Nonetheless, predicting the future is a worthwhile enterprise. The genre of science/speculative fiction in its hard and soft forms predicts in order to prophesy, to comment on the failings or the strengths of our contemporary lives. Novels such as Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four (classics, and for good reason), despite their age, continue to stamp on the cosmetically enhanced face of contemporary narcissism-in-conformity. The future will always prove to be an unintelligible puzzle, but pieces can be arranged to present some kind picture of what it might be like, even if ultimately they do not fit together perfectly.
Is the Christian Church a piece of this jigsaw? Of course. But the future of the Church (or the Church of the future), like everything else, can only be scripted on the basis of what is present and what is past. The history of the Church provides clues for what could unfold because the history of the Church is the framework from which it will unfold.
2159AD: A History of Christianity (DLT, 2009) is an interesting read because it assumes the importance of the past for the future. It is a history of Christianity written from the perspective of a Christian living in the year 2159. It is at once entertaining and curious to see Christianity past from the imagined perspective of Christian future. The Church is alive and very well in China and India; the evangelical wing of the Church morphs into the self-sufficient Hidden Church; and the Independent Republic of the Latter Day Saints (formerly Utah) eventually develops a cure for ageing and the military potency to strike lesser nations who stand against its geopolitical and technological expansion. These predictions are surely little more than present concerns recontextualised or taken to extremes. Even some of the language Borlase uses perhaps betrays his own assumptions: ‘Was there really quite so much fuss made over the ordination of women and gays?’ (p. 11); and there is a House Church movement resulting from the fall of Christendom, one that can ‘evolve’ and has ‘different expressions’ (p. 242), echoing for me the language of ‘fresh expressions’ and championing the desirability of the novel rather than the stability of the traditional. These things—post-Christendom, women in ecclesial leadership, LGBTI+ issues—are present concerns; they might not be so in a century or two due to sociopolitical developments that we simply cannot anticipate due to our historical situatedness.
We cannot breathe out the future until we have first inhaled the past. The future of the Church (or the Church of the future) grows from seeds sown in the past, but only God knows which ones will actually germinate. Only God knows how and in what directions the body of Christ will grow. Any prediction about the Church of the future is a commentary on the Church of the present and thus the Church of the past.