Back to the Future

Back to the Future

[Originally published Feb. 2022]

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.”
Isaiah 43:2-3a, ESV


"The life of a Christian is wondrously ruled in this world, by the consideration and meditation of the life of another world." [1] Christians know quite well that the non-believing world will not see the things that are evident through the eyes of faith (Hebrews 11:3), but this is no guarantee that we, ourselves, will clearly “see” the coming future in temporal events! Some readers will notice the subtle shift in focus that I have placed on the word “see,” which is good. I have done so intentionally to illustrate the “betwixt and between” tension that Christ-followers face in uncertain times.

The eyes of faith enable Christians to see the world as having been fashioned by a Creator who not only brought the planet into existence but continues to rule over it and whose Son, the Savior will return triumphantly at the consummation of the age. However, seeing current trends and preparing for their arrival perplexes believers and nonbelievers alike! For example, despite warnings by disease experts for years, few people foresaw the impact of the current pandemic when the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Wuhan Province on 17 November 2019. By mid-March of 2020, the pathogen had spread to more than 100 countries and the World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic emergency. [2] Awareness does not always lead to readiness or effectiveness in responding to change!

Nevertheless, leaders in medicine, politics, education, and business, and the church are beginning to anticipate what shape the coming post-COVID future may look like, even while viral aftershocks from SARS-2 variants are still likely to emanate for months to come. Most people believe that a major crisis disrupts ongoing trends, as if there is a clear “before” and “after.” Contrary to popular wisdom, the coronavirus did not derail global trends; rather, it likely accelerated them. [3]
Recognizing the Trends
How may I state it? If the pandemic was an earthquake, then we must prepare for an impending tsunami of social, economic, and technological change. These tides were already in place, but the pandemic has accelerated their arrival. If certain current trends materialize, then the year 2030 will arrive with several major paradigm shifts. Here are some of the developing currents.
Sweeping social change. Fewer babies will be born globally which means that there will be more grandparents than grandchildren in most countries. It also is estimated that within a decade the largest generation will be the population above age sixty. It is this age bracket that currently owns eighty percent of the wealth in America. The shift in focus to this consumer block has been termed the “gray market.”
Coming economic shift. Middle-class economic markets in Asia will be larger than those in the US and Europe combined. We also must consider a coming shift away from male economic dominance as women are projected to own more wealth than men. The way currencies have been created and governed will change and the addition of cryptocurrencies will continue to expand. There will be more currencies than countries!

Technological expansion. The growth in technologies will continue to bring sweeping changes. We will live technologically amid more industrial robots than manufacturing workers. There will be more sensors than human eyes. Oftentimes, scarce medical equipment (e.g., ventilators) is already being produced by 3D printers and will continue to expand.

Global urbanization. Sixty percent of the world's population will live in cities. The population of global cities is currently growing by 1.5 million people per week. South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will vie for the title of the world’s most populous region. [4]

So, what do these trends portend? One futurist states, “Simply put, the world as we know it today will be gone by 2030.” [5] This claim seems doomsday-like, but it does have a silver lining.
Coming to Grips with a Radically Different Future
A cross analysis of prognostications across a spectrum from economists to futurists to pastoral care specialists yields an interesting similarity of what the coming years will hold and how best to meet the challenges that lie ahead. [6] On the one hand all seek some type of enduring future where people will flourish, and on the other hand they believe that an excellent guide for interpreting the future is to understand our own history.
What are Christians to Do?
If the world will be radically changed by the year 2030, then our Christian past will help us to be poised to face the global ministry challenges in the coming decade. I believe that there are several certainties. The needs go well beyond our efforts to produce quality live-streaming worship services and to practice the art of ministerial presence when we are unable to gather as communities. The changing planet has called us for decades to become less about missional paternalism and more about partnering with the new global leaders. This change is needed but there is so much more. Our rich Christian heritage provides us with an example of how to emerge from great challenge to address great change.
Back to the Future
There are those who have considered the radical social, economic, political, and spiritual changes that Christians endured in the first three centuries. They recognize that Christianity emerged and exploded in growth despite social ostracization from non-Christian family members, business associates in their trade guilds, and the Roman empire that, at times, viewed Christians as scapegoats.

They understand that Christians withstood severe opposition from many Jews and various adherents of Greek and Roman religions. These early witnesses to Christ also suffered the loss of income that led to the loss of possessions and poverty. Persecution locally and, at times, empire wide, uprooted then dispersed them to new locales. For all of the challenges that they faced, Christians flourished and held fast to a future hope. Their exemplary lives caused many non-believers to notice and become followers of Christ. [7]
Hallmarks of Christian Resilience
Several factors enabled Christians to expand rapidly in times of great global upheaval. First, believers in Christ were dedicated to social need. On the one hand they practiced a conservative sanctity of life ethic by refusing to practice abortion or infant exposure (unwanted babies were thrown out), and they practiced sexual purity and marital monogamy. On the other hand, they were extraordinarily liberal with their money to care for the poor and needy. Indeed, there were other groups that cared for those who had needs, so something more set Christians apart. The rising tide of the globally poor, along with a rapidly aging world, will offer Christians ample opportunity touch the lives of people in need (James 1:27).
Secondly, Christianity expanded rapidly because its identity in Christ was more fundamental than racial identities. They became a multi-ethnic community—which was unprecedented. Many of the world’s religions then, and now, are cloistered around racial and ethnic ties. Christianity, however, spread rapidly because it reached across all human divides. It was not built upon race or ethnicity or gender but upon the human heart (John 3:16).

If I may, Christians are poised best to dive into the vast growing sea of humanity. We may swim securely in the riptides of ageism, racism, and sexism in order to touch human hearts with God's love (Galatians 3:28).
Thirdly, in a time when the pagan gods were perceived to be either totally detached from and disinterested in humanity or vengeful, Christianity offered what no other religion offered, a relationship with a loving God. God reached down into the human brokenness and showed his care for all people (John 1:14; 3:16). He still does the same! (Acts 17:24-31; John 3:16-17).
Fourthly, Christianity provided witness to a future hope—eternal life. The Christian faith transcended the cares of this world and offered what no pagan religion could promise, life beyond the grave (2 Corinthians 5:1). The Christian hope inspired people to live for a better age to come. The same holds true today!


Christianity is always relevant and trending. Even though there were many philosophies and religions in the early centuries of the Church, Christianity stood above them all simply because it worked, and it still works. While radiant Christianity is offensive to many, it is extremely appealing to countless others because it is different than the surrounding culture and offers a way forward.

Christians are world shapers. Many throughout the centuries have wrongly believed that Christianity was on the wrong side of history, but it actually was changing and shaping the history we know. The same holds true for today in our rapidly changing world. Believers in Christ are poised in this and every age to bear the light of truth, spread peace, and offer hope (Matthew 5:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; ).

Larry C. Ashlock
  1. Richard Sibbes as quoted in Christianity Today, Faith and Work Study Series.
  2. Guillen, Mauro F. 2030: How Today's Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future of Everything, p. 239.
  3. Ibid., 240.
  4. Ibid., 4.
  5. Ibid., 4-5.
  6. Bechtel and Hicken, "Futurism is a Means to See Beyond COVID-19," 7 April 2021. Guillen, How Today's Biggest Trends, and Johnston, et al, "Pastoral Ministry in Unsettled Times: A Qualitative Study of the Experiences of Clergy During the COVID-19 Pandemic," 11 May, 2021.
  7. Larry Hurtado, Why On Earth Did Anyone Become a Christian In The First Three Centuries? Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2016.