(RNS) — From a very young age, Nils Gulbranson remembers asking a lot of questions during Bible studies. Gulbranson describes spending his free time as a teen googling Christian scholars’ views on different topics, digging through sermons and scouring YouTube videos until he found satisfying answers.
With the release of Chat GPT, the former computer science student turned finance intern saw an opportunity to build the resource he wished he’d had as a young evangelical Christian in Minnesota. About three months ago, Gulbranson, 23, started work on Biblemate.io, a “Christian ChatGPT” to help interrogative minds who are looking for biblical answers to life’s difficult questions.
“The big difference from ChatGPT is that it’s a model grounded in a biblical and theological view of the world,” Gulbranson, now a finance intern in Boston, said about his version of the chatbot, which relies on an ever-growing database of sermons, books and academic articles to inform the answers it offers.
The launch of ChatGPT in November 2022 by the research laboratory OpenAI has spurred both excitement and trepidation among Christians, forcing existential questions on the level of what it means to be human, along with ethical dilemmas — such as, how much is too much help from a chatbot when writing a sermon? What about leading a whole worship service, like a ChatGPT avatar did in early June at a Lutheran church in Germany?
Gulbranson sees a number of uses for Biblemate.io in a church context: for pastors doing sermon research, for church volunteers drafting a Bible study guide, for curious teens like he once was who want to go deeper in youth group. But he also hopes non-Christians will use the chatbot for their questions about God. He pointed to one of his favorite features, the “explain to me like I’m 5″ tool.
“You type a hard-to-understand theological concept, and it would dumb it down and explain it the way you would to a 5-year-old kid,” he said.
“The goal is to give responses rooted in unwavering biblical truth,” said Gulbranson, who said he tried to generate sources from “well-respected scholars” for his database, citing William Lane Craig and C.S. Lewis. Of course, Gulbranson acknowledged, not every Christian agrees on just what is biblical truth.
For example, he explained, on a question such as whether Christians should speak in tongues, the chatbot should pull out what the Scriptures say and then offer perspectives from different denominations.
“The app is just a medium, a platform for the Bible to say what it says. The app itself is neutral in that sense, but the Bible takes clear stances on certain issues,” he said.