The shadow of the near future

By , 8 June 2007 7:18 pm

As I come to the end of writing The Infinite Day I find myself in some ways in the most difficult part of the book. Some of the issues I do not want to go into here because they involve plot spoilers. But there are other things.

One is that I am forced to discuss the near future, rather than the far-future in which the book is set. This is largely because of something introduced in Book 1 and alluded to ever since; the great intervention of God’s Spirit in the 2050s and the subsequent rebellion four decades later. This raises a well-known paradox of science fiction; it is far easier to write of a hundred years hence than ten years.

Why this should be is worth exploring. It is not simply that it is safer to write of the far future. You know the sort of thing: “All being well, many of my readers will live to see 2050; none will see the 13th millennium AD so I can happily write anything about it.” (By the way, it also gives you a longer period of time for your work to become a ‘prophetic classic’.)

A hundred years is also a long enough time for technologies to a) be invented, b) be tested, and c) become widespread plagues on society (see, for example, cars, television and the Internet) whereas ten years doesn’t really bring too many changes. The result is that we are prepared to believe all manner of strange things may have occurred in a hundred years time; we are less convinced that such things may have happened within a decade.

There is another reason why the near future is problematic. It is that a decade from now things will, no doubt, be a mixture of the predictable and unexpected. So on the predictable: there will be overcrowding, culture wars, environmental disasters. Culturally, there will be Pirates of the Caribbean 14 and Oceans 24 available for digital download in our home cinemas and the Rolling Stones will still be performing gigs somewhere. But it’s the unexpected that concerns us: the world can change very rapidly in a very short period of time and that is hard to get right.

Imagine if, in 1997, Chris Walley had written a book set in 2007. Some things he might have got right: for example, there were growing concerns about the environment, and the unstoppable rise of the digital economy was already pretty much taken for granted ten years ago. But what about the unexpected events? 9/11 for instance exceeded the imagination of the most bizarre fantasist. And who, ten years ago, could have had seen British and American armies mired in Iraq and the widespread dismissal of the fundamental values of justice in Guantanamo Bay and the ‘extraordinary rendition’ procedures? Surely, a dark fantasy, critics would have said. Truly, truth is stranger than fiction.

3 Responses to “The shadow of the near future”

  1. Terry says:

    Chris, regarding problems in writing of the not-so-distant future, I am reminded of what Spock said in (I think) The Voyage Home. “I cannot be certain of the exact calculations, so I will… make a guess.”

    You’re right – we don’t know what the next 40 years may bring, but isn’t that one of the perks of writing fiction? That you get to speculate on what might happen? I don’t think many readers are too critical of a reasonable attempt at the future. Most of us are pretty aware of how unpredictable it is in many ways.

    I must admit that I’ve roughed out at least three different plot lines for The Infinite Day, and I’m most impatient to see if I came anywhere close. I hope not. But wait we must…

    Blessings to you and your family, Chris, and know that many of your readers are praying for you. We appreciate what you’ve brought us, and look forward to the finale.

    Terry

  2. Scott Kroeger says:

    Hi Chris,

    Australia calling…
    Years ago I had the opportunity to speak at a commencement where I urged the students and faculty to “do theology” and I used an example from the future…here is the text:

    COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS 1994
    REFORMED THEOLOGICAL COLLEGE

    When the faculty asked me to speak to you today, I wondered if I could say anything to you that would make a difference…or make a lasting impression. I’ve been to several commencements and can’t remember a single thing any of the speakers said–and I had at my seminary commencement, Chuck Colson from Prison Fellowship. I remember it as interesting, but it did little to change my life. You graduates have put in a lot of time and effort to prepare you for what lies ahead…and this day will fade into the history of your memories. I hope you and those who have come to watch and help celebrate this day will remember only two words from this commencement speech and from this speaker: DO THEOLOGY!!

    By that I mean we must attempt each new day to apply the Word of God to the ever-changing, ever-shifting cultural contexts that we find ourselves living in. Theology is the study of God and His relationship to the world. As the world changes and evolves with increasing speed, so does the need for the application of God’s eternal truths.

    But we should not use yesterday’s theology. Theology is the study of God and His relationship to the world as it applies to a particular culture in space, time and history. The Dutch Reformers and the Puritans had marvellous theology for their day. God inspired many of them to write, compose, preach and exhort the truth of God to people and situations that surrounded them. We can learn much from them in that they often wrote about a human condition that doesn’t change from age to age. We must, however, understand that the Holy Spirit caused such enlightened teaching in them as a response to the various local cultural problems that plagued their communities. The appalling human conditions of the time caused many sleepless nights and much agony and tears, as these theologians applied the principles of God’s Word to their societies.

    You cannot bring eighteenth and nineteenth century theology into the twentieth century. You cannot bring the relationships that God had with societies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, into the twentieth century and expect them to work. We have different sets of problems, different sets of values and priorities. We have new social pressures, new and evolving social problems. Praise God some of the problems of their day have been solved. Slavery, and child labour have been wiped out. The public sanitation that caused so much ill health and death has improved. Formal education of all children has progressed in most every country. Today we wrestle with moral problems and dilemmas of a different order. Systematic abortion, and euthanasia. In vitro fertilisation, genetic engineering and mapping. Information superhighways, computer technology, privacy and ownership rights. These are the problems of our day and they are different.

