Christians and platform building

April 7, 2014

The ERLC is excited to sponsor Band of Bloggers this year at the Together for the Gospel conference. The theme of the discussion is Platform Building and the Gospel. I had the chance to sit down with Timmy Brister, the organizer of the event and ask him a few questions: 

You've been hosting this event for a few years now. What are the most positive developments you've seen in the Christian blogosphere since you began? 

Having led an event for eight years, I've seen relationships develop with bloggers that have transcended simply blogging. Bloggers have become friends, and even in my case, bloggers have become co-laborers in gospel ministry. So I would argue first and foremost that bloggers realize that it is more than just the blogs but the people behind the blogs. Another positive development is the increasing number of bloggers who have since published books, having been seen by publishers through their blogs. Many of them are excellent writers, and blogging provided them exposure to their gift and provided future opportunities to write books that have been a great blessing to the evangelical community and beyond. 

What are some of the troubling developments? 

I'm not sure if this would be classified as “troubling”, but blogging has evolved over the years, especially from decentralization to centralization. Bloggers started out having their own, independent voice. When bloggers become “successful” it seems that they are either branded and grouped in a larger network/organization, or they are blogging for a specific ministry. Again, I'm not saying that trend is all bad, but it does have a way of filtering and shaping the voice of bloggers as they are now writing representatively to some degree as opposed to writing with a unique voice to the evangelical community. That tends to produce a tribalistic mini-narrative or echo chamber of sorts that could prevent us from listening and learning from others not in our tribe. Another concern over the years has been the dehumanization effect of blogging (and social media as well). Because we are looking at a screen and not a person, it is more tempting as people tend to have less restrain in saying things they would normally not say in person (or in the way it is said). Finally, it is troubling to me that the blogs that focus on negativity or controversy have the larger audience. That speaks both to the troubling nature of the blogger as well as the (rather large) community willing to pay attention to unprofitable and even sinful speech. 

You are talking about platform and celebrity, two topics under much discussion in the evangelical world right now. How does a gifted leader discern between leveraging his gifts for the larger body of Christs' and a sort of crass attempt to create a platform at any costs? 

I'm really glad we are attempting to tackle this issue in our upcoming gathering. It is one that requires careful thinking and healthy discussion. I think Matthew 5:16 really comes into play here. Jesus tells us that our light should shine before men, but the outcome is that they glorify our Father who is in heaven. How does that happen? How do you do what you do “before men” so that it is not interpreted being all about you? In one sense, that's a miracle of God that anyone would glorify God when our good works are seen. In another sense, there is a manner by which we can conduct ourselves that, while making offerings to the public and taking advantage of platforms available to us, we are not trying to create artificial light to draw excessive attention to ourselves. We should not shrink back from desiring to be useful or be ashamed of the gifts God has given us, but we should shrink back and be ashamed when our usefulness and gifts point to ourselves rather than to the Giver of those gifts. The hard part about that is we are guilty of that in very subtle and often unrecognizable ways, and that is why community is so helpful in bringing self-awareness and constructive accountability as we all want to exalt the name of Christ and not our own. 

It also seems there is a kind of bloodlust to take down Christian celebrities. That, too, can be a form of pride and arrogance, can it not? 

I think it can not only be a form of pride and arrogance, but it is more explicitly a lack of love for that person. Paul says that love does not rejoice in wrongdoing. While these celebrities are not our enemies, they are often treated as such. Proverbs 24:7 exhorts us “not to rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles.” If that is true for our enemies, how much more true is it for our fellow Christian brothers and sisters! When a Christian celebrity is embroiled in a controversy, I think it is important for all of us to examine our own hearts and ask why we feel the way we do. I am that “you who are spiritual” who “restore him in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:1) are too few in number. That ought not to be the case.

Is there a way to “earnestly contend for the faith” and yet do it in a charitable way? 

I hope so. One of the best articles I've ever read on this subject is by Roger Nicole on “how to deal with those who differ from us.” I highly recommend it. Speaking the truth in love is a skill that requires humility and boldness, tenderness and conviction. We cannot have one without the other. Contending does not mean fighting or being argumentative, and unfortunately, contending for the faith has been smeared at times by those who are doing it wrong. But it is smeared all the time by those who are not doing it at all. It would serve us well to rehearse as a rhythm of remembering 1 Corinthians 13 in all our dealings with others, knowing at the end of the matter, faithful contending for the faith is not measured by arguments won but by displaying the character of Christ and pointing people to him.

Where do you think the Christian publishing and blogging is moving in the next few years? 

The last few years have seen a massive spike in e-books and self-publishing. Additionally, books seem much shorter in length. I see both trends continuing for the foreseeable future. I have been buying and reading books for 15 years, and I must say that the past few years have produced an amazing number of excellent books, and the kinds of books being published today demonstrate a healthy trend addressing topics and issues at the heart of the Christian faith. Blogging is no longer new. If I'm not mistaken, more people kill blogs today than start them. However, blogs are still valuable and will continue to shape the voice of evangelicalism in the future. No one is reading tweets from a week ago or bookmarking them for future reference. On a daily basis, I have over 150 articles read daily from the past nine years that people fine simply through the search engine. That alone reminds me that the blogposts we write today has the potential to impact lives many years later. 

What can attendees of Band of Bloggers expect at this event? 

I hope to speak the love languages of every attendee–assuming they are speaking Chick-fil-a and books! Seriously, Band of Bloggers exists to provide a venue for bloggers, authors, and leaders to network together for fellowship and to discuss important matters related to the gospel of Jesus Christ and our work online in all of its forms. I enjoy giving books away, and this year we are doing more than ever with 7,000 books worth over $106,000 thanks to generous sponsors. In short, those who attend can expect to a get a full stomach, a full bag of books, and a enjoyable time of discussing how we can best honor Christ and his gospel through our presence online.

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