Want to see the future? It is brighter than you think.
What we believe about tomorrow determines how we live today. As Christians debate how to faithfully engage with our rapidly changing world, our vision of the future has never been more important.
But rather than providing a clear sense of purpose for our lives, popular Christian ideas about the future steal it from us by saying our work in the world, apart from ministry, has no eternal value. Is it any wonder why young adults are less interested in church, or why a culture desperate for meaning and hope dismisses our message?
In Futureville, Skye Jethani offers us a vision-shifting glimpse of the world of tomorrow described in Scripture. He reveals how a biblical vision of the future can transform every person’s work with a sense of purpose and dignity today.
Futureville is a smart, inspiring call to cultivate the order, beauty, and abundance that reflects the heart and vision of God for our world.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Skye Jethani (www.skyejethani.com) is the managing editor of Leadership journal, a magazine and online resource published by Christianity Today International. He also serves as a teaching pastor at Blanchard Alliance Church in Wheaton, Illinois.
Read an Excerpt
DISCOVER YOUR PURPOSE FOR TODAY BY REIMAGINING TOMORROW
By SKYE JETHANI
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Akash Jethani, aka Skye Jethani
All rights reserved.
This book is not about the future. It is about the present. It is about determining what sort of life is truly meaningful. It is about rethinking the way we relate to the world and our purpose within it. How we decide what matters today, however, cannot be separated from what we believe about tomorrow. To understand the present-shaping power of the future, let's take a journey back to the Great Depression.
For my grandparents' generation, the future began on April 30, 1939. That Sunday, scores of motorists and pedestrians streamed across the newly built Bronx-Whitestone Bridge for the first time. As they crossed the East River, behind them was the past: New York City—a metropolis under the shadow of scarcity and injustice. The Great Depression had festered for a decade and stolen much of the city's wealth and hope. But across the river, in Queens, was the promised land. Ahead of them was the future.
From the bridge they could see a gleaming white spire piercing more than six hundred feet into the sky, and at its base was its massive companion—a white globe eighteen stories high and almost two hundred feet in diameter, the largest ever built. The Trylon and Perisphere stood at the heart of the 1939 New York World's Fair and served as beacons drawing visitors across the river toward a better future. They were the starkly modern symbols of the fair's theme: "The World of Tomorrow."
It is difficult to overstate the importance of the 1939 New York World's Fair on the psyche of the country. One visitor recalled the poverty that dominated his Staten Island community at the time. "Everyone was poor, everyone looked poor, everyone ate poorly. It was a threatening, gray world, without much hope." Against this dreary backdrop, he says, "the World's Fair burst upon our lives with astonishing brilliance. Here was a whole new world set forth, a world of the future in which sheer physical plenty would be combined with grace and culture and art and beauty and technological achievement. We could hardly believe what we saw and heard. We returned again and again, reassuring ourselves that it was really there."
In 1939, the nation's vision of the future had been shaped by its dismal circumstances. The Great Depression had stolen its hope. But the New York World's Fair offered an alternative vision of the future, one of beauty, order, and abundance. It kindled hope when people needed it most. The fair helped a beleaguered generation reinterpret their present maladies as a temporary condition on the journey toward a brilliant tomorrow.
What we think about tomorrow matters because our vision of the future is what determines how we understand the present. In a real sense today is defined by tomorrow. How we interpret our present suffering, our work, our purpose, even our relationships is defined by how we think about what lies ahead. The positive vision provided by the 1939 World's Fair made people reinterpret the meaning and lasting effect of the Great Depression and launched the country forward.
But visions of the future can also have the opposite effect. Consider a billboard erected by a Chicago law firm. It simply said, "Life's Short. Get a Divorce." Buried in the message is a belief about the future: death is final, and there is no hope beyond the present life. This view of tomorrow also determines how to live today: maximize your pleasure, and abandon the spouse who may be inhibiting it. Today is defined by tomorrow.
These examples remind us that whoever shapes our vision of tomorrow wields enormous influence over our lives. The choices we make, the values that guide us, the work we pursue, and the people we become are all shaped by the way we think about the future. Sometimes these influences are positive, offering us a sense of purpose and hope, but they can also be damaging and cause us to be shortsighted and selfish. This is why an accurate understanding of the future is critical and why every worldview and religion that seeks to influence our behaviors has something to say about tomorrow.
Christianity is no exception. From the beginning Jesus, his apostles, and the church have communicated about the future in both word and symbol. The future is an essential part of our faith and lives, because when we see the future correctly (vision), it not only allows us to transcend our circumstances (hope), but it also shapes how we live in the present (purpose). Tomorrow determines the way we relate to the world today.
This has taken on new importance as Christians debate what faithful engagement of our rapidly changing world looks like.
