Tool, Image Bearer, or Temptation?

We must also recognize that AI technology is here to stay. The church cannot avoid giving careful thought to fundamental questions like: how does AI fit into the Christian worldview and how might we engage with AI technologies to further our mission without compromising our biblical values and principles? 

Abstract: The headlines of today are saturated with talk of “AI,” from how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can improve your business to warnings of how it might transform our government, our schools, and even our churches. However, the lifespan of AI as a technology was not always certain. Around five decades ago, 1974 denoted the start of the “AI Winter,” a period of reduced federal funding and consequently a reduced research focus on Artificial Intelligence (AI). In the intervening fifty years, researchers rethought their earlier mechanistic views of intelligence, moving instead towards a ‘learning model’ of developing intelligence. This shift in focus revolutionized the field of AI and has led to many of the advances we see today. This shift, however, has moved AI from being a tool that we control to more of a technology that we shepherd. It is this distinction between tool and trainee that lies at the heart of many of today’s discussions on “the future of AI.”

In this essay, we will explore from a Biblical perspective three aspects related to AI: AI as a tool, AI as a trainee, and AI as a temptation. Used as a tool, we see that AI has many similarities to other technological advancements that we have used to both better our lives and to further the proclamation of the Gospel. As a trainee, we see that AI forces us to reestablish and reaffirm our views of mankind being made in the image of God and to consequently wrestle with what it means for AI to be made in the image of the image of God. As a temptation, we must reaffirm our God-given mandates and not cede them to technology. We conclude with our thoughts on the open questions that need to be explored in this area but also advice on how pastors can shepherd their congregations well during this exciting time of technological advancement.


Many Christians consider Paul’s statement “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son” (Gal. 4:4–5) to encompass not only the theological fulfillment of God’s plan of salvation, but also as a statement concerning God’s preparation of the geographical, political, and technological backdrop into which Christ was born. Roman engineering paved the way, literally, for the fulfillment of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20). A Christian appropriation of technology, however, does not stop there. It was not long before Christians transitioned from scrolls to the “new-fangled” print technology of the time—the codex—and with it our move from being “people of the scroll” to being “people of the book” (again, literally). With a belief that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17), Christians through the ages have embraced various technologies as a means of spreading the Gospel. The ever-expanding development and adoption of technology by humankind, however, requires Christians within their time and context to evaluate new technologies for their potential to be used in God-honoring ways.

Today is, in some ways, no different from any other period in history; yet, in others ways it is very different. The difference is not the need to adapt to technology, but instead the rate at which society (and consequently the church) is being forced to confront and adapt to technological advancement. Futurist Ray Kurzweil, well-known for his commentaries on the exponential growth of technology in our age, has predicted that “the Singularity is near.” Kurzweil defines “the Singularity” as “a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.”[1] Although we as Christians would argue that true transformation only comes through the work of grace through faith, we might acknowledge that we are reaching another possible paradigm shift: the age of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Implicit in the evaluation of many technological advancements of the past has been the view that technology is, at its core, a means of enhancing, extending, augmenting, and/or amplifying the things that we as humans do.[2] The old adage of technology doing a task “better, faster and cheaper” was in essence a statement measured against how we ourselves might do the task. However, AI is also different, for AI also has the potential to resemble, imitate, and even impersonate the things that we as humans do.

There are many tasks that we as humans accomplish that we are willing to delegate to the tools we use. AI, however, has now moved into the realm of doing things that appear more human-like, such as communicating through language (e.g., ChatGPT). As with every technology, AI has the potential to be mishandled or misappropriated. Both the power and the potency of AI have the potential to stimulate temptation, which in turn leads to people being “dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:13–15).

The purpose of this article is to answer the question, “What is AI?” and to reflect on its strengths and weaknesses from a biblical perspective. As mentioned, we will consider AI as (1) a tool, (2) a trainee, and (3) a temptation. In what follows, we will first briefly provide some of our theological presuppositions about technology. Second, we will give a brief tutorial on the history and terminology associated with artificial intelligence. Third, we present our threefold taxonomy and consider what it means to view AI as tool, trainee, and temptation. Finally, we conclude with some theological reflections.


There is a long history of studying the ethics of technology: from life-giving uses of technology (e.g., reproductive technologies)[3] to life-ending technologies (e.g., technologies used in war).[4] The starting point of all these studies is an acknowledgment that God is the source of innovation and providentially oversees its development and use[5]: “Behold, I have created the smith who blows the fire of coals and produces a weapon for its purpose. I have also created the ravager to destroy” (Isa. 54:16). We agree with Jason Thacker that “Technology is amoral but acts as a catalyst that expands the opportunities for humanity to pursue. It is not good or evil in itself but can be designed and used for good and evil purposes.”[6]

Counter to the secular humanists who hold that “technology can solve almost any problem,” we know that our fallen condition is a problem that humanity cannot resolve. Only God can atone for sins, only God can raise the dead, only God can make a new creation. And yet, ironically, even here the payment for sins came upon a tool—the Roman cross. What man intended for evil, God used for good and the good news is that by Christ’s death, man can receive eternal life.

In light of God’s sovereign rule and our creaturely dependence, David Ehrenfeld has said that “deep within ourselves we know that our omnipotence is a sham” and “our knowledge and control of the future is weak and limited.”[7] For the purposes of this study, it is important to appreciate that technologies amplify and channel animated power.[8] Lord Acton is credited with the saying, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” However, a recent study shows that power does not indeed corrupt; it “heightens pre-existing ethical tendencies.”[9]

Thus, as we will see, the role of AI in the church gets at deeper questions. Following the Christian ethicist Oliver O’Donovan, we hold that “If a moral ‘issue’ has arisen about a new technique, it has arisen not because of questions the technique has put to us, but of questions which we have put to the technique.”[10] The question we are putting to the “technique” of AI is: What are the liberties and boundaries God has set on us, His image-bearing creation, when we exercise our God-given talents to create images of ourselves? We may not answer all of these types of questions, but in order to understand the relevance of these questions, we must now turn to a brief tutorial on AI.

Background of AI

When discussing the background of the development of a particular technology, it is often helpful to select a transition point in history from which we can make generalized statements about the past (i.e., prior to that point), while observing what has transpired since. For the history of Artificial Intelligence (AI), World War II (WWII) demarcates a transition in computing.

In the decades prior to WWII, a “computer” was a person who computed (think: the book and movie Hidden Figures). After WWII, a large plethora of research areas emerged, for example: nuclear physics, numerical weather prediction, and digital computing. During this time period, as digital computers were able to take on more and more “computing” tasks, the nascent computer science discipline started to ask at what point a computer might “appear” human.

Many computer scientists point to Alan Turing’s 1950 paper entitled “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” as the start of AI when he posed the following question: “Can machines think?” The phrase “the Turing test” became known throughout the computer science field as the question of at what point could a human interact with an interface, asking it questions and engaging with it, in which the human could not tell whether he was dealing with a fellow human or a computer. With the Turing test firmly established, the race was on!

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