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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

Dr. James Emery White

Dr. James Emery White's weblog

Here’s a conundrum:

According to a new report released by the Barna Group, nine out of 10 Christian pastors say “helping Christians have biblical beliefs about specific issues is a major part of their role as clergy.”

Yet half feel they can’t. According to the study, they feel “limited in their ability to speak out by concerns they will offend people.” Specifically, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion and sexual morality.

Translation: they know their responsibility as a pastor to speak truth and help those they pastor embrace and embody that truth, but the risk of offense silences their voice.

Friends, it’s time to reclaim the prophetic mantle.

Biblically, there are three primary voices you can use when speaking into culture: the prophetic, the evangelistic and the heretical. 

The prophetic voice, such as Jeremiah’s, was clear in its denunciations and warnings. The prophetic voice is an admonishing one, a “thou shalt not,” a clarion call to turn to God and get right with God. 

No, it is not a popular voice for culture to hear. But it is an important one. 

The second voice is the evangelistic voice. It is the voice attempting to build bridges across cultural divides, to explain things, to make apologetic cases. The evangelistic voice is focused on calling people into a relationship with Christ as Forgiver and Leader. It’s more invitation than admonishment.

The final voice is the heretical voice. Heretical voices in the Bible are never celebrated, but they are noted as existing. This is the voice that not only speaks against the gospel but, more specifically, attempts to distort the very content of the gospel in its presentation to culture.

In light of these voices, there are three ways we’re failing to speak effectively into culture.

The first is speaking the prophetic voice without the evangelistic voice. That comes across as just judgmental and even hateful. It’s condemning without redeeming. It’s all truth without grace. Even at its best, they know what we’re against, but not what we’re for.

The second is speaking the heretical voice in the name of the evangelistic voice. This is watering things down to try and get a hearing, or to be liked or accepted. That’s not a good voice. The “relevance” of a church is not found in its capitulation to culture, but its transformation of culture. We do not gain the world’s attention through a compromised voice, but through an alternative voice.

The third mistake is speaking the evangelistic voice without the prophetic voice. This is different than the heretical without the prophetic. This isn’t denying orthodoxy as much as it is burying it; avoiding it. This is all grace and no truth.

Today, few want to use the prophetic voice. In fact, it is often seen as undermining the evangelistic voice. I’ve often heard pastors, particularly of large churches, say that they do not want to speak out on the issues of the day for the sake of keeping their focus on the gospel and not alienating people on the front end. 

But that’s not the full gospel.

So what kind of “voice” should we use? 

The evangelistic with the prophetic.

If I may be so bold, this is the “Jesus voice.” I’ve always marveled at how Jesus could proclaim absolute truth without compromise to those far from God, and then have those very people invite him to their parties. It’s because He wed the prophetic with the evangelistic.

He spoke truth and grace.

Jesus accepted the woman at the well in what can only be deemed by any careful reader in (then) culturally scandalous ways, but followed the acceptance by challenging her directly about her serial promiscuity. He also stopped the stoning of a woman caught in adultery, made it clear He was not going to condemn her, but then pointedly admonished her to turn from her adulterous ways.

Grace and truth flowed from Jesus in a way that can only be deemed inextricably intertwined. Jesus offered neither a feel-good theology that airbrushed out any real talk of sin, nor legalistic attitudes of harsh condemnation and judgment. 

Now, about that offense…

Yes, you will offend with the proclamation of the truth. But it’s a necessary offense if you are going to present the full nature of the gospel. In the past year or so, we’ve dealt with everything from racism to #MeToo, gay marriage to living together. We don’t focus solely on social issues; we just don’t avoid the elephant in the room.

I am reminded of an early adherent to the Protestant Reformation who, in 1526, said:

“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace to him, if he flinches at that one point.”

Yes.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Griffin Paul Jackson, “Half of Pastors Worry Speaking Out on Social Issues Will Offend People,” Christianity Today, April 5,2019, read online.

