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Peering into 2017

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Monday, December 5, 2016

Peering into 2017

One of the more interesting cultural research groups is Sparks & Honey. They recently released their A-Z Cultural Glossary 2017, subtitled “The trends you need to know to be relevant.”

The glossary contains 100 “must-know terms and concepts” to serve as “cultural crib sheet” to carry students of culture into the coming year. Arranged in five categories – aesthetics, media, tech and science, humanity, and ideology – there were nine words/terms that stood out to me to prepare for the cultural zeitgeist to come:

“Agendered Iconography”
The shift away from using the shape of a physical body as signage and symbols. To remove any gender stereotyping, restrooms may begin to shift away from the familiar symbols of a man and a woman figure on doors to designate which restroom is which.

“AI Morality”
Reflects the moral and ethical compass that stems from programming AI to make our decisions. When self-driving cars recognize a life-and-death situation, who lives and who dies? A recent article by NPR, which I posted to the “Daily Headline News” on ChurchAndCulture.org, was titled “Scholars Delve Deeper into the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence.” A law firm recently allocated $10 million to Carnegie Mellon University to explore the ethics of artificial intelligence. One of the biggest questions they raised was, “What happens when you make robots that are smart, independent thinkers – and then try to limit their autonomy?” Good question.

“Broadcast Social Media”
2017 will see a merging of TV and social media, as more formats are adapted to mobile streaming. Long gone are the days of rushing home to catch your favorite sitcom on NBC, starting at exactly 8 p.m., for fear that you’ll miss the opening moments. From Facebook Live to the NFL broadcasting the 2016 NFL season on Twitter, more and more the world of television is realizing that to keep people engaged they are going to have to adapt to all forms of social media.

“Campus Rage”
Controversy around political correctness is fueling free speech debates on campuses, mostly around racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic language. While on the list for 2017, we’ve certainly already seen evidence of this following our recent election cycle. Last year, I wrote a blog about what I believe has led to this cultural trend borrowing the title from the article in The Atlantic that prompted the blog. Titled “The Coddling of the American Mind,” the authors explored how in the name of “emotional well-being” college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like, and seeking punishment of those who give accidental offense. This has led to increased tensions in colleges and universities across the country.

“Empathy Tech”
Technologies such as VR (virtual reality) evoke both visceral emotional responses and allow us to see the world from a different perspective. From helping people to empathize with the refugee crisis to treating those recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder, the possibilities that the growth of VR technology will lead to are endless. I recently read an article in Christianity Today titled “The Surprising Theological Possibilities of Virtual Reality” that challenged Christians on how to react to this new medium. As the author writes, “With VR, we have the opportunity to give up our own power and agency and embody the experiences of another person, to suffer with them… and under the right circumstances, [these experiences] can help us become more Christlike.”

“Millennial Fatigue”
Constant speculation about millennial quirks and follies will begin to wane as mass media exhausts its ability to cover the generation. But beyond this, culture will begin to take notice of the rise of Generation Z who currently constitute more than 25% of the entire U.S. population, surpassing Millennials, Gen X and even the Baby Boomers. And the methods of how we communicate with them are going to need to change dramatically. Shameless plug: my latest book, to be released in January 2017, is titled Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World and is now available for preorder on Amazon. Because the truth about Gen Z is that this generation is poised to challenge every church to rethink its role in a radically changing culture.

Society is only beginning to understand the spectrum of sexuality and gender, and we’re also spotlighting alternative forms of connection whether based on romance, sex-only, or community and friendship. This should come as no surprise given the slippery slope we’ve been on for… well, quite some time. The challenge the church will face in light of this growing cultural trend will be to hold to its beliefs about things as foundational as sexual morality, marriage and family. And hold to them we must.

Technosexuals have love and erotic affairs with fictional digital characters on Loverwatch, the most popular dating sims. Like I said, a slippery slope. In fact, I wrote a blog earlier this year titled “The Slippery Slope to Incest” to examine cultural decisions that are being made that will continue to carry with them sweeping ramifications. Who knows how long it will be until someone is advocating for the right to marry Amazon’s Alexa. You can read that blog here.

“Untruths as Facts”
Searching for facts, stories or opinions that confirm your own beliefs is known as confirmation bias. We explore only information supporting our perspective, which potentially omits a plethora of untruths at the core of a new reality. We witnessed this cultural trend during the recent presidential election as well with those on both sides of the political debate finding stories to cement their views firmly in place. Much of this led to Oxford’s 2016 Word of the Year – Post-Truth – which I wrote about last week in a blog titled “A Post-Truth World.”

Be sure to take a moment to view the entire slate of entries.

After all, 2017 is right around the corner.

James Emery White



“A-Z Culture Glossary 2017: The trends you need to know to be relevant,” Sparks & Honey, November 27, 2016, view online.

“Scholars Delve Deeper into the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence,” NPR, November 21, 2016, read online.

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” The Atlantic, September 2015, pp. 42-52, read online.

C.T. Casberg, “The Surprising Theological Possibilities of Virtual Reality,” Christianity Today, November 11, 2016, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite

Peering into 2017