Monday, January 04, 2016

Approaching The Piper - Guns Kerfuffle From A Different Perspective

While the initial firestorm of often strident and sometimes angry rebuttals of John Piper's post on Christians arming themselves for self-defense (see my post here) has died down, there is still conversation happening on the issue and that is a good thing. In the broader conservative evangelical world Piper and Preston Sprinkle seem to be the lone stalwarts holding what is an unpopular position re: Christian non-resistance.  Sure I am defending Piper was well but no one cares what I think.

In evangelical circles talk of practical peacemaking and non-resistance is a relatively new topic but among the Anabaptists it has been the position since the earliest days of the Radical Reformation. Unfortunately there has been little conversation on this topic between Anabaptists and evangelicals on this topic or any other for that matter (thus the impetus for writing a book on what Anabaptists and the Reformed can learn by conversation with one another, a book that seems to be no closer to getting done now than when I first announced it ). I was glad to see Dwight Gingrich interacting with Tim Challies on this topic and Dwight has since written a lengthy post on the topic of conservative Anabaptists and non-resistance titled Peacemaking: The Quiet In The Land Speak Up. As someone grounded in the Reformed tradition and with a growing affinity for Anabaptism I jotted down some not terribly brief thoughts reproduced below. You should check out Dwight's post, he raises a lot of interesting questions.


Excellent summary of the issue. As someone more deeply anchored in the Reformed tradition I can say unequivocally that Piper is really the lone voice in the contemporary Reformed world that is even the least bit open to non-resistance. The virtual firestorm response he has gotten is pretty typical for those in the Reformed tradition and in American evangelicalism alike. Among the Reformed more broadly there are three reasons why non-resistance has gotten little traction:

1) A general hermeneutic of covenant theology which tends to blur the distinction between the Old and the New, making the Old Testament written and lived out under the Old Covenant, to be as authoritative and more spherically as applicable to the church as the New Testament. This is the source of so many of Piper's detractors turning to Old Covenant civil laws for their Scriptural sources to reject what Piper is saying.

2) A broad acceptance of Just War theory with more than a little theonomy thrown in for good measure. Given Augustine's position as the father of Christian just war theory and the very high regard most Reformed give to Augustine, his teaching on just war is given broad, and in my opinion, uncritical acceptance by most prominent Reformed teachers.

3) There is a startling absence of any voices in the Reformed tradition that hold to any sort of non-resistance or if there are they are not well known. The Reformed lean heavily on scholastic writings of the forefathers in the tradition (Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Edwards,  etc.) and upon their historic confessions. When there are no contemporary or historic voices affirming a position, it is going to get little thought or attention.

Of course one overarching factor needs to be stated. In America non-resistance = pacifism and pacifism=liberalism. No good red blooded American Reformed Christian is going to stand for being called a liberal. This has led to a unilateral surrender of this issue to the religious left. That complete abdication of this topic to, for want of a better term, the liberal wings of the church. That is why I was likewise so pleased to find Preston Spinkle's book. I was familiar with Preston for his work with Francis Chan on a defense of the traditional understanding of Hell in the book Erasing Hell, so seeing him taking on this topic was encouraging. The only other book I have run across that deals as deeply with this issue is Guy Hershberger's "War, Peace and Nonresistance" but given that he is a Mennonite his writings have a very narrow audience (as proof the only review on Amazon for this book is mine).

Ironically, on almost any other topic, the same Reformed who are flogging Piper would agree with him over Jerry Falwell, Jr. and yet these same brothers have exploded with negative responses to Piper including some pretty over the top, frothing at the mouth replies from less thoughtful brethren.

You also touch on some broader themes and one of them has to do with the relative lack rigorous scholasticism in Anabaptism. Simon Fry touched on this in his recent post. I have seen some examples of "this is what we believe because this is what we believe" with no attempt or interest in engaging him contrary voices. As someone  who is an interested outside observer I can see that there is trouble coming down the road for the young adult generation in conservative Anabaptism as they tap into non-Anabaptist sources and see arguments that they have never heard before.  Lots of interesting things to ponder on this topic.

(as a side note for those unfamiliar with Tim Challies, he is a Canadian and that in part explains why he hasn't given this topic much thought because even owning a gun in Canada is a difficult task) 

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