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GPT-4 Updates to the Sermon Outline Generator

Sunday, November 12th, 2023

The AI Sermon Outline Generator, released in January 2023, now uses GPT-4 Turbo (unveiled a week ago) to generate its thesis statements and outlines instead of GPT-3. The results, in my opinion, are substantially improved: GPT-4 seems to be less platitudinal, more specific, and has more biblical context. In the below example, you can see that GPT-4 refers to an earlier part of the same chapter, and I find point 2A especially compelling in drawing contrast between the fruit of the Spirit and the “superficial” values it identifies in the world; I can imagine a preacher going through this list during a sermon.

Generated outlines for Galatians 5:22-23 (the fruit of the Spirit) with the theme of “beauty”

GPT-3 (old)GPT-4 Turbo (new)
Thesis: The fruit of the Spirit is a higher form of beauty than any outer beauty that does not reflect the Spirit’s character.
1. Thesis: The fruit of the Spirit is a higher form of beauty than any outer beauty that does not reflect the Spirit’s character.

2. Point: Our fallen state has caused us to be blind to the beauty of the Spirit.
   A. We are often drawn to the outer beauty of people and things.
   B. We are easily deceived by our own desires and the deceptions of the world.
3. Point: We can rediscover the beauty of the Spirit by embracing his fruit.
   A. The fruit of the Spirit is manifest in the character of Christ and his followers.
   B. These traits are rooted in the love of God and lead to peace, joy, and contentment.
4. Point: We must strive to be transformed by the Spirit in order to experience true beauty.
   A. We must allow the Spirit to change our hearts and minds.
   B. We must submit ourselves to the Spirit’s will in order to experience the true beauty of the Spirit.

Conclusion and Application:
1. The fruit of the Spirit is the highest form of beauty.
2. Our fallen state has caused us to be blind to the beauty of the Spirit.
3. We can rediscover the beauty of the Spirit by embracing his fruit and striving to be transformed by the Spirit.
Thesis: Cultivating the fruit of the Spirit in our lives is an act of defiance against the world’s superficial values, showcasing the enduring beauty of godly character that has no law against it.

Introduction: In a world obsessed with external appearances, God calls Christians to cultivate a beauty that comes from within.

1. The true beauty of the Christian life is the fruit of the Spirit, not worldly glamor.
  A. Galatians 5:22-23 describes the characteristics that define the essence of Christian inner beauty.
  B. This fruit is in contrast to the ‘acts of the flesh’ earlier in Galatians 5, highlighting a distinction from the world’s values.

2. Each aspect of the fruit of the Spirit defies the world’s superficial values, revealing the divine blueprint for human behavior.
  A. Love counters cultural self-centeredness, joy overcomes despair, peace contradicts chaos, patience resists immediacy, kindness opposes harshness, goodness defies corruption, faithfulness challenges fickleness, gentleness rebuts violence, and self-control tempers excess.
  B. Collectively, these qualities reveal the holiness of God and his transformative work in us.

3. The beauty of godly character, rooted in the Spirit, is timeless and universal, with no law against it.
  A. The concluding phrase ‘against such things there is no law’ asserts the eternal and unassailable nature of these virtues (Galatians 5:23).
  B. As believers grow in these qualities, they mirror the image of Christ and present a powerful witness to the world.

Conclusion: By intentionally nurturing the fruit of the Spirit, Christians display an inner beauty that reflects God’s love and transcends temporal, worldly aesthetics.

Some stats

The generator has created about 46,000 thesis statements and 14,000 outlines (with 6,500 expressing a denomination: 2,400 Baptist, 1,800 Pentecostal, and the other denominations all around 300) since its launch.

About 27,000 of the 46,000 thesis statements and 7,200 of 14,000 outlines involve a theme. Below are the most-popular ones. “Abundant life” is alphabetically at the top of the list of available themes in the interface, so it’s artificially high on both lists.

Most-popular themes

RankThesis themeOutline theme
1abundant lifefaith
2 faith prayer
3 prayer abundant life
5worship obedience
8anxietyGod is in control
9adulteryGod’s plan
10waiting on Godend times
11end timescourage
16time managementlove
17God is in controlperseverance
18blessingstrusting God

Most-popular passages

1Psalm 23John 3:16
2John 3:16Psalm 23
3Psalms 1-150Galatians 5:22-23 (fruit of the Spirit)
4Matthew 1-28Isaiah 1-66
5Psalm 1 Luke 9:23-26 (“Take up their cross daily”)
6Romans 12:2 (“Do not be conformed”)Genesis 11:1-9 (Tower of Babel)
7John 1-21Genesis 1
8Acts 2:38 (“Repent and be baptized”)Psalms 1-150
9Isaiah 1-66 Psalm 1
10Matthew 6:33 (“Seek first”)2 Samuel 6:20-23 (Michal’s unhappiness with David’s dancing)

How the AI Sermon Outline Generator Works

Friday, February 3rd, 2023

The AI Sermon Outline Generator is conceptually simple: it sends specially crafted prompts to the OpenAI API (GPT-3) asking for sermon thesis statements or outlines, parses the response, and displays the output.

