Boots on the Ground: The Denver Institute for Faith & Work

January 10, 2014

Billions of people spend much of their waking hours in a work environment. Work is important and ordained by God. As a result, faith and work initiatives are sprouting up across the country. In 2012, Jeff Haanen began developing a concept for an initiative that included community involvement, discipleship, forums and informal gatherings. By 2013, the Denver Institute for Faith & Work was established as a non-profit with Haanen at the helm and a board and volunteers made up of physicians, pastors, non-for-profit workers, business owners and more.

The Denver Institute for Faith & Work (DIFW) is unique in its “boots to the ground” approach and embracing its mission to “cultivate personal and cultural renewal by applying the gospel to work.” They do this through partnering with churches, businesses and other organizations throughout Denver to host events, forums and vocational groups.

Haanen studied International Economics and Spanish at Valparaiso University. He was a missionary in Ecuador for a year after college, and during seminary he worked with the Hispanic Initiative at Denver Seminary. After seminary he served as the co-pastor of Iglesia Bautista Nueva Esperanza, a Spanish-speaking church in Colorado and as the Director of Admissions at Front Range Christian School.

He now serves as the Executive Director of Denver Institute for Faith & Work. I corresponded with Haanen and one of his volunteers, Andrew Wolgemuth, to learn more about DIFW.

Why did you decide to start the Denver Institute for Faith & Work?

Haanen: I became a believer during my senior year of high school. I read a book How Now Shall We Live by Chuck Colson and realized the gospel is not only for personal salvation, it affects all of life. When I went to college I saw the great divide between the theology studies and everything else. This was concerning. God cares about all of life. Jesus is Lord over all things.

That’s how it began. I wrote an in-depth blog post on it here. But I can give you three short reasons here. (1) Denver doesn't have any faith and work initiatives attempting to equip Christians for ministry in a wide array of vocational fields. Though several business initiatives exist, there are many fields, like technology, media/communications or engineering/architecture in which there are almost no efforts to meaningfully bring the gospel to work. (2) Many pastors in Denver wanted to do more to equip people to serve God in their work, but lacked the bandwidth and size to do so effectively. So we gathered a group of ten pastors to serve as our “home churches” and created a joint initiative that could serve many churches and pull off events and groups too big for any one of us. (3) There was a huge need! In both the local church and the city, we see dozens of people struggling with work issues and relating their faith to where they spend most of their days. So we decided to build an institution that could meet this need.

DIFW is assembling organized small groups throughout your city. What is the main objective of these groups? How many are there?

Haanen: For now we have five vocation groups: health care, media/communications, business, law and engineering/architecture. All of the groups begin in January except or the law that has been going for a while. Vocation groups meet regularly to explore in community the gospel's influence on our work, gain a renewed vision for our work, and to spur one another on to creative engagement within one’s company/organization or industry.  DIFW's desire is to train, support, and nourish the body of Christ for its high priestly ministry in the world (1 Pet. 2:9) and to equip the saints for acts of service within their profession (Eph. 4:4) and in their communities.

Will the groups work through certain material (books, articles, etc.)?

Haanen: Our materials are tailored to each group and event. Though we have a few general theology of work books we like to give away, we try as much as possible not to do a “10 week curriculum” format simply because this is a lifelong journey and the variables within our work days change too much. Some of these suggested books and videos can be found on our “Resources” page.

How are you actively pursuing a broad range of workers (i.e. “white” and “blue” collar)?

Haanen:  We do have a desire to reach out the whole Body of Christ. My church (Colorado Community Church) is very diverse, and has people from a wide variety of jobs, both of what we'd probably consider “blue collar” and “white collar.” We plan public forums that are industry specific and “church events” which are not; I think our church events will attract a wide variety of backgrounds.

What are your goals for DIFW? Where do you hope to see your organization in five years?

Haanen:  We have many goals. They revolve around “converting” our events, public forums, and vocation groups into new work that blesses the city.

In five years we hope to have been at the root of the creation of many new initiatives and gospel-centered organizations in Denver. We also prayerfully hope to be able to loan our model to other cities interested in creating similar, regional organizations that bring together both pastors and laity around the theme of infiltrating our work with the gospel.

Andrew Wolgemuth, an agent with Wolgemuth & Associates, is a volunteer with the Denver Institute for Faith & Work. He and his co-lead Jill Hamilton, a Senior Associate at SE2, lead the media and communications vocational group. Wolgemuth gives a glimpse into faith and work and how DIFW’s vocational groups might function.  

How did you hear about the DIFW? 

Wolgemuth: I learned about the Denver Institute for Faith and Work last fall shortly after I met Jeff Haanen. At that point, Jeff was in the midst of refining his vision for DIFW, not quite ready to officially launch but showing great promise in his vision and rough plan.

Why did you decide to get involved?

Wolgemuth: Jeff's vision for the DIFW caught my attention. He's a Denver Seminary grad with a pastoral, missionary heart, and he's come to realize that the local church could use a bit of help in ministering to congregants in the workplace. So many of us spend so many hours each week working, and so many of us view these hours as something lesser…something completely different than our “church life” or “spiritual life.” Jeff's encouragement blessed me – I wanted more and I wanted to be a part of encouraging others.

What do you hope to accomplish through your vocational group? 

Wolgemuth: My co-leader and I will facilitate bi-monthly gatherings of Communications & Media professionals to talk about various faith and work topics related to our fields. We're also aiming to organize a Communications & Media Public Forum about once a year. There is a discipleship and evangelistic aspect. We hope we will all dig deeper and take our faith more seriously. We want to encourage others and remind each other that our work matters.

Is there an ideal size for your vocational group?

Wolgemuth: Because we want our group to be very discussion oriented and for our group members to have a decent familiarity with each other, we think the ideal group size will be about 8 to 10 folks. When/if we get to 14 or 15, we'll look to split of a second group.

In a previous conversation, you mentioned that a Tim Keller book inspired you. What was that book and how?

Wolgemuth: The book by Tim Keller is Every Good Endeavor. The book has a great subtitle: “Connecting Your Work to God's Work” – what Christian doesn't want to do that‽ In this book, Keller provides Christian Work & Faith 101 and 201 thinking- I found it to be a thoughtful, encouraging corrective to a lot of my previous thinking (or lack thereof!) on how I approached my work.

How has your faith shaped your work ethic? 

Wolgemuth: Interesting question! I think the faith and work discussion has shaped my work in many ways, but I wouldn't have thought about my work ethic first and foremost. I've always had a decent work ethic, but perhaps my motivation of late has been less “work hard…God is watching” (in sort of an ominous way) and more of “work hard…your work can serve the kingdom.”

Find out more about the Denver Institute through their website at www.denverinstitute.org.

Trillia Newbell

Trillia Newbell is the author of several books including A Great Cloud of Witnesses, Sacred Endurance, If God Is For Us, Fear and Faith,and the children’s books, Creative God, Colorful Us and  God’s Very Good Idea. When she isn’t writing, she’s encouraging and supporting other writers as an Acquisitions Editor at Moody … 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