Monday, December 28, 2015

Armed Self-Defense: The 11th Commandment of the church in America

I have remarked before that of the controversial subjects I post on nothing else gets the kind of angry response as the questioning of Christians using violence, whether on behalf of the state or in self-defense. It is not even close and when I say angry I mean really, really angry. So when John Piper wrote a post, Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves?, that pretty neatly laid out the rationale for Christians not packing heat solidly grounded in the Bible and in recognition of the prioritization of the New Covenant, it got the sound and fury you would expect. I hope that the backlash doesn't drown out the message. John Piper has written something terribly important on this topic. It is important for what it says, for how carefully he says it and because it comes from someone with such a broad audience in the church. Piper and by association Desiring God Ministries have the greatest audience for the question of violence and the Christian.

I am not someone who takes what Piper says as gospel truth simply because it comes from his mouth or his pen.  I find that I agree with Piper to varying degrees on almost every topic but on places we differ like most of what he writes on ecclesiology I don't hesitate to call out when he or anyone else blurs the distinction between Western religious traditions and Scriptural command and precedent.

Needless to say, many have taken to the interwebs to contradict Piper. Speaking in generalities those who most vehemently advocate for Christians arming themselves, and doing so via careful exegesis, tend to lean heavily on the Old Testament and likewise tend toward theocratic thinking. Others, like Tom Chantry, assert that John Piper "has no discernment at all". Apparently Piper makes the mistake of not dividing "churchy stuff" from "non-churchy stuff". Check out the statements I put in bold:
The latest upheaval is over Piper’s silly article about Christians owning guns, a topic he first addressed some years ago. Now I’ll say this up front, of all the works of Piper which might raise outrage in the church, anti-second-amendment rhetoric is the very least. That said, the problem with both these articles is that Piper wants to funnel every discussion of gun-ownership and self-defense through the filter of evangelistic encounter. That’s nice and gospel-centered (TGC is kicking themselves for not publishing this first!) but fails to recognize the rather obvious facts that not every Christian is a missionary, not every circumstance is evangelistic, not every moral priority is gospel oriented, and not all violence is murder. Do you see how many categories get blurred when Piper speaks? That’s a discernment problem: he can’t tell one thing from another.
Yikes. First assuming that only "missionaries" need to worry about evangelistic encounters is false. Just because a Christian doesn't carry the title of "missionary" it doesn't follow that they are not called to reach the lost. Nowhere do we see a caveat on the Great Commission or elsewhere that only "missionaries" need to worry about evangelistic encounters. Apparently Chantry prefers that the unlicensed among us keep our mouths shut and pay attention to the sermon. The second is like unto the first. Why would every encounter with an unbeliever not be an opportunity to share the Gospel? Maybe in the workplace you could make that argument but that is partly why I choose to work for myself. If encounters with unbelievers is not the proper setting for evangelism, what is? The third is just perplexing because it is so sweeping and Chantry does nothing to explain it. What "moral priorities" do we have that are not "gospel oriented"? Are we to box up the Gospel so that it only applies when at church or when you are a missionary? In loving our enemies are we only asked to do that from the pew? One of the great weaknesses in the church is that we teach moralism instead of the Gospel, something I assume Chantry agrees with but here we have a learned fellow telling us that when inconvenient we can making moral decisions apart from the Gospel. Read it again: " not every moral priority is gospel oriented ". That is a major admission. While I agree with the fourth point from a legal standpoint the reality is that no matter how you nuance the taking of another human's life, it is still killing. When the abortionists say they are "terminating a pregnancy" what they are doing is still killing a child. Killing is killing no matter the rationale or circumstances. It is not a stretch to say that killing is naturally the opposite of loving. We are called to love others, even and especially our enemies. We are never called to kill anyone. Chantry doesn't miss the chance to take a shot at Piper for his relationship with Mark Driscoll and other bad people like Tim Keller and D.A. Carson. 

On the other hand there are plenty of more generic evangelicals who take umbrage at what Piper wrote because no red blooded 'Murican would say such a thing. Sounds like Piper's Christian hedonism is nothing but old fashioned communism. The arguments coming from those folks, boiled down to "Piper is wrong. USA! USA! USA!" can be ignored.

There is very little that I find more obnoxious and frankly disgusting than internet tough guys thumping their chests and talking about what a ruthless killer they are. I assume the vast majority of them have never so much as pulled a gun on someone much less pulled the trigger and extinguished the life of another human being. Yeah pal, we are all impressed by what a tough guy you are and how eager you are to tell others how willing you are to kill someone else. I would bet quite a bit that faced with an actual dangerous criminal that their real response would be to soil themselves.

The taking of the life of another human being, even if you are "in the right", is nothing to be taken lightly. I can respect brothers who have a reasoned approach to disagreeing with Piper and my own position but I cannot abide those who think that killing others is a joke or something to cause them to puff up their chest and strut about like a bantam rooster. In a surprisingly level disagreement with Piper, Doug Wilson expressed his disdain for this pseudo-masculinity:
But what we do know from John’s article is that he wouldn’t have a gun on him as he made the decision what to do. Now here comes the glib accusation. It is easy to say — as some have said — that leaving this open to question is not very “manly,” and that a true husband from ‘Merica would place a tight grouping of at least three holes above the assailant’s right ear.
That is it in a nutshell. I like what Doug says next:
John is actually doing something very different, and he is doing it in a very masculine way. He is a biblical absolutist, and he is pursuing a tight, systematic, rational argument from the text of Scripture. Differing with his argument, as I do, is not the same thing as answering him. In the meantime, I don’t have a doubt in my mind that John will go wherever the argument requires him to go, and he will submit to the text, whatever it says. We need more of that, not less.
Yes. Biblical manliness is exhibited, in part, in taking care with God's Word. Being a student of Scripture is far better than being a deadly shot with a gun. Wilson is right, we need more men to emulate Piper's handling of the Word of God. We have plenty of guys who can shoot a gun but not nearly enough who can rightly divide the Word of God. When it comes to eternity, being able to put shots in the 10 ring is as meaningless as being able to stand on one foot. What will matter is what we made of the Son of God who made peace between God and man and who called on His sheep to be at peace with all.

I would encourage you to read Piper's essay but also to step back and observe the response he is getting. I am not so much interested in his argument although it is quite good. I am more concerned with the reaction. Why would something like going around armed to kill an assailant, something not even on the radar of most Christians outside of America, get people so riled up? Do we really understand our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven rather than prioritizing our American citizenship or are we instead compartmentalizing our faith and giving priority to our worldly affiliation where it suits us? I find the responses to be troubling and raising more questions than they answer. We need a little soul searching here people. Something is off kilter in the church in America.


Unknown said...

Thanks for this. You're the first opinion google gave me that defended Piper. Your point about the nearly universal negative reaction and what it says about our priorities as a nation is good.

Arthur Sido said...

Thanks Andrew, it should trouble us all that we have such an angry reaction to something that has such biblical precedent.

Aussie John said...


Yes!Good stuff!