Teens and culture: Why the middle of society matters most

February 6, 2017

I first stepped into the high school classroom 20 years ago. Fresh out of college, I was only a few years older than my students, and while I was eager to teach, I soon realized that I had just as much to learn. One lesson I learned early on is the profound influence that I could have on the hearts and minds of my students. It excited and humbled me at the same time.

There’s a certain amount of hand-wringing that adults often do over teenagers. We want to guide and influence them for good, but there's this nagging sense that at any point they will rebel and find everything that we try to instill in them to be either irrelevant or uncool. These concerns can be exacerbated by a growing sense of distress over the negative impact that an increasingly secular American culture has on our youth. It leaves parents and teachers feeling that they are losing their teens to the “culture wars.”

The middle matters

Yet, this sense that our youth will ultimately succumb to the temptations of a secularized culture is born from the false impression that culture is shaped by the people at the top.  On the contrary, people’s hearts and minds are more likely to be influenced and shaped by the organizations that often occupy the middle of society, such as the family, schools and the church. These institutions can have an equally profound impact on our youth.   

A Barna study in 2014 compared millennials who were active in the church to millennials who were no longer active in the church. Fifty-nine percent of those that remained active attributed their steadfast faith to a well-developed Christian worldview that was fostered by a mentor within the church. This speaks volumes to the importance of healthy families, churches and schools in the development of a youth’s worldview and is further proof that these institutions in the middle of society can have the upper hand in the so-called culture wars. Consequently, teens that are well-versed in a strong gospel-saturated worldview have the potential to hold the center of culture for future generations as well.

Fostering a biblical worldview

With this in mind, families, schools and churches should be proactively intentional about impacting their teens’ hearts for the sake of the gospel. Here are some practical ways to foster a biblical worldview in your teen in light of a increasingly secularized culture:

1. Encourage your teen to think critically about the culture around them.

Critical thinking is one vital aspect of education that is neglected in the school systems today. Nonetheless, it is something that can be fostered and encouraged at home and in the church.

Critical thinking is vital to cultural engagement. The Apostle Paul exemplified the power of critical thinking and cultural discernment while preaching the gospel to the Athenians as recounted in Acts 17. Paul devoted time to studying the culture of the Athenians upon his arrival in the city. He found much that was admirable about their culture and praised them for it, but at the same time, he discerned that other aspects of Athenian culture had departed from the truth of the gospel. We can teach our teenagers to do the same.

Noted theologian Abraham Kuyper was correct when he said, ”There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”  Music, art, science and the humanities all reflect the infinite worth of God. Encourage your youth to to seek out the good in these aspects of culture while thoughtfully critiquing the aspects of culture that fail to reflect the infinite worth of God.

2. Give your youth a safe place to work out their ideas.

Critical thinking and big ideas take time to foster and grow. You may find that your teen needs to wrestle with some really big ideas regarding scripture, truth and future plans.  There may even be a need for some real soul-searching to take place in a youth’s heart.  Think about youth mentoring in terms of a marathon, not a sprint. You may find yourself having to forbear through some awkward stages of thought with your teen.  

A good friend of mine who successfully raised four teenagers, all of whom are now devout Christians in their 20’s, amusingly recalled to me that when his oldest son was 17, he informed the family that he planned to live as a homeless person in Japan for a year—just for the experience. Rather than dismiss the idea as foolish (though it was a challenge not to), my friend respectfully dialogued with his son over the course of several weeks. He is happy to report that he convinced his son to avoid homelessness.  

Over and over again, I have found that teens whose family and church “stuck it out” with their youth and patiently mentored them beyond these awkward stages were far more successful than parents who insisted, and even worse bullied, their youth into ascribing to their values.  

3. Always remember that the relationship is the most important thing.

Surveys of Americans under the age of 30 have proven time and time again that they value authentic relations above all else. There are some pitfalls to this value system, as younger people have a tendency to idolize human relationships to an unhealthy degree.  Yet, such a longing for relationships and authenticity provides parents and churches with outstanding opportunities.

It can be tempting to allow your relationship with your teenager to lax, especially when they push back against you, so try to avoid unnecessary arguments and always keep Proverbs 15:1 in mind: “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Faith and hope are necessary for your youth to grow in godliness, but it must be nurtured in an environment of love. Do all you can to preserve a healthy and loving relationship with your teens so that faith can grow.

Parents, teachers and church families, you are far more vital to the lives of youth than you realize. The life-giving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is decidedly more powerful than anything our secularized culture has to offer. Share it with them enthusiastically, and remember God’s promise in Isaiah 55:1: “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Rachel Metzger

Rachel Metzger is has been an educator for 18 years. She is a graduate of the University of Delaware and Villanova University. A wife and mother of two, she resides in Wilmington, Del. 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