Envision a society where machines can think, evolve and adapt — a world where artificial intelligence (AI) not just enhances work and life but augments, transforms and controls our very existence. The future we imagined yesterday has arrived, and it carries with it a profound question and concern: Are you ready for advanced Artificial intelligence (AI), and perhaps more importantly, is AI ready for you?
Today, AI development is progressing at a remarkable pace, with an array of prominent companies at the helm of innovation. These include household names like Google, OpenAI, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Tesla and a host of others. These pioneering entities are actively shaping the landscape of AI technology, with tools such as ChatGPT-3 and 4, BERT, Rasa, Wit.ai, Snips.ai, Claude and so on. It is without doubt that technology and AI will shape and transform the way we behave and communicate; this was even more recently highlighted in Mark Zuckerberg’s first interview in the Metaverse using high-definition photorealistic avatars. Yes, we are at a crossroads where artificial intelligence intersects with the fabric of human behavior and ideas including faith-based ideals.
AI at church
We are beginning to see Churches venture into the uncharted territory of artificial intelligence. Thus, the convergence of technology and theology has recently captured the attention of news outlets. A notable report featured on Fox News in September 2023 shed light on a groundbreaking experiment conducted by the Violet Crown City Church in Texas. This church harnessed the capabilities of ChatGPT to create an AI-generated church service/liturgy that included worship, sermon and even the composition of an original worship song.
Similarly, AP News carried the story of an event on June 10, 2023, where St. Paul’s church, located in the Bavarian town of Fürth, Germany, hosted an unconventional church service. Over 300 congregants actively participated in an AI-driven church service powered by ChatGPT. These stories highlight the developing interest of faith-based organizations, and the interplay of cutting-edge technology vis-a-vis age-old religious practices.
The boundaries of spiritual experience and technology have also expanded with the advent of emerging tools such as Virtual Reality (VR) services, and now we have so-called metaverse church elders stepping into the virtual ecclesiastical landscape, embracing innovative ways to foster a sense of community and spiritual growth. These emerging technologies offer a unique approach to worship, a fusion of tradition and innovation that sparks curiosity, and enthusiasm.
Furthermore, Christian Post, in an insightful article published on May 29, 2022, recounted the first-hand experiences of a reporter who embarked on a journey into the world of AI-driven church services. He attended services in not one, but three virtual reality churches and shared vivid accounts of his immersive encounters within these virtual sanctuaries. These churches appear to be on a quest to embody what George Fox Seminary researcher Daniel Passini called, “techno-theology,” aiming to merge the realms of technology and theology to illuminate a greater understanding of faith.
These stories unveil the unique challenge that modern faith-based organizations face — navigating the intricate intersection of faith and technology. No doubt, these organizations seek to harness the potential of AI to make a meaningful impact while staying grounded in their moral, ethical and theological principles. This challenge is not new, for faith and technology have often found themselves on the same ship, sailing through the vast seas of human progress.
The transformative potential of AI is undeniable, and its impact extends across numerous industries. In faith-based spaces, AI can revolutionize the way we learn, allowing research and ministry content to be tailored to specific demographics and individual preferences. Leaders can experience the benefits of AI in personalized learning, aiding in speech planning, care and scheduling, and offering tools that enhance faith work.
Every day, we interact with smart assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant. With AI’s continued evolution, these tools are poised to become even more efficient, assisting with day-to-day tasks and improving the overall organizational goals. Yuval Noah Harari in his book 21 Lessons for the 21st Century stated, “AI is not even near its full potential: it’s just in its infancy…” His opinion is corroborated by a biblical perspective on the possibilities that knowledge will bring in the last days, as Daniel 12:4 states, “But you, Daniel, shut up the words and seal the book, until the time of the end. Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase.”
However, AI’s vast possibilities and potential impact are met with significant concerns, from concerns expressed by the United States government and legislators to those of AI Pioneers such as Geoffrey Hinton. Using the adage popularized in modern times by Spider-Man, “With great power comes great responsibility,” AI concerns in faith-based spaces are also real. These include the potential for bias in AI algorithms that minimize biblical truth where AI is used for sermon research, ethical dilemmas, the loss of Spirit-led inspiration and human judgment, privacy risks, and the potential for AI to provide information that challenges biblical beliefs in faith communities.
What should we do now? I believe that as we stand at the precipice of this AI-driven era, it becomes imperative to find the right balance. Embracing technology and innovation while upholding biblical, moral and ethical values is a task that requires careful consideration, intentionality and responsibility. We must navigate today’s reality which involves examining AI with deliberateness, staying informed about developments and encouraging governmental regulations that ensure ethical technology use and the right values.
As we venture into an AI-driven future, we all are entrusted with the responsibility of shaping a future that is not only intelligent but also compassionate, using all available tools to spread the message of Christ and embracing a future filled with hope. It is a journey that invites us to explore the uncharted territories of technology and spirituality, where Christian tradition and AI innovation converge to illuminate a path toward a broader understanding of Jesus in the age of technological possibilities.
Alex Umole is a pastor at Christian Life Center. He holds a Doctorate degree in Semiotics from George Fox Seminary and is an Adjunct Professor at Southeastern University. https://clcftl.org/sunrise/
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