Speaking from the Margins 

Christian Ministry in a Secular Context

Ashlyn Portero

On Friday night in central London, the streets come alive to a frenetic pace of activity. Digital boards flash brightly over historic buildings, advertising what’s on for theater. A global mix of smells waft from food stalls and packed restaurants. Music fills the squares, every genre from Afro-Caribbean to a rousing British rendition of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Bodies brush past one another as they hurry up and down the shopping streets—Regents, Oxford, Bond—bags in hand. Above ground and below, everyone is going somewhere, seeking after something, whether they know it or not. 

London is a global city of roughly 9 million people, and on one particular Friday evening, I found myself with many of them in Leicester Square. I was headed to a work dinner with the Alliance for Transatlantic Theological Training, where I serve on the operations team. The crowds were so thick it felt like Christmastime. As I wove through the throngs of people toward the restaurant, I heard a man’s voice amplified through a microphone above the noise of the crowds. He was evangelizing, telling the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

I listened, my ears straining his words through biblical and theological filters. Was he sharing the truth? Yes. Was he corrupting it with hateful speech or false interpretations of the Bible? No. His proclamation was bold and passionate, but not angry; he acknowledged the reality of sin and called people to repentance, but he did not condemn. The last words I heard formed a question and an answer: “Will you receive God’s love? In Christ, it is poured out for you.” 

Hundreds of pedestrians went along, seemingly unphased, as his words faded from our ears.

This is not so much an assessment of street evangelism, but a reflection on the passersby. As I continued on toward my destination, I couldn’t get this scene out of my head. Here was this man, standing on the margins of society, speaking eternal truth into the whirlwind of the culture. People would catch only a soundbite as they moved quickly past him, but would they listen? 

They need the whole story, I thought, and to know that their own stories—their eternities, their present lives, their very existences—are intertwined with and defined by the reality of Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and resurrected. 

To minister in a post-Christian context is to attempt to pierce the bubble of noise in the Western world. The words of proclamation often are quickly received, translated, and filtered out; words like God, sin, hell, salvation, heaven, mercy, faith, truth, and even man and woman. People ascribe the meanings they want or toss them like relics of the past back into the storage of their minds, and carry on. How is it that Christians are to have any faithful witness in this kind of context? 

More specifically, how are Christians to serve faithfully in the public square when the core convictions and motivations for service have been discarded, manipulated, or outright rejected by most of the public?

Moving Forward with Help from the Past 

Sometimes, we find the help to move forward waiting for us in the past. The story of William Wilberforce, whose persistent advocacy through British Parliament was instrumental in bringing about abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, shines like a beacon of hope and direction for Christians seeking to live faithfully in secular culture and the public square. I have long been familiar with Wilberforce’s legacy, but only several years ago did I learn of his ongoing correspondence with John Newton, the former slave trader who became a minister and wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace.” 

Newton faithfully encouraged Wilberforce throughout his career to maintain his Christian convictions and his place in Parliament—to let truth compel him to work for the good of his neighbors. Wilberforce and Newton advocated for abolition from the core place of Christian conviction, and while Wilberforce exerted influence through his seat in Parliament, he also spoke from the cultural margins in his own way. 

In 1796, Wilberforce put forward a bill in Parliament to abolish the slave trade, but it failed to gain the votes needed to pass in the House of Commons. It is said that a number of politicians whose votes could have pushed the bill through were not present at the reading because they were attending the opera that evening. Today in the West, we are no less tempted toward decadence while evil persists around us.

The public square is certainly one place where Christians must engage with truth, love, and conviction, for the good of our neighbors. However, in a post-Christian context, our training ground must begin in the local church. In northwest London, members of my church, Redeemer Queen’s Park, sometimes go out themselves into the streets to discern persons of peace, or people receptive to the message of the gospel (Matt. 10:11-13), and to offer them good news and prayer for whatever they might be enduring. 

