Summary: Solve a seeming contradiction, the Hegelian thesis, antithesis and synthesis
I hope to encourage preaching a sermon solving a contradiction.
Non-Christian skeptics love to point out apparent contradictions in the Bible, the Church, Christian history or even Christian propositions like morality. Sometimes the point is valid, sometimes not.
For those of us that believe the Bible to be God-breathed (1 Timothy 3:16), and truth (John 17:17), and for those who use culturally appropriate synonyms for these words such as infallible or inerrant, then there are no real contradictions in the Bible. By faith, many Christians believe that all apparent contradictions in the Bible have a valid explanation, whether or not we know what a particular explanation is.
Yet, in the church, its history and teachings, there are many points where contradictions can be genuine and criticism is valid. It is not only Catholics who hide behind the infallibility shield. Many Protestants too are reluctant to change areas of doctrine or practice even when clear contradictions exist. We too have erected a stubborn infallibility culture, which prevents reform.
We will examine the Hegelian three-point outline for a sermon: thesis, antithesis and synthesis. We will see how they can be used in a perceived contradiction and a genuine contradiction, and we will see this method can be used in explaining Proverbs 26:4-5 and hence similar seeming Bible contradictions.
A. Perceived Contradictions
The first point of this sermon is the thesis. If it is a scripture, explain it fully as you would in a normal exegetical sermon. Show why it is valid and how it applies today.
The second point introduces tension to the sermon. It introduces a scripture which seemingly contradicts the first one and causes the congregation to doubt. When discussing two apparently contradictory parts of the Bible be careful to make it clear to the congregation that you will supply an answer to the dilemma later. Don't allow them to think for a minute that you are going off on some wild or heretical tangent. Maintain the congregation's trust, but allow the tension to build while you more fully exegete point two and make the difficulties between the two scriptures obvious even to a child in grade 3.
The third point to your sermon begins to release the built up tension, by knocking down one-by-one the apparent discrepancies between the two scriptures. However, don't just knock over problems, also build bridges between the two contexts. Show clearly why each text of scripture is a valid part of God's Word and that within its context, contains equally legitimate teachings. In this case, synthesis is a harmonization.
B. Genuine Contradictions
If the thesis is a proposition of some kind, rather than a scripture, there may be genuine contradictions, rather than merely perceived ones. In this case fully explain the first proposition in the manner that an honest salesman would use to convince the people that it is correct. Be honorable in explaining the genuine advantages of this proposition. For example, many doctrines of the church are quite fallible. It is quite legitimate to discuss two sides of a fallible doctrine. For instance, the idea of women’s ordination has two equally legitimate sides which both use the Bible as their basis. The thesis could do justice to one side.
Now, fully explain the second proposition and be honest in presenting its advantages. Convince the audience about it, yet also show how it contradicts many points from the first proposition. For example, the other side of a doctrine of the church is presented. Or, on the issue of women’s ordination, the other side could be presented here with equally fair treatment.
When synthesizing two contradictory suggestions, clearly explain how biblical principles apply to each. Show where each has strengths and weaknesses and then synthesize or create a new third proposition that harmonizes the best sub-points from the previous two propositions.
Unlike the synthesis of two only perceived contradictions where synthesis is harmonization, in this case where there are genuine contradictions, synthesis creates a new proposition. For example, two apparently contradictory views on a church doctrine are brought together and a synthesized understanding is given. A number of examples of this are in Millard Erickson's Christian Theology. For instance, he synthesizes several different theories such as Calvinism and Arminianism and different views of humanity.
Another example could be on the issue of women’s ordination. After having presented both sides fairly, we could make reconciling statements such as that there is nothing forbidding women’s ordination, and that what the Bible does not forbid we ought not. Yet, we need to honor each others’ faith on both sides of this issue. It is an issue of faith. Christians, who do not prefer women’s ordination, can honor the faith of those their sisters who believe in it and are ordained. Those men and women who have no biblical difficulty with women’s ordination can honor those who do.