Have you talked with Jesus yet today? No, I’m not talking about your morning prayers. I’m talking about the new Text-With-Jesus app. This is a downloadable smartphone app that will put you in a text-message conversation with an AI simulation of Jesus, and other biblical characters. You’re basically talking to a robot programmed to say things that you’d expect to hear from Jesus, or Jonah, or Moses, or Matthew, or even Satan himself. The app is free, but for $2.99 you can purchase access to the Satan-character and converse with an AI version of Lucifer himself. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that the grace-based (free) version features Jesus, but you have to sell a little bit of your soul to talk to the prince of darkness.
Is this APP some tech-driven opportunists trying to make a buck? Probably. Is it foolhardy and sacrilegious? Most likely. Is it going to lead you deeper in your Christian walk? Probably not. But the Lord works in mysterious ways. At this point, I’m not sure this app deserves any extensive commentary, but it does raise a few important questions.
1. Aren’t we struggling enough already with identity issues?
This app feeds into a growing identity crisis. Once upon a time people gathered a formidable sense of self by growing up in traditional homes. I’m talking #TradFam. They learned social interaction, conflict resolution, cooperation, and social norms primarily through their family upbringing and only secondarily through schools. They had invested parents who were married to each other. They were raised with siblings, and pets, and neighbors. Kids played outdoors with other kids. They did chores around the house. They might even learn job skills in the family business. And the whole family reconnected around the dinner table every night. In this way, countless people learned a sense of self as they cultivated mutual respect, family-values, faith, good manners, and a work-ethic. That was simple old fashion social-emotional child-rearing. It wasn’t perfect. And it wasn’t universal. But that old-school model preempted a lot of anxiety, insecurity, and existential dread that increasingly plague young people today. Through no fault of their own, countless people have virtually none of those things.
But they do have a smart phone. And with that smart phone they have a neuro-chemical dependence on social media, porn and video games. They also have the emotional maturity of a toddler, the spiritual depth of a plastic bag, and the attention span of a goldfish. All that means the more people are dependent on their phones as a bionic extension of their arms and dependent on screens to shape their perception of reality, we can expect people to become increasingly confused about social norms, sexual norms, gender identity, and who they are in the world. Not to mention, screen addiction isn’t doing their faith any favors. My inner curmudgeon increasingly weighs the merits of every tech innovation according to whether it pulls us closer to, or further form our smart phones. By that measure, this app is pulling people in the wrong direction.
2. Aren’t we struggling enough with social and relational entropy?
Building off the first question, this app substitutes fake and potentially idolatrous personifications where people should be interacting with real people (Satan excluded of course). You don’t need an app to talk with Jesus. You can talk to him directly through prayer. You don’t need an app to hear what Matthew, or Jonah, or John the Baptist have to say. You can read the Bible, or better yet, go to church and learn that stuff within a spiritual community.
Sadly, we might inhabit the loneliest social landscape on record. Marriage rates are at all-time lows. Birth rates are dropping below the replacement rate. Suicide rates are climbing. Divorce rates, abortion rates, and depression and anxiety rates, all remain high. Mental health is worsening. And with all that happening, what does this app do? It inserts a fake person where a real person should be. Instead of asking a friend, a colleague, a pastor, or a neighbor for an encouraging word, a Bible verse, or a spiritual question, this app enables (props up?) social isolation. That way we can seek out spiritual answers and social support without the burden or the risk of being in an actual relationship with a friend or neighbor who might have their own opinion, or – heaven forbid – disagree with us about something!
3. Is this more innovation or exploitation?
So far, I haven’t voiced any dire concerns over this app. Sure, social isolation and identity issues are a big problem and this app isn’t helping any. But I suspect this app won’t hurt much either, at least not on large scale. This app could be a flash in the pan, a novelty that disappears as quickly as it surfaced, with no serious damage done. I don’t expect people to download this app, en masse, or start worshipping a robot Jesus through it. Whatever idolatry it might introduce, it would probably be more subtle than that. I do however have one serious objection. This app looks like an easy way to exploit people who are desperate for spiritual connection. It will give people a false sense of spirituality, a facade of religious community, and an artificial framework for their faith. Also, with AI technology trending leftward, this artificial Messiah is destined for a liberal-progressive drift, abandoning the historic Christian faith in the process. There’s no reason to expect this Robot Jesus to be orthodox since it’s build to reflect not direct consumers. All that means Robot Jesus is, at best, a blasphemous mockery of our Risen Lord. But at worst, Robot Jesus is fated to be a progressive cult leader, exploiting lonely, isolated, and spiritually confused people who are so desperate for fellowship they’ll take it from a robot.
