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Principal’s Blog – August 2023

Tools for good or instruments of life?

Well, we’ve finally joined the iRobot set! If you don’t know what that is, then let me educate you.

Recently I was sharing in Townsville at the Church Anniversary for the Fairfield Baptist Church, as well as spending some great time with the folks of Northreach Baptist as well. Our hosts for the weekend were Ian Walton (a former lecturer from Malyon College) and his wife Olivia. Their hospitality was delightful, except for the interruptions that came from a curious little round guy they called Graham. Graham was their Roomba, iRobot vacuum cleaner, that would suddenly leave his charging station to start cleaning the floors! 

I’ve got to say, Wendy was utterly impressed, and yes, a week later we found ourselves at one of the big electrical stores, haggling over a good deal on a “Graham”.  And yes, we now have our very own “Graham” who is making us both feel altogether too guilty by how much stuff he has been picking up from our floors! Seriously, the wonders of this new AI (artificial intelligence) technology are amazing! This little guy has already mapped out our floor space and even sends me a message when he’s done and shows me everywhere he has cleaned.

The truth is, we are now living in an AI world. Over recent months I have shared in a number of online webinars with thousands of academics from around the country as we all grapple with how to respond to the rapid rise in the use of AI writing platforms such as ChatGPT in the higher ed space (and no, I did not use ChatGPT to write this piece).

But all of this raises some important questions for us, even in our churches. This past week, I came across a report of a protestant church in Germany where, last month, a group had used the new AI technology to present a fully AI-generated sermon that was screened in a church, complete with avatars used to present the message! This service, attended by hundreds, was labeled an experimental service. In a Fox Business interview, Jonathan Morris, a former Catholic priest, sought to defend the use of such new technology, arguing that ChatGPT is “taking learned knowledge of human beings and they are generating it in a new way, in a faster way, in an interesting way. It doesn’t mean that it is the solution. But we should not fear technology… but we should be the masters of technology.”[1]

All of this raises some important questions for us as we are increasingly confronted by the ethical dilemmas raised by the brave new world in which we find ourselves. What kind of knowledge are we looking to pass on to people? If it is simply forensic knowledge about God and the Word of God, then maybe AI technology, given the right kinds of prompts, can scour the vast array of material available on the internet, and come up with a message that is “technically correct”. But as Hershael York, a pastor in Kentucky who is also dean of the school of theology and professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said, “it lacks a soul.”[2]

It reminds me of how John starts his first letter, “That which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim to you.” John was wanting to share out of the richness of his own personal encounter with the risen Christ. No, we have not physically seen him, nor have our hands literally touched him, yet, for those of us who have come to truly know and experience his life-transforming power, we have something that no AI bot can possibly replicate. We have the life and power of the indwelling Christ who enables us to speak in such a way that it presses, real life upon real life. Indeed, to effectively share, we will share out of the abundance and overflow, not just of our knowledge of the Scriptures, but of our personal knowledge and experience of the risen Lord Jesus Christ.           

Your fellow servant,

Peter Francis – Principal