Varieties of Thesis Statements
CTW Quick Guide to Thesis Statements:
In the example about Machen's missiology on the Crafting An Effective Thesis page, the thesis articulates a specific argument for a church history research paper. This type of historical research requires a specific, focused, and concrete thesis.
Similarly, Exegetical papers involving in-depth research of a particular passage should include a thesis that takes a specific interpretive position on that passage. The following is an example of a thesis which clearly states an interpretive position:
Paul’s contrast between letter and Spirit in 2 Cor 3:6 is not primarily a contrast between law and gospel but between life before and after Pentecost.
The paper supporting this thesis does not intend to say everything that can be said about this passage (as a scholarly commentary might), but to argue for one particular interpretation. Note that, as a strong thesis, this sentence answers a particular research question – “what is the meaning of Paul’s contrast between letter and Spirit in 2 Cor 3:6?”
There are times, however, when the goal of your writing will be different. The purpose of some assignments is not to argue for a single, tightly formulated thesis but to discuss a subject from a particular “angle” specified by the professor. In these cases, your professors provide specific instructions as to how a passage should be approached. It is very important to follow such instructions carefully. To unify your paper, use a purpose statement as described below.
For assignments requiring you to take a Biblical-Theological angle on a passage of Scripture, your purpose statement will not articulate a clear interpretive position (see above) but instead will outline the scope and aim of the paper. The following would be an apt purpose statement for an OT paper:
The goal of this paper is to discover both how God wanted to impact post-exilic Jews (compositional meaning) and how he still wants to impact twenty-first century Christians through 2 Chronicles 21:11-20 (canonical meaning).
This type of purpose statement is used when the assignment is very structured, requiring a certain approach to the source material. The purpose in such situations is to communicate to the professor what you understand about what he wants and how you are going to carry that out in the paper. In the example above, the purpose statement shows that this paper will address both the compositional and the canonical meaning of the passage, reflecting the professor's instructions precisely.
For Apologetics papers, for example, which are often more conversational in style, a classic thesis statement might not be appropriate. Instead, a satisfactory thesis for the AP 101 assignment can read,
While Mr. Robinson’s rich description of human experience has a ring of truth, upon further examination his philosophy of life appears fraught with inconsistencies.
This thesis communicates the author’s disposition toward Mr. Robinson's work, but it does not disclose the specific inconsistencies to be discussed. This kind of thesis hints at what is to come, leading the reader to expect further explanation and development.
As any good thesis does, it expresses the writer’s claim (Mr. Robinson’s philosophy is inconsistent) and delineates the aim and scope of the paper (to point out the inconsistencies in Robinson’s philosophy by a close examination of his writing).
It seems that I am forever in need of reminding that God’s ways are not my ways. As I reflect on the “thorn in the flesh,” in 2 Cor 12, I believe Paul’s experience of suffering has much to teach me about the circumstances, character, and conundrum of God’s power.
Although this introduction does not make an assertion of objective truth value (as the historical research thesis does), it does introduce the paper’s topic (God’s ways and power), method (reflection on the “thorn in the flesh”), and aim (to share what has been learned from reflection).
Constructing the right kind of thesis or purpose statement comes from understanding the assignment clearly and from approaching the sources thoughtfully. These may be books, journal articles, or web materials you have uncovered in your research, or resources assigned to you by your professor.
Other "Developing Your Thesis" topics: