A Brief Overview of Christian Perspectives on AI

Markus Miller
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Artificial intelligence (AI) has become almost unavoidable in recent years. While it’s been around in some form since the 1940s (according to Harvard), and some of its many popular uses have been around for decades, such as processing “big data” and the use of neural networks, it’s reaching new levels of interest recently with the implementation of generative AI tools. It’s also becoming more ingrained in the everyday language and life of the world. 

Forbes Advisor research found 56% of businesses are using AI to “improve and perfect business operations.” The same research cites the global AI market at a value of $136.55 billion in 2022—a number that has certainly skyrocketed in just the last couple of years. Some form of AI is prevalent in web search engines, recommendation algorithms for consumers, and tools that allow users to create text or images that meet their needs.

If an individual uses the internet in any amount, the chances that they have come across something using artificial intelligence, whether directly or indirectly, is nearly certain. But what is this tool? What is AI, and what isn’t AI? And what are Christians saying about it?

What Is AI, Really?

In terms of what AI is and isn’t, definitions can become somewhat complicated rather quickly. To put it very simply, artificial intelligence is “intelligence” that isn’t human. It is machines that are programmed to learn — not in a human way — but by taking inputs and experiences to perform tasks, tasks that they theoretically improve upon each time they are fed more input. The more that ChatGPT, for example, is exposed to writing style, vernacular, and language, the more it reads like a real human-being. An AI tool like ChatGPT is just one example of a type of AI called a “large-language model,” which is a genre of AI that analyzes troves of data in order to recognize, interpret, and produce human language.

Four Functional Types of AI

A Forbes article cites four different functional types of AI — 1) reactive, 2) limited memory, 3) theory of mind, and 4) self-aware.

Reactive machines have been around since the early days of artificial intelligence, and react to different stimuli that they’ve been fed. However, they do not retain memory or experiences. A popular example is IBM’s Deep Blue machine, which defeated a chess Grandmaster in 1997.

Limited memory machines build on what reactive machines already do, while adjusting to historical uses and data that it has been fed. ChatGPT is perhaps the most famous of this kind of AI at the moment.

Christians would be wise to educate themselves and be proactive in understanding the ways AI is infiltrating our lives and in what ways it should be resisted.

Theory of mind and self-aware AI are, as of right now, concepts. They do not meaningfully exist. Theoretically, these machines would contain emotional intelligence and other kinds of potentially concerning levels of self-awareness.

Of course, artificial intelligence isn’t as simple as those four categories—there are entire collegiate degrees devoted to it. Covering all aspects of it in a simple article like this would be impossible.

It is clear that AI, like many technological advancements before it, is here to stay. How, then, are Christians dealing with it?

How Do People Feel About Artificial Intelligence?

Research done by the Barna Group in 2023 found that 28% of Christians are “hopeful (AI) can do positive things in the world.” That’s in comparison to 39% of non-Christians.

Additionally, only 13% of Christians said they were excited about AI, and 17% said they don’t understand it, which trumps the 12% of non-Christians who said the same.

Fifty-two percent of Christians also said that they would be disappointed if their own church used AI. In a separate study published in 2024, however, they found that U.S. pastors would be comfortable using AI to assist in certain areas of the church. Eighty-eight percent said they would be comfortable using it to assist in graphic design, and 78% said they would be comfortable using it in marketing. However, only 12% said they would be comfortable having it assist in sermon writing.

In the study published in January 2024, the Barna Group also found generational differences when it comes to how people perceive artificial intelligence. In their study of American adults, they found that 29% of Gen Z is skeptical of AI, while 49% of Boomers are. Similarly, only 7% of Boomers said they were excited about it, and 45% said they don’t trust it (in comparison to 20% and 18% from Gen Z, respectively).

The same research found that Gen Z uses artificial intelligence much more frequently. Only 18% of Gen Z said they don’t use AI at all, compared to 53% of boomers. However, this lines up with the differences in internet usage, which tracks because artificial intelligence is virtually always accessed via the internet. A 2019 Pew Research Center study revealed that only 59% of boomers used social media, and 68% owned a smartphone, in comparison to 86 and 93% of millennials, respectively.

AI in Everyday Life

So, where is artificial intelligence showing up in real life? How is it altering the day-to-day? Most people don’t own a self-driving car, or use generative chatbots like ChatGPT on a daily basis, even if more and more students are figuring out ways to use such tools to cheat on homework assignments.

Artificial intelligence is showing up in more mundane spaces. The Instagram algorithm is derived using machine learning and artificial intelligence. It provides, in theory, an experience catered towards each individual account as it is fed data about what posts the user likes, what accounts they follow, and what posts they watch for longer than others.

Limited Memory AI machines encompass virtual voice assistants, like Alexa, self-driving cars and chatbots, like ChatGPT.

Netflix recommendations and your Instagram algorithm are considered reactive machines.

With so many examples of how artificial intelligence has woven its way into both the conscious and unconscious aspects of everyday life, it’s no longer a question of if the pros and cons of AI will need to be reckoned with, but rather a question of how they should be reckoned with.

AI and the Christian

Christians have had to weigh the moral and ethnical implications of technological advancements for centuries. Electronics and the internet are only part of a complex story of advancements that have shaped the way we’ve worshiped and gathered over millennia.

