How to engage our culture in everyday life

September 22, 2017

How do we engage the culture in a way that honors Jesus?

The short answer is conversational apologetics. That means helping others reconnect the eternal with the everyday by walking with them the distance from where they are to where the conversation that’s directly about God begins. Think of it as pre-evangelism. It’s all the work that has to be done to an untended, littered, parched, weedy patch of earth prior to actually planting a garden.

Urban gardens and evangelism

Google “urban garden” in the news.  What returns did you get? Are you familiar with the reality of food deserts in inner city America? Are you aware of the urban garden movement? Can you see the gospel in it?

Take a piece of inner city America and turn it into a garden that feeds the local community with good things.  Yes, you have to start by removing the trash and yes, it’s laborious to till dirt that’s been lying under concrete for a generation.  Yes, the soil has to be enriched. Yes, you have to dig down deep. Yes, it takes time and attention and effort. But when people taste and see the Lord is good; when the sun rises and the rain falls and God gives growth; when the harvest is abundant and feeds the body, the soul begins to catch a glimpse of the beauty and truth of the gospel.

My alma mater, Princeton Theological Seminary, actually now has a Farminary program.  Why? Because, come to find out, there really is something about a garden that is intrinsically true. There really is something about the teachings of Jesus relevant to people who aspired to be post-agrarian. Can you make that connection? Could you take your sun hat and your gardening gloves and pull weeds today in an urban garden? What conversations might be had? What relationships might be cultivated? What fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, and self-control might flower? How might you—and maybe someone else—be renewed in hope and faith across what currently divides?  

An Emmaus walk for today

How do we engage the culture in a way that honors Jesus?

Remember Jesus’ walk to Emmaus?  He came alongside and joined two people as they walked the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus.  He observed their distress and grief. He inquired about their conversation, and he stopped and listened to them.  He asked an open-ended follow up question and listened to their answer. Then, having listened, he started to talk. He reframed the entire conversation. He gave them the biblical worldview on the issues of the day. He helped them see things from God’s perspective.  Their hearts burned within them and eventually, their eyes were opened, and they recognized the Truth that sets men free. They ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem to share the good news with others, and Jesus showed up to resolve any doubt and “open their minds so they could understand.”  You can read the entire amazing account in Luke 24.

Seven miles is a long way to walk in the desert on a hot day. With whom are you walking today in order that they might talk about their confusion, disappointment, and grief? Are you opening the Scriptures with them as a part of those conversations? Is Christ being revealed to them in the bread you break in fellowship? This is what mission work looks like in America today, and you’re the missionary whom God has appointed to serve in whatever stretch of dusty road you happen to find yourself on.

Jesus entered conversations that cut across cultural barriers. He spoke with women and children and tax collectors and Roman sympathizers and Pharisees and prostitutes and fisherman and lepers and paralytics and blind beggars and teachers of the law.  He did not regard himself as out of place in any place, and he did not regard any person as an issue. And as soon as we protest, “well, he’s Jesus!” we belie the fact we don’t quite know what it means to live a Galatians 2:20 reality: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

A life that’s not our own

You and I cannot engage the culture in a way that honors Jesus if we do not understand that the life we are living is not really our own. Jesus is using the vessel of our body, our life, here and now, to advance his own Kingdom purposes. We are the tools. We are the instruments. The Spirit is his, the words are his, the agenda is his.  If at any level we continue to think it’s about us—that we are the ones being rejected by the world, that we are the ones being humiliated—then we still have some dying to do.

People often ask me, “How do you know what to say?” The truth is, I don’t. But it’s not about me.  

God knows the person who is before me in this very moment.

God knows the circumstances of their conception and the reality into which they were born.

God knows whether or not they were read to and nurtured as a child, the language and entertainment to which they were exposed. He knows if anyone ever took them to church.

God knows the challenges they’ve faced, the pain they’ve suffered, the secrets they hide from everyone else, the self-conscious tapes running through their mind.

God knows how they feel when they stand naked in front of a mirror, the wounds that formed their scars internally and externally, and what they fear.

God even knows what they dream, but dare not hope.

God knows things I could never know and even if I had all the time in the world, I could never learn. So in this moment of time we have together, in this moment of divine appointment only God could set, I trust God knows how to speak his redemptive love into their life.  

Knowing God knows them, I confirm that God knows he’s got me. “God, I know you’ve got this person in your heart and in your sight.  Take my mind, my heart, my mouth and use me.”

In that two sentence prayer I commit anew to know nothing but Christ and him crucified for the person before me. I admit I do not know whether this is the first tilling of the soil of another human heart or the seed being planted or the watering of the Spirit or the pruning of the gardener or the opportunity for a harvest of righteousness. God alone knows what he has in mind for this particular divine appointment. The less I think about myself and my own inadequacies the better. I am but a mouthpiece, an ambassador, a representative, a conduit, a servant.  Jesus is the One who loves this person before whom I sit or stand. Jesus is the One who, by the present power of the Holy Spirit, tenderizes my heart and conforms my conscience and forms my thoughts and gives the words. All I have to do is trust God to be God and then submit to him.

Does that lead to ridicule and rejection? Sometimes. But so what? I don’t particularly care what people walk away thinking of me. I care deeply what they now may be thinking about Jesus. If I’ve done my job, they’re thinking about the possibility there is a God, and he knows them and wants to be known by them.

This is an excerpt from Carmen LaBerge's new book, Speak the Truth: How to Bring God Back into Every Conversation (Regnery Faith, 2017).

Carmen Fowler LaBerge

Carmen LaBerge is a writer, speaker and host of the daily Christian talk radio show The Reconnect. She is also in her ninth year serving as the President of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, a ministry that’s been working to equip Christians for faithful witness for more than 50 years. 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