“The world is undergoing a massive transition, particularly in terms of power, demographics, climate, urbanisation, and technology. In this context, the opportunities are huge; but so are the uncertainties and challenges to the well-being of citizens”, concludes the ‘Global Trends 2030 – Citizens in an Interconnected and Polycentric World’ report1 of the European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS).
The ‘Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds’ of the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) comes to a similar conclusion that we are living through a transformative period that is “equal to if not greater than the aftermath of the political and economic revolutions of the late 18th century”.2 This transition point is similar to 1815, 1919, 1945, and 1989.
But what do these reports say to the global Christian community, and especially evangelicals? Are there issues for which we need to get better prepared? Are there areas where we can actually influence trends and therefore the future of the world.
The report distinguishes between megatrends and tectonic shifts; identifies game changers and unexpected events; and concludes with different scenarios how the world might look like in 2030:
1. Broad virtually certain trends that will gain momentum:
- Personal decision-making will accelerate due to poverty reduction, increased education levels, and health care advances.
- Power will shift to networks and coalitions in a multipolar world.
- Ageing or youthful societies in certain states, migration and growing urbanization will shape economic and political conditions.
- Demand for food, water, and energy will grow substantially due to an increase in the global population.
2. Critical changes between 2013 and 2030 in the global environment:
- Growth of the global middle class.
- Wider access to lethal and disruptive technologies for use in war.
- Shift of economic power to the East and South.
- Widespread ageing.
- Increased urbanisation.
- Food and water pressures.
- United States energy independence.
3. Possible events that will largely determine the world in 2030:
- The global economy can either collapse or grow.
- Governments might either adapt to socio-economic changes or be overwhelmed by them.
- Intrastate and interstate conflict could increase due to rapid changes and shifts in power.
- Regional instability is possible, especially in the Middle East and South Asia.
- New technologies could be developed in time to boost economic growth and solve social and environmental challenges.
- In a changing global context the United States will need to work with new partners.
4. Potential unexpected events that would cause disruption:
- Severe health pandemic.
- Much more rapid climate change than presently expected.
- Euro/European Union collapse.
- A democratic or collapsed China.
- A reformed Iran.
- Nuclear war, cyber attack, or weapons of mass destruction attack.
- Solar geomagnetic storms.
- United States disengagement.
5. Potential worlds – scenarios for the world towards 2030:
- Stalled engines – interstate conflict increases, countries draw inwards and globalisation stalls.
- Fusion – increased global collaboration results in growing socio-economic prosperity for all.
- Genie-out-of the-bottle – socio-economic inequalities explode resulting in increased social tension across the globe.
- Non-state world – nongovernmental organizations, multinational businesses, academic institutions, wealthy individuals, and sub-national units (such as megacities) take the lead in confronting global challenges because national governments are not able to do so. This results in a ‘patchwork’ and uneven world.
The report identifies three major global trends that will shape the world in 2030 as well as changes whose impact will depend on how societies and governments respond to challenges.
- Empowered individuals may contribute to a growing sense of belonging to a single human community but at the same time this could result in ideological extremism and nationalism. Key drivers will be the global rise of the middle class, increased educational levels, and information diffusion through the Internet.
- Sustainable development will be stressed against a backdrop of increased socio-economic inequality, persistent poverty and greater resource scarcity compounded by the consequences of climate change.
- The emergence of a more polycentric world, with a broad range of important countries holding diverse worldviews, is characterised by a shift of power to Asia. Networks, private actors, and cities will play greater roles, although that might result either in governmental fragmentation or increased global cohesion. Global governance hubs might emerge to deal with more global initiatives.
Greater uncertainties but broad opportunities:
- An expectations gap is emerging because governments cannot meet the aspirations of citizens for a better life. This gap may become a source for conflict.
- Human development indicators will improve but climate change can result in food, water, and energy scarcity.
- Deeper international cooperation could build a fairer, more secure and more prosperous world but a more polarised and fragmented global system could also emerge.
- It is crucial for governments and civil societies to invest in the study and monitoring of major trends to develop policies that are necessary to face global uncertainties.
Reflection and Implications
The reports are written from American and European perspectives in which social democracy is the ideal and economic development highest priority. There is little critique of socially destructive ‘values’ such as use of power to achieve objectives, greed, gun culture, racism, substance abuse, tax evasion, and even corruption – nor do Biblical values such as stewardship, generosity, forgiveness, reconciliation, honesty, hard work, peace, and love feature.
Many of the trends identified are reflected in the global Christian community, as indicated in the Atlas of Global Christianity.4 Christianity’s centre of gravity is shifting to the South and East while many Christians are already engaged in issues such as migration, urbanisation, poverty, and ecology. Christian networks, alliances, partnerships, and movements are also playing an increasingly important role.
