Five Predictions for 2010

Five Predictions for 2010 January 5, 2010

I was on Doug‘s radio show on Sunday, and he asked me to make some predictions about religion in the news in 2010.  While I’m no Bono, I thought I’d give it a shot.  So, here they are:

5. A Handful of Evangelical Leaders Will Soften Their Stance on Gay Issues

You can see that I’ve got a couple caveats in that one — “handful” and “soften” and “issues.”  I don’t think that 2010 will see a great revolution in how evangelicals will view same sex marriage or gays in the church, but I do think that some leaders will speak out in support of civil unions or gay Sunday school teachers or something like that.  And I don’t think it’ll be Rick Warren or anything like that, but I do think it will be three or four leaders (authors, pastors, professors, etc.) will encourage evangelicals to take baby steps toward more inclusion of GLBT persons in church and society.

4. Rick Warren’s Cultural Influence Will Wane, and the Media Will Anoint a New Evangelical Spokesman

Rick Warren

That last two news items about Rick Warren in 2009 were not kind to him.  First, he dragged his feet for a couple weeks before speaking out against the proposed legislation in Uganda (where Warren is very popular) that would have made homosexuality a crime punishable by imprisonment and would have legalized the execution of those with HIV/AIDS.  Then, last week, he issued an “urgent plea” t0 his mega-church congregation on December 30 asking them to cover the church’s $900,000 shortfall.  Last weekend, Warren preached that the church’s $2.4 million response was a “miracle.”

Honestly, Warren pastors one of the nation’s largest congregations in one of the country’s wealthiest counties (Orange County, California).  In what sense is asking people for money and having them give it a “miracle”?  It’s for these reasons and others that I think the national media will start looking elsewhere for a fresh, young face to speak for evangelicals.  It won’t be Joel Osteen, because being “evangelical” is not a primary aspect of his public persona.  It won’t be Franklin Graham, because he’s not articulate enough.  It won’t be Rob Bell, because he eschews labels, and because the evangelical intelligentsia will not approve of him.  It won’t be Mark Driscoll for the same reason.  I think it will be a young (40-ish) pastor of a mega-church who lands himself a radio show and writes a best-seller.  Look for a guy like that on top-ten religion news lists at the end of 2010.

3. Universalism Will Become a Hot Topic among Evangelicals

Scot has already started the conversation at Jesus Creed, and I’m going to think and blog about it this year.  But this isn’t why I make this prediction.  Instead, I think that, in the same way we saw John Piper and NT Wright banter about the atonement and justification over the past couple years, we will see evangelicals (and others) wrestle with the question, Can I be a Christian and a universalist?

This question is a natural outgrowth of the increasing pluralism in our world, forcing committed Christians to ask how we can maintain our faith in a distinctive sense and yet honor the 4 billion people on the planet who think that other religious systems offer them truth and eternal life.  Personally, I welcome a more nuanced conversation about this, hints of which I already see in the comments on my post last week.

Pope Benedict XVI

2. The Pope Will Do and Say Nothing Controversial

Other than getting attacked by a woman on Christmas Eve, Pope Benedict XVI did virtually nothing noteworthy in the news in 2009.  The most I heard was when he moved the time of Christmas midnight mass from 11pm to 10pm (maybe he wanted to make room an adult learning hour).  I think that in past years, when he has spoken harshly about Islam, reaffirmed the exclusivity of Catholicism as the “one true church,” and preached against the scourge of secularism in Europe, he has discovered that he could not weather the media storm with the same aplomb of his predecessor.  So, I think he’s learned his lesson and will serve out his tenure in relative quiet, being the transitional pope that many experts predicted he’d be.

1. Political Correctness Regarding Islam in the West Will Decrease

“Not all Muslims are terrorists, but virtually all terrorists are Muslims.”  When I heard this, on NPR of all places, in the wake of the Christmas Underpants Bomber, I knew that something had changed.  President Bush and President Obama have both repeatedly referred to Islam as a “religion of peace,” even if most of Red State America didn’t believe them.  With the recent uptick in attacks and attempts against the U.S., I fear that even the more progressive elements of our society will not maintain the politically correct verbiage when referring to Islam.

So, those are my predictions.  What are yours?

Videos of my conversation with Doug on the radio show below:

Predictions 5 and 4 (12 minutes)

Predictions 3, 2, and 1 (9 minutes)

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  • tom c.

    Interesting predictions. I hope that you are right about 4 and 5, and I’m intrigued at the thought of 3. As a mainliner, I’m a little surprised to hear that universalism hasn’t been a hot topic till now among evangelicals (guess I haven’t been one…oh well…). I have a little bone to pick with you, Tony, on phrasing. Non-Christian religious systems may or may not offer adherents “truth” or “eternal life”; regardless, I have my doubts that Buddhists or Jews or Confucians would conceive of their religions as providing specifically those ends. (Do Christians experience satori through prayer? Do they strive above all to contribute to a harmonious society through virtuous living?) Many Christians might initially think of all religions as offering different answers to the same fundamental problems. Instead, we are better off thinking of different religions as offering different answers to different problems.

