I want to begin with a brief logic lesson, and then move to develop an important point about the biblical view of scandals.
One popular logical fallacy is called affirming the consequent. It runs thusly: If P, then Q. Q is the case, and so therefore P. Ta da! If it is a cow, then it has four legs. Fido here has four legs. Fido must be a cow.
All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). I am being persecuted. I must be godly. No, you are being persecuted because you’re a jerk. And Fido is a dog.
But take another “if P” operation, this one a little closer to the action. If you study hard, then you will get good grades. Now you might get good grades without studying, because a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while. It nevertheless remains the case that if you want a particular thing, you have to be willing for another thing. If you want good grades, you have to be willing for the studying. This is simple horse sense, and is not affirming the consequent.
The Bible teaches that faithful ministry is scandalous. Faithful and effective ministry results in scandal. To say that everything that is scandalous is therefore faithful ministry is to affirm the consequent. But that is not a very common problem. It is a problem when it happens, but it remains relatively rare, even though there are Westboro Baptists who think that they are walking in the footsteps of the prophets of old.
Now by saying this I do not mean that scandals and cover-ups are rare. Far too many people in modern evangelical churches have been boinking people they oughtn’t to have. But I do mean that it is rare for people to claim a link between such scandals and their holy stand for righteousness. Maybe other generations thought that way, but ours usually doesn’t. It is far more common for our culprits, once caught, to play the role of victim and check into rehab than to play the role of mistreated prophet.
C.S. Lewis once observed that when we are confronted with a flood, we tend to break out the fire extinguishers. A far more common problem in our generation is that of ministers who want to be stalwart in battle, but with no bullets allowed. No live fire. They want to preach a scandalous, radical gospel, but with none of the blow-back reactions from angry mobs. They want to have skin in the game without having, you know, anything risked by any actual skin.
But in the Bible, scandal is a real deal. When it happens, people get furious. For some reason you walked up to that culture, licked your finger, and attempted to touch their eyeball. That gets a reaction, and not a mild one either. It is easy for the crowd to start search for what rhymes with “flay him.” My twitter feed, for just one edifying example, is currently disporting itself like a sewer ditch in 19th century Calcutta.
So the following passage is in the Bible for a reason.
“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men” (Matt. 5:11–13).
So we always have to beware of affirming the consequent. Look at this passage closely. Jesus is saying, in effect, that there are two reasons why men might trample you underfoot. One is because you are salt that has lost its savor, and the other is because you are salt that hasn’t.
We have to be able to tell the difference because Jesus is teaching us to tell the difference. Unbelievers treat insipid Christians with contempt and they treat salty Christians with active hostility and hatred. When some manifestation of this arises, every Christian involved has to make a judgment call as to which it is, and has to be careful not to affirm the consequent. He has to read the situation correctly. And if he decides rightly and raises a glass of Scotch in a faithful toast, it matters not if men like Rod Dreher find it convenient to sneer at the obedience.
When men treat the salty with contempt, and persecute you, and say every evil thing they can think of, they are trying move you from one category to the other. Their central tool for doing this is their weaponization of apologies. They do this because they much prefer their Christians to be supine and saltless. The tragedy is that so many Christian leaders prefer it that way also.