Has a recent book again raised prospects of bringing the heavenly kingdom to earth?

Thornton wilder, in his novel The Eighth Day, depicts a celebration in a midwestern town in which the populace saw a rebirth of optimism and hope for turning back the negative results of modern industrialization. Wilder causes the speaker to hail the advent of the new century with the dawn of the year 1900.

Hope springs eternal within the human breast, and the last two decades have witnessed new prophecies of an “eighth day.” These forecasts have, each in a different way, presented scenarios including a widespread decentralization of authority, and a restored ecological balance, usually accompanied by a return to a more pastoral form of lifestyle.

The question of precisely which forces shall precipitate and inform such change is one of deep concern to the evangelical. Sensitive Christians have long had deep concern for the manner and degree to which evangelical faith should be creative in the shaping of a decent and just human society. Today’s evangelicals are no exception to this, and thus we do well to note some of the forms of current pseudoprophecy, to see what meaning they may have for the sensitive Christian.

A futuristic ethos has been predicted in such terms as “postindustrial society,” “the technopolitan man,” or “the Global Village.” From within the framework of these and similar projections, it is predicted that a new sense of community will come out of the wings and onto the stage. But most such forecasts have been made in humanistic and secular terms.

In general, it has been the fashion to place the blame for modern man’s malaise not upon technology, but upon a wrong application of it. This has in turn been blamed upon a wrong-headed way of public and mass thinking. For instance, it has been alleged that the public mind has been mesmerized by the analytical and linear shapes to which technological knowledge has given currency. Some have felt that this mentality has come at the expense of the needs of the mental and related sentiments that make us human.

There comes to mind the theories of Marshall McLuhan, who saw in the electronic revolution the dawning of a new age. This he based upon the ability of the new media for communication to appeal to the total human sensorium. This would in turn, he believed, alter the mental framework of the inhabitants of the Global Village in the direction of new concepts of space and time, which would lead modern man away from the present “mythos” of current technology.

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Within this mode of thought, electronic discoveries possesses an almost charismatic power to lead mankind to “universal understanding of unity.” It has been felt that McLuhan dresses his views in a quasi-religious garb, but when one analyzes them, he cannot fail to see the same humanistic presuppositions as have marked similar forms of prediction.

With the appearance in 1970 of Charles A. Reich’s The Greening of America, there emerged a newer form of eschatological projection for the future. In its best-seller days, the book attracted attention because of its emphasis upon the role of consciousness in the shaping of a culture.

The distinguished Yale professor offered a masterly analysis of the corporate state, but failed to carry through his utopian vision. His third state of consciousness, expressed by loose-hanging youth smoking marijuana and dancing in the streets in bell-bottom trousers, seems to have been lost in the morass of fried brains with memories in shambles.

It is significant that the attempt by Reich and others to relate cultural transformation to stress of mind or states of consciousness has been given renewed emphasis. Perhaps it has been the Orwellian development of technology, symbolized by the fantastic honing of the computer as a pervasive element in our culture, that has given impetus to this.

It is significant also that a forum sponsored by the Institute for the Art and Science of Living, Inc., was planned for Feb. 29-March 2 of this year. The theme, “New Dimensions of the Mind: Explorations Through Science and the Spirit,” was aimed at taking participants “beyond the comfortable definitions of mind” and toward a new synthesis of “both head and heart, both mind and matter.”

There was no eschatological fanfare in the announced program; it remained to be seen to what degree Christian assumptions would give shape to the discussions.

More heartening is the appearance of the volume The Emerging Order, by Jeremy Rifkin and Ted Howard, both of the People’s Business Commission, based in our nation’s capital. Following a long analysis of the present crisis precipitated by the prevailing emphasis upon consumerism and GNP, the authors undertake to sketch a coming Age of Scarcity, and to trace the type of mind-set that will be needed to enable our citizens to make peace with the inevitable exhaustion of vital resources and a consequent reduction of our standard of living.

Against the backdrop of the alleged dominant role of Reformed theology, with its emphasis upon “calling” in the development of capitalism, these authors emphasize the impact of two movements in today’s religious scene. These are said to provide hope for “liberating energy” for a transformation of the “age of growth” into a new form of economy.

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These two movements are: the Charismatic (capital “C”) and evangelical (small “e”). These two movements, impelled by God’s Spirit, are credited with the ability to generate frames of mind that will reverse the self-ism of the consumer economy, with its entropy-bound and energy-intensive accompaniments. Each is credited with the ability to contribute elements needed for replacing “our secular-materialistic culture” (p. 231).

This is said to rest upon a new interpretation of scriptural motifs, notably of Creation and the Fall of man, and rediscovery of the concept of stewardship. This movement will, it is hoped, reverse the fallacious applications of Reformed theology, and lead to a new and glad acceptance of an economy of scarcity.

Special stress is laid by Rifkin and Howard upon the charismatics’ emphasis on supernatural gifts as heralding a radical break with expansionism and consumerism. This projection recognizes the need for a spiritual rootage for any substantial alteration of the public mentality, and combines sober appraisal of the present economic order with a word of eschatological hope.

Evangelicals will tend to be cautious at the point of this (or any) prediction made on the basis of today’s society as a whole. Thus, the implementation of the central thesis of The Emerging Order will require an all-round strengthening of combined charismatic and evangelical forces if it should be translated into reality.

Harold B. Kuhn is professor of philosophy of religion, Asbury Theological Seminary, Wilmore, Kentucky.

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