What Does it Mean to Be Human?

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Artificial Intelligence

Angela Kim, Sharoon Sarfraz, Jason Thacker & Dan Whitenack

Technologies utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) are changing how people connect with each other both in positive and in unsettling ways. Advances in AI capacity and applications raise new questions about control and power, privacy, bias and discrimination, economic wellbeing, and our conception of what it means to be human. While it is crucial that we think through the moral ramifications and utilize it responsibly, we believe that AI presents the church and Christian ministries with a special chance to advance and better our work. In this article we will lay out how we believe the use of AI technology can enhance our Great Commission efforts and discuss how we can embrace it responsibly.

Current State of AI

Over the past decade, AI technologies have made their way into nearly every industry, revolutionizing sectors ranging from manufacturing to video production. While the widespread adoption of AI has been an ongoing trend, the public release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT marked a significant turning point in the public’s realization that AI will inevitably permeate every facet of our lives in the near future. 

Christians worldwide have also recognized the immense potential of AI in advancing the spread of the gospel and have employed AI tools in many innovative ways: 

  • One example of this is the enhancement of discipleship and training through the development of learner profiles. Teaching is at the core of discipleship, and learners are at the core of teaching. By deepening our understanding of learners and assisting us in the customization of learning material, AI systems can be a powerful tool. GoTandem and efforts by Christian Vision offer examples of how this technology is already in use. 
  • AI’s predictive capabilities can also assist us in digital evangelism by producing suggestions on when, what, and how to offer feedback based on a deeper understanding of the learner. For instance, an AI-driven chatbot can respond to inquiries about religion, cite biblical passages, and even have religious discussions.
  • In the area of Bible study, AI may be able to examine the text of the Bible, find key themes and patterns, and offer interpretation suggestions for certain passages.1 AI can also be used to create tools that provide further context or resources for a particular passage, assisting readers in understanding the Bible.
  • The use of AI tools to improve and accelerate Bible translation—in written, audio, and visual formats—is also exciting to see. 

Interestingly, the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic compelled many churches and Christian educational institutions to invest in their capacity for online worship, fellowship, training, and instruction. Many church leaders and members around the world are now considerably more receptive to the adoption of new technologies as a result. Virtual reality (VR) church in the metaverse is one example of this kind of change—although it has not been widely adopted at the time of writing.

Addressing Common Concerns

It is understandable that many Christians have reservations about integrating AI technologies into the life of the church. Some of these concerns stem from common misconceptions about the nature of AI, and others are grounded in important ethical and theological matters. In either case, these concerns must be addressed if we are to make the best use of our resources for Great Commission purposes. 

One common objection argues that because AI tools are created by humans and mimic human intelligence, the employment of such tools violates Christian ethics. This concern will be addressed in greater detail later in this article, but briefly put, it is important to remember that in creating and utilizing AI technology, we are developing tools, not ‘beings’. Though these tools may imitate certain human-like capacities or abilities, AI tools are not human, and we do not have the capacity to make them human. As impressive as AI tools may be, they can only mimic how human beings complete tasks, and however advanced their capacity to analyze data may be, they necessarily cannot think and learn the way humans do.

AI does not pose an existential threat to humanity, but we must be aware of the concerning ways it is shaping our understandings of God, ourselves, and the world around us.

Also, contrary to popular and exaggerated beliefs, the primary challenge lies not in an AI system becoming sentient or triggering a mass extinction event through autonomous and uncontrolled agents. We can find solace in the fact that God is not caught off guard by AI. He already knows all possible outcomes within his infinite wisdom. Thus, AI does not pose an existential threat to humanity, but we must be aware of the concerning ways it is shaping our understandings of God, ourselves, and the world around us.

Concerns about data and privacy protection, meaningful consent, abuse prevention, and the nature of humans and human interaction are on the minds of many, and rightfully so. There is indeed serious potential for AI tools to be used for harm, therefore careful stewardship of AI tools cannot be neglected. It will be important for researchers and policymakers to ensure that AI tools are developed and used in a responsible and ethical manner. But as with new technologies that have come before it, the best path before us is to seek to master it and glean its benefits while working wisely and vigilantly to mitigate its potential negative effects. Before us is an incredible opportunity for Christians in the AI industry to collaborate and promote the importance of ethical and responsible use of these tools, as well as to democratise the technology so that AI tools can be delivered in a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive manner.