Life in the city is hard. It is lonely, ruthless, and cold. We are all strangers together, a friend said recently, and so members of our community try to close the distance between one another simply by offering kindness and encouragement, and also the most profound truth ever made known to us. It is not always received, but this is not for us to control or worry too much over. 

The church, in this way and in others, speaks from the margins of society. Not many are coming to us, even though they are searching. So we must go to them. They do not know what to look for, just as we did not when our eyes were blind and our hearts were darkened to the truth. 

As American culture rapidly progresses into a post-Christian ethos, it makes sense to brace ourselves and examine how things might be different. However, we know from history that Christians have been required to endure, to speak from the margins against seemingly impossible odds in which the world and its lusts for power and glory are highly favored. We also know from history—not to mention the words of Jesus—that lukewarm Christianity never did anyone any favors. Our fight is not for relevance, but against the powers of darkness. And there is power in a historic faith.

Not too long ago, the novelist William Faulkner wrote, “the past is never dead, it’s not even past.” As Christians in a post-Christian world, this feels prophetic on multiple levels. The true stories of our faith live on into eternity, and they cannot die, because Christ has risen. The Word is alive, ruling and reigning. Culture has attempted to “move past” the truth, but it cannot, not really, because the truth belongs to the Alpha and Omega.

Living and Ministering in a Post-Christian Context

Even as we attempt to shed caricatures of the faith that are unhelpful and confusing at best and harmful and satanic at worst, we must ask God for grace that the true gospel, the living Word, would come to bear on our lives, and that it would shine through us into the darkness of the world. 

There is no sense in being naive. The prince of the powers of the air is stalking around, seeking to cultivate chaos and darkness as the world spirals further down. Ministering faithfully in a post-Christian context means knowing where you stand, and not only accepting that but embracing it and asking God to work it for good. Not for worldly power or impressive influence, but for the kind of good that Matthew writes about in his Gospel, where good works are seen and God is glorified as a result. It can feel hopeless to pray and strive toward this vision. Will our works even be seen as good when the eyes that see them are blind? It is not for us to say or control this, for only God opens hearts and eyes. 

In many ways, I am still learning what it means to live and minister in the post-Christian world. There is much to say in the way of practical methods and approaches the Church might take, and many who can speak with much more wisdom and experience than I have. What seems to me to be incredibly important for Christians to come to terms with is that we must speak. Wherever we are called to testify—in public spaces or to the friends around our tables—we cannot keep quiet about what we have seen and heard and know to be true. 

This is a challenge that reverberates deeply within me, and many others. We must ask God how he would have us speak. But we must speak. Perhaps it will be to offer prayer from a portable coffee cart on an urban university campus. Perhaps it will be over a dinner table with a neighbor. Perhaps it will be through the public works we engage in vocationally. Perhaps it will be to a friend with questions, considerate of the deep doubts and longings we all work through in the course of our lives. These ways will not go unseen. 

The post-Christian world is a dim place growing dark, but that is where light has always shone brightest. And so, perhaps learning to live faithfully in this type of culture also means learning to recognize—and repent—when you yourself have become jaded to the supernatural power of God while living in the midst. The remnants and influences of the most true story are there: in our songs, our art, our literature, our longings for peace and renewal and dignity. They are there in our quests for love. These are the things we are not yet past, and as image-bearers searching for our true home, God’s Word still has much to say to us. All we are called to do is to listen, and in turn, to be the feet that bring the good news of the gospel to others. 

Jesus has promised that the gates of hell cannot overcome the growth of the Church, and this is not by our power, but through our faithfulness as the power of the Holy Spirit works among us and in us. So we can hope, and speak, and know that this hope and this message will not put us to shame.

Ashlyn Portero is the director of groups and partnerships at Redeemer Queen's Park in London. She lived in Tallahassee, Florida, for 15 years before moving to London in March 2021. After graduating from Florida State University, she worked with a local church plant, City Church, as the executive director.

In addition to Redeemer, Ashlyn serves as the director of Operations for the Alliance of Transatlantic Theological Training in the United Kingdom.

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