Studies are showing that fewer people, particularly the young, are participating in local congregations. Many young adults, including those who describe themselves as committed to the Christian faith, fail to see the relevance of the local church to their lives. I spoke with one frustrated pastor about the difficulty of recruiting younger people to his congregation. "How do I get a generation that doesn't believe in commitment to commit to the church?" he asked. I believe his premise is flawed. Most of the young adults I meet are highly committed. They are devoted to their vocations, their communities, and often to social causes. They're just not committed to the things many church leaders would prefer. At a recent Passion conference for young adults, Louie Giglio captured the animating force of this generation. "The only thing we are afraid of," he said, "is living an insignificant life."
So why aren't these young people seeking significance by committing themselves to the church and its mission? I believe part of the explanation is found in the vision of the future presented by much of contemporary, institutional Christianity, which leaves no space for a theology of vocation. We have adopted a vision of tomorrow that cannot affirm a Christian's work in the world outside the church. Instead, the message of the church being absorbed by many young people, both explicitly and implicitly, is that ministry is the only labor that really matters in light of eternity. It is a vision that tells young people most of their interests, occupations, and pursuits do not matter to God. It is a vision that says real significance can only be found by contributing time and treasure to the institutional church's work. Young people are not buying it anymore. The fault is not to be found in a generation that won't commit to the church, but in a church that cannot affirm this generation's commitments because of its vision of the future.
Younger Christians are increasingly committing themselves to social action on behalf of the poor, trafficked, marginalized, and abused. They sense God's calling to alleviate suffering in the present, but others are questioning the priority, and even the legitimacy, of such efforts. Is social justice part of Christ's work and central to our Christian calling in the world, or is it a laudable and God-pleasing pursuit that should nonetheless be prioritized below the converting of souls? one's view of the future will greatly affect how this question is answered.
Similarly, all Christians—but particularly the young—are struggling with living in an increasingly pluralistic society. Christian faith, practice, and values are no longer uncontested in the public square. But how should we approach our neighbors who follow other faiths or no faith at all? Should Christians battle for political and economic supremacy in order to impose their values upon the culture, or should they withdraw from social engagement and abandon society to its inevitable decline? If there is any ground in between these extremes, what does it look like? What is our responsibility to our communities? Again, the way we understand the ultimate destiny of our communities will shape how we engage them as well as what work within them carries eternal value.
These debates around social justice, mission, cultural pluralism, and vocation can be gathered into one larger question: How should Christians relate to the world? This question cannot be answered in a satisfying manner without exploring what we believe about the future. How we live today is defined by what we think about tomorrow. For many in my generation, however, tomorrow isn't what it used to be.
I saw the future when I was six years old. My parents took me to Walt Disney World, and entering the Magic Kingdom felt like walking through a storybook. But it was not pirates or castles from yesterday that captured my imagination. It was Walt Disney's vision of tomorrow.
The austere, soaring architecture of Tomorrowland was different from the rest of the park. Rather than a fantasy storybook, Tomorrowland seemed more like a three-dimensional blueprint—an attempt to predict what the future would be. Its attractions were designed to teach, not just to amuse. Mission to Mars, developed with NASA, showed us what real astronauts would encounter on the red planet, and the Carousel of Progress traced the technological developments of the twentieth century and predicted what breakthroughs lay ahead.
The climax of the vacation was a fourteen-mile monorail journey to Disney's newest attraction—Epcot Center. The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow was still under construction, but the monorail provided us with an elevated preview of Future World as we circled Spaceship Earth—the geodesic sphere at the center of Epcot modeled after the giant sphere from the 1939 New York World's Fair. Just as the '39 Fair had captured the imagination of that generation, Walt Disney's utopian vision of the future captured mine. I left humming the theme song from the park: "There's a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow." And with Disney's help I believed it.
However, Walt's vision of the future was not the only one I saw that year. On a sunny afternoon I saw another future as the lifeless body of my younger brother was recovered from a backyard pond. The shadow of death entered my world, and with it came a darker vision of tomorrow. I watched as grief, anger, and depression filled the space in our home that a toddler's laughter used to occupy. In time the pain became less acute, and the activities of my world recovered, but my vision of the world never did. Tomorrow no longer looked big and beautiful. Instead, it appeared narrow and painful. As a result, my childish, Disney-fueled optimism changed course toward adolescent cynicism earlier than most of my peers, but in time they would join me.
Their worlds were also dismantled, not usually by death, but more often by the divorce of their parents. Phil Vischer spoke about our generation's slide toward cynicism:
Some folks believe Vietnam was the source of America's modern cynicism. Others point to Watergate. But for me and for many others in my generation, the real root, I think, is much closer to home and much more personal. When we were very young, our parents broke their promises. Their promises to each other, and their promises to us. And millions of American kids in a very short period of time learned that the world isn't a safe place.