The global church should take note of the economic power shift from Europe and North America to Asia, Africa, and Latin America. That will have a huge influence on ministry financial resourcing in future and also the relationships between Christian communities. New initiatives that encourage Christians in the Global South to give to Kingdom causes should be supported.5
The global ageing population emerges as a key issue that can even have an impact on the propensity for conflict. It has to receive greater priority in ministry. Indeed, ministry in the context of an ageing population is the one identified trend that The Cape Town Commitment does not address properly. Has the global church become too ’youth’ focused in its ministry?
Modern communication and other technologies should be much better utilised in ministry in the future. There is serious resistance in some parts of the Christian community to make use of the opportunities these technologies present.
We are living in an inter-dependent world. How global leaders will facilitate and manage this inter-dependency will determine the kind of world that will emerge in future. As the body of Christ, Christians should model authentic inter-dependency and collaboration.
Inequality is seen as a serious threat to global stability. The Future World Giving report believes that encouraging philanthropy represents an opportunity to address growing inequality6 with religion having a specific role in encouraging giving and addressing inequality. That presents a huge witness opportunity as The Cape Town Commitment calls for a new global partnership within the body of Christ rooted in ‘dramatic economic sharing without paternalism or unhealthy dependency’.7 Christians should live out this statement through a commitment to a lifestyle of generosity.8
We can expect increased Christian marginalisation in the future. The reports lump religions together under ideologies that are often described in very negative terms. The growing pressure on Christian values such as respect for Scripture, sanctity of life, marriage, and public witness might become much more severe in the years to come. Christians should be prepared for possible persecution, discrimination, and marginalisation.
Wise Christian engagement in the public square will be even more essential in future. However, this engagement should be from the perspective of service and transforming wider society and not to enforce Christian values.
The reports do not see religious tension caused by Islamic, Hindu, or atheist extremism, or the spread of Islamism, as a serious global threat (although it can impact certain regions). Indeed they argue that in general religious tension and the threat of Islamist terrorism will decline because of increased social democracy. This benign scenario seems to overlook a number of key factors, not least the widespread impact of Islamic extremism on Christians around the world today.
Christians should seek to shape the world in 2030. They also need to be prepared for the potential game changers, unexpected events, and potential worlds, as well as unexpected events not mentioned. These could include devastating earthquakes, Islamisation of countries, war in Israel, or heresy in the global church. God can also bring widespread revival that will impact global society greatly.
The trends, critical changes, game changers, potential unexpected events, and potential worlds examined by the reports highlight how good The Cape Town Commitment is in providing a roadmap for Christian engagement in the 21st century. The Commitment deals with nearly all the issues mentioned in the reports. Perhaps therefore the question is what can be done to get The Cape Town Commitment accepted as roadmap not only by those involved in The Lausanne Movement but also by the wider body of Christ. Updating the Lausanne Occasional Papers to reflect the changes that the world is going through might be useful.
However, it is sobering to reflect how a Global Trends 30AD report written in 12AD would have read. Such a report might have mentioned the strengthening of the Roman power. It might have correctly identified national tension in Judea. But would it have mentioned a 12-year-old boy in a small Galilean town as having a potential great impact on the world by 30AD in Judea and after that turning the known world upside down through His message?
This is the limitation of such reports. They can identify certain trends but ultimately the future is in God’s hands (Acts 1:7). Christians can and should be prepared for the future. We might need to adapt our ministry and witness focus to these changes. We should live with our eyes open and test any trend against the Biblical message. But in the end the world and its future is in God’s hands!
1 De Vasconcelos Alvaro (ed): ‘Global Trends 2030 – Citizens in an Interconnected and Polycentric World’www.iss.europa.eu/publications/detail/article/espas-report-global-trends-2030-citizens-in-an-interconnected-and-polycentric-world/ p.155; accessed 4 March 2013.
2 National Intelligence Council’s: ‘Global Trends: Alternative Worlds’www.dni.gov/files/documents/GlobalTrends_2030.pdf p.1; accessed 4 March 2013.
3 Because of the density of the reports, I mention only the main themes.
4 Johnson, Todd and Ross, Kenneth: ‘Atlas of Global Christianity’ (Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press, 2009).
5 See my article entitled ‘Christian Generosity Trends and the Future of Christian Giving’ in the March 2013 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis.
6 Charities Aid Foundation: ‘Future World Giving: Unlocking the potential of global philanthropy’ <www.cafonline.org/pdf/Future_World_Giving_Report_250212.pdf > accessed 5 March 2013.
7 The Third Lausanne Congress: ‘The Cape Town Commitment: A Confession of Faith and a Call to Action’ (Oxford, UK: Didasko Publishing, 2011), p.26.
8 See the Generosity Declaration of the Global Generosity Network.