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The Church and AI: five questions to ask

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In the first part of our series exploring Artificial Intelligence (AI), we used Genesis 1-11 as the basis of a theology of technology. We recognized that as God’s image-bearers, we are creative. And how that creativity leads to the creation of technology, which then can be used in our creativity. Technology can either be used to honour God or to turn away from God and honour ourselves. These themes underlie how we look at AI. If theological reflection is valuable for technology use, what theological considerations must we make when exploring AI? 

Here are five questions to ask ourselves about artificial intelligence:

1. Are we responding in fear?

Technology rarely elicits an emotional reaction—with the exception of AI. For the longest time, the idea of a human creation rebelling against its creators, overtaking and surpassing them was simply science fiction. It has been a plot point in countless movies, TV shows and literature. And now, it seems fiction has become reality: AI is constantly in the news, including cautions and concerns expressed by AI leaders. For some, AI is something to be feared. 

As Christians, fear should be a warning sign that our focus is shifting off of God, and we are giving more power to things of this world. Scripture speaks about fear in 1 John 4:18: There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

The Bible is also clear that God is love—one could even suggest that discipleship is about being perfected in our love for God.

Growing up, I always feared the book of Revelation because of its imagery. But as I’ve grown in faith and maturity, I’ve learned to see Revelation as one of worship and discipleship. Why? As I saw the sovereignty and faithfulness of God, I recognized Revelation was about seeing the world through the lens of the Kingdom of God, and that we must trust in God despite the bad things that will happen in life. AI needs to be seen through that same lens.

We cannot be naive and think AI will always be harmless. Humans can use any technology to cause harm or destruction—there is no reason to believe that AI will be exempt. However, fears over AI should not control us or shape how we live our lives. Ultimately, our hope is in God, and no human-made tool will ever usurp the Lord God Almighty. We should not let our concerns with AI distract us from the truth of who God is, and what our hope in him is. AI cannot derail God’s plans and our hope in him.

As a culture and world, we need wisdom and discernment in developing and using AI. We need to recognize that AI is—and will be—used for sinful purposes. We need to be aware that AI may negatively affect us in our lives at some point. Ultimately, we need to set our eyes not on the worst case of AI usage, but instead keep them on God and his work in the world.

2. Are we elevating AI to be more than a tool?

While some respond in fear, others seem to respond to AI with unbridled enthusiasm. AI seems to be everywhere, and there is a constant push to start using the ever-expanding list of available AI products. Recently I saw an ad that said, “If you are not using AI, you are falling behind.” 

When AI is no longer a tool to accomplish what we need and instead becomes a goal, it becomes the focus of our lives. Another word for this is idolatry. It may seem like strong language, but if our attention is not on the glorification of God and the building up of his church, and is rather on something human-made, it is idolatry, plain and simple.

In our creativity, we build tools to accomplish the tasks before us. We have become increasingly competent and skilled in doing this, and our tools are ever-increasing in complexity as we continue to use existing tools to develop new ones. This can be so exciting. 

As Christians, we need to be conscious of when the tools we create as a culture become more than just a tool. We need to slow down and reflect on why and how we will use such tools… or even if we should use them. Just because we have a tool does not mean we have to use it—or it is the right tool for the job. Our focus as followers of Jesus is to seek the fullness of God’s Kingdom and to make disciples. AI can be a tool to help us in our mission, but it is not the goal itself.

3. Is AI enhancing our creativity or reducing it?

In the story of Noah, we see God giving guidelines on how to build the Ark. There are a lot of details presented to Noah, but they are far from the detailed building plans we would use today. Noah honoured God and built the ark to meet the criteria that God indicated. But we also understand that Noah would have had latitude and freedom to use his creativity to build the ark. 

God made us in his image, and part of that means we are creative. To honour God, we use our creativity in the world—especially when we use it to glorify God and worship him. When it comes to AI, the question becomes: is AI enhancing our creativity, or reducing it? AI can be used either way. How we use AI may matter more than whether we use AI.  