Death, disappointment, and above all, divorce conspired to shape my generation so that we could no longer believe in a "great big beautiful tomorrow." How can the future inspire wonder and hope when the world is ruled by unpredictability and pain? While suffering is not unique to my generation, the nature and proximity of our wounds are. When our parents and grandparents were children, they were impacted by poverty and war—historical forces with world-altering effects—but the environment that most shaped their identities and outlooks, their families, remained largely intact.
For those of us born in the late twentieth century, however, the dynamic was reversed. The years between the Vietnam War and 9/11 were economically prosperous and without large-scale armed conflict. We benefited from a rapidly increasing standard of living and the wonders of new technology, but our homes and families were unstable, our identities became fractured, and our outlook on the world as a whole turned dark. So, despite the end of the Cold War and the advent of the digital age, my generation has struggled to embrace a hopeful vision of the future. As Vischer noted, "our grandparents were 'the greatest generation.' We have become the 'most sarcastic.'" 6 Rather than embracing hopeful visions of tomorrow, we mocked them. Even Disney's Tomorrowland could not deflect the cynicism of my generation.
By the mid-1990s, Disney's techno-utopian view of the future no longer inspired tourists. Research uncovered that "for the first time in recent history, the emerging generation does not share the conviction of their parents that the world is becoming a better place in which to live." People went to Disney World to escape reality, but a land about the future no longer conjured happy thoughts about a "great big beautiful tomorrow." The future made people depressed and anxious. As a result, Tomorrowland became a source of great frustration within the Disney Company as it struggled to develop a new plan for the park that would not cause visitors' eyes to roll. Some within the company suggested removing Tomorrowland entirely, but in the end Disney did not abandon Tomorrowland. It just abandoned tomorrow.
When I took my own children to Disney World last year, I discovered a radically altered Tomorrowland built not on a prophetic vision of the future but on a future based on yesterday's fantasies. Using comic-book imagery from the 1950s, Disney created a caricature of the future that was part Buck Rogers and part Buzz Lightyear. The new Tomorrowland, as one Disney historian described it, mocked Walt's hopeful vision of the future "with tongue firmly planted in cheek." It was a Tomorrowland befitting our jaded, cynical generation.
As we've already seen, how we think about the future shapes how we live in the present. In the case of my generation the inverse is also true: our experience in the present has shaped our outlook on the future. For me and many of my peers, broken homes, dysfunctional communities, and television-saturated childhoods have given us a cynical outlook. We grew up with parents, commercials, and political leaders feeding us empty promises that never came true. So when we encounter shiny, happy visions of the future with promises of prosperity and peace, they are met with great skepticism and even ridicule.
My generation needs more than a hope for tomorrow; we demand evidence of it today. It isn't enough to tell us that someday things will get better. We've heard that before, usually right after our dads walked out the front door with a hastily packed suitcase. We deflect platitudes about "a great big beautiful tomorrow" off our thick armors of sarcasm. For a vision of the future to have any chance of kindling life-giving hope among my generation, it must offer real evidence in the present. We demand a down payment on the future.
This is one area in which the contemporary church has fallen short with the younger generation. As noted earlier, surveys are showing a significant decline in church engagement among the young. There are many reasons, but we must not dismiss the cynicism of those born after 1970 as a factor. We are a skeptical generation, with a nose for spin and an appetite for authenticity. So when we hear Christian leaders talk about a future of peace, justice, and the end of evil and suffering— while the church is simultaneously riddled with scandal, conflict, discrimination, and injustice— we aren't going to waste our time. The label "hypocrite" quickly gets applied, as David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons uncovered in their 2007 book, UnChristian, and our hearts grow more calcified to faith.
Like the psychiatric patient whose paranoia causes him to refuse the drugs that would cure his paranoia, this generation's cynicism sabotages any chance of receiving the hope that might alleviate their cynicism. We are trapped in a vicious cycle, and the modern church's attempts to break through with entertaining gatherings, hipster pastors, and relevant programming have proven to be ineffective.
In order to penetrate the armor of sarcasm worn by this generation, the church will have to present a hope that isn't confined to the distant future. We must dig deeper into the Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus to discover a living hope for today. And it must be both an individual and cosmic hope that touches our personal wounds as well as the broken systems of this world—the homes, communities, and institutions where our wounds were received. Finally, we must show how this hope is being cultivated in the present, illuminating the evidence that our hope in Christ is authentic and therefore worth believing. Only when young people see glimpses of a better world emerging today will they embrace the hope of "a great big beautiful tomorrow."
Excerpted from FUTUREVILLE by SKYE JETHANI. Copyright © 2013 Akash Jethani, aka Skye Jethani. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Vision 1
2 Culmination 21
3 Evolution 41
4 Evacuation 61
5 Resurrection 79
6 Vocation 99
7 Order 115
8 Beauty 135
9 Abundance 155
10 Hope 175
Discussion Questions 185
Recommended Resources 191
About the Author 211