Future State of AI

By 2050, it is predicted that AI will become ubiquitous and integrated into every aspect of our lives, from health service and food industry to transportation and edutainment (education + entertainment)—indeed it already has a strong presence in these and many other fields. AI tools could be used to automate a vast array of tasks, allowing people to focus on more creative and strategic work.

We will see significant advancements in AI applications that are capable of exhibiting more human-like behaviour, such as analysis of context and mimicking of empathy and creativity. This could lead to new levels of interaction and collaboration between humans and machines.

AI technology will increasingly be integrated into robotics, leading to the development of more advanced robots that can perform complex tasks and interact with humans in more sophisticated ways not only in science and industry, but also in domestic tasks. This could have significant implications for industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, and transportation which need to reskill and up-skill their workforce to meet new demands. 

By 2050, the new tools and techniques for creative expression provided by AI will deliver significant achievements in art, music, and design. We have already seen how content created with AI tools in music, video, painting, etc. are indistinguishable from human-created works. This, of course, triggers concerns around intellectual property, highlighting the need for close collaboration between technologists, ethicists, and legal professionals. 

Overall, the state of AI in 2050 is likely to be characterized by rapid advancements in technology, along with a growing awareness of the ethical and societal implications of AI technology. It will be important for Christian researchers, policymakers, and the public to work together to ensure that AI is developed and used in a way that is centered on human dignity.

Culture, Humanness, and the Plausibility of the Gospel

Technology often raises more questions than it answers. While today’s questions may seem novel due to the fast-paced nature of technological advance, the core of these questions is ageless. Artificial intelligence and the popular intrigue surrounding the application of these tools raise a central question: What does it mean to be human? This is a question that the church must be ready to address with truth, clarity, and grace as we seek to navigate culture and spread the gospel to the ends of the earth. As AI tools assume many roles and tasks previously only accomplished by humans, this question becomes even more pointed. 

This recurring question of what it means to be human becomes even more important in our age of emerging technologies. In Artificial Intelligence: An Evangelical Statement of Principles, a group of over 70 evangelical leaders from North America affirmed the unique nature of humanity and denied ‘that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency’.2 This understanding of the exceptional nature of humanity is rooted in the Christian understanding of the unique status God bestowed when he created humanity according to the imago Dei (Gen 1:26-28). 

Regardless of one’s capacities or attributes, they are a person by simply being a member of the human species.

Historically, the church has argued for three primary definitions of the imago Dei which have centered on our human ability to think, to create, and to perform certain complex tasks. While it is true that humanity does seem to model certain features such as high levels of reason/rationality (substantive view), gregariousness (relational view), and representational ability/responsibility (functional view), we must ask if these attributes or capacities ontologically ground human identity. Or rather, if they better model a fundamental status that human beings have rooted in how God set us apart from the rest of creation as those made in his image. Theologians and philosophers throughout church history have held various combinations of these views as they sought to meet the social and ethical challenges of their day. 

German Catholic philosopher Robert Spaemann writes that ‘human beings have certain definite properties that license us to call them ‘persons’; but it is not the properties we call persons, but the human beings who possess the properties’.3 In other words, a person is someone vs. something. Regardless of one’s capacities or attributes, they are a person by simply being a member of the human species. He writes that ‘there can, and must, be one criterion for personality, and one only; that is biological membership of the human race’.4 This framing of the unique nature of humanity can aid the church as we consider how to navigate the opportunities and challenges ahead, grounded in the love of God and love of neighbour (Matt 22:37-39).

While human beings are a specific kind of creature who often exhibit certain shared characteristics and attributes in varying degrees, human dignity must not be seen as solely based on the presence of those particular attributes or capacities. The absence of these traits, whether due to individual differences or the pernicious effects of sin, does not lead to the loss of dignity or personhood. The unique status of the imago Dei is inalterable and unchanging; it is bestowed upon us uniquely by our creator and applies to all members of the human species across time and culture.

