Helpful or harmful
Navigating AI and faith …
Technological progress can be wonderfully helpful. In 1440, the invention of the Gutenberg printing press facilitated the mass production of Bibles – making them accessible and affordable. In recent years, the internet and mobile phones have been used for live-streaming services, sermon podcasts, downloading the Bible in different languages, and much more. Today, Artificial Intelligence (AI) or Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is rapidly advancing the capabilities of machines to perform tasks that typically require human intelligence.
Technology is used for good, but it can also be used for harm. Psychological, practical or ethical dangers cannot be ignored. When there are safety or ethical risks, they should be regulated and restricted. Though not in the scope of this post, technology requires guidelines and safeguards.
Skeptical or convinced
Recent Barna research (November 2023) finds that most American Christians are wary or skeptical about AI’s use for the church. “When asked how to express their agreement with the statement, ‘AI is good for the Christian Church,’ just one in five U.S. Christians agree. Most disagree (30% strongly), seeing AI and the Church as something that should not intersect. Just over a quarter say they don’t know, indicating that a sizeable portion of Christians are still making up their minds.”
The Barna study quotes Kenny Jahng, the founder of AiForChurchLeaders.com, who says, “There’s all this fear that AI is going to be taking over the world; it’s going to be human versus machine.”
Similarly, when the internet was introduced in the early 1990s, most Christians were concerned about what would happen, didn’t trust it, and weren’t excited about its potential for connecting people online and sharing information. Thirty years later, Christians worldwide use the internet.
AI is multi-faceted. For example, there are translation tools to facilitate multilingual conversations or text-to-speech voice generators that enable speech-impaired individuals to communicate. When Christians take a discerning look at the different applications of AI, we’ll probably see more people embracing some of its uses.
Here are several ways parents and ministry practitioners can apply AI:
AI-powered platforms enable communications between parents, teachers, volunteers, pastors, ministry coordinators, or camp counsellors. It’s useful for dispensing information about upcoming events, staging training, facilitating discussion forums, sharing prayer requests, providing automated updates, and more. For example, Gloo is a trust-based platform for ministry leaders connecting the faith ecosystem for God’s purposes.
Games, apps and virtual simulations.
AI-powered games, apps and virtual simulations provide interactive opportunities for Bible engagement and new ways of learning about faith that are engaging and enjoyable. For example, Scripture Union’s Guardians of Ancora is an epic parkour adventure game where players enter a place where Bible stories come alive.
Ideas and presentations.
Chatbots like ChatGPT, Bing or Google Bard use text or voice to answer common questions instantly, tell stories, teach new skills, write training sessions, or provide presentation suggestions or feedback. AI algorithms can recommend age-appropriate and age-relevant content that aligns with biblical values and teachings, including videos, articles, and games.
Images and artwork.
Bing Create and generative art applications like Canva AI can be used to create various types of art, including paintings, drawings, graphic design, logos, sculptures, colouring in sheets, comic strips, and more.
Inclusive and remote learning.
AI features like text-to-speech, subtitles, and adaptive learning interfaces can help children with exceptionalities engage with God’s Word. When physical attendance at church meetings isn’t possible because of illness, a pandemic, or other reasons, AI platforms can facilitate virtual classes, online events, webinars, and collaborative projects.
Editing and writing.
Do you need to shorten something you’ve written, edit or improve a letter, check for plagiarism, or simplify language for children? These are just some of the many things Grammarly, ProWritingAid or other GEC tools can do.
Safety and security.
AI systems can monitor and ensure the safety of children in physical or online spaces. Advanced systems can analyze video feeds in churches for potential security threats or unauthorized access and provide instant notifications. For families, Google SafeSearch or Bark can filter out questionable content, block inappropriate communications, manage screen time limits, or track a child’s location.
We should bear in mind that the Bible is the only “tool” required for informing and directing family faith formation. Technology is man-made, not natural. In contrast, the Bible is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16) and supernatural. AI doesn’t and can’t do everything. As a “tool,” only God’s Word can achieve God’s purpose. But AI, wisely and judiciously used, is a support tool to connect people to God.
We should also note that Jesus resides in Christians, working through them by His Spirit to draw people to Himself. AI should, therefore, be seen as a complement to the personal and relational aspects of ministry. We should never try to use AI to replace a person, only to practically assist the ministry God’s people do.
AI is enhancing our capacity to create content, communicate, and connect. In the formation of this article, it generated the picture (Canva AI), suggested title variations (ChatGPT), helped in researching the content (Google Search), did a grammar and punctuation check (Grammarly), analyzed the readability and provided SEO suggestions to optimize content relevance so you could easily find this web page (Yoast).
Could AI write this post? No. AI has augmented this article but couldn’t provide the uniquely human elements of creativity, imagination, wisdom, perception, inspiration or expertise.
Navigating AI and faith: What’s your perspective? Please comment below.
© Scripture Union, 2023