Click here to advertise on CatholicCulture.org

A noted Catholic journalist extrapolates from current trends to Future Church

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | May 28, 2010

Predicting the future is a risky and futile enterprise. We don't know what surprises tomorrow will bring, and it's foolish to pretend that we do.

However, extrapolating current trends into the future, and trying to recognize their likely implications, is a valuable endeavor. That's how prudent investors make money on the stock market. And that's how John Allen has produced a very useful and challenging book: The Future Church: How Ten Trends Are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church.

Allen writes regularly for the National Catholic Reporter, and some conservative readers cannot see past that unfortunate connection to recognize that Allen is an good old-fashioned reporter: honest, perceptive, and extremely well connected. After years in Rome he knows the field, he knows the players, and he recognizes the important trends.

In Future Church, Allen identifies ten important trends which, he argues, will dramatically alter the "look and feel" of Catholicism in coming years. He then tries to predict the consequences of these trends, distinguishing between some consequences that seem inevitable and some that are merely possible.

In all likelihood, no thoughtful Catholic will read this book without finding occasion to differ with Allen on one point or another. The author does not claim to be infallible in his choice of the most important issues confronting the Church, nor in his prognostications about how they will shape further developments. But I, for one, was surprised to see how often I agreed with Allen: a remarkable convergence of opinions considering that… well, he writes for the National Catholic Reporter.

The Church today is growing much faster in Africa and South America than in Europe and North America. That trend is already well established. In the absence of some spectacular unforeseen development, the demographic weight of global Catholicism will shift to the global south, and it is reasonable to expect major changes in the composition of the hierarchy, the issues that dominate Church affairs, and the language used to address those issues. No, the Church will not change her fundamental doctrines. But evangelists will find different ways to explain those doctrines to a very different audience. It is fascinating-- and edifying-- to try to imagine how missionaries from Africa might go about the re-evangelization of a thoroughly secularized Europe. Future Church twists the reader's imagination in that direction.

The dawn of the 21st century has brought new political issues to the fore: the globalization of the economy, the biotech revolution, movements of mass migration, and the rise of militant Islam. These are all issues that the Church must address, and undoubtedly will address with greater urgency as the years pass. How can the wisdom of Catholic social teaching be brought to bear on these issues-- keeping in mind that fewer people are predisposed to listen to the advice of Christianity?

Among the 10 major trends that Allen discerns, I was happiest to note "Evangelical Catholicism"-- an approach to the faith that emphasizes the missionary nature of the Church and sets out to bring the Gospel message to the whole of society, rather than settling for the survival of existing parishes and church structures. It is not unreasonable to surmise that the Catholics who have the greatest impact on society in coming years will be those who try to have such an impact, rather than those huddled in a defensive posture.

Allen notices that the most vigorous, growing Catholic communities are the ones that unabashedly promote Church teachings on controversial moral issues. If his predictions are accurate, his colleagues at the Reporter will not be comfortable with doctrinal developments over the next generation. On the other hand, Allen's predictions about liturgical changes will worry traditionalists. Nearly any reader will be vexed by some of Allen's glimpses into future Church policy, buoyed by others, and in general stimulated by the effort to anticipate both the dangers and the opportunities we Catholics are likely to face. 

An appeal from our founder, Dr. Jeffrey Mirus:

Dear reader: If you found the information on this page helpful in your pursuit of a better Catholic life, please support our work with a donation. Your donation will help us reach seven million Truth-seeking readers worldwide this year. Thank you!

Progress toward our October expenses ($33,337 to go):
$35,000.00 $1,663.25
95% 5%
Sound Off! CatholicCulture.org supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

There are no comments yet for this item.

Subscribe for free
Shop Amazon
Click here to advertise on CatholicCulture.org

Recent Catholic Commentary

On Bishops and Jesuits, Saints and Angels 15 hours ago
Bishop Finn in Kansas City: Not quite up to date? 17 hours ago
Oh, that sort of misconduct [UPDATED] September 29
Don’t worry about terrorism; worry about workplace violence? September 29
Doing Great Things for Christ September 29

Top Catholic News

Most Important Stories of the Last 30 Days
Cardinals criticize Kasper proposal, escalating debate on remarriage/Communion CWN - September 18
Cardinal Parolin: UN must protect innocents from Islamic State CWN - September 30