Mercy Hill Church - The Danger of "Affirming the Consequent" Blog

The Danger of “Affirming the Consequent”

In the sermon this past week we looked at a list from Paul on what Christians should spend time thinking about. It is a familiar verse:

  • Phil 4:8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Often in my tradition list making is praised. Part of that is good. We can obviously see the benefit of lists from verses like Philippians 4:8 along with other passages like Galatians 5:19-21 (sort of the inverse of this list). The problem comes when we miss that Biblical lists are more a fruit of the Gospel rather than a bargaining chip to gain favor with God. Taking this verse away from its context leaves Paul’s reasons for writing it to be determined by the reader. Too often we fill in Paul’s reasoning for him with moral teaching that produces obedience to the list through the fear of God’s wrath. So what comes out is people who equate obedience to the list with salvation.

When thinking in terms of logic and argumentation there is a simple fallacy (i.e. an error in argumentation) that many fall into. For the moralist I believe it can be the difference in life or death eternal. The fallacy is called “affirming the consequent”. The basic idea is this: saying if A therefore B is not the same thing as saying B therefore A. Confused yet? Here’s an example:

  • If it rains (A), the roads will be wet (B) (correct)
  • The roads are wet (B), therefore it MUST have rained (A) (incorrect)

Do you see what happened? If it rains, the road gets wet. That makes sense. But just because the roads are wet doesn’t necessarily mean that it rained. All sorts of things could have happened: a fire hydrant might have broken, or someone over-watered their lawn.

Here is my point: For Paul, given the totality of the book of Philippians and its immediate context being verses 4-9, doing the list is a discipline AND a fruit. Doing the right thing doesn’t earn salvation. Rather the desire and will to do the right thing comes from salvation. But for many, I believe, affirming the consequent sets them down a dangerous path when it comes to lists. Rather than seeing it correctly that salvation produces obedience, they invert the equation to mean if I am obedient then I have salvation. But in truth, the order matters. Christians need lists and they need rules to know how to live out the faith God has given. But let us not twist that reality into something it is not.

-Andrew Hopper (Lead Pastor)