“If I profess…” This is often attributed to Martin Luther, but erroneously. It is said to actually come from a follower of Martin Luther, April 2, 1526, quoted in Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta Family (New York, 1865), p. 321.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Thanks to business guru Jim Collins, the idea has become part of every leadership culture: get the right people on the bus and then get them in the right seats on the bus.

It’s a good idea.

Few things matter more than hiring the right people and recruiting the right volunteers. But getting a quality person is only half the battle—you then have to make sure they are situated where they need to be organizationally. 

Meaning, you have to place them in a “seat” on the bus that fits their natural abilities and spiritual gifts, allows their natural passions to flow and is in accord with their personality type. Collins is right: getting the right people on the bus, and then getting them in the right seat, is critical.

Let’s set aside getting the right people on the bus… how do you know when someone is in the right seat?

I was asked this recently and gave an off-the-cuff answer that intuitively reflected my years of experience, but I had never stated it before. Upon reflection, I became even more convinced of its truth.

Here’s what I said:

“If they intuitively make the right decision 60% of the time, they are in the right seat. You can coach them up to 80-90% in terms of good decision making, but if they don’t bring that foundational 60% to the seat, it’s not a good fit.”

I’ve written about the five “Cs” of effective hiring: character, catalytic, chemistry, calling and competence. The 60% has to do with competence.

Competence has to do with the raw capability, the essential skills, needed to do a job. I’ve often commented that this is the least of the five, as it is the one thing that can, indeed, be taught.

I have hired countless numbers of people who had no background in ministry. In many ways, I like this. They bring their personal, educational and corporate skills to the table without preconceived notions regarding the practice of ministry. The basic competencies needed vary from role to role, but generally I look for the ability to get along with others, enthusiasm, a positive attitude and raw leadership gifts.

But there is one aspect of competence you can’t teach: the basic 60% of intuitively correct decision making. This cannot be taught, coached or mentored. When this isn’t present, no matter how much I’ve poured into them, they consistently make poor decisions in light of mission, vision, values and target. 

It’s like they just can’t “get it.”

I know I have the right person in the right seat when they come to me for coaching, share how they are going to handle a situation or a decision they are planning on making, and I am able to say, “That is exactly what I would do.” Or, whether I would have had the wisdom and insight to make the same call myself, I can wholeheartedly say, “That is a great decision.”

So when trying to find someone’s seat on the bus, realize what you can – and can’t – coach. You can get them from 60 to 80 or 90, but you can’t take anyone from zero to 60.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Jim Collins, From Good to Great.

James Emery White, What They Didn’t Teach You in Seminary.

 

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.

robot hand reaching toward ipad that human is touching at the same time

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal noted that global spending on artificial intelligence is rising and shows no sign of slowing down:

“Organizations are expected to invest $35.8 billion in AI systems this year, up 44% over last year, according to International Data Corp. And AI spending is projected to more than double to $79.2 billion by 2022.

“Today, about half of all companies have at least one AI system installed and an additional 30% have pilot projects in place, according to a survey by the business and economics research arm of McKinsey & Co.”

In his book Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, MIT professor Max Tegmark classifies life forms into three levels of sophistication: Life 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. Using the term hardware to refer to “matter” and software to refer to “information,” he deems that Life 1.0 is “life where both the hardware and software are evolved rather than designed.” Human beings are Life 2.0, “life whose hardware is evolved, but whose software is largely designed.”

Life 3.0 is life that “can design not only its software but also its hardware. In other words, Life 3.0 is the master of its own destiny, finally free from its evolutionary shackles.” So if something like bacteria is Life 1.0 and humans are Life 2.0, what is Life 3.0? 

Artificial intelligence. Or, more specifically, “artificial general intelligence” (AGI). Rudimentary forms of AI are already with us in everything from the facial recognition software in Apple’s iPhone X to our digital assistants Siri, Alexa and Cortana. The holy grail is AGI, which is AI reaching human-level intelligence and beyond, being able to accomplish virtually any goal, including learning. 

