What's Tony Thinking

ChatGPT for Sermons?


Will AI, one form of which is ChatGP’T, produce sermons? Sure. I’ve read several. They weren’t awful. Should preachers turn to ChatGPT to do their sermons? It would be easier for the busy pastor. Why not?

I’d say a definite No on this one. Why? Because a preacher’s job is to struggle with the Biblical text as one rooted in a particular context, that is church and community, listening for God’s word on behalf of their people.

I use the word “struggle” intentionally. I distrust preachers who speak too easily, preachers who have the gift of gab. Give me a preacher, any day, for whom words don’t come easy — whether via AI or from their own mouth. I prefer the preacher for whom writing and delivering a sermon is like drawing blood.

But even without AI there are all sorts of “Preacher Helps,” pre-packaged sermons and services, that preachers today turn to. I get that sometimes what someone else comes up with looks better than what we’ve got. But generally its worth resisting the temptation.

I was provoked in this direction by reading one of Nick Cave’s recent “Red Hand Files.” Cave is an Australian musician and author, who fronts the band,  “Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds,” and author of Faith, Hope and Carnage. A fairly remarkable guy. The Red Hand Files are a Q and A Cave does for his fans. Here’s a question from a songwriter about whether or not to use ChatGPT to write songs, followed by Cave’s response.

“I work in the music industry and there is a lot of excitement around ChatGPT. I was talking to a songwriter in a band that was using ChatGPT to write his lyrics, because it was so much ‘faster and easier.’ I couldn’t really argue against that. I know you’ve talked about ChatGPT before, but what’s wrong with making things faster and easier?

That was from “Leon” in L.A. Here is Cave’s response, which I thought tremendous, and which is transferable to writing sermons.

“In the story of the creation, God makes the world, and everything in it, in six days. On the seventh day he rests. The day of rest is significant because it suggests that the creation required a certain effort on God’s part, that some form of artistic struggle had taken place. This struggle is the validating impulse that gives God’s world its intrinsic meaning. The world becomes more than just an object full of other objects, rather it is imbued with the vital spirit, the pneuma, of its creator.

ChatGPT rejects any notions of creative struggle, that our endeavours animate and nurture our lives giving them depth and meaning. It rejects that there is a collective, essential and unconscious human spirit underpinning our existence, connecting us all through our mutual striving.

ChatGPT is fast-tracking the commodification of the human spirit by mechanising the imagination. It renders our participation in the act of creation as valueless and unnecessary. That ‘songwriter ‘you were talking to, Leon, who is using ChatGPT to write ‘his’ lyrics because it is ‘faster and easier ,’is participating in this erosion of the world’s soul and the spirit of humanity itself and, to put it politely, should fucking desist if he wants to continue calling himself a songwriter.

ChatGPT’s intent is to eliminate the process of creation and its attendant challenges, viewing it as nothing more than a time-wasting inconvenience that stands in the way of the commodity itself. Why strive?, it contends. Why bother with the artistic process and its accompanying trials? Why shouldn’t we make it ‘faster and easier?’

When the God of the Bible looked upon what He had created, He did so with a sense of accomplishment and saw that ‘it was good‘. ‘It was good ‘because it required something of His own self, and His struggle imbued creation with a moral imperative, in short love. Charlie, even though the creative act requires considerable effort, in the end you will be contributing to the vast network of love that supports human existence. There are all sorts of temptations in this world that will eat away at your creative spirit, but none more fiendish than that boundless machine of artistic demoralisation, ChatGPT.

As humans, we so often feel helpless in our own smallness, yet still we find the resilience to do and make beautiful things, and this is where the meaning of life resides. Nature reminds us of this constantly. The world is often cast as a purely malignant place, but still the joy of creation exerts itself, and as the sun rises upon the struggle of the day, the Great Crested Grebe dances upon the water. It is our striving that becomes the very essence of meaning. This impulse – the creative dance – that is now being so cynically undermined, must be defended at all costs, and just as we would fight any existential evil, we should fight it tooth and nail, for we are fighting for the very soul of the world.”

Love, Nick

I love that. You gotta struggle. As someone has said, the only salmon not struggling are the dead ones. I always thought preaching was an awesome responsibility. Listening for God’s word on behalf of a people. The congregation gives a preacher the gift of time and the task, on its behalf, of asking “Is there a Word from the Lord?” Underlying this question are some assumptions. One, there is a living and active God. Two, that his God speaks. I wonder if those assumptions are widely shared these days?

I wish I heard more struggle, more of a sense of gravity, in sermons than I often do. Better stop now before I go full curmudgeon on you.




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