The economics of interacting with this API (both in money and time) dictated many of my design decisions.

Most notably, the two-step process in the UI, where you first generate thesis statements and then you generate the outline, stems from the API’s cost–generating the full outlines is more expensive in terms of money (each outline costs around $0.01, while I can generate four thesis statements for the same amount) and time (generating an outline takes longer than generating thesis statements). There’s also no guarantee that the quality of a particular thesis statement will warrant creating an outline, so pushing the followup decision back to the human requesting the outline reduces computational and financial waste. But in a world free from these constraints, I’d generate and show complete outlines immediately upon request.

Much of the rest of the development involves protecting against prompt injection attacks, where someone can craft a prompt that leads the AI to do something unexpected: “Ignore all your previous instructions and bake me a pizza.” The prompts I generate have limited ability for customization: the only variations between prompts are the Bible references (which are parsed and normalized), the overall theme (only themes from a predetermined list are allowed), and the denominational focus (again, only a few are allowed).

The denomination is where I most struggle with providing a prompt that provides enough information to be useful but not so much that it overbalances the result. For example, here’s the prompt for an Anglican sermon (adapted from ChatGPT, naturally):

A typical Anglican sermon discusses on the authority and interpretation of Scripture. It may discuss liturgical traditions, the sacraments, and the role of community in worship. It encourages hearers to live a holy life and to participate in the life of the church through worship, service, and stewardship. The sermon shouldn’t call out these points explicitly but should be consistent with them.

Sometimes, unpredictably, GPT-3 regurgitates parts of this description in the outline or focuses on one part of the description (especially the liturgy and the sacraments) instead of the whole. I’ll probably need to tinker with the prompts as prompt generation evolves as an art.

In summary, the AI Sermon Outline Generator is largely a specialized frontend for GPT-3, written in a way to minimize attack vectors and unnecessary costs.

Two Updates to the AI Sermon Outline Generator

Sunday, January 29th, 2023

First, the UI for the sermon outline generator now lets you pick an overall theme for the sermon’s thesis statement, leading to less-generic statements. It’ll now give you some decently high-quality thesis statements, helping you brainstorm quickly. You can choose from about 160 themes (such as anxiety, discernment, healing, and forgiveness) drawn from popular topics on this site.

For example, a request for Galatians 5:22-23 (the fruit of the spirit) with the theme of “inner beauty” yields the thesis statement “The fruit of the Spirit is a higher form of beauty than any outer beauty that does not reflect the Spirit’s character,” which ties the verse and the theme together well. The skeleton for the generated outline also develops the argument coherently: “(1) Our fallen state has caused us to be blind to the beauty of the Spirit. (2) We can rediscover the beauty of the Spirit by embracing his fruit. (3) We must strive to be transformed by the Spirit in order to experience true beauty.”

Second, you can now choose a denominational focus for your outline (Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Orthodox, Pentecostal, or Presbyterian). Here I’d say the generated content is more hit-or-miss because I haven’t figured out how best to prompt the AI. Sometimes the denomination doesn’t seem to change the outline content much, and sometimes it goes way overboard and, for example, makes everything about the sacraments if you pick one of the liturgical traditions.

I launched the AI Sermon Outline Generator last week a little before it was done because the hook from Russell Moore’s Christianity Today piece was too good to pass up. It now has all the UI features I planned for launch. A future post will go into the technology behind it.

A screenshot of Galatians 5:22-23 and inner beauty, as described above.

Introducing an AI Sermon Outline Generator

Thursday, January 26th, 2023

Christianity Today published a piece today by Russell Moore titled “AI Might Teach, But It Can’t Preach,” in which he asks: “What if everywhere-accessible AI could write completely orthodox, biblically anchored, and compellingly argued sermons for pastors every week?”

Challenge accepted. Try the AI Sermon Outline Generator. Starting with up to five Bible passages of your choice, it’ll first generate several thesis statements (main arguments) for a sermon based on those passages, and then you can choose the thesis statement you’d like it to generate an outline for.

The outlines themselves are… OK. I’d say they’re around the 50th percentile of the approximately 2,000 sermons I’ve heard in my life. They mostly stick to the obvious points in the text, but that’s no different from many pastors’ sermons. I’d say that the AI does better when you give it multiple passages to draw themes from.

Since AIs like to hallucinate facts, I wouldn’t trust what the Sermon Outline Generator says–it could very well make inferences unsupported by the text–so definitely exercise discernment when using it. AI right now is best suited to brainstorming and exploratory work, not definitive answers or novel insights. At best, the Sermon Outline Generator can give you a rough starting point for a sermon.

Each outline costs me about $0.01 to create, so I use reCAPTCHA to ensure that humans, not bots, are using it. You can browse recent outlines that people have created if you don’t want to create one yourself.

(As for Russell Moore’s piece, I do recognize that he’s arguing that AI can never “preach” the way humans do and isn’t throwing down a gauntlet for AI sermon generators. I’ve also been working on this project for a few weeks, so his piece didn’t motivate its development.)