There are lots of people who are homebound, sick, injured, handicapped, elderly, or just socially awkward, and this app seems like a misguided attempt for people to feed their spiritual need without Christian community.
If you’re familiar with televangelists from the days of broadcast television, you know that many of them were con artists and charlatans. Lonely homebound elderly folks are some of the most vulnerable targets for screen-based fakery. That pseudo-spirituality preyed on overly trusting people with big pension funds who couldn’t drive to a real church. This app looks to fit that model to a T. It can turn technological innovation into a clever new mode of spiritual exploitation. While the app is a free download, there are paid subscription services that give people access to different AI generated personalities. Even if it’s only $3 a month, that’s still bilking people and giving the a false sense of Christian fellowship and spiritual guidance.
On one level this app sounds like an afternoon of game play. I picture a gaggle of mischievous males trying to get Robot Jesus to tell a dirty joke or say something un-Christ-like. Maybe I’ve hear too many false alarms before, but this app just isn’t very alarming to me. Of course it sounds like something to avoid, but not like avoiding a big ravenous threat like sharks or bears. It’s more like avoiding month-old leftovers in the back of the fridge. No need for alarm, just don’t eat it. Throw it out. Yes, this app strikes me as overtly idolatrous – graven images can be digital you know. But idolatry isn’t anything new. A little restraint and discernment will be more useful than alarmism.
If you find yourself wanting to download the app and see if this robot Jesus can give you some good advice, I would strongly caution against it. This is still a FAKE Jesus. So, it’s literal idolatry. It doesn’t matter whether you’re dabbling or serious, whether you have good or bad intentions; nobody should be playing around with idols of any kind. Biblical warnings against idolatry, as a general rule, don’t mention people’s “intentions” (Lev 19:4; 1 John 5:21; etc.). It doesn’t matter what your motives are, messing around with idols is profoundly stupid because it’s insulting to the most powerful, most important, and highest authority there is: God Himself. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, idolatry has no serving size small enough to be safe for consumption.
Idolatry has no serving size small enough to be safe for consumption.
Cynically, I suspect the primary customer base for this app is the spiritually naïve, lonely, or confused person who want the casual benefits of Christianity without the investment and work that comes from human relationships. If this app manages to defy the odds – most apps fail miserably – and it somehow turns a profit or becomes popular, then my prediction is that it will add monetized features invariably exploiting their customer base, doing more spiritual harm, generating more social isolation, individualism, and weakening spiritual community. Meanwhile, its practical effects will be tepid spiritual counsel which, at its best, is shallow pleasantries and at worst flagrant blasphemy.
Personally, whenever I get an automated messaging system or voice prompt on the phone, I’m doing everything I can to bypass the robo-system so I can talk with a person. I have a hard time imagining why people would opt for intentional fakery in the form of Robot Jesus when they could instead talk with real people who can understand nuance, pick up on social cues, and care about you as a person. You don’t need an app or even a smart phone to talk to Jesus. You can talk with him directly in prayer. And the most reliable way to hear from Him is to read what he’s been trying to tell you in His Word.
Recommended resources related to the topic:
Your Most Important Thinking Skill by Dr. Frank Turek DVD, (mp4) download
Person of Interest: Why Jesus Still Matters in a World that Rejects the Bible by J. Warner Wallace (Paperback), (Investigator’s Guide).
Counter Culture Christian: Is the Bible True? by Frank Turek (Mp3), (Mp4), and (DVD)
How to Interpret Your Bible by Dr. Frank Turek DVD Complete Series, INSTRUCTOR Study Guide, and STUDENT Study Guide
How Philosophy Can Help Your Theology by Richard Howe (MP3 Set), (mp4 Download Set), and (DVD Set)
Letters to a Young Progressive by Mike Adams (Book)
Another Gospel? by Alisa Childers (book)
John is a licensed minister with earned degrees from Charleston Southern (BA), Southern Evangelical Seminary (MDiv), and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (ThM, PhD). His doctorate is in philosophy of religion, minoring in ethics. As a new addition to Crossexamined in 2023, John brings a wealth of experience to the team including debating atheists, preaching the Gospel, teaching apologetics in schools and churches, publishing books and articles, and creating websites. John is also a teaching fellow with Equal Rights Institute and president of Pella Pro-Life in his hometown of Pella, Iowa. There he resides with his lovely and brilliant wife Hillary Ferrer, founder of Mama Bear Apologetics. Together they specialize in cultural apologetics with an emphasis on family-based apologetic training.