Saturday, August 18, 2012

Review: The Future Church

About the Book:
What will the Catholic Church be like in 100 years? Will there be a woman pope? Will dioceses throughout the United States and the rest of the world go bankrupt from years of scandal? In THE FUTURE CHURCH, John L. Allen puts forth the ten trends he believes will transform the Church into the twenty-second century. From the influence of Catholics in Africa, Asia, and Latin America on doctrine and practices to the impact of multinational organizations on local and ethical standards, Allen delves into the impact of globalization on the Roman Catholic Church and argues that it must rethink fundamental issues, policies, and ways of doing business. Allen shows that over the next century, the Church will have to respond to changes within the institution itself and in the world as a whole whether it is contending with biotechnical advances—including cloning and genetic enhancement—the aging Catholic population, or expanding the roles of the laity.

My Comments:
This book is over 450 pages of densely written small type.  While it makes generous use of  section headers and numbering schemes, the fact remains that reading this book takes work.  

The ten trends which Allen explores are the titles of the chapters:  A World Church, Evangelical Catholicism, Islam, The New Demography, Expanding Lay Roles, The Biotech Revolution, Globalization, Ecology, Multipolarism and Pentecostalism.  Allen claims the trends about which he chose to write were 1) global, 2) of significant impact at the level of the Catholic grassroots 3) potentially able to influence Catholicism in terms of its institutional resources and structures, 4)   able to provide a context by which to understand a variety of issues in the Church, 5) predictive in nature, and 6) not ideologically driven.  He gives this list to explain why many of what we consider "hot button" issues were not included. In short, Allen was looking at the future of the Church in the 21st Century, and he sees little evidence that the Church will ordain women, abandon the hierarchy or significantly change its teachings on sexual ethics in that time frame--so, while Catholics may continue to discuss those topics, they aren't "trends" because they don't meet his criteria.  

After describing each of his ten trends, Allen talks about what each trend means and the probable,  possible, and long-shot consequences of that trend.  For example, regarding the trend of expanding lay roles, Allen opines that the near certain consequences are: 1)conflicts over the control of ministries not directly controlled by bishops (like the conflicts over EWTN), 2) a fear of feminization, 3) protecting the priesthood, and 4) a more sacramental model of the priesthood.  Probable consequences are battles over bureaucracy and a democratization of Catholic conversation.  Possible consequences are an evangelical edge (basically described as a situation in which Catholic lay ministry is not just seen as a second-best alternative to ministry by a priest), parish strikes (or more precisely strikes by parish employees),and "a less purple ecclesiology "(meaning less clergy-centered).  Long shot consequences include lay cardinals, a female head of a decision-making office at the Vatican and a holier world.  

In short, this long book is an interesting look at where the Church may be headed in the future. Grade:  B.

I'd like to thank the publisher for making a review copy available via the Blogging for Books program.  


  1. That sounds interesting, but probably more on the "sum it up for me" level. :) I'm particularly interested in the part about the world cultures. I've been thinking about race & culture issues lately, and if the white, western-European population are indeed poised to be minorities in the not-too-distant future, it seems inevitable that the issue of blending cultures is going to have to be dealt with.

  2. Thanks for the review: I've ordered the book and another related one.


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