AI and digital heresy. AI ushering forth the end of days. AI as anti-Christian. People are vocal about these being things to fear about AI. But none of these fears frames the greatest challenge Christians will face in the developing Age of AI. In fact, these surface-level fears actually distract from what I believe we should be very focused on: how overuse and overdependence on AI has the power to fundamentally change human behavior.

Don’t believe me? Think about the last time you unfolded a map to chart a course, or gave someone a copy of your report to proofread. Technology adoption impacts everything from soft skills to relationships. As Christians, we should be very focused on how to use AI in a way that upholds our humanity.

What Christians say they fear about AI

Should Christians fear AI? I get this question a lot. It’s a question often driven by Hollywood movie plots where AI and robots become self-aware – then promptly attack humanity. Some Christians fear AI is going to usher forth the end of the world, the anti-Christ, and every bad event found in the book of Revelation. Other Christians fear AI is committing digital heresy. I’ve read many articles suggesting caution when using AI platforms in religious settings because they’re likely to give an incorrect and unhelpful answer.

Not Using AI Isn’t an Option for Christians

Long story short, if you don’t want to actively use AI or have it in your life, you need to get off the internet and any software that connects to it. If you don’t plan on doing those things, conversations about whether or not other Christians should use AI at all are a bit silly.

AI is so ubiquitous, you may be using it without even realizing it – at home, or at work. Think about:

  • Everyday help: Siri, Google Assistant, and a host of virtual assistants use AI to recognize your voice or face before they answer your questions
  • Smart recommendations: Online shopping, streaming services, and social media all use AI to figure out what you like and don’t, to recommend more of what you like
  • Spam detectors: Email servers use AI algorithms to identify what to send to your spam folders

Christians need to understand that AI features are constantly being added to every software platform they currently use. These companion AI elements help personalize a user’s online experience while transforming how work gets done. Check out Microsoft Copilot and Google’s Gemini as two big game-changers in this area.

AI users need to understand that AI generative platforms like ChatGPT, Gemini, and Claude have a really hard job. They carry the monumental task of trying to understand each and every user’s intent. Then, they try to offer the most helpful, honest, and harmless response possible. In effect, you need to tell the AI platform you are a follower of Jesus. When you give it this information, the AI platform filters all of the information available to it through this new lens, a.k.a a persona.

When you use personas, ChatGPT’s answers can be so good, it leads to the real issue Christians should focus on in the coming months and years. We should fear AI in terms of our potential overuse and overdependence, which can lead to behavior change.

AI Will Forever Change Behavior Patterns

I’ve written about how Generative AI and calculators are similar. Do you remember a time when calculators weren’t allowed in classrooms? Me neither. Because the world adapted to embrace them and now we can’t imagine life without them.

Generative AI is seeing the same adoption rate. But what happens when Generative AI becomes so good that its answers are better and faster than anything we can come up with on our own? What about when AI platforms are truly built into every single online platform?

The answer is simple: We’ll begin to use and depend on those platforms for most of our language-related tasks.

How technology has changed people’s behavior in the past  

Behavior change wrought by AI adoption will bring expected and unexpected results for Christians. To guess how it will change our future behavior, we only need to look at past technologies.  

  • Texting

When texting first arrived, I scoffed at its existence. I couldn’t understand why a person would take the time to peck through all the numbers on a cell phone’s physical, numerical keypad to send a simple text message to a friend. I mean, I could simply call. It was way faster and less prone to misunderstandings. Today, I text people and seldom call. It’s less intrusive in the recipient’s day, and less time consuming for both of us.

Behaviors impacted: social skills, time management, communication, critical thinking, personalization

  • Google Maps

I used to own many maps, bravely using folded paper to navigate state and city trips. Because of this, I used to know how to get places. Then came Mapquest and Google Maps. Then they became embedded directly into the navigation systems of cars. Now, I can easily get anywhere in the world with the click of a button. But, I’m less likely to know how to get places because I spend far less time preparing for even short trips. I punch in a destination, and go.

Behaviors impacted: basic navigation, conflict resolution, preparation, awareness of surroundings, time management

  • Spell Check

There was a time when I worried about spelling and proofreading. I’d type a paper, email, or text, and double-check to make sure it was written well. Now, my phone auto-corrects my mistakes. Grammarly does the same for my papers, emails, etc. Do I know how to write well or spell? It’s unclear. But, these programs sure do make up for whatever I naturally lack.

Behaviors impacted: communication, learning by correcting own mistakes , time management, creative thinking

Every new technology comes with real benefits and potential losses. Typically, technology marches on whether we like it or not. AI-powered software will overtake everything soon enough. As followers of Jesus, we can either pretend it doesn’t exist, or choose to thoughtfully dance with this new technology.

How Church Leaders Can Thoughtfully Engage AI

Pastors and church leaders should engage the topic of AI in the same way they approach their personal social media, cell phone, and tv consumption: with awareness. It’s easy to become overly addicted to any one of these things. Reflecting on when and why we use digital technology – including AI – can help us stay grounded. Here are a few other things to be mindful of:

Maintain personal agency and ownership

As AI becomes smarter and smarter, the content AI creates will quickly become better than we could do ourselves. Be cautious and use AI at the appropriate times, not relying on it to do everything for us. Also, double-check any AI-assisted content, maintaining your personal agency in the final product.

Example: Having learned everything about how you talk and navigate conversations, an AI simulation of you could hang out on all your Zoom calls. But you’d never want to use your AI Sim to have difficult conversations you don’t want to have yourself, like a conversation about an employee’s poor performance. Imagine if that person could sent their own AI bot to a Zoom call because they thought they were being fired.

Focus on authenticity and human connection

Followers of Jesus should maintain a high value on authenticity and genuine human connection – values the world will come to desperately lack. Christians can lead the way against ‘fake’ content and participation by using AI selectively.

Christians Shouldn’t Use AI with Fear

AI is nothing more than a new technology. Yes, it is a world-altering new technology, but so were calculators. We can battle fear about AI by thoughtfully figuring out how to better use it to improve our lives and increase our faith. Let’s view it as a tool that can help us in immeasurable ways.

Those suggesting fear and concern over AI offering heretical answers aren’t using AI correctly. It’s fully capable of giving great spiritual responses based on the chosen persona. Instead of fearing hersey, we should fear our personal over-dependence on this amazing new technology. Because it’s so new, we’ll all have to walk this path together. But, the good news is, we don’t have to walk alone.

I host the AI for Churches podcast to dig into the tools, topics, and opinions living at the intersection of artificial intelligence and Christianity. I hope you’ll join us – or be a guest!