In his book, From the Garden to the City, John Dyer writes:

While God’s words are eternal and unchanging, the tools we use to access those words do change, and those changes in technology also bring subtle changes to the practice of worship. When we fail to recognize the impact of such technological change, we run the risk of allowing our tools to dictate our methods. Technology should not dictate our values or our methods. Rather, we must use technology out of our convictions and values.

When it comes to how technology has affected worship, the changes are clear. Lyrics for worship songs are displayed on massive projectors. Books of the Bible are accessed on smartphones. Church services have changed dramatically virtually every decade for the last century or more. Humanity innovates technologically, and in turn, local church worship is transformed in one way or another. This isn’t to mention that with the rise of virtual church services during the coronavirus pandemic, more and more Christians are attending weekly services virtually, or watching multiple services a week virtually.

It is far too easy to get caught up in the flow of technological innovation, and followers of Jesus should consider how to love wisdom and reject folly as we approach the age of AI.

When Christians wait to see what the world around them is doing regarding technological advancements, such as artificial intelligence, instead of pursuing wisdom and trying to educate themselves on the new technology, it can lead to panic, ignorance, and all kinds of foolishness downstream of that.

Artificial intelligence is also shifting the way that people discover information, the way they research, and it is an increasingly popular way to find inspiration for various creative tasks. Colleges across the country, ranging from Christian liberal arts universities to large state universities, are placing notices in syllabi about using artificial intelligence to help in the classroom.

According to a Digital Trends article, teachers are attempting to find ways to detect when AI tools like ChatGPT have been used to aid in writing. One example of this can be found in the work of Princeton University student Edward Tian, who developed a tool called GPTZero that helps identify uses of ChatGPT in writing.

The book What Comes Next by Nicholas Skytland and Allicia Llewellyn outlines some of the dangers that can come as technology continues to move forward unabated. Some forms of new technology, like in the case of those using ChatGPT to complete school projects, can deprive us of creativity and the desire to research and discover. When the answers to our questions are a chatbot away, where is the room for wonder? (Though perhaps the same case could be made for the decades-old advent of the search engine.)

“Advances in technology help fulfill our need for certainty,” Skytland and Llewellyn write. They continue:

Voice-controlled assistants give us immediate answers to almost any question we have. For how long do you bake cookies? Who discovered Antarctica? What’s on the calendar for tomorrow? How many astronauts are in space? But, while our lives may feel easier and more defined, we slowly lose our ability to search, wonder, and uncover understanding through discovery. We become reticent and unable to envision a future beyond the here and now.

In a similar way, it’s just as easy now to find answers, whether or not they are correct, when it comes to answering questions about the Christian faith and Christian doctrine. That’s part of why this website, Bible to Life, even exists!

Christians, the Internet, and Spiritual Development

A 2022 Pew Research study on the use of websites and apps in religious life shows that a significant number of Christians use apps, websites and other technology to aid in their religious life.

Thirty-three percent of Protestants said they have used apps or websites that remind them to read scripture, with 39% of evangelicals saying the same. Forty-five percent of evangelicals said they have gone online to search for information about religion. Thirty-eight percent of evangelicals watch religion-focused videos online, and 32% listen to religion-focused podcasts.

Additionally, 21% of evangelicals use social media to follow their own personal religious leaders, and 20% said they use social media to follow celebrities, authors, or pastors specifically for their religious content that they upload online.

The prevalence of social media certainly can have its positives, but it’s another technological advancement that the church must ensure it’s used out of conviction, and that it’s not dictating the values behind it.

Chris Martin writes in The Wolf in Their Pockets, “While, yes, social media can be used in redemptive, gospel-proclaiming ways, social media has made performers out of us (or at least those of us who create content). This is to our detriment in more ways than we realize.” He goes on, “To be informed is responsible, but to constantly consume information about whatever fits our fancy is often just another form of entertainment.”

Evolutions in Technology Impact Faith Practice

Ever-evolving technology can change the way the people interact with each other, interact with the world around them, and certainly seems to impact how Christians interact with their faith and worship. It seems as though some of the next big technological developments coming in the near future are going to, in one way or another, be tied to artificial intelligence.

If over half of businesses are using AI to improve and perfect business operations, schools are addressing the use of it in syllabi, and more and more everyday applications and tools, like internet browsers, are integrating it into their product, it’s becoming obvious that these innovations are going to have impact the way Christians live out their faith in their everyday lives.

It’s important to contemplate these developments. Learn about what artificial intelligence is, and what it isn’t. Learn how employers are using it. Learn how churches are using it, if they are at all. Going into this new AI age blindly will likely lead to reactive behavior, allowing the technology to dictate convictions and values, instead of the inverse. Christians would be wise to educate themselves and be proactive in understanding the ways AI is infiltrating our lives and in what ways it should be resisted.

It is far too easy to get caught up in the flow of technological innovation, and followers of Jesus should consider how to love wisdom and reject folly as we approach the age of AI.

For Further Reading:

The Wolf in Their Pockets

by Chris Martin

The world has changed. And we feel it in our homes, schools, and congregations. We can hardly remember a time when we didn’t feel the...

book cover for The Wolf in Their Pockets