Book Review

4 commitments for the American church to renew

A review of "Inalienable: How Marginalized Kingdom Voices Can Help Save the American Church"

June 20, 2022

“Do you feel the world is broken?” This opening question in Andrew Peterson’s hymn, Is He Worthy?,” is a sobering one. And it’s a question the song doesn’t leave unanswered. In the very next line, congregants join their voices to answer in unison: “We do.” For millennia, the people of God have felt the brokenness of the world acutely. We are not a people, typically, who plug our ears and cover our eyes in response to the pain and the plight of the world. Many churches in America are faithfully walking with God and ministering his Word and care to their communities. But in recent years, the church in America has been pock-marked with its own brokenness, with scandal and syncretism and egregious abuses of power. As a result, the integrity of the American church has been called into question, leading to a crisis of faith for many and other, deeper questions for us to wrestle with. How did we get here? And what can we do to make it right? 

It is these questions that Eric Costanzo, Daniel Yang, and Matthew Soerens set out to address in their new book, Inalienable: How Marginalized Kingdom Voices Can Help Save the American Church. With candor, the authors shed light on many of the ills plaguing American Evangelicalism, pairing that with an optimistic framework outlining what “saving” the American church will entail. Inalienable is a courageous book that doesn’t look away from the dark underbelly of American Christianity. And yet, it’s a book drenched in biblical hope, centered on the kingdom of God and its King, with an ancient blueprint for how the American church can move forward.

A blueprint in four parts

“The ship that is American Christianity is filling up with water, in many cases as a result of holes we’ve drilled ourselves” (6). Indeed, the water is rising, such that we are daily flooded with news of moral failures, of ongoing strife and divisions, and of political activism that is sometimes more militant than it is Christian. We seem to be drilling holes faster than we can plug and repair them, harming untold numbers within our churches. And as our malformed practice of Christianity is broadcast across the social internet, onlookers who are supposed to know us by our love (John 13:35) know us only by our scandalous behavior and angst. Consider these statistics:

Acknowledging that “Many within our evangelical world would consider an increasingly negative reputation among those outside the church as proof that we are doing something right,” the authors argue, “The reality is that evangelicals are most often despised not because we are Christians, but because of [our] distinctly unchristian attitudes and behaviors;” things like the public fall of prominent pastors and leaders and revelations of sexual abuse within churches (2, 4). So, how can we turn from our sins and return to being the church as God has intended? The authors’ answer comes in four parts, with each rooted in this one guiding principle: by recovering and returning to the inalienable truths about and established by God. 

Four inalienable truths

The authors define the term “inalienable” as that which “is essential and undeniable” and, specific to the Christian faith, those “truths [that] are at the very center of the biblical narrative” (6). “What is inalienable has been established by God and therefore cannot be removed or abolished” (7). Stemming the tide that threatens to flood and sink American Christianity, Costanzo, Yang, and Soerens argue, will depend on our retrieval of these four inalienable truths: God’s kingdom, image, word, and mission.

The kingdom of God

There is a battle raging in the hearts of many would-be American Christians, a battle that spills out into our neighborhoods, our politics, and our public squares. It’s a battle of kingdoms; a battle for our ultimate allegiance. Will we align ourselves with the kingdom of this world where character and integrity are subservient to the accumulation of power and where a love for every tribe, tongue, and nation wilts in the face of our tribe, our tongue, and our nation? 

Or will we prioritize God’s “countercultural kingdom,” a kingdom that “advances through Christlike humility, weakness, and surrender” (23, 37)? As Christians, the kingdom of God demands our utmost allegiance; it supplants all other, lesser loyalties. “Centering the kingdom of God,” the authors contend, “is our way back” (23).

The image of God

Next to the kingdom of God, there might be no Christian doctrine more disregarded than the doctrine of the imago Dei. While in one breath we advocate tirelessly (as we should) for preborn children in jeopardy of being aborted—whose lives we insist ought to be preserved because they’re created in God’s image—in the next breath we effectively curse others who share, equally and irrevocably, the same stamp of the same divine image. “The way we talk about other human beings has become a crisis of the soul” (87). “My brothers and sisters, this should not be” (James 3:10).

To plug and repair the holes we’ve drilled, the authors of Inalienable argue that a retrieval of the doctrine of the imago Dei will be imperative. We’ll need to view others not as “other,” but as neighbors (95).

The Word of God

In Inalienable, the authors don’t argue for anything novel or particularly trailblazing regarding the Word of God. Instead, they call readers simply to approach Scripture recognizing that God has spoken, and continues to speak, through them, and that we are to engage his Word with humility and honesty, and in the company of others, especially those on the margins of our society and those the authors call “global Christians” (119). The charge is for us to read the Bible “with a fresh awareness” that American Christianity does not have a corner on the market of biblical interpretation (117), and that our practice of the faith will be enhanced when marginalized and minority voices are welcomed to the table.

The mission of God

The fourth and final part necessary for “saving” American Christianity, they propose, is the prioritization of God’s mission. It’s a return to the understanding that “faith comes first” and that “politics and everything else flow out of faith and come much later in priority” (153). Costanzo, Yang, and Soerens are not calling for a retreat from politics, but a firm commitment to forming our political beliefs by our religious convictions and not the other way around, which occurs when political and religious identities are conflated (154).

This is a call to participate in the mission of God, in a way that’s consistent with the kingdom of God, informed by the Word of God, for the good of those made in the image of God, through the political means and mechanisms we have at our disposal—all to the glory of God.

Learning from the margins

While most Christians would agree with the basic framework put forward by Costanzo, Yang, and Soerens, the point of contention will undoubtedly lie with their “hook,” which calls for a “decentering of the (white) American church” (40). But the authors argue, rightly, that “If we are to stem this tide of decline and decay, it will take all of us—and it will take humility to listen to voices of the church beyond the white American evangelical stream of the faith which has long assumed leadership” (7, emphasis added).

And that, beneath virtually everything the authors argue for, is the fundamental issue in view: humility. To be kingdom-centered, to recognize the image of God in others, to sit under the authority of God’s Word and obey it, to take part in the mission of God, and to do it all in partnership with other Christians, will require from beginning to end a fundamental posture of humility. It will require that we take seriously our call toward Christlikeness. “If the church in the United States is to recover our gospel witness, we will need to be more deeply discipled toward Christlikeness and freed from the idol[s] that [have] malformed us in recent years” (167). These idols—individualism (69), materialism and consumerism (72), celebritism (74), Christian nationalism (76), tribalism and partisanship (79)—are idols of the privileged and powerful. And they are distorting American Evangelicalism into something that is borderline anti-Christlike. 

Costanzo, Yang, and Soerens argue that it’s time to pull up a chair for those on the fringes—global Christians, indigenous Christians, minority Christians; the poor, the oppressed, the vulnerable. And rather than driving the conversations taking place around the table, “we’re going to need to learn to listen to [the] voices [who] have historically been at the margins of American Christianity” (3). 

We can all agree that if we hope to see the ship of American Christianity floating upright again, our churches will have to commit ourselves anew to these four inalienable truths—to be kingdom-focused, to value every person as made in God’s image, to be obedient to God’s Word, and to be committed to the mission of God. By God’s grace we will do this through “constant dependence on Jesus, in the power of the Holy Spirit,” and alongside the global body of our brothers and sisters (198). And we can do this all with great hope, knowing that God has promised to build his church (Matt. 16:18).

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a writer/editor at RightNow Media. He's a board member at The LoveX2 Project, an organization seeking to make the world a better place for moms and babies. Jordan is a graduate of … 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