerous game that could ensnare the Middle East and others into a war. According to the US Defense Secretary, Iran is on the verge of creating a nuclear weapon. They are also using missile power to threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz through which one fifth of the world’s oil passes. This is on top of its defiance on nuclear technology. As one of the biggest state sponsors of radical Islam, it would not be surprising if this year, (which incidentally marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis), brings the US into another crisis that is just as hair raising.
The gathering datasmog. A tsunami of data is hitting the digital world. We will hear more about, not gigabytes and terabytes, but now petabytes, exabytes, zettabytes, and yottabytes. The Economist tells us that 90% of the world’s data has been generated in the last two years. As the amount of digital data explodes, the need for wisdom increases. Amidst all the data, we desperately need an eternal, unchanging, substantive, word from God. The need for Biblical teaching and Christ-centered preaching is greater than ever.
Educational innovation and change. As a follow up to the Lausanne Congress at Cape Town, Evangelical theological educators from around the world will be gathering in May near Boston to talk about the challenges and opportunities of evangelical theological education. In America, student loan debt has now surpassed credit card debt. This will spur more innovation in the world of higher education.
Scientific bafflement, but will there be humility? The CERN experiment has now been re-run with the same astonishing results. Neutrinos fired from a supercollider in Europe are said to have traveled faster than the speed of light. This was not supposed to happen. Tests have now been run and reconfirmed. If these results stand, it will cause a revolution in physics. The new findings suggest that…..hold on… Einstein was wrong, modern physics was wrong, modern astronomy and cosmology are wrong. Skeptics still challenge the results. But some are saying we now need a new physics. All this tells us that we need to be a bit less arrogant and definitive in concluding that our current understanding of things (be it the origin of man or the universe) is infallible.
Spiritualization of American culture but in non-Christian directions: This past year saw developments that confirm that American culture is becoming more spiritual, but it is more of a pagan spirituality. Disney announced plans for a new theme park along the lines of Avatar. The Air Force Academy added a new worship area for followers of earth centered religions, including paganism, druidism and Wicca.
Along with this, in 2011, the Pew Research Center Forum on Religion and Public Life shared a poll saying that the religious beliefs of Americans are becoming more syncretistic. Large numbers of Americans engage in multiple religious practices mixing elements of diverse traditions of more than one faith or denomination. While numerically we are an overwhelmingly Christian country, significant minorities now profess belief in a variety of Eastern or New Age ideas that often get mixed with Christian beliefs.
Graying of the “mainline” and broadening of evangelical churches. An exodus of parishioners and congregations to other denominations continues due to approving the ordination of practicing homosexuals, and waffling on the exclusivity of Christ. But now comes more bad news. A recent study from Hartford Seminary reports that “Half of old line Protestant congregations could lose a third of their members in 15 years.” You just can’t call this the “mainline” anymore.
Evangelicals, on the other hand, show more signs of vitality. In the US, evangelicalism is still the most dominant expression of Christianity, (not to mention the massive growth of evangelical churches worldwide). Yet, in spite of signs of vitality, the evangelical movement in the US is broadening as is evidenced by groups and celebrity pastors questioning what have heretofore been common hallmarks of evangelical belief. Some call us to relinquish a belief in inerrancy. They say that the Biblical writers were wrong about the world and its origins, that we’ve got it wrong on the doctrine of hell, the virgin birth, blood atonement, and the historicity of Adam.
Schools and businesses distancing themselves from Christianity and redefinitions of religious freedom. We are seeing a growing hostility to the Christian faith in North America. Following the Supreme Court’s lead in its 2010 decision (Christian Legal Society vs. Martinez), campuses are denying official recognition to Christian organizations because they are too exclusive in insisting on a sexually moral lifestyle. But it is not just universities. Major corporations are doing the same thing. Tom’s Shoes recently distanced itself from Focus on the Family because of pressure from homosexual advocacy groups. Starbuck’s CEO withdrew from speaking at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit because of the church’s commitment to heterosexual marriage. Apple removed iTunes apps from Christian groups because of their stand on homosexuality. Add to this the recent government efforts to limit “freedom of religion” in the US to freedom of worship. (which denies the freedom for religious expression outside of a worship context).
Some constants. What will 2012 (MMXII), the 2012th year Anno Domini, hold for us? Again, no one knows for sure. Like I said, this survey is extremely selective. Some of it may be wrong. No doubt there will be lots of surprises and lots of change.
But amidst all our prognosticating, let’s not forget some constants:
1 The gospel is still the most important news on the planet, and many people have yet to hear the good news of God’s grace in Christ.
2 Every church still has a vital role in proclaiming this gospel and living it out before a watching world. Every church must be a kingdom outpost.
3 Jesus Christ is still the way the truth and the life
4 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change…..” Psalm 46.1,2 (NASV)