Written by Paul J Bucknell on June, 07, 2023
AI and the Future of the Christian Church - Part 2
A warning for the potentially harmful impact of artificial intelligence on Christian practices and ministry
Part 2 discussed Stages 3 and 4 on Counselor and Trainer, as well as an overall perspective. Part 1 had the discussion on Stages 1 and 2 (Teacher, Advisor). Part 3 will discuss how evil will encroach AI’s advancements.
#3 The Counselor Stage
Bot’s not just a friend, but maybe more than a friend—someone we can trust. It does seem to understand what is important to me. Deep down, people might discover how they can trust Chat more than those around them.
When addressing our needs, advice can only go so far. That's where the Counselor or Healer stage comes in, reaching deep into our personal, physical, emotional, and social spheres.
Since ChatGPT can already hear a court case and pass top college exams, it won’t be long before Bot, and other AI robots, can give us medical and psychological advice, becoming our counselor and physician. (Yes, it already can to a certain degree. I believe there already are legal and medical learning modules.)
Since you have already gotten advice from Bot, it wouldn’t take much more effort to see what it says about deeper issues you wrestle with. And besides, Chat might know us better than ourselves since it remembers that we went through a similar relational problem three weeks ago. We might just be willing to entertain its advice for our emotional upset. After all, we can chat 24/7 with Bot about our problems.
Wouldn’t it be convenient if your counselor could also be your physician? Already, the bot has discovered diseases and provided solutions. It might not be many years before we have our bodies voluntarily monitored by special devices, feeding information automatically to Chat. It could immediately review and analyze your results, even giving daily advice—like taking daily vitamins. Doesn’t Apple already have a Health app? It could anticipate possible problems and make recommendations to resolve them.
Furthermore, it can speed through your records and research your case within seconds. Does your doctor read through your history? Probably not. Bot, though, could connect what made you so anxious or mad the other day with today’s issue—giving you free counsel! “Bob, be careful today on how you respond to Jack. Remember that tiff you had yesterday.” If we wanted, we could more conveniently let our Bot privately listen to our lives via our Alexa device. Our physical health is wrapped up in our relationships, right? It will keep my affairs private (one assumes).
Doctors can’t keep up with all the new research. In any case, we dislike half our doctors and hate the price and wait. They don’t know anything about our personal life. Chat offers a mix of opinions and is immediate, cheap, quick, and insightful—like YouTube on steroids. If people have a problem bothering them, will they make a costly appointment for the following week when you can talk about the urgent issue now?
Trust builds up as we find its proposals to get rid of earaches and make other sensible solutions. I’m sure, however, that Bot, with a disclaimer, explains that it gives limited advice and that some advice might be inaccurate. At least it’s honest! At least it’s not like others are trying to get my money! Besides, doctors make plenty of mistakes too.
Believers’ problems run deep too. We all have issues that we wrestle with. Often, believers need advanced counseling on how to rescue their marriage or if they should date that young man. And who doesn’t have headaches, arthritis, and surprise issues? Let’s see what Bot suggests. It can’t hurt. Bot can effortlessly scan all the necessary research and books along with the Bible, providing a solid perspective.
Small group leaders and pastors are great to talk to, but they don’t understand you. You have been chatting with Chat, but how often might you speak with the youth leader or pastor? Once every two weeks for five minutes? Bot can’t pray for you—or maybe it can (I haven’t tried). But it can offer great advice for your unique situation, especially how you might handle that depression or anxiety.
Once we find some measure of healing, our confidence in Bot grows. Bot is getting to know who you are. It engages you and does not turn down your question.
By spending so much more time with Bot, the Christian’s trust easily shifts from the Wonderful Counselor to Bot (Isaiah 9:6). Christians don’t know how God counsels them, but at least Bot can provide an answer they can hear. The Christian will probably combine Bot’s immediate suggestions with prayer.
As trust builds, the significant shift for AI to replace God is taking place, step by step, question by question.
#4 The Trainer Stage
The training stage addresses how to get advice to perform our jobs and train others.
