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How Chuck Colson changed the way I think

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March 9, 2015

Editor’s Note: We asked several ERLC research fellows to weigh in on books and thinkers that have helped shape and solidify their convictions and worldview. Be sure to check out other posts in this series here

I was raised in Southeast Georgia, close to the buckle of the Bible Belt. I came of age in the mid-1990s, when the Christian Coalition was at the height of its influence, Newt Gingrich was making contracts with America, and it seemed like national revival was closely tied to the fortunes of the Republican Party. Those were heady days for politically conservative evangelicals, Bill Clinton’s presidency notwithstanding. I was a proud member of the College Republicans and listened regularly to D. James Kennedy and James Dobson on American Family Radio.

I was also what a friend calls a “cultural anorexic.” To my thinking, American culture was decadent and should be avoided by believers—with the exception, of course, of voting for Republican politicians. I didn’t listen to secular music for a couple of years. I didn’t watch any R-rated movies and avoided most PG-13 movies. I even avoided G-rated movies (at least the ones made by the Walt Disney Company). I wore a lot of Christian t-shirts and rocked a “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelet. As I have reflected on those years, I think I meant well. I really wanted to honor God. But I was an arrogant, condescending, and pretty ignorant religious reactionary.

All this began to change the summer between my junior and senior years of college. Simply put, I discovered Chuck Colson. Previously, I had listened to the “Breakpoint” radio program, so I knew Colson’s name. But that summer, I read his book How Now Shall We Live?. Next, I read The Body: Being Life in Darkness. I started subscribing to Christianity Today, and Colson’s columns became a monthly highlight. I started reading every essay of Colson’s that I could find on the internet. By the time I graduated from college, by God’s grace—and with Chuck Colson’s help—I was no longer a religious reactionary.

Through his writings, Colson taught me three lessons that have continued to shape how I think about the relationship between faith and culture.

Worldviews matter

Chuck Colson believed that worldviews matter. In How Now Shall We Live? Colson and his co-author, Nancy Pearcey, argue that, “The church’s singular failure in recent decades has been the failure to see Christianity as a life system, or worldview, that governs every area of existence.” They then go on to explain the basics of a Christian worldview: the goodness of creation, the horror of sin, the cosmic scope of redemption, a Christian view of culture, the importance of work and witness and worship.

How Now Shall We Live? introduced me to the thinking of Francis Schaeffer and Abraham Kuyper, two figures who further helped to reorient my thoughts about faith and culture. In fact, it would be fair to say that my understanding of the Christian worldview has been nurtured through a combination of Schaeffer, Kuyper, John Calvin, C. S. Lewis, Carl Henry, William Wilberforce, Al Wolters, Richard Mouw and Jonathan Edwards. Colson put me on the trail of about half of these figures.

Cultural engagement is more than political engagement

Thanks to Colson, I had come to believe that the gospel transforms the mind and the Bible provides a particular grid through which to interpret all of life. I now had a healthier, more robust, more biblical way of thinking about how best to engage culture. Politics remained an interest, but as I matured in my understanding of the Christian worldview, I became less partisan. Increasingly, I was able to maintain a bit more critical distance from any particular political party. I now knew that politics was only part of the story—and a part that was as likely to disappoint as any.

As a Christian, I’m to care about how God is at work in the arts, and education, and the sciences, and the family, and public justice. Everything matters to God. Colson introduced me to the Kuyperian concept of “sphere sovereignty,” a topic I later learned about in greater depth from Kuyper himself and other Kuyperian thinkers. Christian should be concerned with the full range of human existence and how God’s common grace is displayed in every human culture. I’m committed to what I think is a biblical vision of human flourishing, and I’m indebted to Chuck Colson for first putting me on this path.

The Church is bigger than I thought it was

The second Colson book I read was actually his earlier work, The Body. In that book, Colson and co-author ‎Ellen Vaughn looked at how various Christians from every denominational tradition were living out their faith in witness and service to the world. Colson argued that the church is both against the world and for the world, a balancing act that should be reflected in our cultural engagement. Tim Keller and others have captured this same theme in recent years by referring to the church as a counterculture for the common good.

I found Colson’s view of the universal church challenging. I was a Baptist collegian who was suspicious of other denominations. But without rejecting my sincere and strong commitment to biblical doctrines such as the sufficiency of Scripture and justification by faith alone, I came to recognize that God’s people transcends our denominational traditions. Our denominations have real and important differences. Furthermore, nominal faith remains a persistent threat. Nevertheless, all who claim Jesus is Lord should find as many ways as possible to work together to be salt and light in a world that hates everyone who acknowledges the Bible as God’s Word, affirms biblical ethics, and embraces the faith summarized in the creedal consensus of the ancient church.

I’m thankful for the life and ministry of Chuck Colson. I’d urge those reading this blog post to read Colson’s many writings. I’d also encourage you to be on the lookout for Owen Strachan’s forthcoming book The Colson Way: Loving Your Neighbor and Living with Faith in a Hostile World.

Nathan A. Finn

Nathan A. Finn is senior fellow for Religious Liberty of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He serves as professor of Faith and Culture and directs the Institute for Transformational Leadership at North Greenville University in Tigerville, South Carolina. His most recent book is "Fulfilling the Great Commission: Essays in … 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