10 thoughts about the Christian and entertainment

June 9, 2015

Recently, my son (and pastor) Jedidiah asked me to preach on “ the Christian and entertainment” as part of a series touching on our work, money, politics, relationships, and more as Christians. I had a week to prepare, and I thought it was doable, but like the fellow who reported on a curious new fish he’d landed and cooked, the more he chewed it, the bigger it got. There were some anxious moments as I negotiated the range of pertinent Scripture in the evenings of a week filled with teaching. Time ran out on Saturday, and I emailed these 10 points (with no poem) to the PowerPoint man for the Sunday service. Here are the points, which are a start for what I take to be a work in progress.

1. Unstring the bow (Exod. 20:8-11): As Melville wrote in Moby Dick, the harpooner did a better job when he arrived at the whale when he hadn’t had to suffer the strain of rowing along with the others. We can’t endure endless striving. We need a break with refreshments. Still, given the Commandment’s weekday prescription, we rest to work rather than work to rest.

2. Gravitate toward light (Phil. 4:8): Paul urges us to dwell on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, morally excellent, and praiseworthy. But, of course, he doesn’t say we should focus only on these things. He himself didn’t. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been able to talk about the unlovely snit involving Euodia and Syntyche. As for pure, the purest of books, the Bible, presents truthfully a lot of murky stuff. So we don’t need to limit ourselves to “sweetness and light,” refusing to watch replays of a cheap shot in football or covering our ears when the Sheriff of Nottingham starts to speak. But, as Paul says, edifying fare is our special love.

3. Don't overdo it (Prov. 23:20-21): Gluttony isn’t limited to food. Don’t “pig out” on diversions, whether playing endless rounds of golf or movie binging, such as the sort comedian Patton Oswalt chronicles in Silver Screen Fiend.

4. Don't be a mope (Eccl. 3:1-4): Some default proudly and frostily to the royal, “We are not amused.” But as “the preacher” tells us, there is a “time to laugh”—not the defiant laugh of bravado or the cruel laugh of Schadenfreude, but the tickled laugh of delight.

5. Love the entertainer (Gen. 9:20-23): When Noah claimed his “Miller Time,” rendering himself drunk and naked, his son Ham got a kick out of the spectacle and invited his brothers to have a look. They refused to join in the fun, but rather backed into the tent and laid a garment on their father, showing him love and respect. Similarly, we should not delight in performances requiring the performers to debauch or otherwise injure themselves. (Maybe we should have a special Humane Association disclaimer on movies, “No humans were harmed, physically or morally, in the making of this film.”) This was the impetus for the newspaperman suspending ads for late-19th-century prizefights in the Charles Sheldon book, In His Steps (cf., WWJD).

6. Neither a nitpicker nor a nitpickee Be (Luke 6:41-42; Gal. 2:1-5): Jesus warns against the hypercritical search for specks in others’ eyes while ignoring planks in one’s own eyes. And Paul bristled at legalists who made a stink over Titus’s non-circumcision. Go easy on judging others’ playlists and letting them judge yours, even if it includes a Johnny Cash song celebrating workplace theft, as in One Piece at a Time.

7. Mind the gap (Rom. 12:1-2; Acts 17:22-34; 2 Cor. 10:5; John 17:15): The Bible tells us to be “untransformed transformers,” to “take every thought captive” while we are “in the world.” We hold our own on Mars Hill, drawing on both consecration and cultural information. When the gap is too small, we’re compromised. When it’s too big, we’re ineffectual. Consider Weird Al Yankovic’s parody of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues video. We delight in the play of palindromes, but also in the way it makes light of dark forces, including 60s rebellion, beat poets, and rock videos in general. Some knowledge of background culture makes the lampoon richer.

8. Grow up (2 Tim. 2:22; 2 Pet. 1:3-8): You don’t have to convince kids to act impulsively on whatever they feel like doing, no matter how dumb. What a shame it would be to stay stuck in this frame of mindlessness. So we need to “flee youthful passions,” adding “goodness . . . knowledge . . . [and] self-control” to our faith. If you see a business labeled “modern,” it ain’t. The same goes for “adult” entertainment.

9. Love your neighbor (1 Corinthians 8): It’s one thing to have One Piece at a Time on your iPod and quite another to play it over the sound system at a church fellowship when a new believer, a “weaker brother” fresh from prison for running a chop shop, is present. (Note: Loving a weaker brother is not the same as indulging the Pharisaical agenda of a “stronger” brother.)

10. Love God's reputation (1 Cor. 10:31): When I worked in the SBC Executive Committee PR office, a colleague in the world of Baptist journalism mentioned the “New York Times test,” whereby one asked the question, “How would you like this deed to appear on the front page of the Times?” It’s a good question for our entertainment choices. If published and if people knew we were professing believers, would our picks “embarrass” God?

In the 1990s, Old Milwaukee beer ran a series of ads wherein sportsmen would kick back with a brew and some fresh caught fare (Louisiana bass; Alaskan king crab) and exult, “It doesn’t get any better than this.” Sometimes I’d observe for my kids that, for the lost, it pretty much tops out at alcohol and fish. I think the same thing when I read Woody Allen’s recent reflection on life and art in an interview at the Cannes Film Festival: “We live in a random universe and you’re living a meaningless life, and everything you create in your life or do is going to vanish, and the Earth will vanish and the sun will burn out and the universe will be gone.” In this context, you might find relief “if you turn on a baseball game or you watch a Fred Astaire movie or you do something that distracts you.”This is a sad instance of “dead man talking.”

But for the living in Christ, a baseball game and a Fred Astaire movie can be a “lovely” refreshment, a time of recouping one’s strength for the good work ahead according to one’s divine calling. And watching Steph Curry entertain us with his artistry on the basketball court can provide us with a glimpse of the goodness of God who richly provides us with everything to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:17).

Mark Coppenger

In addition to teaching at Southern Seminary, Coppenger is managing editor of the online Kairos Journal. Before attending seminary, he taught at Wheaton and Vanderbilt, where he directed a project for the National Endowment for the Humanities. He has authored, edited, or contributed to numerous books.  His articles and reviews … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24