Ministry from the margins: Answering cultural opposition with Christlike love

December 2, 2015

Welcome to ministry from the margins of society—or what most Christians through the ages have called it, normal life. Ministering from the margins means that our values and ethics are no longer the majority view in American culture. What was once described as an American moral majority is now a prophetic cultural minority. One benefit of ministering from the margins is that it reminds the followers of Jesus that having the ‘right’ person in office will not restore righteousness to a fallen sin-devastated world and nation. Every believer should be engaged in seeking the welfare of the city and loving God and neighbor by actively participating in the political process and seeking the public good. Nevertheless, it is vital for Christians to always realize the limitations of politics and government.

God’s power is unlimited. Man’s power is very limited. This biblical thinking should frame all of our political engagement. Our hope is not ultimately rooted in cultural power and respect. We must not possess a fatalistic or apathetic attitude toward political engagement; rather, we must always energetically seek truth, righteousness, and human flourishing as a vital way we love God and neighbor. We are emboldened in doing so because we have promises beyond this world. This knowledge does not make us passive, but rather it makes us humbly aggressive and exponentially courageous.

Our cultural opponents are not our enemies; they are our mission field. Our goal is not to destroy them, but to love them and point them to the love of Christ.

You will be called a religious bigot

To be a faithful follower of Christ in the coming days will mean being accused of spiritual pride, religious bigotry and close-mindedness in ever-increasing degrees. This reality is inevitable when ministering from the cultural margins because of the authority and importance we ascribe to our biblical convictions. We cannot—and we must not— compromise our commitment to the truth of Scripture and the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

While the cultural narrative will paint us as intolerant and harsh, it will often paint our cultural opponents as open-minded and benevolent. This cultural caricature should not hurt our feelings or cause us to withdraw from culture in self-pity. As a people who have experienced the grace of God in Jesus Christ, Christians know that true kindness flows from obedience to God. Genuine benevolence is honest about sin—it certainly does not ignore sin.

Whatever is represented as kindness, we must never admit to be genuine kindness, unless it constitutes love to God and love to man. If a man claims to love God, but hates his brother, he is a liar. If a man claims to love his brother, but hates God, he is a liar (1 John 4:20). John writes, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments” (1 John 5:2). The faithful Christian unapologetically shows partiality to the wisdom of God as recorded in Scripture and revealed in the gospel over the wisdom of man. Likewise, it should not surprise the faithful Christian when those in the culture show partiality to man over God.

Our biblical commitment means that the destructive nature of sin, the atoning work of Christ, the Lordship of Christ, and the reality of eternal judgment apart from Christ are non-negotiable in our commitment as we seek to live as benevolent stewards of the gospel in our culture. It is self-centered, unloving cowardice that attempts to accommodate Christianity to the prevailing spirit of the age.

The fact that the Christian gospel is true means that we can never compromise biblical truth to curry favor of cultural powers, but it also means that we will never join the sky-is-falling cultural outrage doomsayers. None of the bad news we face in our cultural context overshadows the good news of Jesus Christ. As Charles Spurgeon said about his day, “What have you and I to do with the times, except to serve God in them? The times are always evil to those who are of a morbid temperament.”

You must not be a religious bigot

We must not cry, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace,” (Jer. 6:14, 8:11, Ezek. 13:10, 16) but we must also refuse to cry, “Hopeless, hopeless, where there is gospel hope.” We must not minimize sin or minimize the power of the gospel. The biblical witness authoritatively judges the validity of our thought and experience, never the other way around. Indifference to our faith commitments is not an option because it would mean a refusal to seek the good of our city and our neighbors. We must reflect the heart of Jesus who was clear and pointed about the sins and rebellion in Jerusalem, and yet “he wept over it” with compassion (Luke 19:41). Genuine benevolent love demands the truth.

It also demands that we seek to put the best construction on the words and actions of those around us whether they are Christian friends or cultural opponents, even as we remain obligated to the truth. If direct, plain, truthful speech constitutes a failure to love and respect to ones political, cultural, and ecclesial opponents, then Jesus and his apostles must be charged with guilt. Convictional kindness and truthful love are Christian virtues that are absolutely necessary in every era, but particularly when Christians find themselves as the prophetic minority in a culture.

Cruciform love demands that we remain hopeful about people and the power of the gospel to transform their lives; however, love does not disregard the truth or exchange the truth for a lie. Christians must stand firm in their gospel convictions when cultural opponents, who by their own profession do not believe the Bible, still wag their finger at us saying, Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1) as if Jesus was contending it is wrong to make any judgment whatsoever. Of course, such people are making a judgment themselves about the wrongness of our making judgments.

We know that such an approach is a grotesque twisting of Jesus’ words. A few verses later Jesus declares, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs” (Matt. 7:6), and in the same discourse, Jesus calls his disciples to judge both teaching and conduct (Matt. 7:15-20). If a man says, “There is no God,” the Scripture does not hesitate to call him a “fool” (Psa. 14:1). The language is not meant to insult his mental capacity but rather points out his moral corruption and wickedness.

If we consider faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ as essential to salvation, then we will be called religious bigots—Period. Yet, there is a world of difference between being called a religious bigot and being one. Nevertheless, we must follow the path of Jesus and his apostles and be willing to receive scorn without self-pity and without forsaking gospel love for the scorners.

When Paul preached to the Athenians amidst the cultural chaos at the Areopagus “some mocked,” (Acts 17:32). “But others said, “We will hear you again,” and “some men joined him and believed” (Acts 17:32-33). We must love Christ and love those to whom we preach the gospel, including our cultural opponents, more than we love reputation, ease, cultural standing, comfort, or putting them in their place.

The dictionary on my computer defines a bigot as “a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred and intolerance.” If we are attached to our principles to the neglect of Scripture, if we obstinately adhere to our convictions as an excuse to lack a benevolent spirit toward others, if we hold to our convictions simply as a way to exclude others, then we are open to a charge of bigotry. But, to hold our Christian convictions in such a way would be in opposition to the living word of Scripture and Jesus Christ our Lord.

If we are biblically faithful Christians serving on the margins in this post-Christian culture, we will inevitably be called bigots. But, if we are biblically faithful Christians, we will not be bigots. May we know and live the difference, and may we remember as we minister from the margins that we are traveling a well-worn Christian path.

David E. Prince

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky. 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