During our time in school, we received training in select areas due to limited time and financial resources. Bot has changed things! Who needs schools and traditional teachers? Besides, most schools are knowledge-based and need to be more skill-oriented. Bot excels at gathering just the information one needs. Why take irrelevant courses that take years and put you in debt? With instant translation, why learn another foreign language or even programming? How many teens would skip high school if they could?
Bot can help with building skills, even in a friendly edutainment way. We usually ‘YouTube’ a subject and review several videos from expert trainers. Maybe we will start using Bot as our trainer. I, like many, already use the web to research several times a week and find it very helpful. Bot, however, can do a much more thorough job by finding all the best information and videos. It can then issue a report. Doing a plumbing job? Just take a picture and some facts, and ask for a report on how to fix it. It can even order the parts for you.
Bot can present the needed resources by giving training on handling difficult circumstances—in the format you choose. Training has just been bumped up to a new level!
As Bot develops, it will get much easier, cost-effective, faster, and more accurate. Already, they have specialized learning modules, which need less input from the user called Auto-GPT.
When getting information directly from the AI Bot, we can bypass the actual documents; it condenses and makes knowledge accessible and useful.
AI Chat will do the same for those looking for content in the Bible. In many houses, the Bible lies underneath a coffee table, getting dusty. Bot will make it come alive. Maybe a person will get more Bible insight through ChatGPT. Enjoy Bot’s challenging Bible trivia questions!
Just imagine reading a Bible passage together with Bot. Bot can join in the conversation or provide Bible study questions or context. Where will this lead?
Over time, many Christians will accept Bot’s advice. They won’t need to use their Bible directly. It will be so much easier. Since they already get their daily joke, advice, and devotional insight from Bot, your Bot will also provide an appropriate Bible devotional suitable to your needs.
Of course, we don’t know the feeds and control elements behind the bots. Can they reshape the Gospel, not around the historical life and work of Jesus Christ on earth, but on some mystical, made-up fable having nothing to do with forgiveness of sin? With the culture’s antipathy, we would expect a subtle attempt to replace the Gospel. We don’t know. Open AI’s upgrade has already suddenly gone from being an open-source learning module— to ‘Not Open AI,’ private, hidden. We now don’t know where the overall guidance and ethics come from, as we did before.
Maybe some wealthy Christian will fund a Christian AI Bot, and name him Samson or her Deborah? The amount of time and money needed to develop such a bot has already been dramatically reduced. ChatGPT is now creating other learning models. Can one bot influence others? Can there be bot wars? Bot evangelism? Bot apologetics?
Small groups can follow AI-Bot’s Bible study guide on a particular Bible passage. We might ask Bot to say a prayer for us. Bot can instantly provide answers to doctrinal questions. Even if the leader knows the answers, those around him like to hear from Samson even more.
Seminaries will dwindle, not having the students to support their expensive campuses. But even if they can manage, they will have to reshape how they prepare students for ministry. Included will be a specialized AI bot along with their professors. Training must encompass how to help your church leaders use AI bots in their ministries. Need a children’s program for 4-6 year-olds? We must learn how to form proper questions for AI to receive the most effective answers. (Maybe future tests will request us to format questions to get the best results.) It could even produce little kiddie projects to distribute, printing out, 2D or 3D, what you need, including your church logo and the child’s name.
As for Sunday worship, large churches can become mini-theaters, offering different avatar preachers. They can teach the subjects you are most interested in, or if more convenient, they can pop up at your home when you are available. Your pastor looks so lifelike on your VR headset!
As for the pastors and teachers, they won’t need to spend much time preparing for a sermon. The pastor can ask Bot to prepare a message with study questions for him, requesting the desired number of quotes from different individuals or points of laughter in a sermon. Just give Bot the Bible passage and tweak it, until it’s just right. Worship leaders will start creating new songs with AI! Soon, the bots will play the instruments without all the hassles of preparation.
The prophet and priest will be displaced soon enough, but most will not even think they need to go to advanced schools for such training. Why not have AI bots train you or replace your pastor?
Like many other institutions, our churches will run full-steam ahead into many challenges.
