A Short Book Review: Robot Theology by Joshua K. Smith

In his latest work, Robot Theology: Old Questions Through New Media, Joshua K. Smith surveys the current landscape of technology through the lens of orthodox evangelical theology. Like his previous work, Robotic Persons (the subject of his Ph.D. dissertation), Smith aptly deals with the subject at hand, albeit a subject that many evangelicals will find difficult to absorb. However, this difficulty is not a result of the author’s inability to deftly address the topic, but rather the common evangelical reaction when they learn that there is a need to address the subject at all. Yet, that the subject needs addressing is the point; Smith shines a light on that need and Christians should pay close attention to the illuminatory work that he offers.

Accordingly, this book is “prophetic” in a sense. Not that Smith offers new revelation from God, but rather, he takes God’s Word, Theology, and Christian Ethics and applies it to the matter of robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI from here). He offers a lens through which the Christian can (and should!) understand the world into which we are entering via these mediums. He brings matters like idolatry, ethics of technology, Christian anthropology, Robot rights, relational technology, racism, and even ecclesial practice to the fore, and handles each with the care of a pastor and the precision of a theologian. Smith admits that he does not have all the answers, but he does helpfully raise questions that Christians need to carefully consider as technology advances.

As mentioned above, many Evangelicals may dismiss Smith’s work as novel. After all, some of what Smith predicts has not come to pass. However, as Smith warns, for Christians to ignore such matters as those which Smith raises as possibilities (trajectories that seem to be inevitable, really), places Christians behind in the realms of theology and ethics, if we wait until these possibilities become a reality. I hope that what Smith admits in his introduction we would see, “This book [as] merely the beginning of a long dialogue about metaphysics and ontology as it relates to emergent technology and how theology speaks into diverse anthropological issues.” May Smith and others like him continue to take up this task, and may we who are believers in Christ continue to listen to them as they do so.

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