    There is much we can learn, and even use, from the theology of ages past. What we must not do is collect it, and use it as a reference point and example of how we apply God’s Truth to today’s world. It will not do for us to look no farther than what the Puritans and Dutch Reformers said, or thought or taught. There are those in our churches today, who think that unless you are following prescribed methods, and means of doing theology of yesteryear, you are not reformed and your Christianity, suspect. But they are myopic in their vision and have lost touch with the twentieth century communities they live in. The proof is seen in low conversion rates, dinky church congregations, and virtually NO influence in the public arenas. Nobody cares what an 18th or 19th century churchman thinks anymore. DO THEOLOGY–but not yesterday’s.

    Everyone should be doing theology for today. Anyone can do theology. Everyone must do theology. It is simply a matter of applying what you do know about God to the cultural ethos around you. It may be very different from culture to culture, neighbourhood to neighbourhood, small group to small group. If one were to examine the worship practices of churches in Korea, Papua New Guine, and Melbourne, you would find extraordinary differences and styles. Even perspectives of God in theology proper are quite different among the theologians of the Orient, Africa and theWest. Cultures that are steeped pagan understandings of pantheism or animism often develop Christian theology in areas western theology has little understanding.

    Doing Theology means living godly lives, worshipping God, and being a witness for Christ in the community that you live and work in. It means making an impact on your surrounding culture. No longer can we have a “circle the wagons” mentality, or fortress understanding of our holy religion. Jesus told us to us to storm the gates of Hell with the victorious Gospel. And that means we are to be a pro-active force to be reckoned with. We begin with the one thing that never changes–The Bible. We must seek to apply the eternal, unchanging absolutes contained in it, to the world at our door front. I once was preaching in a church that had signs over every exit, which said, “You are now entering the mission field”. People left that place each week, filled with theology to go out into the world and use it! So should we. And as we do, let us be mindful of what is a biblical mandate and therefore normative for us…and what is simply a church or social tradition. Let us stick to the Word faithfully, while never letting church traditions and attitudes set the agenda for our day.

    Let me give a small but classic example. The Bible tells us to sing. Sing new songs. But where does it say that it has to be with a pipe organ, in ancient poetic formats, by someone who is preferably dead? And yet many churches today persist in these plainly traditional, cultural, and outmoded practices as the only way to please God. God is only pleased with these practices if they are reaching the lost and influencing culture. You be the judge as to whether it is or is not!

    Where do we DO theology? Where do we begin?

    Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

    In other words the noteworthy things of God. We concentrate on the areas of influence that are lovely and praiseworthy–and then we put them into practice…everywhere! We can begin with the arts and sciences. We need people like you to begin doing some serious writing for public consumption in the medical field, on what the bible says explicitly and implicitly on the topics of genetic engineering, organ transplants, AIDS, ethics of effective care verses rising medical costs etc. We need people to make commentary in public media on the latest works of literature, music, cinema. Not only do we need Christians to make necessary critical commentary on the arts and sciences, we need Christians to be hard at work, creating in these fields and becoming world and community leaders. In the social and political arenas. The government, long ago, has taken social services and welfare out of the hands of the church. We must seek to recapture some of that by being active Christian leaders in helping out the poor, the needy, the disadvantaged. How many politicians do you know to be committed evangelical Christians? They are few. Why don’t you run for office at the federal, state, or local council level? If not running for office, we can surely becoome involved with the local politically party and make our views known. With the information superhighway upon us, there is now no reason, to not write down our views and thoughts on any given subject and send it. You can use the mail, fax machine, E-mail, or telephone. DO THEOLOGY!! Impact your world today…on a daily basis.

    Lastly, we must prepare to do theology tomorrow. We are looking at a lifetime of super-change. Never before has the world changed so fast in such a short time. We are told today that quantum leaps will be made in the areas of science and technology in the next century. As the authorised minders of God’s green earth, who but we Christians is in a position to give sound advice and directions to the populations of the future.

    Doing theology coincides with discovering God’s universe. How would your theology, religion, and understanding of God advance, if the Lord tarries in His return and…
    …mankind develops space colonisation and we move away from the Bible’s reference of the created earth? You would have to do new theology.
    …or if we break through the dimensions of time?
    …or we drop in and out of black holes?
    …or we discover other sentient life forms? We would have to do some theology.
    I shall never forget C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy and his ability to develop a workable theology for just some of these very things. I don’t know if any of these things will ever come to pass. But the point is are we prepared to sit down and DO THEOLOGY when the time and need arises?

    Ladies and Gentlemen, students and members of the faculty, I have laboured before the Lord in the bringing of this address to you today. I have wondered what I could tell you that you don’t already know or do. I could have talked about the need for evangelism or church-planting, which you know is on my heart–or I could have preached a sermon, and six months or a year from now you would not remember a word I had spoken. But doing theology–letting your knowledge of God, His wonderful salvation for mankind, and His spectacular creation break open upon a lost and dying world, is a task to which I call all of you here today to take hold of.

    Philippians 4:8-9 (NIV) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

    Students: Don’t go away from this place with just a degree or letters behind your name. All of you: go away from here with the idea that today you begin to do something that will, in the sovereignty of Almighty God, begin to impact the world and culture we live in. DO THEOLOGY in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ!!

    Cheers,

    Scott Kroeger

  3. Chris says:

    Well Scott, its amazing what a blog can bring out! A commencement commandment to do theology! Sounds good to me. I hope it was long remembered.

    Blessings

    Chris

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