This structure identifies a paradox within the framework of Christian teaching or Christian living (e.g., in evangelism, we speak the law in love) and then sequentially examines each side of the paradox for the hearers (e.g., we speak the law of God that calls others to repent; we speak out of love desiring the salvation of others) so that the hearers are encouraged to live within this paradoxical but faithful tension.
In using this structure, be certain that you have a paradox (e.g., God’s wisdom is foolishness) and not a simple contrast (e.g., wisdom vs. foolishness). Also, note how this paradox asks people to hold together two truths that are in tension with one another. For example, God calls us to speak his law (a word of judgment to the sinful) in love (as a merciful act). Since this tension is uncomfortable, people can resolve the tension by denying one or the other side of the paradox. Often the denial of one side of the paradox can arise from an overemphasis on the other side. So, for example, with the paradox that we are sent forth to speak God’s law in love to others, people can deny speaking God’s law (first truth of the paradox) because they want to emphasize God’s love (second truth of the paradox) or they can deny that God is acting in love (second truth of the paradox) because they are intent upon speaking his law (first truth of the paradox). When the paradox is not maintained, the hearers often end up in some form of heresy: consider the paradox that “good works are an unnecessary necessity” and the errors that happen when one denies that good works are necessary or denies that they are unnecessary. The preacher, therefore, desires to maintain the faithful paradoxical tension for the hearers rather than resolve it.
To help hearers maintain the paradoxical tension, the sermon may open and close by examples of the paradox in action. In the opening, the tension of the paradox is something that would lead a hearer to believe that something is wrong with his or her faith; in the closing, however, the hearer is led to name that tension and confess it as the authentic paradoxical experience of faith.
In between this opening and this closure, the preacher walks the hearers sequentially through each side of the paradox, helping them maintain the tension. In developing each side of the paradox, the preacher moves from the problem of how we deny the paradoxical tension to the solution of how God keeps us within that tension in faithful living. For example, in the first major section of the sermon, the preacher would begin by stating the paradox for the hearers (e.g., we speak God’s law in love), continue by noting how we deny one side of that paradox (e.g., we speak God’s law but out of hate rather than love), and then call his hearers to repentance for that error and proclaim the text and the gospel in such a way that his hearers are brought back to the tension of the paradox (e.g., we speak God’s law in love). The second major section of the sermon then develops the other side of the paradox in a similar way: the preacher would begin by stating the paradox for the hearers (e.g., we speak God’s law in love), continue by noting how we deny one side of that paradox (e.g., we speak in love for our neighbor but don’t speak the words of God’s law that call for repentance), and then call his hearers to repentance for that error and proclaim the text and the gospel in such a way that his hearers are brought back to the tension of the paradox (e.g., we speak God’s law in love). A clear break between the two sections in the middle of the sermon is standard and the sermon usually offers an equal amount of development for both sides, unless the hearers are already familiar with one side of the paradox.
Another option for this paradox-maintained structure is to offer the hearers a series of examples of this paradox being maintained by different people at different times in history. The sermon will then teach the paradox and maintain the paradox for the hearers by showing them example after example (both biblical and contemporary) wherein it is true. When the sermon proceeds with this sequence, it often takes the form of a multiple story structure.