Mark Noll

Book Notes

A veteran Vatican-watcher looks ahead.

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General treatments of worldwide Catholicism have appeared less frequently than reports attuned more closely to Protestant phenomena. But now John Allen, who regularly covers the Vatican for the National Catholic Reporter, has added his perceptive account to the works of Philip Jenkins, David Martin, Dana Robert, Lamin Sanneh, Brian Stanley, Andrew Walls, and others who have written so perceptively about momentous shifts in recent world Christianity.

Allen's ten trends include general tectonic forces (globalization, biotechnical advances, demographic change, ecological peril) and politics (multipolarism replacing East vs. West bipolarism or U.S. hegemony) as well as specifically religious developments. The latter are the spread of Islam, the rise of Pentecostalism, the emergence of evangelical trends within Catholicism, and the expanded place of the laity. Part of the interest in this book comes from Allen's assessment of the sex scandals and cover-ups that are receiving so much press in Europe and the United States. In his view, these problems represent only tremors compared with the wider and deeper changes underway in the non-Western world.

So what might the future hold? Allen thinks that the day may be nearer than anyone thinks when Manila and Jakarta will set the agenda for first-order theology instead of Paris, Berlin, and Milan. He foresees the very real possibility of a pope from Africa or Latin America, and a pope moreover at ease with speaking in tongues, visions of Jesus, and miraculous healing. He thinks that in some parts of the world Catholics may come to stand with Muslims in an alliance against all-out secularism. And he believes that the church's most significant social witness may be to combat the corruption so rampant in non-Western governments and businesses. In visualizing the "future church," Allen thinks the papacy will still be there and also the Bible, but that everything else may be changed, and sooner than we think.

Mark Noll is Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame. He is the author most recently of The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith (InterVarsity Press).

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