    As for 2, I am inclined to say that I think this pope will make fewer gaffes (perhaps for the reasons you mention), but I anticipate that he will continue to shore up the more traditionalist conception of Catholicism that he favors. I think this will be his legacy.

    Unfortunately, as for 1, I am inclined to agree. And it’s not just Red State America (which I can’t really speak about). I teach a world religions course in a very Blue State and I encounter a lot of prejudice about Islam (to the effect that it is a religion with inherently violent teachings). Remember that today’s entering college students have lived half their lives in a post -9/11 world. While by the end of the semester, I believe (hope) students have a more nuanced view of the diversity of both historical and contemporary Islam, I worry about students who never wander into a world religions course! These are just impressions; I’d be interested in seeing some polls on the matter, but I’m worried.

    Still, one hopes 2010 will be a better year than 2009!

    • tom c.,

      Regarding the sentence about universalism and other religions, I struggled with the phrasing. Ultimately, I tried to write it through the eyes of an evangelical struggling with the idea of “Christian universalism.”

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  • tom c.

    Okay, I understand now where you are going with “Christian universalism”; from a certain standpoint, I can see how that would be the concern. Sorry if I jumped into lecture-mode a bit preemptively! Occupational hazard…

  • Annie

    You are hugely wrong about the pope. This year, he established a new structure to receive Anglicans, which was huge. He produced an Apostolic Constitution to accomplish it, which is not something that happens very often.

    In addition to that, the Vatican has produced a new translation and revision of the Mass, which will be released this year and go into effect this year or next. This is the first major revision of the Mass since Vatican II. Just as Vatican II reforms trickled into mainline protestant worship, I expect to see this reform do the same.

    The pope has also been involved in serious ecumenical dialogue with the Eastern Christian churches. No one knows if anything will come of that but there were some important talks toward the end of 2009, which could produce results in 2010.

    Perhaps none of this matters to you or to evangelicals but that’s a provincial view. These things are of major importance to most of the world’s Christians. I think they’ll prove to be far more significant in the long term than conversations about universalism among evangelicals could ever hope to be.

    • Annie, Point taken. I’m mainly predicting what will make headlines in the American mainstream news. You’re right that his opening the doors to Anglicans did make some news, but revisions to the liturgy and ecumenical dialogues did not and will not.

      Alex, Rob has left Nooma, and I’ve written here before that I sense mainstream evangelicalism starting to shift against him because he’s slippery on certain doctrinal points.

  • Any predictions about the emerging missional church movement, Tony? 😉

  • Hey Tony,

    I can’t wait for numbers 3 and 4 to play out. But I
    do wonder: you really don’t think Rob Bell could
    be crowned the New Evangelical? I think it could
    happen. Nooma, tours, large church, connected
    to mutiple cultures, missional…what do you think?

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  • Brian

    I bet it will be Francis Chan for number 4.

  • Kenton

    Re: #4. So, I happened to be at Saddleback on Sunday. I don’t remember him using the word “miracle,” but even if he did, it certainly wasn’t the tone of what he had to say. He DID start out by saying that it’s better to get your information from the source than getting it second-hand (referring to the original plea). Given what I heard on Sunday and that article in USA Today, he would probably gladly hand over the reigns to someone else and let them get the grief.

  • Hey, Tony: As you know I see signs of something like your prediction #3, but I wonder about the time-frame. Will 2010 really be the year this becomes a really big story? I’ve been seeing signs of growth here (some of that growth being in various ways underground), for several years now, and some times in the past few years the signs of coming growth have been even a bit stronger than they are right now. Because of the likelihood of a good deal of pent-up, underground pro-universalist sentiment within evangelicalism, this is the kind of thing that can suddenly explode, and, who knows, 2010 *might* be the year of that. But I myself am just looking for more discussion and much seed-planting of the idea for at least a few more years. Well, I know you’re not predicting an explosion for 2010, but more discussion, so we might not be that far apart here. But you do seem to be thinking that this will be the year that this discussion really picks up steam. And I wonder about that. In recent years, we’ve had such developments as the (pseudonymous) publication of *The Evangelical Universalist* by Gregory MacDonald (who has since revealed his identity as Robin Parry), and about that time, there was a lot of discussion of universalism on-line. Links to many of the discussions were helpfully collected by David W. Congdon here. (Unfortunately, the links to the posts at Generous Orthodoxy Think Tank are now dead, since that blog is completely taken down. But the universalist posts there that Cogdon lists were mine, and I copied my posts, with the discussions, to my own web site, so you can find links to them here.) As you can see, there was a whole lot of on-line discussion just a few years ago. That’s just one measure, but generally the temperature on this issue seemed a bit warmer then than now. All I’d want to predict is that 2010 will see the discussion continue, even if not to the same extent that things were cooking a few years ago (thanks largely to Robin).

    If and when this thing ever does really take off among current evangelicals, the question I’m most interested in is whether this will take place within evangelicalism, or among former evangelicals (and others). Perhaps it will be yet another issue that draws people away from evangelicalism. I’m guessing it will be among *post*-evangelicals, but who knows?

