Christians: Set Your Minds on Things Above

March 5, 2014

To be faithful to God, Christians should take care not to invest too much hope in politics. But we must be good stewards of the power and influence we have. This is the natural consequence of two biblical beliefs. First, God is sovereign over the universe and Christians will be in heaven one day no matter what happens on earth. Second, each person is responsible to God for his own stewardship of responsibilities and opportunities. Though there will be some overlap, each Christian is called to be faithful differently because each has his own opportunities, vocation, and callings.

For the most part, I think Christians get into trouble doubting that first statement. As fallen beings, we far too often set our minds on the here and now, rather than on eternity. Waiting until heaven to see results is hard, maybe more so in our present age of instant gratification.

For two millennia Christians have struggled to stay on mission, at times allowing the siren calls of power and relevance in this world to draw us off course. This is perhaps most acute for those of us called to be faithful in politics and culture. The very same malady afflicted the disciples, who first expected the Messiah to bring reform and a worldly kingdom. At times they were mainly interested in an armed revolt against Rome. As they soon learned and proclaimed clearly in Scripture, Jesus had not come to rule a worldly kingdom, reform the Roman Empire, or bring Judea back to its glory years. His agenda was one of changing men by supernatural means, not bending wills to outward conformity by law or culture.

Even after it became clear that Jesus’ kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36), the church continued to struggle with mission creep. Within a century it became clear that the Christian church would not form a nation-state and instead became a minority religion throughout the Roman Empire. With rapid demographic growth, successful evangelism, and converts in high positions, the church saw growth and, eventually, worldly standing. Over time, Christianity became intertwined with the state in a way that would last for more than a millennium.

Fast forwarding to our time and our nation, Christianity has always been a dominant cultural force. The Founders were clearly not all orthodox believers, but they largely respected the moral teachings of the Bible. During times of revival, the influence of the church increased. In our own recent history, there seemed to be a peak of religious interest in the 1950s, when three-quarters said religion was “very important” in their lives.

For a complex set of reasons outside the scope of this piece, the influence of the church on the larger culture and the health of the visible church itself weakened considerably. Today self-reported church attendance is down twenty percent since the 1950s, and the portion saying religion is very important is down to 55 percent. Within living memory the influence of Christianity has dropped significantly. The mainline churches have been a spent force for decades.

Perhaps in part because of the one-time “success” of nominal Christianity—the line between the faithful and the nominal was blurred—theological precision and fervor subsided. Today’s ascendant and sometimes dominant religion—inside the professing church and in society at large—is what sociologist Christian Smith calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It is a “how-is-this-going-to-help-me-now” approach to religion devoid of the gospel. Such thinking, Smith found, is particularly prevalent among those under thirty, a trend that is true also in the church. When worldly success is more esteemed, valued, and sought, is it surprising that true Christianity (“Pick up your cross and follow me,” Matthew 16:24) morphs into Moralistic Therapeutic Deism?

Such a shallow gospel, of course, is no help to those undergoing trials and hardly spurs the kind of devotion necessary when you are encountering the headwinds of mainstream culture to “get with the program” of the sexual revolution. The theologically rotten fruit of worldly thinking are all around us: To take just two issues of relevant political importance today, we have abortion on demand, same-sex marriage in more than a dozen states, and a majority of the Supreme Court cannot even bring itself to engage arguments for the traditional definition of marriage, instead maintaining that proponents of marriage are animated by animus.

The rapid cultural collapse in many areas of the United States is evident: A photographer who did not want to photograph a lesbian commitment ceremony was reprimanded by the New Mexico Human Rights Commission. Laws concerning sexual orientation and gender identity in many locales will make it increasingly difficult for some employers to operate according to biblical views of sexuality.

So how should believers respond?

Our political engagement must not hinder our desire and ability as the church and as individuals to preach the gospel and, reliant on God, to make disciples. That is also true for those of us working vocationally in politics and culture. While we need not strain our theology to be popular—that often means ungodly accommodation—we do need to be careful not to put ourselves as an obstacle to someone to hear about Christ. God saves political liberals, moderates and conservatives alike. We should worry a lot less whether about our candidate wins the next election and a lot more about whether our friends, family and neighbors have heard the good news and see us living that out in our lives. After all, to paraphrase Jesus, what would it profit us to gain the whole world “politically” but lose souls “theologically”?

Redoubling our efforts to organize and “take back America” is distinctly the wrong approach. For one thing, the Millennial generation has little interest in an infusion of Christian political activism bordering on sloganeering, ensuring that such a strategy would not work even if it was the best course.

Christians who take the Bible seriously should seek faithfulness in all spheres. The most direct threat to the church is not political, but theological, and always will be. Jesus and the apostles warned us repeatedly to watch out for false teaching. Paul in 2 Timothy warned us, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” Instead of shaping our theology and practice to make us popular, we must fear God rather than men. Jesus told us to “fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” A local church’s weekly preaching should reflect God’s Word, holding forth the gospel and teaching the congregation to be more like Christ. That will transform culture more than prodding the congregation to battle in the culture. And more importantly, God uses the preaching of His Word to save souls.

People are not saved by common grace or political arguments—they are saved by redeeming grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. And that gift of faith comes by hearing not a political speech but by hearing God’s own revealed Word about a forgiving God who sent His Son Jesus Christ to save sinners.

That said, we should not stop fighting for biblical principles about public issues, thinking the cause is not worthwhile (faithfulness is always worthwhile) or being deluded that the world will suddenly love us if we stop talking about controversial political and cultural issues. Preaching the gospel faithfully may well offend, after all.

Some advocate for a “culture war truce” in our politics. Such a truce would amount to little more than capitulation. (As a political and practical matter, Republicans would be imprudent to set aside social issues. Traditional marriage outperformed the Republican presidential ticket in states where it was on the ballot in 2012.) The Bible addresses marriage and the unborn, to take two issues mentioned earlier. Not speaking to those issues in the larger culture would be poor stewardship. In as many ways as possible, believers should strive to be agents of common grace for all as we seek to be instruments of redeeming grace.

To be faithful, a Christian who is running for political office or toiling in the fields of the culture wars must be ready to give a defense of his views, using both scriptural reasons and arguments accessible to non-believers. When the Bible speaks on something, we should not shy away from defending that proposition. We can pray that God’s grace—common and redeeming—will be at work in the people hearing our arguments. And if our arguments do not prevail, we can take comfort that we were faithful in proclaiming the truth, and remember that our home is in heaven.

Certainly there will be plenty of opportunities for our own repentance and faith—privately and publicly—as we seek to be faithful in a realm in which so many invest so much meaning and it is easy to offend others. As Christians, we must approach this from the right perspective. Scripture is exceedingly clear on some cultural and political issues, and faithful expositional preaching will address them in due course and in context of all God’s teaching. We must consider our political efforts as a test of faithfulness on these issues and think, act, and speak charitably on those issues where Christians can disagree. The church’s primary mission is to make disciples. That means overall we ought to worry a little less about this world, and a lot more about the next.

Derrick Morgan

Derrick Morgan was the former Vice President for the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity and Chief of Staff for Ben Sasse, and he is currently serving at the Vice-President of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers. Morgan has published works on topics including climate change and fuel economy standards, … 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