John Allen is always excellent and in his book he outdoes himself. Balanced, nuanced, the consummate journalist, he never reduces positions to caricatures but comes across as genuinely interested in honesty and truth. In this book the gifted writer considers important trends in the Catholic Church today and considers what they may mean for the Church's life in the decades to come. This could easily be a fluffy exercise in wishful thinking or armchair theorizing but Allen has done his work meticulously: this book could be read as an introduction to the Catholic faith, to global politics (especially issues of identity and social justice), to the state of thorny bioethical questions and to important contemporary Catholics, plus much more. I have been studying theology for years and keeping abreast of Catholic matters but I learned something on every page - events, people, books, movements. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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57 of 61 people found the following review helpful
The Once and Future ChurchJuly 12 2010
- Published on Amazon.com
It seems a sad commentary on the reading habits of contemporary Catholics that this important and informed book on the future of the Church has only seven reviews. John Allen is one of the most readable, well-informed, and well-placed (the National Catholic Reporter's man in Rome) observers of Catholicism today. Although he may be fairly placed in the more liberal camp, this book is surely no liberal rant (pace reviewer `bundasthedog', who does not appear to have gotten much beyond the first page or so...it's usually considered crucial to have read a book one reviews.) Indeed one of the many suggestive conclusions Allen reaches is that the terms `liberal' and `conservative' will have much different and more complex nuances in the coming `global Church' of the 21st century.
In fact, many of Allen's predictions should give a good deal of comfort to classic Catholic conservatives: there will be, he predicts, no women priests; dogma will become both more conservative and more central to Catholic life; the papacy will retain much of its current perquisites and importance, though it will likely become less "Roman".
There are also trends that will give heart to classic Catholic liberals: the role of women and the laity will continue to increase; concern for social and economic justice will move to the forefront of Catholic ethics; the Western domination of Catholic culture will diminish greatly. That is nothing more than to say that the Catholic Church will change much as the world that it finds itself in changes. Allen balances this view, however, with a conviction that Catholic `identity' will sharpen itself ever more clearly against `the world'.
The reader who stays the course will not only benefit from such predictions but will be able to meditate on the deeply researched data that support them: such as: that Pentecostalism, in and outside the Catholic Church, is the fastest growing religious phenomenon of our time; that for the fastest growing Catholic populations--those of sub-Saharan Africa-- Christianity is a brand new religion, lacking the centuries of cultural tradition that often weigh it down in Europe and other traditional Catholic cultures; the astonishing volte-face of the Catholic Church over the issue of capital punishment over the last century. Allen describes this last development by introducing the reader to the 19th-century papal guillotine immaculately preserved in the Roman Museum of Criminology and by describing the almost liturgical ceremony attending the execution of papally-condemned criminals. The story is typical of the elegant interplay of statistics, prediction, and historical vignette that enliven this readable `story of the future'.
Predicting the future is, however, a perilous undertaking. The reader may recall one of the most famous examples of this from Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Still regarded as one of the finest historians of the European Middle Ages, Gibbon proved a poor predictor of the future. Writing in 1776, he argued that the Enlightenment thinkers and leaders of his day had finally overcome the terrible tribalism and irrational militarism that had darkened Europe's earlier history. The Enlightenment understanding of the past and the triumph of reason, he predicted, would produce a future free of major wars, and an end to economic disasters, and of political tyranny.
Let me then issue a small caveat in the context of Allen's predictions for the course of The Future Church. Much of his optimism regarding the Church of the next century rests upon the vibrant Catholicism of the "southern" churches of Africa and Latin America. Allen's description of the population trends and projections of economic growth, the rise of education, and the spread of democracy in these cultural areas will make them Catholic powerhouses of extraordinary economic strength and political clout. However, if history is any guide, the rise of education, economic prosperity, and popular sovereignty have proven extremely corrosive to religious belief and commitment. The entire history of Europe suggests this conclusion; as one recent example, one might look at John Paul II's beloved Poland, whose religious and political freedom was perhaps his most sought after goal. When, to the world's surprise, this was achieved more easily and quickly than anyone could have imagined, the result was not a free and devoutly Catholic (and grateful) Poland, but an incresingly secular and materialistic society that reportedly broke the aging pontiff's heart. I see no reason to believe that the emerging economies and increasing freedoms of Africa, Latin America and South and Southeast Asia would not take the same trajectory towards secularism and religious indifference. This development would take the history of Allen's `southern Church' (and so the Catholic Church as a whole) in directions quite different than those he imagines in his book. It is surprising that so astute a reporter ignored this fundamental trend in history and in contemporary emerging cultures.
Nonetheless, The Future Church is a book not to be missed by anyone who will be journeying with the Catholic Church in the 21st century, or even by those who watch the stately if often mysterious march of this ancient institution from the relatively bright corridors of History into the dimly lit path of the Future.
67 of 77 people found the following review helpful
Excellent, Balanced, Global AssessmentDec 28 2009
- Published on Amazon.com
This book so thoroughly covers the main issues facing the Catolic church, I will be forever changed in the way I view our world and my faith. Like many Americans, I thought the issues that are "hot" here are hot everywhere in the Church. This is not the case. There are very real, very different concerns depending on where you live. For example, did you know there are 1 priest to every 1,300 Catholics in the US, but it's more like 1 to 8,000 in South America? Wow. If you already knew that you may pat yourself on the back; but I would still bet there is some issue in this book you don't know as much about as you thought.