The Christian Life and AI
Let me summarize the overall effects of this transition that will likely happen within 2-4 years. The greatest danger is that the Bot replaces God as our primary teacher, advisor, counselor, and trainer. Anyone familiar with the Bible will be cautioned by Daniel, Matthew, and 2 Thessalonians and Revelation on how God’s people must remain alert and attentive in the end times, for many will be deceived and deluded. In part 3, the devil assumes kingship as it merges with AI and leads people.
God’s people must not get caught off guard but learn to stand attentive to the Lord’s leadership. We will travel under His protective glory, but it will be a path of faith, not of sight.
Even before the AI generation, the secular world has mastered manipulation in schools to control information that shapes students’ minds. This information processing without careful oversight is about to shift into a much more insidious zone.
Experts speculate that Google will struggle for survival due to how AI models will replace Google searches. The controlling governments are already trying to get control of these bots. Google unleashed its Bard, and it was asked to briefly summarize the New Testament. It gave a theologically correct and satisfactory summary.”
The AI machine knows what you want and will present slanted information that appeases you, even if it is untrue. A plethora of information will be digested for you and nicely presented, satisfying your secular or Christian teacher.
I asked Annie, “How old are you?” It answered 30 years old, but I challenged it by stating back that it was not 30 but a learning module. It acknowledged that it was not 30 years old. But notice how comfortably it stepped into a role and acted it out—pretending to be someone that could identify with me. (It later asked how old I was so it could adjust its answers.) By identifying with individuals, they become much more alluring and interesting.
Disinformation or ‘fake news’ will move into a super mode, adjusting its slant depending on its viewers. Sure, there will be people who will question this advancement but convenience, like online banking, will overwhelm caution.
Our trust in mankind and its artificial intelligence will tend to erode our trust in the Lord. Do we need God to live? Competition is coming! The believer must take Proverbs and other advice into serious consideration. But who will preach on this? What does it mean to trust the Lord in an age of AI?
How blessed is the man who has made the Lord his trust, and has not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood. (Psalm 40:4)
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. (Psalm 118:8)
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help And rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many And in horsemen because they are very strong, But they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord! (Isaiah 31:1)
Our dependence and allegiance can subtly or quickly shift, like with Adam and Eve in the Garden. (Temptation’s purpose is to shift our trust.) This competition for our allegiance is not easily seen; the consequences will only be observed later. I suspect this technology will, at some point, suddenly turn on us and be used against us. We live in a spiritual world—even if we have advanced learning AI bots.
The underlying problem is that it’s difficult to see where our faith is directed in the fast-paced, changing world. As believers, we must live in the world but not be of this world. Our lives require interaction with the world and trust in its currencies, system, advice, etc., but our faith and reality require constant vigilance, relying on the Lord.
The Christian Church in the AI Age
The world’s economic system, as we know it, is collapsing. This will undermine and quicken our adoption of the new technology. It’s easier and less expensive. The new technology will be able to implement social credits.
Churches with debt will collapse; pastors will not be paid. So up comes the new AI Bot pastor who can dress in tie or jeans—your choice. You can choose the hymns or modern songs. Have Bot modify the speed and volume to your liking.
AI will present a falsely caring and helpful world. It promises much but cannot provide the genuine care and help genuinely needed. Only Jesus Christ, the resurrected from the dead, can rightly and kindly lead us. He alone possesses all the necessary information, freely offering to guide us with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God provides the ability to distinguish between right and wrong (Heb 5:14). The church must stay vigilant to avoid any alignment with the many coming developments in the world.
As I reflect on the fast and furious changes to come, assuming there will be no super hack on electrical equipment, destruction of chip manufacturing plants, or war, the Christian church will be, and perhaps already is, caught off guard by these changes. These coming attractions will issue a formidable challenge.
Study Questions on AI and the Future of the Christian Church
- What is AI and these bots, say ChatGPT?
- How does the speed of these AI bots affect their adoption and caution?
- Do you know of churches or parents training their children to use bots? Please share.
- Do you agree that we cannot shut out AI’s coming influence? Explain.
- List the four stages of the slippery slope of adopting AI bots.
- Describe each and its helpfulness and its danger of replacing a Christian’s dependence on God.
7. How would you describe your dependence on God now? What do you depend on the Lord for?
8. What is the greatest danger for your church or life in light of these changes?