The empty tomb and the public square

April 3, 2015

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate Jesus’ victory over sin and death. We do this, rightly, in song and sermon, in prayer and personal devotion, thinking though the events that transpired in Jesus’ final week prior to his crucifixion and standing astonished at the love of God who entered into history, took on flesh, and gave himself over for the rescue of sinners.

It can be easy to think of the resurrection as if it were simply a sort of exclamation point at the end of redemption. And while the resurrection is indeed a surprise ending, to speak in literary terms, especially to the Satanic powers whose dominion has just been vanquished, it is still more than that.

In fact, the resurrection is the act of God in history designed to animate and reframe the Christian life. It touches on every aspect of the Christian hope and Christian life and should be central in our minds, not just at Easter, but as part of our very identity. For we, as Christians, are those who “have been raised up with Christ” (Col. 3:1).

What, though, does the empty tomb have to do with ethics and public policy? How does Golgotha relate to Washington? At its core, the resurrection is the driving force behind any Christian engagement in the public square. Here are a few reasons why:

1. The resurrection establishes a Christian form of engagement. The crucifixion, Scripture tells us in no uncertain terms, is the pronouncement of judgment on Jesus: “cursed is anyone who hangs on a tree” (Gal. 3:13). But the resurrection of Jesus is the counter-proclamation in which God declares in miraculous act the same thing he previously declared in word at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). The resurrection, in other words, is the vindication of Jesus’ entire life and ministry.

In turn, Jesus’ life and ministry forms the backdrop for the way we are to engage within the world. Throughout his ministry, Jesus addressed sin with boldness and grace, dealing with issues of both personal morality and public justice and speaking truth to power in the public square—but always with the goal of the kingdom of God in mind.

Jesus isn’t interested primarily in the ascendency of a political regime, at least not in the immediate sense (much to the discontent of those who keep trying to make him king) He has in mind—always and in every place—the purposes of his Father in bringing about an eternal kingdom. This purpose frequently intersects with public concerns—from temple taxes to public morality to the authority of government officials and elsewhere. And when it does, Jesus is insistent, prophetic, persuasive, and full of truth and grace, but with cross and kingdom everywhere in view.

2. The resurrection ushers in a new humanity with a public mission. The newness of life we see in Jesus’ resurrection is an image of the eternal life we will possess in the new creation (and that which we now experience a foretaste of in the new birth) and is designed to completely reframe the way we live in this age. It is central to the Christian life in the eschatological hope it offers, but also in the way it signals Jesus’ authority over sin and death and his victory over Satan. This victory leads, successively, to the gifts Jesus gives to his church as spoils of war and the sending of the Holy Spirit who indwells and renews humanity in Christ in the midst of its kingdom mission.  

The meaning of this for humanity and our engagement with the world is multifaceted. On the one hand, the newness of humanity wrought through the resurrection will result in love for one another and in communities that look different than what the world would expect. Driven by a vision of a kingdom made up of every tribe, tongue and nation, we seek racial reconciliation and we care for immigrants. Understanding the image of God vested in humanity—one seen preeminently in the perfect union of God and man on display in the resurrected and glorified Jesus—we labor to protect and care for the vulnerable, whether they are unborn, near death or anywhere in between.

On the other hand, having received newness of life and being driven along by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Great Commission, our lives are marked, not by divisiveness and strife, but by a purposeful mission carried out with convictional kindness that seeks to serve, love and persuade—both because we seek the common good for all those who bear God’s image, and we want to persuade them to repent and believe the gospel of our resurrected king.

3. The resurrection helps promote a public morality. Government is instituted by God and vested with the authority to wield the sword for the protection of the innocent and the promotion of justice. That said, government works downstream from culture, and legislation does not have the power to awaken or change hearts. In other words, formed consciences are a prerequisite for public morality, but the state cannot create or provide them.

That said, at the resurrection and with the sending of the Spirit and the expansion of the church, there exists a body—the church—that is grounded in biblical revelation, empowered by the Spirit of Christ, and called to bear witness to the gospel, form consciences, and cultivate virtue in discipleship and life together. The church, within itself, demonstrates morality and images in this age what the kingdom of God will look like in the age to come. At the same time, it bears witness outside the church to the consciences of others. On mission together, the church is able to demonstrate and cultivate intact societies and promote justice within its own walls and bear witness to these social goods to a larger culture, contributing to a public morality within a secular society, all the while carrying with it a gospel of the kingdom that points beyond the common good to the ultimate good—reconciliation with God in Christ.

Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness, a righteousness declared in the raising of the Son of God. As we go through this high week on the Christian calendar, let’s rest in the full hope promised by our Christ who is risen indeed. And as we engage the culture with the gospel, let’s remember how the emptiness of Jesus’ tomb leads to the fullness of Jesus’ gospel in the public square.

Daniel Patterson

Daniel Patterson is former Executive Vice President of the ERLC. He holds a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife Molly have been married since 2010, and together they have three children. 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