Why embodiment matters to the Christian in our work and worship

December 12, 2019

In recent years, there has been an explosion of conversations, books, and organizations focused on championing the deep value of our work. This is a good gift, one that, at its best, recaptures the goodness of creation and the wonder of embodiment. God has placed us in the world not as disconnected souls, but as people who taste and experience life and do our daily work through a dance of muscles, bones, blood, and neurons.

We are bodies and minds

We know that people need to be active and engaged in meaningful physical practices for the health of our bodies, but for mental and emotional health and even spiritual health, too. Embodiment helps us recognize our limits, paradoxically cultivating both true humility and a proper sense of self-worth as God’s handiwork.

In The World Beyond Your Head, philosopher Matthew B. Crawford describes the concept of the “jig,” which he defines as “a device or procedure that guides a repeated action by constraining the environment in such a way as to make the action go smoothly,” something that “reduces the degrees of freedom that are afforded by the environment. It stabilizes a process, and in doing so, lightens the burden of care” (p. 31).

Crawford reminds us that in today’s mediated world, “we often find ourselves isolated in a fog of choices” (p. 6). It has become necessary to “re-jig” our world with natural limits, finding “ways to recruit our surroundings for the sake of achieving our purposes” (p.33). Embodied, physical work itself functions in this way for our brains, helping us to keep our identity and grip on reality in spite of our tremendous, God-given capacity for imagination and intellection.  

For many of us, though, our work seems to resist embodiment—the largely nonphysical realms of writing and studying, or any number of jobs in an age of technology and automation. How do we overcome this? We can try to mitigate the effects through hobbies or exercise, but if most of our waking hours are spent in projects that are intellectual, physically inactive, and isolating from other people, simply adding activities to the periphery of our lives (where they’re most likely to be trimmed out in times of stress or heavy workloads) doesn’t seem to cut it. 

This isn’t a new problem. Today, though, many of the historical “jigs” that forced mental work to be more physical—schools and libraries for scholarship, newsrooms and printing presses for journalism, office buildings for service jobs, ink and paper for writing—have been pushed aside by more “efficient” digital competitors.

Embodied creativity

Particularly in creative fields, the ideal presented to us is an isolated genius, finding his authentic voice and sharing it with an eager, waiting public. But does this really reflect how human beings produce ideas and art?

Singer-songwriter Drew Holcomb recently shared with Rolling Stone magazine how he turned more to co-writing music after seasons of overcommitment (touring extensively and doing much of his songwriting alone) had damaged his physical health and left his creative well drying. What he found was that sharing this load with others actually produced work that was more personal and authentic in some ways than what he’d been able to create on his own. 

“‘They all really pushed me to do things a little differently,’ Holcomb says of his new record’s collaborators. ‘We were able to establish a dialogue about me and my story and the songs still came to a very personal spot. I write from the present moment; who I am and where I am in life.’”

Being limited by our bodies, our world, and our perceptions—and embracing those limitations—allows us to deepen our humility and collaboration gives us an even greater capacity to create and flourish.

Micah Fries, senior pastor of Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., practices collaborative creativity in ministry, co-writing sermons with the church’s pastoral team for the past three years, an idea he got from other pastors (specifically Kevin Ezell), that has become a ministry necessity as the church has grown. “Since we all preach the same messages [across multiple campuses and venues, each featuring live preaching] we have to prepare collaboratively,” Fries said.

Though doing sermon preparation this way takes longer, requires more lead-time, and challenges his team to be willing to submit to each other as they work together, Fries says the benefits are undeniable. “Our sermons are simply better. More eyes on the text means a better likelihood of interpreting it correctly. More minds thinking through application and illustrations make these more robust and representative.” Moreover, he says that in the communal nature of this style of sermon preparation his team grows closer together and learns from each other.

Being limited by our bodies, our world, and our perceptions—and embracing those limitations—allows us to deepen our humility and collaboration gives us an even greater capacity to create and flourish. God’s image in each of us is more fully expressed as we share together in the work he sets before: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor” (Ecc. 4:9).

Collaborative worship

Maybe this is why God poured the most intellectual, spiritual, and imaginative activity of all—knowing and relating to a him—into bodies. He doesn’t simply declare the gospel in a booming voice from the clouds, but comes to us as an incarnate Messiah, fully embodied and sharing in our limitations and sufferings, even unto death. He calls us to fellowship with him amid a gathered community of followers who engage in very physical expressions (the bread and the cup, the water of baptism, the breath of singing, hands and feet to serve others) of the spiritual realities he wants us to meditate on forever.

In this way, our worship and our work are brought together, body and soul crying out with Moses, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands” (Ps. 90:17). 

So how can we put the call to embodied co-laboring into practice in our lives and ministries? 

Here are a few suggestions:

As we seek to live out our callings through the physical community and means that the Lord has provided for us, may he grow us spiritually and give us a greater appreciation for our incarnate Savior. 

Justin Lonas

Justin Lonas serves as editorial and content specialist for the Chalmers Center at Covenant College. He is also an M.Div. student at Reformed Theological Seminary, Atlanta. 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