Thursday, June 29, 2006

Off the Shelf: The Fourth Turning

Last weekend, I had a surprise visit from Ed Eubanks -- and as we caught up, he recommended a book: The Fourth Turning. Never being one to pass on an opportunity to indulge in biblio-idolatry, I scoured the bookstores until I found it (Score one for Barnes and Noble).

I cracked it open last night while Tammy watched So You Think You Can Dance (far more entertaining than American Idol, I must say). The thesis makes me tremble. Here's the gist -- patterns of human history run in roughly 80-100 year cycles, broken into 4 parts (roughly the age of a generation). These 4 parts are: the High, the Awakening, the Unravelling, and the Crisis. The high is a period where social fabric is woven, institutions are strenghtened, and a sense of order is established. The Awakening is a time of birth of new ideas and spiritual energy. The Unravelling begins the process of cynicism and world weariness regarding the institutions and ideas of the previous two eras. Finally the Crisis is the bone shaking event that shatters the social fabric and reworks it, laying the ground for a new order.

Here's how the authors map out the last century or so:
1929-1945: Crisis (economic collapse and international instability leading up to the second World War)
1945-1965: High (American industrial and political dominance in the wake of WW2)
1965-1980ish Awakening (interest in new ideas, spiritual renewal, prophetic statements against the sins of the culture like racism, pentecostal awakening)
1980's-2000ish Unravelling (deepening cynicism, "me decade", increase in decadence)

Which means that we're now poised for the fourth turning -- turning from Unravelling to Crisis. Now remember, this was written in 1997. In 2001 we had 9/11 and events have been travelling ever faster as the global crisis with Islamic fundamentalism escalates. Additionally the fuel crisis propels us closer to a financial brink. The book didn't claim to predict what the Crisis might be, only that it would come and somewhere by 2010, we'd be in the thick of it.

Now, this may seem all nice and clever how they parse these eras of history -- but does the cycle really hold? The authors go all the way back to the Renaissance and trace the cycles of High, Awakening, Unravelling, and Crisis. It's pretty extraordinary.

I'm not sure how much to buy right off the bat, but it is certainly provocative reading. I'll come back to this over the next few weeks and fill you all in as I digest.

Soli Deo Gloria