How my parents encouraged discernment and wonder when I was young

August 9, 2018

“No!” often evokes a negative response. Perhaps it’s a recollection of someone shouting the phrase at you out of seemingly unprovoked anger; or maybe it’s a memory of a once wide-open door slammed shut right in front of you. Regardless, we almost always hate being told no.

Despite the distaste for the word, studies show that authoritative parenting (a parenting method characterized by well-established boundaries and attentiveness to the needs of the child) is by far the most effective practice that parents can implement. As broken and perverse creatures, we aren’t born with the wisdom to determine right from wrong. Rather, as the Psalmist said, we are born into sin and “brought forth in iniquity” (Ps. 51:5). Our very nature is intent upon selfish, harmful actions.

Because of this, my parents raised me to understand that we need to be corrected and told “no” to our erroneous desires at a young age. Moreover, I learned that this means that the occasions when a child does hear the word “yes” are that much more crucial. If we need to hear “no” so frequently to quell our wrong desires, then a “yes” ought to stand out, signaling that what is being approved is indeed good and worthy of pursuit (Phil. 4:8).

Goodness affirmed

Part of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit entails teaching us how to be able to look around at the created world around us and, without diminishing sin, recognize that it is good. After each stage of creation, the Creator stood back and marveled at his work, emphatically expressing his pleasure (Gen. 1-3). Even after the fall and the entry of sin into the world, we ought to do the same.

However, this is not always an easy thing to do. We live in a world that is wrought with the consequences of sin, therefore it is imperative that we keenly discern what aspects of culture we are approving as good. As a young man who is passionately pursuing Christ, I believe that my parents set a precedent for doing this in a cautious, yet profound manner. The three primary ways in which they did so were:  

  1. Inquiring about the content I was consuming: My family would often watch movies together. Afterward my parents would ask my siblings and I a series of questions about the themes we saw displayed—questions such as, “What do you like about (insert character)?” or “What does this teach us about Jesus?” This taught me to do more than simply absorb what I was watching or listening to. Instead, I learned to think more critically, something that would pave the way for making gospel-connections in my own view of pop culture.
  2. Supporting my curiosities: As a boy I was obsessed with animals. Steve Irwin was my uncontested childhood hero and, much to my mother’s chagrin, I attempted to emulate his example by catching every lizard, snake, and frog I could get my hands on. The Creator had captured me with the delight of his creation, and this obsession was accompanied by an insatiable desire to learn about it as much as I could. My parents endorsed this by making frequent trips to the library, recording my favorite shows on the Discovery Channel, and taking me to all kinds of parks and wildlife centers. All of this fostered the growing sense of wonder within me—something I have carried with me to this day.  
  3. Promoting praise-worthy models: My parents put forth a concerted effort to promote profound examples of truth in action to us kids. They provided ample amounts of rich content through an assortment of books, magazines, and music, as well as their validation of the illustrations of objective goodness we encountered. For example, my dad would quote Optimus Prime’s comment that “freedom is the right of all sentient beings,” or my mom would point out how Tim Tebow publicly asserted his faith in Jesus, regardless of the backlash he knew he would receive. They were careful to let me observe the world for myself, but they never failed to enthusiastically support and graciously amend what I perceived to be good in the culture that affected my budding perception of how the world ought to be.

A deeper understanding

As I matured and grew in my understanding of the gospel, these experiences became more concrete. I came to know the elementary principles that mom and dad had affirmed in my childhood as theologically rich truths. These have, in turn, served as a bedrock for making difficult life decisions. It was as if the deep insights that my heart intrinsically held to be true, but could not yet voice, suddenly came to fruition. I finally began to understand what the great author and theologian C.S. Lewis meant when he said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

My parents knew when to say “no” to my sinful desires, but more importantly, they knew when and how to say “yes” to the glimpses of truth that I was encountering in midst of a fallen world. In doing so, they laid the foundation for a thankful son who has grown in his understanding and wonder of the gospel of Jesus Christ. May we all do the same for the generations to come.

Cole Mitchell

Cole is currently an undergraduate student at Texas A&M Univerity. Upon graduation, he intends to commission into the Marine Corps and then attend seminary prior to a career of vocational ministry. He will be serving as the Chaplain of the Corps of Cadets during his senior year.   Read More by this Author

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