3 ways to pursue Christ-like humility in a digital culture

July 11, 2018

Humility is the foundation of all the other virtues hence, in the soul in which this virtue does not exist there cannot be any other virtue except in mere appearance. –St. Augustine

In the first-century, Paul wrote a letter to the Philippians where he included a call to Christ-like humility. The city of Philippi was heavily influenced by Greco-Roman culture because of its location on Via Egnatia—a famous highway stretching across extensive territory. With this expansive road spreading cultural ideology from diverse areas, Paul intentionally invited the Philippians to do nothing out of selfish ambition, look to the needs of others, and have the humble attitude of Christ (Phil 2:3-5).

A different kind of road to navigate

Today, we do not live on a literal road that facilitates the movement of cultural ideas around the globe; however, we are operating in a culture that transcends international borders—the online world. Via Egnatia provided Christians with specific challenges, as well as unique opportunities, much like the internet. Paul’s invitation to humility is just as relevant to those of us who seek to follow Jesus of Nazareth in the digital era.

Ross Inman, professor of philosophy at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, points out predominant features of the online culture while considering how believers might virtuously navigate the cyber world. Inman explains, “Our present digital age—driven by immediacy, instant self-expression, virality and virtual ‘friendships’—carries with it unique challenges for character formation.” Inman goes on to say, “This is certainly not to say that it is impossible to maneuver one’s way through digital culture in a responsible and virtuous manner as a follower of Christ.”

The mission, therefore, is not to abandon digital platforms altogether, but to bring the essence of Christ into an ever-growing online reality.

How to pursue humility in a digital age

The digital culture will establish “virtual” habits over virtuous character within believers if we do not purposely seek to cultivate Christ-like conduct when communicating online. Here are several ways we can be mindful online:  

1. Engage with wisdom: In Proverbs 8, wisdom is personified as a lady calling out from different public areas including elevated places, the intersection of paths, city gates, and the entrance of doorways (Prov. 8:2-3). Lady Wisdom is by no means silent about her beliefs when it comes to public discourse. While speaking out with extreme conviction, however, she considers knowledge and discretion to be co-laborers alongside her and reviles any sort of arrogant pride or perverse speech (Prov. 8:12-13).

Today’s instantaneous online climate invites individuals to share thoughts about numerous topics—many related to important issues. We should exhibit wisdom and discretion as believers, though, and repudiate unhelpful discourse. Like Lady Wisdom, our voices should not be quiet; however, we must allow wise caution to accompany both our speech and actions (James 1:22-25).  

The mission, therefore, is not to abandon digital platforms altogether, but to bring the essence of Christ into an ever-growing online reality.

2. Identify heart motives: The temptation to elevate “self” over Christ is heightened in the online world because it is oriented around the individual. St. Thomas Aquinas, an influential medieval theologian, described four potential manifestations of self-centered pride that oppose humility. He defined pride as being self-exalting, self-creating, self-serving, and self-building. Each form of conceit magnifies a personal excellence above the humble nature of Christ.

As believers with an online presence, we can reject prideful persuasions that place self before Christ. One way we can begin resisting sinful inclinations is to be aware that vanity disguises itself in a variety of ways. For example, we might post in such a manner that is seemingly innocent, yet in our hearts, we desire adoration and recognition from others. When we take time to assess the intentions of our hearts, we are able to identify inward motives. Then, we can prayerfully purge ourselves of the pride that attempts to fortify personal kingdoms rather than advance the Kingdom of God (John 18:36).  

3. Initiate formative practices: The character of Christ is forged in seemingly mundane moments of life. For believers who desire to cultivate and exemplify Christ’s humility, we can monitor our mindless use of social media through personal awareness. For example, knowing how much time and how often we check our accounts can help us steward our internet usage in a manner that glorifies God. Also, taking lengthy “social media sabbaticals” will provide space for personal reflection and create much-needed time to commune with the Lord.  

Ryan McAnnally-Linz offers practical recommendations for maneuvering the online world. He states,

An example [a suggestion] would be turning off notifications of likes, comments, and retweets. Constructive practices of attentiveness, in turn, seek to develop habits of attending to God’s will for and work in the world. Most often, [these practices] intentionally heighten our focus on some place where we expect to see God at work in the world, such as among the poor and marginalized.

McAnnally-Linz emphasizes the value of minimizing actions which could glorify self by prioritizing habits focused on an eternal purpose. Incorporating these intentional habits can help us look beyond ourselves and the online world so that we see through the lens of God’s heart for all of humanity.  

When Paul wraps up his invitation to Christ-like humility, he explains to the Philippian church how Jesus received the name higher than any other name because of his self-emptying example and humble obedience (Phil. 2:7-9). Paul proclaims every knee will bow and tongue confess the greatness of Christ for the glory of the Lord (vv. 10-11). Like the Christians in Philippi living near Via Egnatia, we have a unique opportunity to represent Christ. We are invited to put God’s humble heart and glory on full display as we walk with Jesus through the difficulties of the digital culture.

Grace Hody

Grace Hody is a Master of Divinity student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Her theological interests include Old Testament Studies, Analytic Theology, and Philosophy. She is currently teaching history and language at a classical academy. Read More by this Author

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