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Set Apart from the World

Why Our Faith Doesn’t Stop at the Public Square

Josh Wester

I used to completely misunderstand Augustine. When it comes to Christianity and the public square, there is no more influential book than his famous City of God. He wrote that massive, 600-plus page work after Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 A.D. Though he was writing to defend the faith against those blaming Christianity for Rome’s downfall—they blamed Christians for displacing Rome’s gods and saw the invasion as evidence of the gods’ anger and judgment—Augustine produced much more than a timely apology of the faith. Instead, City of God became an enduring articulation of the positive role of the Christian faith in society and culture.

The central framework of Augustine’s work is the idea of two cities existing in the world together: the city of man and the city of God. At the risk of oversimplifying Augustine’s primary illustration, he saw one city as devoted to the things of God while the other city is devoted to the things of the world. For a long time, I assumed I understood what Augustine meant. I thought he was suggesting Christians were members of both cities, that we are devoted to God as we live our lives in the world. 

As it turns out, that concept is true and important, but it isn’t what Augustine meant at all. Instead, he drew the distinction between the city of man and the city of God to show us that Christians are members of one city—the city devoted to God—and not the other.

Debunking the Sacred/Secular Myth

Realizing that I had misunderstood Augustine led me to a second conclusion. Jesus tells us in his famous Sermon on the Mount that his people are to live in the world as salt and light. What do these two things have in common? They are distinct. Like me, many assume Augustine’s point was that Christians live like the world sometimes as members of the city of man but then live distinct from the world other times as members of the city of God. 

But Augustine was actually saying what Jesus said: Christians are to be set apart from the world at all times. Salt is always distinct. Light is never darkness. And this has everything to do with the way that Christians are called to live in the world.

Some people believe that being distinct from the world requires withdrawing from the world. This shows up in various traditions, from Catholic monasteries to Amish communities. And while this may hold value for some, asceticism is not a real option for most Christians. Not only that, but it wasn’t the way that Jesus taught his disciples to live. And it wasn’t the way most of the Christians under Augustine’s ministry lived either. 

In fact, when we explore the reason Jesus describes his followers as “the light of the world,” we learn that the world is supposed to see our lives. Jesus tells us the world is supposed to “see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

Being salt and light means that Christians represent Jesus all the time. This is important because, for too long, Christians generally understood our lives to be divided into spheres: sacred and secular. We assumed that some things we do, like going to church or reading the Bible or going on a mission trip, were sacred things. Those were the holy parts of our lives that we committed to God. But the rest of our lives were secular. For most people, that includes their jobs and their hobbies and all the other things they do that don’t feel spiritual or religious.

The sacred/secular divide was a harmful development for the Church. It separated the Church into two classes of people: a professional ministerial class whose lives and vocations were dedicated to the sacred, and the rest of the church whose lives were mostly secular. The idea was that some Christians are called to a special kind of holy life dedicated to ministry, while most Christians were merely called to dedicate a few hours a week to holy things as they mostly supported (or observed) the ministry work of professional Christians. But this completely misses Jesus’ call toward discipleship.

Every Christian is a disciple of Jesus. And the call for every disciple is the same. We are to follow Jesus and live our lives in a way that reflects his life and brings glory and honor to him (Col. 3:17). This also means there is no professional class of Christians. Nor is there an actual divide between things sacred and secular in the life of the believer. If you are a follower of Jesus, everything you do is dedicated to him. He lays claim to our whole lives. And he sends us out to live as salt and light in the world.

This has significant implications for Christians when it comes to the public square. Because Jesus lays claim to all we are, there is nothing that we do apart from our identity as disciples. So whether you work on Wall Street or Main Street, your job is to take Jesus with you into that work. And that shapes everything from the way you pursue relationships with your co-workers to your work ethic to the actual work that you do. For the believer, nothing is ever truly secular because we never do anything apart from Jesus.

Bearing Witness to Jesus, All the Time

I’m writing this a few days after the conclusion of the 2022 Masters Tournament. I’m not an avid golf fan. But this particular year I got sucked in with all of the excitement surrounding Tiger Woods making a surprise appearance in Augusta. As the rounds went by, the eventual winner emerged at the top of the leaderboard. His name is Scottie Scheffler. And in the final round, all eyes were on him. 

Naturally, the commentary focused on the details of Scheffler’s life, and as they did so, I learned that he is a serious Christian. And after winning his first major and the iconic green jacket, the 25-year-old golfer gave an interview in which he demonstrated what it means to live as salt and light. Scheffler said, “The reason why I play golf is I’m trying to glorify God and all that he’s done in my life.”1https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=EsGakPD0-Yo He also talked about a conversation he had with his wife beforehand where she reminded him that Jesus loved him regardless of how well he played.

Scheffler had the opportunity to bear witness to Jesus on one of the largest stages in professional sports. What made his testimony so meaningful was not his exemplary level of play (as stunning as it was), but the fact that his life had consistently demonstrated the distinctness of his faith. His words and actions—his character—out of the limelight stood in congruence with the words he spoke in his post-tournament interview about glorifying God as a golfer. 

Scheffler’s testimony refutes the idea that there is a sacred/secular divide. He does not set aside his identity as a disciple when he steps out on the links. Instead, the whole of his life is a platform to point others to Jesus, and right now his career in the PGA is a central part of that platform. God willing, Scheffler will continue to use his gifts for this purpose. But as he recognized, neither God’s glory nor God’s love depend upon his success.

Lest we think one must be famous or exemplary to live as salt and light, we should remember that most followers of Jesus are actually very normal people (1 Cor. 1:26-27). Today they are teachers and doctors, truck drivers and lawyers, business owners and high school coaches. Some are pastors and missionaries and some are professional athletes, but most are none of those things. Regardless, all of us are called to bear witness to Jesus in our lives, words, work, and deeds.

This is true even for those Christians in the political arena. At this time, there are politicians and public servants at almost every level of government who are seeking to faithfully live as salt and light as they perform their duties as public servants. As they do so, their goal should always be to enact and support laws and policies that honor God and seek the good of their neighbors. (And though it is a discussion for another time, they can do all of this without ever threatening the separation of church and state).

The goal of living as salt and light is to let the world see Jesus in and through your life. When it comes to the public square, everywhere you find a Christian you should also find Jesus. Christians do not step in and out of the sacred parts of our lives. We bear witness to Jesus all the time, in everything we do. And together, we pray that the light emanating from the city of God will push back the darkness in the city of man.

Joshua B. Wester serves as Director of Content and Chair of Research in Christian Ethics. He holds an M.Div from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Th.M. in Public Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Josh is married to McCaffity, and they have two children.

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