With the dawn of the internet, sermon preaching changed. Preachers had access to sermon illustrations, textual criticism, reflections, videos, podcasts and more. The resources for pastors grew exponentially. Along with those resources, pastors were able to find completely polished sermons. Some pastors preach by simply downloading their next sermon. Some resources enhance and enable us to be creative as we write sermons, while others may be used to remove any responsibility or creativity. The AI being discussed by many is generative AI—a form of AI that can create and generate content based on our requests. AI does more than scour the internet for the best example of what we want. It makes something new and unique.

While we can use AI to ask it to write a sermon, many pastors will never do that. However, the issue of creativity may be more nuanced. Are we using AI to skip essential steps in the sermon writing process? Would AI enable us to approach preaching with renewed passion and creativity? Or would it allow us to sidestep the valuable but hard work of sermon creation? The answer is not the same for every person. We each need to reflect on why we are using AI and whether it is enhancing or hindering the creativity we are called to use—both in sermon writing and the larger task of ministry.

4. With AI, are we removing God from the equation?

With technical matters, AI may seem to be a matter of computer programming, mathematics and user interfaces. However, we need to be aware of the underlying worldviews and philosophies of those who create AI. These very things shape their motivations and rationales for working with AI. 

In the story of the Bible, we see a fundamental temptation for sin that appears repeatedly—that we could be like God. It’s the heart of Satan’s temptation in the garden. And that’s just the beginning: we see it again and again, where people are trying to be self-sufficient and remove God from the equation. 

With this in mind, we should be aware that underlying AI technology, the goal is to create intelligence separate from God. It is an attempt to prove that God is not needed anymore; our technology has progressed to the level that we are now like gods. The temptation is there. But that does not mean every person creating AI is trying to remove God.  

Within AI there is a race to push the boundaries as we move from limited or narrow AI to the more general and generative AI that we are seeing in 2024. Some have dubbed it “Super AI.” It’s an intelligence far more significant than any human. At this point, this is merely a goal, not reality. There is some sense of playing God in this endeavour. That doesn’t mean AI is bad as a tool; but it does mean we must be aware of this temptation. 

We also need to recognize that just as we are created in God’s image, AI is created as a partial image of humanity. While it may not reflect the biological, it does reflect the cognitive. The driving force behind AI is: “Can we create a machine that not only thinks like humans, but above and beyond?” While we were made with free will, there is no such thing as free will in AI. AI is a poor reflection of humanity, but a reflection nonetheless. That means it may reflect some of our creativity, cognitive ability, and brokenness. 

AI is fundamentally flawed not because of technological limitations (though they exist) or a programming flaw (those exist, too) but because the programmers are imperfect and cannot help but translate those imperfections into their creation. AI bears the image of our brokenness. There is no way for AI to become more than its creators. The sin of humanity tainted all of creation, and that includes those things we create. This does not mean we abandon AI, but it does mean we understand it as an imperfect tool with purpose and usefulness to us.

When using AI for ministry purposes, we must ask ourselves: are we removing the hard work of reflection, discernment and listening to the Holy Spirit that is embedded in our lives as disciples? Are we still making space for the Holy Spirit when preparing Bible studies or sermons? We remove God from the equation if we use AI to generate our content and do not discern or wrestle. We cannot afford to follow the temptation that we no longer need God because of our abilities and creativity.

5. Are we using all the tools to fulfill God’s call?

This last question gets to the heart of why we wrestle with AI in the first place. We don’t use AI just because it’s the trendy thing to do. We don’t use AI because it’s cool technology. We use AI because we believe it will facilitate our living out the Great Commission and Great Commandment. If you are facing challenges or opportunities, but do not have the necessary tools to address them—and if you are not using AI—why not? AI is a tool that has been created. And like any tool, it can be used to honour God. 

Our third article in this series will explore just a few ways AI is tangibly making a difference for God’s kingdom. I encourage us to reflect on why we are—or why we aren’t—using AI. And then to ask if our answer is helping us to fully live as disciples, honouring God and living out his call on our lives.

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