Things addressed in the book include: globalization, pentecostalism, lay roles, and ecology to name a few I particularly enjoyed learning about. If your "issue" is not listed he even explains why in the last chapter. However, if you read the book chances are good you will find it woven through several chapters. The style of writing is easy to follow, thought provoking, and filled with statistics and sources.
As a Catholic born post-Vatican II, I learned a lot from this book. The author doesn't come across as ultra-conservative which would have turned me off. Neither does he seem ultra-liberal which would have left me wondering how much he really has his finger on the pulse of the church. It seems like he's in the middle like me.
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Furute Church: the Catholic world according to John AllenFeb. 3 2010
William F. Foster
- Published on Amazon.com
In his characteristic meticulous researching, John Allen has come to visualize a future Roman Catholic church. He sees this vision shaped by ten trends, which he has sensed by multi-national, multilevel discussions with lay and clerics ranging from the lay parishioner to cardinals of the Church. The vision he sets forth will surprise American catholics who have not been monitoring the development of the church in Africa, South America, and India. He sees the emergence of a church whose epicenter shifts southward, and sets forth what he thinks this will entail. Consider a black African Pope or an Asian one. His ten trends include social change also: new views towards celibacy, liberalization of some aspects of the church and a shift toward conservatism in others. He includes his take on the evolution of the role of women in the Church. In a short review, it is difficult to detail the wealth of lore in this 450 page book, but I would invirte readers to join him in his journey and enter into the discussion of this very original and enlightening look into the future of the Catholic Church.
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
An Incredible BookJan. 22 2010
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I am truly amazed that more people haven't reviewed this book. In a word - it's an amazing book, especially for those who appreciate analysis. John Allen is one of the ultimate insiders in the Catholic Church. Allen is the Catholic reporter and analyst for CNN and NPR. He is also the most credible, universally respected writer for the National Catholic Reporter, a newspaper for Catholic fossils. I greatly appreciate Allen's weekly blogs. His books are balanced, objective, and in a word, outstanding. However, I would really have to say that this book is his best. His identification and explanation of the 10 trends of the future is very well-substantiated. In particular, I especially valued his section on Islam. I learned so much from reading this assessment. John Allen - keep up the good work!
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Lots of good info to get through but well worth itFeb. 3 2010
Michael G. Haigerty
- Published on Amazon.com
If you have any interest in the Roman Catholic Church, this book should be on your "to read" list. John Allen uses his extensive journalistic experience covering the Church to share with us ten "mega-trends" facing Roman Catholics well into the 21st century. As an American Catholic who works in a Catholic midwestern parish, I appreciated John's global perspective that opened my eyes to more than just issues that I or my neighbors in the U.S. face (witchcraft? polygamy? Yup!). It truly does give one a catholic, i.e. universal perspective, and I think a reliable if not infallible one, since John has so many connections all over the world. When you can get three Cardinals from three different continents to read your book before publication, that's saying something.
This is a well researched book divided into 10 trends. While these 10 chapters were quite interesting and informative, his summary chapter at the end, which I read after the introduction - something he suggests - was a great beginning before plowing through the body of the book. I also enjoyed the chapter on "Trends That Aren't" where he talks about why he chose what he did and shares many topics that didn't make the cut and why. It's funny that someone suggested that one of the most important issues facing the global church is "Clown Masses." For real. It was suggested (I'm sure Pope Benedict loses sleep over Clown Masses. On second thought, maybe he does). The author wisely didn't devote a chapter to it. I enjoyed his consideration of more serious topics and his reasoning as to why they didn't make the cut as well.
Speaking as a lowly Dir. of Religious Education at the parish level, I would think any bishop would be wise to make the time to read this book and take these issues and his recommendations seriously (and priests, religious, and lay persons as well). One might even create a pastoral plan for the future around many if not all of these items, such as: Bioethics, Ecology, Expanding Lay Ministry, Evangelical Catholicism, Pentecostalism, Demographics, Multipolarism, Globalization, Islam, etc. All, he argues, are critical issues, and he does a good job arguing his case, including a ton of research (with references at the end of the book that can be looked up and read, though no footnotes or endnotes, which I didn't like). Then, based on this argument for each trend, he tries to predict how these issues will affect the Church, dividing his recommendations into categories: "Near-certain," "Probable," "Possible," and "Long-Shot." I thought his near certain and probable consequences were right on; the long shots were a bit far-fetched at times, but heh, its his book. He did the research, he can take wild guesses if he wants. And some are wild: a Catholic mission on Mars? Alien Baptisms?! Come on John, be realistic! (okay, that was a joke. He didn't recommend either one)
Worth the money and time to read. But with all the info, a little difficult to get through at times. I skipped around and read the trends that most piqued my interest first. I don't think he'd mind. They're not ranked in order 1-10 by importance or anything like that. It's really a sociological study of the Roman Catholic Church into the 21st century, even though he is not a sociologist. Not necessarily what you may want to hear or what you'd prefer the Church to be or be focusing on, but probably right on target as to the way it is now and will be, barring some miracle of God or act of nature, like contact with aliens or a meteor hitting earth.