Maturity in an increasingly juvenilized society

May 16, 2018

The soon-to-be-married couple sat in front of us all in our living room while we showered them with words of blessing and challenge. Of course, their college friends were there—many of whom will stand with them on their wedding day. Both sets of the engaged couple’s parents were present. The parents are still married to each other—a rarity today.

It was an intergenerational gathering. Some were younger. Some were older. Some were not married. Some were married with kids. Some were grandparents. Everyone recognized and embraced the new chapter that was coming for our friends to walk in wisdom as they entered into marriage.

The expectation of growing into adulthood

Experience is teaching me that the purpose of youth is to prepare for adulthood. I am surrounded by youth. I work on a college campus. At home, my wife and I have five growing boys under our roof. Right now, they may act their shoe size, but in a few years, I will expect them to act their age. Children and college-aged students don’t stay that age forever, nor should they. We would say that something is terribly wrong if a grown man were to act like a student or a child. We expect our young people to grow up, and to grow up well.

When he was on the earth, Jesus grew up. He grew in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man (Luke 2:52). Peter said, “Like newborn infants, long for pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Pet. 2:2). He also said, “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).

The apostle Paul challenged the Corinthian church, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Cor. 4:20). He said that God gave gifts of leadership to the church “to equip the saints . . . until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood.” He told them to “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph. 4:12-14, 15). Paul labored, proclaiming Christ in order to “present everyone mature in Christ.” And Epaphras struggled for the Colossians in prayer because he wanted them to “stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God” (Col. 1:28; 4:12). In life, maturation is the expectation.

The juvenilization of “grown-ups”

Several years ago, Thomas E. Bergler, professor of ministry and missions at Huntingdon University, wrote The Juvenilization of American Christianity. He argues that well-meaning efforts to reach young people have unintentionally contributed to a crisis of spiritual immaturity. In this and his subsequent book, From Here to Maturity: Overcoming the Juvenilization of American Christianity, he focuses on the life of the evangelical church. It seems to me that his accurate assessment of evangelical churches could be broadened to apply to the juvenilization of American society. Juvenilization is “the process by which religious beliefs, practices and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for adults.”

Responsibility, self-denial, and service to others might be seen as old-fashioned ideals by some, but our desire to lead young people into adulthood must include these necessary building blocks. In the early part of the 20th century, people entered adulthood in their teens or early 20s as they got married, got a job, and began having children. Today, adulthood is often delayed as young people refuse to make decisions, often remain single by choice, and often move back in with their parents.

Immerse in an intergenerational context

One of the best things young people can do is value age and immerse themselves in an intergenerational context where they will rub shoulders regularly with those who have more experience and have walked before them.

One of the best things young people can do is value age and immerse themselves in an intergenerational context where they will rub shoulders regularly with those who have more experience and have walked before them. When Rehoboam became king, he pursued the folly of youth and spoke harshly to his followers rather than serving them and speaking good words to them (1 Kings 12). Rehoboam was foolish because he abandoned the counsel of the older men around him. Flannery O’Connor was right, “Conviction without experience makes for harshness.”

When it comes to parenting, we certainly do not do it all right, but my wife and I are glad that our boys are growing up in an intergenerational church. Each week, they see kids, teenagers, and young adults like us gathering in the Sanctuary. But they also see the elderly blind man shuffling in to take his pew behind the gray-haired women who have been a part of the church for years.  

My boys may not be experiencing excitement that comes from a single-generation group of Christians on Sunday morning, but there is no doubt that they are being immersed in a community of godly wisdom. I’m thankful my kids know octogenarian believers. In a day when many are interested in more young people coming to church, this middle-aged dad is thankful for the warm-hearted, Christ-centered, gray heads who gather regularly under our steeple.

Old age may not be popular in our world of cosmetic surgeries, Botox, Viagra, wrinkle cream, and photoshopped images, but we are meant to age. It’s a part of the process. With apologies to Cher, we can’t turn back time. We can’t slow down the proverbial clock. We can tuck and pad and stretch and cover, but we must remember that all men are like grass. That is why the Psalmist says, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psa. 90:12).

Wisdom and youth are not mutually exclusive, but I think Ralph Waldo Emerson was on to something when he said, “The best tunes are played on the oldest fiddles.” As I have watched, it appears to me that those who spend their energies pursuing youth often seem to lack wisdom and have lives that sound strangely out of tune. Although wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age, it often will if a Christian spends a lifetime pursuing it (Prov. 2:1-2, 5). Now that I’m older, I realize that if I went back to my younger days and was given the choice between youth and wisdom, I’d choose wisdom and a life that’s in tune. I hope my kids do too.

Todd E. Brady

Todd Brady is the Assistant Professor of Ministry and Vice President for University Ministries. He received his D.Min. at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, M.Div. at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and B.S. at Union University. 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