How we define what it means to be human has vast implications for all of life. This includes how we think about emerging technologies that are beginning to mimic the very attributes that we have long thought were exclusively human. The Christian ethic reminds us that even in an age of emerging technologies like AI, the value and dignity of humans isn’t rooted in what we do but in who we are as unique image bearers of our creator, endowed with the capacity for personal communion with the tri-personal God. God made us in his very image and nothing—not even the most advanced AI systems of the future—will be able to alter that ontological status. This truth must be central to the ongoing debates over the development and use of AI today, especially in the church as she seeks to fulfill the Great Commission in response to the Great Commandment.

AI and the Great CommissionOpportunities and Challenges

A proper theology of humanity also informs how the church ought to think about the role of AI in the Great Commission. The proclamation of the gospel is not simply about information transfer but is rather a whole person transformation by the power of the Holy Spirit. As noted earlier, Christians throughout the world have long embraced various technological advances to aid in spreading the gospel to the ends of the earth. Today, many are seeking to harness the immense power of AI tools in the furtherance of the gospel message to all people, tribes, and nations.

As the church seeks to harness these tools, two truths must remain central and drive our use of AI today as well as into the future. First, these tools—as with all technology—can and will be used by God to aid the church in proclaiming the truth to a watching world. Christians across disciplines can and should harness these tools to help spread the gospel message to unreached or under-reached people groups and to disciple the next generation in the ways of the Lord. But this push to employ these tools must be guided by the unique nature of humanity and the recognition that machines are fundamentally different from humans. Wisdom would call us to slow down in an age of efficiency and convenience to examine how these technologies shape us as human beings, including how we understand God, ourselves, and the world around us. Technology, including AI, is not a neutral tool that we can simply use for good or evil. It has the power to define—often without our recognition—the way we perceive the world around us and our role in it.

Wisdom would call us to slow down in an age of efficiency and convenience to examine how these technologies shape us as human beings, including how we understand God, ourselves, and the world around us.

Second, at its core, the Christian witness and gospel cannot be simply reduced to information transfer or acquiring more knowledge. Christian mission has never simply been about downloading information or mentally assenting to certain facts. Its concern is with the personal and relational aspects of being human. It has always been (and will always be) about a personal encounter with the living God, which is mediated through personal interaction with other image bearers and the local expression of the body of Christ in the church. 

This sacred mission cannot simply be automated or reduced to an output by a machine, even if machines may assist us in sharing the gospel message in hard-to-reach places. The missiological potential of AI and other emerging technological tools is immense, but using these tools as substitutes for human connectivity and the embodied nature of Christian mission can lead to dangerous outcomes. Thus, while an AI-powered tool may be able to present the facts of the gospel or perform complex human-like tasks, it cannot truly witness or even preach, as it isn’t able to experience true grace or the redemption of sin which is at the core of the gospel message, nor can it commune with the triune God.

Aligning Our Expectations

Navigating the realm of AI in a missional and church context presents us with genuine challenges that must be acknowledged. One such challenge revolves around managing our expectations. It is important to recognize that AI tools, while incredibly powerful, cannot resolve all our missional and church-related issues. However, it would be equally incorrect to dismiss the potential of AI tools altogether. Embracing this nuanced perspective is akin to our approach to other technologies.

Furthermore, it is essential to grasp the inherent limitations of AI systems themselves. As previously mentioned, AI systems lack the ability to possess a mind or a soul. They are composed of lines of code, executed on computers, and programmed by humans. Consequently, these lines of code are incapable of truly ‘understanding’ human intent. While AI tools such as ChatGPT may generate seemingly coherent outputs, it is vital to recognize that these outputs are the result of patterns processed by the tools based on mathematical probabilities. They lack awareness of reality, factuality, empathy, and other fundamental aspects of human consciousness. Developing a better understanding of these limitations empowers Christians to approach AI-driven systems with cautious optimism, fully appreciating their potential while remaining vigilant against inevitable system failures.

