On Dialog and Instruction

August 25, 2014

Browbeating is not the way of Jesus.

As He interacted with men and women, He could be provocative, compassionate, probing, even angry. He did not employ one standard relational template as He spoke and listened and taught.

However, He did not harangue. He taught the truth unequivocally but did not insist on agreement with it. His interest was not in demanding acquiescence but persuading and leading people into God’s kingdom. But He did, and does, demand decisions: Accept or reject as you might, but when it comes to the claims and teachings of Jesus Christ, neutrality or indefinite ambivalence are not options He allows.

In our time, persuasion is essential, especially among younger people. No one likes being lectured, but men and women 35 and under are particularly off-put by what they see as harangues. “Millennials want a personal connection,” writes Jeff From in Advertising Age. “Millennials don’t want to be spoken to; they demand to be spoken with.”

This can be difficult, as sometimes the wise course seems so obvious that to discuss whether or not to take it is just silly. Having a dialog on whether or not to put your bare hand on a hot stove is to claim that fact and logic have no meaning.

Yet dialog – respectful conversation that invites the other person to articulate his views, and responding with civility – is imperative if Christians are to win people to Christ and go on to make disciples of them.

Dialog does not park itself at the door of the church. Younger believers, as well as many older ones, are leery of being taught Scriptural truth in a didactic way. Many of them want to be romanced into the fullness of the orthodoxy they profess. Christians struggling with doubt need to be heard. Their inner conflict can be intensely painful, and their intellectual questions deep.

Similarly, those confused about Christian moral teaching regarding such things as human sexuality, sexual ethics, the nature of justice, and environmental stewardship should be allowed to express their disagreements without fear of reprimand.

There is a point, however, where professing Christians who persistently question biblical teaching stop pursuing intellectual integrity and social compassion and instead lapse into spiritual poutiness: The Bible says things with which they feel uncomfortable or with which to agree associates them with people with whom they would rather not be identified.

Spiritual rebellion and honest questioning are not the same thing. Ongoing dialog that refuses to reach a destination is mere rationalization and resistance, aimless spiritual globetrotting, an erstwhile quest for something the searcher says he seeks but does not truly want.

Such “dialog” ceases to be a means of understanding and persuasion and instead becomes merely a form of pandering (by those who wish to accommodate) and petulance (by those whose demand to be heard is really a demand for submission to their views).

Dialog is illegitimate if the questioner has neither a sincere heart nor the humility to receive instruction. This is not to suggest that the other participant, the mature Christian, has all the answers or cannot learn from the one struggling. The only source of revealed truth is the written revelation of the Bible, not the smug mind of the pompous believer.

But the Bible’s teaching on a host of issues is sufficiently distinct and consistent that it can be understood and applied. For example, Scripture’s teachings on such doctrines as the atonement and the deity of Jesus and such moral matters as sexual conduct and personal ethics are clear. This does not mean that all of these teachings are easy to accept or practice or that complete comprehension of what they mean is possible.

Rather, it means that the propositional declarations of the Bible, once understood, must at some stage be either accepted or rejected. Living in a “gray twilight” of chronic ambivalence is not an option for those who have come to trust in Christ as Savior and made a decision to follow Him as Lord.

Some Evangelicals rebel against a demand for decision. Influenced more by post-modern deconstructionism than the self-explanatory text of the Old and New Testaments, and more occupied with justifying anti-biblical conduct or belief than submitting to the Lordship of Christ, their dissatisfaction with orthodoxy and orthopraxy dissolves into whining, arrogance, and sin.

Not all opinions are equally valid. A few years ago I spoke at a gathering of perhaps 100 believers from across the country as well as across the theological and political spectrum. Although designed to foster dialog among Evangelicals of diverse political perspectives, the conservatives among us seemed more concerned with not appearing to have three heads than with persuading our brethren (“Yes, I’m pro-life, but I really, really don’t hate women” – this was unspoken but captures the tenor of the even).

More importantly, what struck me was the essential equivalence given to all the perspectives offered. This was more than frustrating; what some of the believers in that meeting needed was not a listening ear but a heart willing to accept instruction. Instead, the prevailing attitude seemed to be inoffensiveness above all, as though comity was an end in itself. Tolerance, whether warm or hostile, is not an end in itself; it must be a means, for Christians at least, to a far greater end – agreement about an unchanging core of truth before which we commonly should bow.

Christians are to measure their standards against those of the Word of God. When we stray from the truths of His Word, it is our job to conform to them, not try to contort Scripture into something it is not nor can ever be in order to gratify our preferences or rationalize our rebellion.

Yes, some of the Bible’s teachings are hard to accept. Yes, some of our fellow believers might not be people with whom, in our flesh, we would choose to associate or with whom we would want to be identified. Yes, there are some matters whose clarity is less than crystal: Eschatology and ecclesiology come readily to mind.

But what I like is far less significant than what is true. And the core of truth found in the Bible concerning God, His work, and His will is sufficiently transparent as to be accessible to all who want to know it.

We do God no great favor by submitting to Him. He created us for His glory, and does not frantically rub His hands together in the hope that we might like Him. He is compassionate and patient, but He is not desperate for our affection. He is not willing that any should perish, nor is He willing virtually beg us to repent and be converted.

Browbeating is not the way of Jesus. Neither is placating, desperately humoring, or exalting oozy warmth at the expense of truth.

There is no love in not telling people the truth and calling on them to make a decision about it. Such a call must be made graciously and compassionately, but also firmly and without equivocation.

There’s good precedence for this. It’s what Jesus did.

Rob Schwarzwalder

Rob Schwarzwalder is a senior lecturer at Regent University.  His op-eds have been published in numerous national publications, ranging from TIME and U.S. News and World Report to Christianity Today, The Federalist, and The Public Discourse, as well as scores of newspapers and opinion journals. 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