Summary: What is proof and what are its limits?

Lesson Goal

Learn how to preach a sermon that proves something.

Lesson Intro

Jesus presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs (Acts 1:3). Jews could not refute Paul’s proofs that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 9:22). What is proof? It is a process for establishing truth. However, what proves something to you and me may not be enough evidence for a skeptic. For instance, I believe that forensics can easily find abundant evidence all around us for the existence and providence of God. To a skeptic, that proves nothing, and he may make some claim about the adequacy of my evidence. So proof is not an absolute to those who are not convinced by it.

Lesson Plan

We are going to discuss various kinds of proof, their limitations and how to present an argument that can be useful in a church setting.

Lesson Body

There are various kinds of proof, various schools of thought and they do not necessarily all agree. What may sometimes pass muster in court for instance may not pass in the scientific community and vice versa.

A. Proofs

Mathematical Proof

We all know that one plus one equals two. No matter how silly our reasoning can get, the summation is consistent and provable. Basic arithmetic works that way. It is easy to prove and readily accepted by all.

Evidence (Legal Proof)

In a court of law, we look for evidence in the form of testimonies and exhibits. We are not asking if one and one equals two, but if most of the evidence leans more one way than another. This is rarely the 100 percent proof that we find in basic mathematics. It is merely a preponderance of proof.

Testimonials are a form of proof sermon. They say in effect, "Here I was in a situation and God provided. I was there. I am a witness." Testimony is given by witnesses (Matthew 24:14; Acts 1:8).

Argument (Logical Proof)

A logical argument begins with premises that have valid relationships and builds towards intermediate assertions and a final conclusion. Some people argue that logical proof must be 100% like mathematics. Others argue that this is not always possible. For instance, society cannot wait around until say global warming is absolutely proven. The 100 percent proof of that may be the end of life on earth as we know it. Then it would be too late.

Scientific Method

This is an application of the rules of inductive reasoning to observable, empirical and measurable evidence. There is actually no one scientific method, but several that have been accepted over time. One modern model involves a number of essentials: observation, description, prediction, control, consensus, explanation of cause.

Classical Proof

Aristotle provided us with a time-honored method of reasoning which centers around three things: deduction, induction and abduction. Deduction is reasoning from previously known facts to a conclusion by using a rule of logic. It uses a logical rule and a precondition to formulate a conclusion. Induction is reasoning from generalizations to a specific instance. It is learning the rule after observing the causes and effects. Abduction is reasoning to generate hypotheses to explain why things are the way they are. It is determining the cause from the rules and the effects. We could summarize classical proof with the following:

Deduction: Causes + Rules = Effects

Induction: Causes + Effects = Rules

Abduction: Effects + Rules = Causes

B. Presenting the Argument

The organization of a sermon in which you set out to prove something can be much like presenting an argument in a debate. This can go along with the following protocol: (1) confrontation, (2) opening, (3) argumentation, and (4) closing. Let's examine these four points in greater detail.

1. Confrontation

This is the presentation of the problem that the sermon will discuss. It summarizes the problem.

2. Opening

In the opening phase of the sermon, you may want to examine various kinds of proof and the kind of proof model you will be using. You may also want to mention the limitations of time (one sermon). Mention whether or not Christians may accept various points of view (pre-millennialism, a-millennialism, post-millennialism) or if there is only one right view (salvation in Jesus alone). Mention the difference between unacceptably weak sources (poorly educated televangelists, cult tracts, urban legends) and valid sources (better commentaries, mainstream theologians).

3. Argumentation

Review the sermon on logic for some ideas on good and bad arguments. A good argument begins with a set of premises, uses a method or reasoning such as deduction and reaches a valid conclusion. The reasoning carries the "burden of proof" and must be a legitimate, sensible, strong, indisputable and rational argument.

4. Closing

This is our conclusion or outro. It may be a powerful summary of our strongest points.

Example Sermon

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