I am a semi-regular reader of Richard Beck’s blog Experimental Theology. As you could probably surmise from the title of the blog Beck has gained popularity and following for his willingness to explore possibilities and entertain ideas in theological ways. One of his more recent explorations is what he is calling “AI Theology.” This is where he interacts with the new artificial intelligence system that everyone has been talking about, Chat GPT, and asks it questions relating to various theological ideas that interest Beck and intersect with his research and writings.
I have had fun reading his interactions with Chat GPT. In fact, I have enjoyed reading it so much that I go over my hipster impulses to resist the popular on principle and actually started a Chat GPT account! I want to do something similar to what Beck does with it though. I want to ask it theological questions and evaluate its responses.
Since my primary vocation and interest is preaching I decided to ask Chat GPT to help me construct a sermon for Sunday (5/21/23). I decided on a few criteria though. First, I would ask it to give me a sermon on the text I was already planning to preach on Sunday. Second, I would ask it only after I had already thoroughly begun my own study and preparation. Here’s how I started: “Give me a thoughtful, simple, creative sermon on the Ascension from Acts 1:1-11.”
Its response made me laugh a little. It gave me an introduction and conclusion with three points. For anyone who knows much of anything about preaching, the “3 points” is a notorious cliche. It’s response was ok, but not as detailed exegetical as I would have liked and included no real application or illustration of the material so I got more specific in my request for the next input: “I like it, but can you give me a longer exposition of the passage in the sermon and include illustrations and applications in the sermon.”
I gotta say, I didn’t hate this next response. It wasn’t perfect, but I’m quite certain I have heard sermons with less substance than this. The response was in the same basic outline (3 points), but included an illustration and application for each of the points. I even liked the illustrated it gave for the disciples being sent out as witnesses to the ends of the earth so much that I actually did end up incorporating it into my sermon for Sunday!
The limitations of the software are evident also though. I specifically asked for a sermon on and exposition of Acts 1:1-11, but functionally it ignored 1:1-3. I guess it assumed that was just introductory material to the book of Acts and so stood on its own apart from the rest of the text. But in my sermon I make a big deal about the first verse where Luke says “all the things Jesus began to do and to teach…” because I think it shows that Jesus is still doing things and teaching just from a different location.
All in all, I had a lot of fun playing around with Chat GPT this week and will definitely have a fun time asking it questions about Pentecost next week! More to come!