In a talk presented to a Catholic Administrators Conference last week, Archbishop Wilson said that despite the challenges, "these are rich times, good times, times of hope, in which God is at work among us".
He told the Melbourne gathering that this optimism is born not out of "Pollyannaish" delusions but from "both deep reflection about our culture, and faith in Jesus promise to remain with the church".
Archbishop Wilson says that he is "optimistic about the future of the church because of God's faithfulness" but also because Western culture is open to receiving the gospel.
"At first glance this may not seem to be the case at all," he said in the speech titled "Shaping the Future of the Church".
"In fact, many people would characterise our age as moving in the opposite direction, seeing it as far less religious than previous ages."
Archbishop Wilson said that people often cite declining church attendances and an increasing sector of the population who see themselves as atheists to support this view but they do not accurately represent the changes occuring in the West today.
Announcing that he had invited Canadian philosopher and this year's Templeton Prize winner, Charles Taylor, to visit Australia in December, Archbishop Wilson noted that Professor Taylor disputes accounts of secularisation that characterise it principally as a falling off of religious belief and practice.
Summarising Professor Taylor's work, the archbishop says that rather than a decline in belief, both belief and unbelief have taken "new forms" in modern society.
According to Archbishop Wilson, Professor Taylor argues that what characterises the contemporary period is "expressive" individualism, which emphasises on realising one's own humanity and rejects "models imposed from outside, by society, or the previous generation, or religions or political authority."
"Today's expressivist worldview certainly confronts the church with some serious challenges; nonetheless it also opens new possibilities for the practice of faith," he said.
The church in an "expressivist" culture
Establishing the conditions that shape modern society, Archbishop Wilson asks "in an expressivist culture, what shape will our (gospel) proclamation take?"
The archbishop says that over the past decade this question has been approached in a polemical fashion, and the polemic has taken two forms: one side condemns contemporary culture as a culture of decay while the other privileges the present and seeks to reshape Christianity in the light of the ideals of human rights and democracy.
But he says while both of these polemical forms accurately identify some facets of contemporary culture, they both fail to identify the essential nature of the development of today's "expressivist" society.
He told the conference that in the contemporary era the faithful "must proclaim the gospel both by the lives we lead and by our communication with others."
However, he warns that "as a believing community, we must also attend to those outside the community."
"In an expressivist age, believers must recognise the individual quest of every person and lead each one to discover the gospel as God's clearest word about their lives, and the community of Jesus' disciples as the place where his life is made most manifest in the world today," he said.
"Forcing religious belief makes no sense in this culture," he concluded.
Shaping the Future of the Church - Keynote address by Archbishop Philip Wilson to 2007 Catholic Church Administrators' Conference
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Archdiocese of Adelaide | Archbishop Philip Wilson
2007 Catholic Church Administrators Conference
Professor Charles Taylor (Templeton Prize)
Charles Taylor (Wikipedia)
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