Pastor ChatGPT delivers fine sermons but is no 'real preacher'

While the chatbot can do a mean job at collating poignant Bible verses, it fails to incite compassion and warmth.
Deena Theresa
A representational picture.
A representational picture.


Picture this. You're listening to the Sunday sermon, and it sounds stirring, but something is amiss. It lacks the sentiment, the human warmth. Likely, you're not listening to your pastor or rabbi but the newest preacher on the block - Pastor ChatGPT.

A sermon is a religious discourse by a spiritual leader and is the core of worship. ChatGPT has made inroads into the religious fraternity too.

You heard it right. Axios reported that religious leaders are trying their hand at ChatGPT for sermon writing. They've unanimously agreed that the chatbot can do a mean job collating poignant Bible verses and relevant thoughts from religious texts. 

They've also acknowledged that ChatGPT could be essentially helpful in helping with more routine and repetitive tasks, thereby allowing religious leaders to spend more time with spiritual counseling.

"It's really impressive — it's kind of amazing," Ken Sundet Jones, a Lutheran pastor and theology professor in Des Moines who asked ChatGPT to "Preach about the raising of Lazarus in John 11", told Axios.

"Pastor ChatGPT is new on the scene and offers a novel approach in which I don’t have to actually speak to a flesh-and-blood professional pietist/religious leader or risk falling asleep to the tune of their pulpiteering. I can consult the artificial intelligence that has access to the whole of the world’s knowledge via the internet," Jones wrote.

Pastor ChatGPT 'a bit of a didactic bore'

However, the pastor noted that the chatbot lacked compassion or empathy. "A.I. can’t make the proclamatory move that delivers God’s word in a way that is specifically for me. It can’t make the leap from second to first-order discourse, from talking about a topic to delivering a word that actually bestows love, mercy, and new life," Jones wrote.

Jones also observed that ChatGPT was no real preacher but "a bit of a didactic bore".

Todd Brewer, managing editor of a religious publication called Mockingbird, also asked the AI to write a Christmas sermon. He felt that the output was better than several Christmas sermons he had heard over the years. 

"Devoid of any obvious heresy, the AI even seems to understand what makes the birth of Jesus genuinely good news. As good as the AI sermon might be, the message would fly like a lead balloon on Sunday morning. Its content is mostly ok, though it lacks any human warmth," he wrote.

AI can imitate sermons only to a certain extent

The Southern Baptist department has been monitoring artificial intelligence developments for several years under the direction of Jason Thacker, its chair of research in technology ethics. According to Fortune, he shares the view that wise, virtuous pastors" won’t let new technology obstruct them from personal immersion in sermon-writing.

"But I also can see it being used in unhelpful or unethical ways. Some young pastors may become overly reliant on these machines … and not see the imperfections of these tools," Thacker told The Associated Press. "Many pastors are overworked, exhausted, filled with anxiety… One can see why a pastor might say, ‘I can’t do everything I’m supposed to do,’ and start passing ideas off as their own."

According to Hershael York, Kentucky pastor and professor, some of the greatest sermons contain 'elements of anguish'.

"Artificial intelligence can imitate that to some level. But I don’t think it can ever give any kind of a sense of suffering, grief, sorrow, the same way that a human being can," he said. "It comes from deep within the heart and the soul — that’s what the great preachers have, and I don’t think you can get that by proxy," he added.

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