I've been writing Christian comment columns for newspapers and radio for more than 30 years – but I had a shock when I asked an artificial intelligence computer programme to write one for me.
The question that I posed was simple. Could an AI programme produce a faith comment column that would match up to one penned by a team of writers who regularly produce articles for a local newspaper in St Albans, my home city north of London. These are all people who know our historic city well and have a living faith.
The answer? The AI fared pretty well and – worryingly – it produced several insights that could have been written by one of our experienced team. It was not especially evangelistic, as generally these columns tend to be more focussed on raising faith issues relevant to the local scene.
The article was drafted for me by Chat GPT, an AI chatbot that uses natural language processing to create 'humanlike conversational dialogue.' The language model can respond to questions and compose various written content, including articles, social media posts, essays and emails.
Extracts from the article written by AI include: "Faith is not just about religious institutions and communities. It is also about the way we live our lives and relate to others. In St Albans, faith can be seen in the many acts of kindness and compassion that take place every day."
The AI programme also wrote: "While Christianity may be the dominant faith tradition in St Albans, it is by no means the only one. The city is home to a diverse array of religious communities, including Muslims, Jews and Hindus.
"This diversity is a source of strength for St Albans, as it allows different faith communities to learn from one another and to contribute to the common good."
Both points are ones that 'human' writers may have made themselves. The article also explained that sometimes we can struggle with our faith. In style, it was fairly bland, making largely non-controversial comments for a secular audience.
But my experiment with artificial intelligence gave me a glimpse of what AI can already do, with – looking ahead – the potential for 'systems with human-intelligence' to make radical changes to society, including taking away people's jobs and making 'fake news' much easier to invent and distribute.
Many people are worried. A group of technology leaders have called for a pause in development while we study AI's potential impact.
Historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari has warned: "We have just encountered an alien intelligence here on Earth. We don't know much about it, except that it might destroy our civilisation."
The best-selling writer has called for AI to be regulated and controlled in the way that nations have reached agreements to control nuclear weapons. He says, "We can still regulate the new AI tools, but we must act quickly."
But what 'my' AI-generated article lacked – and, of course, it would – was a living faith that would inform its writing. It lacked the experience of seeking to follow Christ in the day-to-day, the desire to bring others to a knowledge of Christ and to serve people as our 'servant king' sought to do.
For anyone who is a Christian communicator – from the pulpit, online, in print, via video or drama – this is a vital lesson.
In an age when AI can generate sermons, write articles and design compelling graphics, those of us who seek to speak about the faith, and bring others to it, will need increasingly to 'bring ourselves' into our messages.
A computer programme can never replicate the flesh-and-blood experience of faith, lived out over decades and the unique perspective that each of us bring to our pilgrimage of belief.
Like John the Baptist, we need to be pointing to Christ – always – but it'll become increasingly vital that we bring our own lived experiences, our testimonies, into how we communicate.
That's the challenge for all Christian communicators, and anyone seeking to share their faith. Words and arguments that could be drawn from a textbook or the web can easily be replicated by AI programmes.
Actions of love, and sharing our personal story will always be the most persuasive way of presenting Christ's gospel of sacrifice and love.
And AI – I pray – will never be able to match that authenticity and truth.
Rev Peter Crumpler is a Church of England minister in St Albans, Herts, UK and a former communications director with the CofE.