Encouragement is the antidote for Christian critic culture

June 7, 2021

Can you remember the most discouraging month of your life? I can. September 2014 quickly became one of the most disheartening months of my life as I received hate mail from across the country because of a disagreement over the promotion of a sermon series. What baffled me more than anything, though, was the amount of animosity coming from religious people — many who were professing followers of Jesus. 

The need to reverse Christian critic culture

While some of the critiques I received were valid, many of the responses broke my heart because they revealed a very serious problem in American Christianity at-large. The sheer amount of hostility from fellow believers was stunning. One example was, “Get a refund on your seminary degree because you obviously don’t know what the gospel is.” 

But in the middle of this messy month, God gave me some beautiful insight and perspective on what has now become a major calling for my life and ministry. Someone in my life was initially upset, and when we talked in person the tension between us only got worse. But early the next morning, this person called to read me a long apology letter. I’ll never forget one of the most powerful lines from that letter: “Dan, you’re on the mission field trying to reach people for Jesus. We should be cheering you on, not tearing you down.” Not only did that letter provide healing for our friendship; it also gave me hope that reversing Christian critic culture is possible.

Believe it or not, criticism is not a spiritual gift, nor should it be a hobby for followers of Jesus. My friend Jan Gebert says, “Finding fault is no great accomplishment.” But if you’ve spent any time on social media this past year, you’d think Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples by your critiques of each other.” While discernment, critical thinking, and warning others well are certainly important aspects of the Christian life, tearing each other down in the process makes Satan smile. Our Christian critic culture needs an antidote, and biblical encouragement is just that.  

Fighting critic culture by embracing encouragement 

Love is Christianity 401, not 101. In 1 Corinthians 13, God tells us that nothing we know, do, or say in the Christian life matters if love is absent. Love is for every Christian — but especially the strong and mature Christian. Love is the epitome of living “grace and truth” together because that’s who Jesus is (John 1:14; 1 John 4:10). Love is not void of truth. Instead, it uses truth to serve and sacrifice, just like our Savior (Mark 10:45). 

Without love, we cannot become more like Jesus, and we cannot show a watching world that living for Jesus is actually worth it. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”1John 13:34-35 Without love, we cannot practice the one-anothers of Scripture. And one of these most neglected yet most powerful one-anothers is biblical encouragement.

Encouragement requires effort

Biblical encouragement is coming alongside someone else, pointing them to Jesus, and giving them the courage to walk with God. Love is the only soil where this spiritual discipline takes root and bears fruit. Biblical encouragement is not naïve, utopian idealism or cotton-candy Christianity. On the contrary, it requires far more strength than the knee-jerk rhythms of our Christian critic culture that take the easy road of tearing others down rather than building them up. 

Our tendencies toward petty jealousies, ministry competitiveness, splintering divisions, and lack of collaboration reveal the reality that we are consistently missing the mark of God’s love. Many believers today are known far more by what they oppose rather than who and what they are for. And even if we are identified by what we positively support, it tends to be a large laundry list before getting to loving like Jesus does. 

Biblical encouragement is the antidote God has placed in our hands to live out both comfort (grace) and exhortation (truth) together. We can flip the script on Christian critic culture by paving the way forward through our words and our walk in tandem. Every follower of Jesus has the honor and privilege of representing him to a world that desperately needs hope. In order to effectively represent Jesus, though, believers must rise to their responsibility of loving rather than destroying one another. 

We need to spur one another on

While America rapidly secularizes, we need to build one another up and spur one another on in faithful witness. When gossip goes unchecked, assuming the worst becomes common, and using our thumbs and fingers to type what we would never say with our mouths is the “new normal,” we have a problem. Sadly, we often say more encouraging words in our eulogies once people have died than we do while they’re alive. But all of this does not have to continue if we’re willing to give and receive biblical encouragement: to come alongside someone else, point them to Jesus, and give them the courage to faithfully follow our Lord in the various ways he has called us.

Dan Nichols

Dan Nichols is the lead pastor of Grace Christian Fellowship in Cortland, New York. He’s married to his best friend Joy, and they have two boys named Landon and Declan. Dan was the founding church planter for Restored Church in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. He’s also founder and president of the resourcing … 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