What you watch on Saturday is linked to what you hear on Sunday

August 15, 2019

We live in a world of constant information. Just think about your day so far. Here’s how my morning looked:

Alarm turns on the radio: government minister being grilled over education policy.

Walk the dog, headphones firmly in, listening to a film review podcast.

Make the kids packed lunches with radio in the background, trying to stop our youngest from activating Alexa and playing the Power Rangers theme song at ear bleeding levels. (Tell me: Why is it, when I shout, “Alexa, stop,” she doesn’t, but when my kids tell her to stop, she immediately does?)

Scan the news app: politics, economy, sports, economy, politics.

Check the weather app: rain.

I’ve only been awake for 45 minutes, and already my senses have been subjected to a barrage of information.

Technology experts have stated that the amount of recorded information generated from the dawn of humanity to 2003 was in the order of five exabytes of data, where an exabyte indicates 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 bytes. From 2003 to 2010, we generated an additional five exabytes. By 2018, 90% of the world’s data had been generated in the previous two years alone. When you consider that 400 hours of new video is uploaded to YouTube every minute, it’s hardly surprising. That’s a lot of prank videos to get through.

Telling stories

But people don’t take on information as bytes. Our smartphones might be downloading bytes of information, but our brains aren’t—the unit our minds and hearts operate in is stories. Now when I say “stories,” I don’t mean the sort of stories you were taught to write in school, with a beginning, a middle, and an end (usually a very predictable one). These stories are all the experiences, feelings, imagination, and ideas that we communicate from one human being to another. We read them in the newspaper, we watch them at the movies, we hear them sung from the car stereo, we glance at them on Instagram, we frame them in our homes.

All of us spend a lot of our waking moments taking in, and telling, these cultural stories. Recent research showed that the average American consumes over 10 hours of media every day. It’s thought that you’ll spend seven and a half years of your life watching TV, and over five years on social media. But there are so many hours in a day, right? No wonder that it’s been said of the TV streaming service Netflix that their greatest competition isn’t another company but the human need for sleep.

Yet many of us find this barrage of information overwhelming, at least some of the time. And for Christians, there’s an added question: how do we know what’s right? As followers of Jesus, we want to think, speak and act in a way that honors him. We want to “set [our] minds on things above” (Col. 3:2), but in reality, most of the time our minds are submerged in a constant stream of stories. The problem is not that these cultural stories are bad in and of themselves; it’s more that we’re ill-equipped to know quite what to make of them. How does what I watch on a Saturday night link with what I hear at church on a Sunday morning? We barely begin to think about it before the next thing starts on autoplay. So more often, we just don’t.

Three reactions

So what do we do? I think many Christians respond to culture in one of three ways (and the rest of us respond in a mixture of all three).

Some of us just want to “look in.” We stick our heads in the sand, get into our holy huddle and Christian bubble, and hang on for dear life. We put our fingers in our ears so that we can’t hear the noise outside, while at the same time singing loudly to one another about Jesus coming back soon when all the outside stuff will go away. Until then, we keep ourselves safe from worldly influences by only ever reading Amish romance novels or the latest releases from our favourite celebrity pastor. If we were in therapy, this would be called our sanctified “flight” response.

Some of us instinctively “lash out.” This is our sanctified “fight” response. We get all huffy, red-faced and finger pointy at the culture around us. Or we just tut and roll our eyes at sex scenes in films or the bad language on TV. At its worst, our healthy belief in judgment turns into an ugly judgmentalism. Our proclamation of the good news of Jesus is heard as a rant on morality. And then we wonder why people “out there” don’t want to come and be with us “in here.”

Then, some of us end up “looking like.” Whatever the motivation, our lives—and our cultural diets—are indistinguishable from the neighbor’s next door, and our churches end up looking not much different from the local sports club. Maybe it’s a well-intentioned drive to be “relevant.” Maybe it’s a reaction against judgmentalism. Maybe it’s simply an indulgence of our sinful nature. Whatever it is, we struggle to be recognized as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” (1 Pet. 2:9). We have become experts at conforming “to the pattern of this world” when we’ve expressly been told not to (Rom. 12:2).

Look in, lash out, look like: which response are you most prone to?


Let me suggest that there is another way—and that’s what [my] book is all about. Because it is possible to be truly “in” the world instead of “looking in”—without being “of” the world and looking like it. It’s possible to engage with culture in a way that’s truthful and gracious, not angry and self-righteous. It’s possible to consume culture without either being bewitched by it—buying into everything it tells us—or bewildered by it. It’s possible to watch TV and read novels and play video games in a way that actually feeds our faith rather than withers it. It’s even possible for you—yes, you—to be that person who starts off talking to a friend about last night’s football and ends up talking about Jesus. 

That’s what [my] book will equip you to do. It will help you to process the cultural stories you hear every day. I want to give you the confidence to think about and speak about culture in a way that points people to a bigger and better reality: the story of King Jesus and his cosmic plan for this world. Because you can’t escape culture. But you can engage culture.

This is an extract from Dan Strange’s new book Plugged In: Connecting your faith with what you watch, read, and play. You can pick up a copy here.

Dan Strange

Daniel Strange is college director at Oakhill Theological College in London where he lectures on culture, religion, and public theology. Dan is married to Elly, and they have seven children. He is an elder at East Finchley Baptist Church and loves jazz music and West Ham football club. 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