  • Re: Possible Replacement Evangelical Spokesperson Francis Chan – He fits all the categories you listed

    Brian you beat me to it but maybe it will garner a response!

  • mountainguy

    With regards to #4, I’d like Greg Boyd. He really has a Kingdom view, not a partisanical pseudoideology that undermines the very idea of Kingdom. Instead of Boyd, it could be Hauerwas, but (obviously) evangelical intelligentsia can’t live without bowing their knees to their own thirst of power (If they could, next evangelical king would be Rush Limbaugh, or even “better”, Anne Coulter, so they could say they are not sexist).

    saludos desde Colombia

  • Tony-
    Keep thinking about it deeply, check it with doug, throw it out there.

  • Hey Tony,

    Those are reasonable and likely predictions. Let me make one more: this is the year of the radicals.

    I’m reasonably new to the Emergent world and it’s taken me a while to get a sense of the culture. What I am seeing is a movement that it is chafing at the bit. So many are tired of having to soft pedal major theological issues like the Virgin birth, the inerrancy of scripture, homosexuality and gay marriage, evolution and other areas that pit reason and the scientific method against a worldview trapped in the 3rd century CE.

    So I believe that we are going to see many radicals in the emergent movement start stepping up and start pointing to the elephants in the room. They will observe the fundamentalists unabashedly defending original sin, predestination and the traditional doctrine of hell and think “If they get to preach their perspective then so do I.”

    Yes, there are a lot of people like you, Doug Pagitt and Brian McLaren who have been doing this for a while. But I think a lot more are going to take the leap and the more that do the easier it will be for others.

    Bad doctrine that hurts people and disparages the way of Jesus needs to be challenged.

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  • Good predictions. I think you’re right.

    But wait – Rob Bell left Nooma? When? I thought he was Nooma. I can’t find anything online about this, Tony – are you giving us a scoop? 🙂 (Sources, please)

    The Bell factor you cite is a paradox that I think will be playing out over the next several years. On the one hand, our idea-leaders – be they pastors, teachers, authors, editors, activists, etc. – tend to be more…shall we say progressive or curious or open-minded than the stereotypical person in the pews, who – stereotype has it – won’t stand for that kind of ‘watering down’ of this, that or the other. So these idea leaders keep their views on clericalism, gayness, universal reconciliation, eschatology, etc., etc., under wraps. I work in publishing and I can tell you for a fact that this is true – these people are way cooler behind the scenes than their public personas often allow.

    But then there’s the sneaking question of what if we’re all pretending to each other? What if everyone’s pretending to be more reactionary and party-line-towing simply because that’s what’s expected of us…by all the other people who are pretending? That if we all took a deep breath and ‘came out of the closet’ about whatever little heterodoxies we secretly cherish, we’d find that we have a lot more company and the repercussions wouldn’t be as harsh as we previously imagined?

    But then I wonder. I want to be a populist. But part of me fears that while the idea leaders themselves, after making this Simultaneous Big Leap, might find newfound camaraderie amongst themselves, The People would skin them alive. The same People who are manipulated by Fox News into Tea Parties and Town Halls, the same people that indeed seem to be turning against the Rob Bells of the world as surely as they did the McLarens a few years back. Ah, Radio Orthodoxy.

  • i predicate that Tony Jones gets dominated in a serious game of corn-hole at the theology after google conference. Following the embarrassment he will make his own board and grow out his beard as he attempts to develop the the skills necessary to really rock the hole of corn.

  • Mountainguy, Boyde stirs the waters too much in circles dealing with Open Theism for Evangelicalism to accept him as their spokesperson. I like the guy, but the DTS isn’t always his best friend.

  • Pardon me, ETS (Evangelical Theological Society).

  • The original made sense, too: I imagine that Dallas Theological Seminary as well isn’t always Greg’s best friend.

  • Heather G

    LOL Joey,
    Ironically, DTS (as in, YWAM’s Discipleship Training School) seems to have been one of Boyd’s BEST friends, landing YWAM in a bit of controversy themselves over open theism 🙂

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  • i support your top 5 here. will be interesting to see how many come to pass. here are my top 10

    1. CNN will cover less news and more human interest items
    2. Catholic interests will gain more ownership and influence in the private sector.
    3. Obama will become more closed off from the public and seem more agitated
    4. Having been trained with militia groups will be related with having been trained in Al-Qaueda camps
    5. Reality Shows will be more prominent and coarse language will become more acceptable
    6. There will be a push for less separation of powers in the US.
    7. Education systems will be hit even harder and test scores will be lower.
    8. More American Citizens will be educated on the Constitution.
    9. we will see a record number of Independent candidates initiate a run for office including Bill Oreilly, Lou Dobbs and Oprah Winfrey.
    10. We will see a rise in Moral and Ethical Conservatism just as we see a rise in people who are drastically opposed to Moral and Ethical Conservatism.

  • Tony,

    I think your 5 predictions are probably spot on! I responded to them here –


  • great predictions but what is number 3 and 4?

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