A heavily armed woman entered the Covenant School in Nashville yesterday morning and fatally shot three nine-year-old children and three adult staff members before she was shot and killed by police. The shooter, identified by police as twenty-eight-year-old Audrey Hale of Nashville, had a detailed map of the Christian school and allegedly shot through the door to gain entrance to the campus. As a grandfather of a nine-year-old girl, I cannot begin to imagine the grief these families are feeling today.
Some threats are obvious, others less so.
Bill Gates warns that AI could "run out of control"
In a recent blog post, Bill Gates writes: “The development of AI [artificial intelligence] is as fundamental as the creation of the microprocessor, the personal computer, the Internet, and the mobile phone.” He predicts, “It will change the way people work, learn, travel, get health care, and communicate with each other. Entire industries will reorient around it. Businesses will distinguish themselves by how well they use it.”
However, he also warns: “There’s the possibility that AIs will run out of control. Could a machine decide that humans are a threat, conclude that its interests are different from ours, or simply stop caring about us?” He believes that “superintelligent AIs are in our future” and that they “will be able to do everything that a human brain can, but without any practical limits on the size of its memory or the speed at which it operates.”
These “strong AIs,” as they are known, “will probably be able to establish their own goals. What will those goals be? What happens if they conflict with humanity’s interests? Should we try to prevent strong AI from ever being developed?” He notes, “These questions will get more pressing with time.”
A "surprising portrait of a changing America"
The threat to our future posed by artificial intelligence is made exponentially worse by another threat to our future posed by cultural intelligence, or actually the lack thereof. In a pivotal Wall Street Journal article, Aaron Zitner reports that the values which helped define America’s national character for generations are receding in importance to Americans.
A new survey reveals the following astonishing facts regarding the percentage of Americans who say these values are “very important” to them, comparing answers in 1998 to today:
- Religion: down from 62 percent to 39 percent
- Patriotism: down from 70 percent to 38 percent
- Having children: down from 59 percent to 30 percent
- Community involvement: down from a high of 62 percent to 27 percent
By contrast, the percentage who said money was “very important” to them rose from 31 percent to 43 percent. According to a pollster who worked on a previous survey measuring these attitudes, “These differences are so dramatic, it paints a new and surprising portrait of a changing America.”
To combine this story with Bill Gates’ blog on artificial intelligence: as we develop the most powerful technology in human history, our society has the weakest moral consensus in American history. It also has the lowest commitment to the values that founded our nation and gave it the cultural cohesion to survive depressions, world wars, and epochal scientific progress.
In such a time as this, the voice of Christian truth has never been more urgent, or more maligned. How can we speak biblical wisdom and morality to people who reject both?
"Strangers in our own land"
In Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission as Strangers in Our Own Land, former missionary Elliot Clark addresses our question in profound and practical ways. He writes: “The West is fast becoming post-Christian, post-truth, and perhaps even post-tolerant. Our exile and persecution doesn’t seem any longer to be a question of if or even when, but how far. How far will we slide? How much will we lose? How long will it last? And while those are all reasonable questions, the more pressing and biblical question is this: How will the church respond?” (his italics).
Building on Peter’s letter to “exiles of the Dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1), Clark identifies six biblical priorities:
- Place our faith in future glory, for this liberates us to bear present shame for the sake of Christ.
- Fight the fear of others with the “fear” of God whereby we revere him enough to pay any price for his sake.
- Respect all people, earning the right to declare the good news.
- Be bold in proclaiming the gospel—do not merely “share” it.
- Be visibly different in our personal lives.
- Use our homes to advance the gospel. Even when public proclamation becomes illegal, our homes will be welcoming places to build relationships and witness for Christ.
He notes that all Christians are “exiles” in our fallen world: “In reality, if we haven’t or aren’t dealing with some level of reproach and shame in this nation, it’s likely owing to the fact that we haven’t been practicing bold and biblical evangelism in the first place.”
"We preached and they beat us"
Jesus promised his disciples that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” and only then would they “be my witnesses” around the world (Acts 1:8). Note that “witnesses” translates the Greek martyres, from which we get “martyrs.” If you have submitted your life and your day to the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), you can count on the power you need to stand boldly and sacrificially for your Lord. If you do not, you cannot.
Clark quotes Richard Wurmbrand, a minister who was imprisoned for his faith in Romania: “It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their terms. It was a deal: we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.”
Would you be “happy” to make such a “deal” today?
Publication date: March 28, 2023
Photo courtesy: Gerd Altmann/Pixabay
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
For more from the Denison Forum, please visit www.denisonforum.org.
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