Are we preparing our people for a post-Christian reality?

May 11, 2015

The Supreme Court of the United States just heard oral arguments on gay marriage. If they rule, as most court observers expect, to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states, pastors and church leaders will face a new reality.

Two wrong approaches to culture

As discussion and debate on gay marriage has played out in the larger culture and in the church, there are two equally wrong approaches among Christians. First is the retreat from biblical orthodoxy, either explicitly through hermeneutical gymnastics or implicitly by pretending that if we offer a nicer, easier Christianity, our conflicts would melt away.  

Secondly, there is an equally wrong approach that frames the issue solely in terms of “taking our country back from the elites,” as if this is simply a matter of winning a few elections and rolling back the progress gay rights advocates have made in the last decade. I’m a believer in good government and think Christians should be active at all levels, both working and voting for good leaders.

But neither retreat nor recovery reflect an honest view of culture as it is today. What’s more, I’m afraid pastors who adopt one of these two attitudes are failing their people.

Developing an exile theology

This reality has become more acute to me in the last few years, especially as I’ve been engaged in focused study on the New Testament and church history. I’m particularly arrested by the book of 1 Peter. Here the Apostle, sensing a cultural shift that (history tells us) eventually led to increased marginalization, persecution, and even death for Christians, prepares his people for living as exiles or sojourners.

I wonder if Christians are ready for this kind of reality. For so long, we’ve lived under the protective umbrella of religious freedom and in a majoritarian Christian environment. We are not used to living as a distinct minority—as the Church has existed for most of its history and as the Church exists in most places around the world.

I’m not cheering for a post-Christian society. I think this sets up negative structures that imperil human flourishing. Because I love my neighbor, I will continue to work for good marriage and family policy. I’ll still fight for justice for the unborn, the trafficked, and the economically disadvantaged. I’ll still work to help equip and influence civic leaders who apply the gospel to public service. As citizens of a representative republic, we must steward well our role as citizens who shape government.

But if pastors, ministry leaders, and lay leaders take their role seriously, they need to rethink the way they talk about the culture to the people they lead. If we are not teaching a proper “theology of exile” as Peter gives us in his Holy Spirit-inspired letter, we’re not obeying Christ’s command to “feed the sheep.” We’re giving them sour milk instead of meat, tickling their ears with what they want to hear instead of telling them what they need to hear.

Viewing our culture correctly

We fail by acting as if the cultural skirmishes are all a big misunderstanding, by genuflecting at polling data that tells us about the unpopularity of orthodoxy. If people leave church thinking that if they would just be a little nicer, their neighbors would not think biblical sexuality so strange, we’re setting them up for a confusion and failure that harms gospel witness.

Jesus perfectly articulated truth and grace and was rewarded with an ignoble crucifixion. The Apostles preached the gospel and were martyred. The early church fed the poor, cared for the diseased, and forgave their enemies—and were still fed to the lions. Christians should be civil and kind because this is a gospel trait, but not because they are under the illusion that their civility will earn them intellectual points from the culture.

We also fail our people by clinging to a nostalgic view of America that longs for a return to some halcyon days of old. A biblical anthropology doesn’t allow us to think the New Jerusalem came and left in the 1950s. Mankind has always been depraved; it’s just that the sins took different forms. Earlier generations rightly valued marriage and family but were tragically wrong on race.

This utopian longing won’t be met by looking at history through rose-colored glasses. Heaven is not in some American time capsule. Our future, as it has always been is in a city whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10). Until then, the Kingdom breaks through in small doses, as God’s people live out the gospel in their communities and as the Church reflects, in part, a full reality we see in Revelation.

So Christian leaders should do as Christian leaders have always had to do: prepare their people for faithful gospel living in a culture that won’t understand a worldview that has, at its center, a dead man who rose again and is at the right hand of the Father in Heaven.

It is this worldview that helps us go into the world and make a difference, succumbing neither to a hand-wringing outrage nor a backpedaling capitulation. Instead, we go out in the joy and power of the Spirit, realizing we are not called to minister in the culture we want, but to the culture that is.

Daniel Darling

Daniel Darling is the Director of the Land Center for Cultural Engagement at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a columnist for World Magazine and a contributor to USA Today. Dan is a bestselling author of several books including, The Dignity Revolution, A Way With Words, and The Characters of … 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