Stewarding Our Opportunities 

By comprehending these challenges and embracing a realistic outlook, Christians can effectively navigate the complexities of AI in a missional and church context. With this approach, we can leverage AI to its fullest extent while ensuring that our missional endeavours remain grounded in the wisdom, discernment, and compassion of human involvement.

Approaching the missional use of AI tools with an open and proactive mindset opens up a world of exciting opportunities. These tools have the potential to revolutionize the way we engage with people, present the gospel, identify seekers, and distribute personalized Christian content. Imagine being able to search through vast databases of commentaries, study guides, and sermons in real time, all within a chat interface or through voice interactions. Furthermore, we can leverage AI technology to rapidly translate content and synthesize it into various formats, such as voice or video, for targeted distribution through AI-driven advertising. These methodologies have already transformed our ability to connect with those in search of answers by providing the right content, at the right time, and in the right format.

As we responsibly utilize this technology in a God-honouring manner, we also have a remarkable opportunity to shape the development of AI. Rather than merely riding the wave or struggling to catch up with the advancements, we can actively engage with the moral, ethical, and value-related questions that AI raises. Tech companies and governments are forming committees to address these issues, and they are actively seeking input. It is our chance to encourage and support individuals within our congregations and organizations to step forward and provide leadership in these discussions. We should rally behind our young generation’s interest in technology and coding, nurturing them to become world-class technologists who integrate their Christian faith into their work.

Imagine vibrant gatherings of believers where people from every tribe and tongue come together to worship, hearing content automatically translated into their own language. Imagine praying as one unified voice and witnessing the preaching of God’s Word in signed languages, ensuring that no one is left out. Furthermore, imagine people scattering to the farthest corners of the earth, swiftly finding and connecting with those in search of answers, creating diverse and multi-modal content that reaches the right people at the right time, and boldly proclaiming the name of Jesus where it has never been heard before. Let us fervently pray that this generation of Christians will critically embrace this technology in a Spirit-led manner, allowing God’s kingdom to manifest in new and powerful ways here on earth as it is in heaven.


  1. It should be noted that these interpretive suggestions will inevitably be influenced by particular values and hermeneutical understandings, which should remind Christians of the great need to cultivate wisdom and discernment when utilizing these tools in these ways.
  2. “Artificial Intelligence: An Evangelical Statement of Principles,” April 11, 2019. https://erlc.com/resource-library/statements/artificial-intelligence-an-evangelical-statement-of-principles.
  3. Robert Spaemann, Persons: The Difference Between “Someone” and “Something,” trans. Oliver O’Donovan, Oxford Studies in Theological Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 236. (emphasis added)
  4. Spaemann, 247.

Authors' Bios

Angela Kim

Angela Kim is an AI Professional specialised in Ethics, Bias, Explainable & Responsible AI. Angela is the global Chief Education Officer for Women in AI, and sits on the Founding Editorial Board of Springer's new AI and Ethics Journal. Angela is a founder of est.ai and the first project is building a product to detect bullying, drug usage, suicidal and mental health wellbeing in social media.

Sharoon Sarfraz

Sharoon Sarfraz is an entrepreneur and CEO of an IT company ‘Glee Technology’. He has 15 years of experience in the IT sector and has worked for IBM and other Leading Cooperate titans. Sharoon has a desire to serve the Lord at work by offering IT solutions for the gospel's global effect. Sharoon serves on the World Evangelical Alliance IT Commission, and as a member of the Lausanne Movement technology advisory group. Sharoon earned both an IT MBA and a bachelor's degree. He likes to speak and share about the new innovations and trends of AI.

Jason Thacker

Jason Thacker is assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College. He also serves as a research fellow in Christian ethics and director of the research institute at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He is the author or editor of several volumes, including The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity, Following Jesus in a Digital Age, and The Digital Public Square: Christian Ethics in a Technological Society.

Dan Whitenack

Dan Whitenack is a Ph.D. trained data scientist working with SIL International on NLP and speech technology for local languages in emerging markets. He has more than ten years of experience developing and deploying machine learning models at scale. Daniel co-hosts the Practical AI podcast, has spoken at conferences around the world including Applied Machine Learning Days, O’Reilly AI, QCon AI, GopherCon, KubeCon, and more.