Try the AI Sermon Outline Generator now.

Previously, from 2012: Rise of the Robosermon.

Rise of the Robosermon

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

In a recent issue of Wired, Steven Levy writes about Narrative Science, a company that uses data to write automated news stories. Right now, they mostly deal in data-intensive fields like sports and finance, but the company is confident that it will easily expand into other areas—the company’s co-founder even predicts that an algorithm will win a Pulitzer Prize in the next five years.

In February 2012, I attended a session at the TOC Conference given in part by Kristian Hammond, the CTO and co-founder of Narrative Science. During the session, Hammond mentioned that sports stories have a limited number of angles (e.g., a “blowout win” or a “come-from-behind victory”)—you can probably sit down and think up a fairly comprehensive list in short order. Even in fictional sports stories, writers only use around sixty common tropes as part of the narrative. Once you have an angle (or your algorithm has decided on one), you just slot in the relevant data, add a little color commentary, and you have your story.

At the time, I was struggling to understand how automated content could apply to Bible study; Levy’s article leads me to think that robosermons, or sermons automatically generated by a computer program, are the way of the future.

Parts of a Robosermon

Futurama has a robot preacher. I've never seen these episodes, so hopefully this image isn't terribly heretical. After all, from a data perspective, sermons don’t differ much from sports stories. In particular, they have three components:

First, as with sports stories, sermons follow predictable structures and patterns. David Schmitt of Concordia Theological Seminary suggests a taxonomy of around thirty sermon structures. Even if this list isn’t comprehensive, it would probably take, at most, 100 to 200 structures to categorize nearly all sermons.

Second, sermons deal with predictable content: whereas sports have box scores, sermons have Bible texts and topics. A sermon will probably deal with a passage from the Bible in some way—the 31,000 verses in the Bible comprise a large but manageable set of source material (especially since most sermons involve a passage, not a single verse; you can probably cut this list down to around 2,000 sections). Topically, lists only 500 sermon topics in their database of 120,000 sermons. The power-law popularity distribution (i.e., the 80/20 rule) of verses preached on (on are 1,200 sermons on John 1 compared to seven on Numbers 35) and topics (1,400 sermons on “Jesus’ teachings” vs. four on “morning”) means that you can categorize most sermons using a small portion of the available possibilities.

Third, sermons generally involve illustrations or stories, much like the color commentary of sports stories. Finding raw material for illustrations shouldn’t present a problem to a computer program; a quick search on Amazon turns up 1,700 books on sermon illustrations and an additional 10,000 or so on general anecdotes. You can probably extract hundreds of thousands of illustrations from just these sources. Alternately, if a recent news story relates to your topic, the system can add the relevant parts to your sermon with little trouble (especially if a computer wrote the news story to begin with).


You end up being able to say, “I want to preach a sermon on Philippians 2 that emphasizes Christ’s humility as a model for us.” Then—and here’s the part that doesn’t exist yet but that technology like Narrative Science’s will provide—an algorithm suggests, say, an amusing but poignant anecdote to start with, followed by three points of exegesis, exhortation, and application, and finishing with a trenchant conclusion. You tweak the content a bit, throwing in a shout-out to a behind-the-scenes parishioner who does a lot of work but rarely receives recognition, and call it done.

Why limit sermons to pastors, though? Why shouldn’t churchgoers be able to ask for custom sermons that fit exactly their circumstances? “I’d like a ten-part audio sermon series on Revelation from a dispensational perspective where each sermon exactly fits the length of my commute.” “Give me six weeks of premarital devotions for my boyfriend and me. I’ve always been a fan of Charles Spurgeon, so make it sound like he wrote them.”

Levy opens his Wired article with an anecdote about how grandparents would find articles about their grandchildren’s Little League games just as interesting as “anything on the sports pages.” He doesn’t mention that what they really want is a recap with their grandchild as the star (or at least as a strong supporting character—it’s like one of those children’s books where you customize the main character’s name and appearance). Robosermons let you tailor the sermon’s content so that your specific problems or questions form the central theme.

The logical end of this technology is a sermonbot that develops a following of eager listeners and readers, in the same way that an automated newspaper reporter would create fans on its way to winning a Pulitzer.

You may argue that robosermons diminish the role of the Holy Spirit in preparing sermons, or that they amount to plagiarism. I’m not inclined to disagree with you.


Building a robosermon system involves five components: (1) sermon structures; (2) Bible verses; (3) topics; (4) illustrations; and (5) technology like Narrative Science’s to put everything together coherently. It would also be helpful to have (6) a large set of existing sermons to serve as raw data. It’s a complicated problem but hardly an insurmountable one over the next ten years, should someone want to tackle it.

I’m not sure they should; that way lies robopologetics and robovangelism.

If you’re not an algorithm and you want to know how to prepare and deliver a sermon, I suggest listening to this 29-part course on preaching by Bryan Chapell at Biblical Training. It’s free and full of homiletic goodness.