So in short, Life 1.0 is biological, Life 2.0 is cultural and Life 3.0 is technological.

So how much do you know about AI?

The same Wall Street Journal article put together a little quiz to see:

1. Below are definitions for artificial intelligence, deep learning, machine learning and natural language processing. Match each term to its definition:

A. _____ takes text or speech as input and can “read” or extract meaning from it.
B. _____ encompasses techniques used to teach computers to learn, reason, perceive, infer, communicate and make decisions similar to or better than humans.
C. _____ is a powerful statistical technique for classifying patterns using large training data sets and multilayer AI neural networks.
D. _____ is the science of getting computers to act intelligently without being explicitly programmed.

Answers: A = Natural language processing; B = Artificial intelligence; C = Deep learning; D = Machine-learning

2. Which of the following sectors spends the most on AI systems?

A. Banking
B. Discrete manufacturing
C. Health care
D. Process manufacturing
E. Retail

Answer: E. Retail companies will invest $5.9 billion this year, leading all other sectors.

3. What’s the upper end of the salary range for AI developers and machine-learning engineers?

A. $150,000
B. $175,000
C. $200,000
D. $225,000
E. $250,000

Answer: C. AI developers and machine-learning engineers have annual salaries of up to $200,000, according to a report in January from the New York staffing firm Mondo.

4. What was the growth in job postings for machine-learning engineers between 2015 and 2018?

A. 68%
B. 136%
C. 204%
D. 272%
E. 344%

Answer: E. There was 344% growth, according to job-search site Indeed.com.

5. Who invented the term artificial intelligence?

A. Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov
B. Dartmouth College mathematician John McCarthy
C. Mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing
D. Computer scientist Grace Hopper.
E. Former IBM chairman Thomas J. Watson

Answer: B. John McCarthy came up with the term in the mid-1950s.

6. How much global economic activity will AI deliver between now and 2030?

A. $4 trillion
B. $9 trillion
C. $10 trillion
D. $13 trillion
E. $16 trillion

Answer: D. AI has the potential to add approximately $13 trillion, or 1.2% additional global GDP growth per year, according to McKinsey & Co.

7. How many organizations have embedded at least one AI-backed function in their business processes?

A. 17%
B. 24%
C. 39%
D. 47%
E. 56%

Answer: D. 47%, according to McKinsey & Co.

8. Who said AI “could spell the end of the human race”?

A. Tesla CEO Elon Musk
B. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking
C. 2001: A Space Odyssey author Arthur C. Clarke
D. World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee
E. Microsoft Co-Founder Bill Gates

Answer: B. Stephen Hawking

So how did you do? If not so well, it might be time to start studying. Actually, there’s no “might” about it.

It’s time.

The potential of AI for good – or ill – is staggering. As Tegmark notes, “we might build technology powerful enough to permanently end [social] scourges, or to end humanity itself. We might create societies that flourish like never before, on Earth and perhaps beyond, or a Kafkaesque global surveillance state so powerful that it could never be toppled.”

Tesla and SpaceZ CEO Elon Musk told the National Governors Association last fall that his exposure to AI technology suggests it poses “a fundamental risk to the existence of human civilization.” Cosmologist Stephen Hawking agreed, saying that AI could prove “the worst event in the history of civilization.” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, however, calls such talk “irresponsible.”

Who is right?

No wonder it has been called the most important conversation of our time. Whether it proves to be, it is certainly a conversation that needs Christian minds that are informed and engaged.

So make sure the next time you take the quiz,

… you pass.

James Emery White

 

Sources

John McCormick, “Test Your Knowledge of Artificial Intelligence,” The Wall Street Journal, April 1, 2019, read online.

Max Tegmark, Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (Knopf, 2017).

Marco della Cava, “Elon Musk Says AI Could Doom Human Civilization. Zuckerberg disagrees. Who’s right?”, USA Today, January 2, 2018, read online.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.

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