January 19, 2016

A Note on John Piper and Guns

The last thing one can call Dr. John Piper, Chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary and founder of Desiring God ministries, is a political or theological liberal. Whatever doctrinal disagreements people may have with him, it cannot be denied that Piper is a ministerial giant in theological conservatism who does his best to present the original intent of the scriptures, regardless of whose toes may be stepped on. Recently, however, he has caused a theological firestorm with his unusually pacifist commentary on Christians and firearms.

According to Piper, the purpose of his article was to demonstrate that the

“overwhelming focus and thrust of the New Testament is that Christians are sent into the world — religious and non-religious — “as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3). And that exhorting the lambs to carry concealed weapons with which to shoot the wolves does not advance the counter-cultural, self-sacrificing, soul-saving cause of Christ.”

Piper lays out nine considerations as the foundation for his position, but they can be broken down into categorical complaints against those he says put their hope “in [the weapons in their] pocket[s]” rather than in Christ.

His most-emphasized observation is that Christ and the Apostles told their flocks to expect persecution and use it as an opportunity to suffer well for the Lord, rather than use armed resistance to protect themselves.

This is true, but some nuance is in order. A good many of the verses Piper cites to support his point deal with persecution from a governmental authority that is attacking Christians for their faith. This is very different from suffering at the hands of a criminal who steals, rapes, and murders for the sake of it without regard to our faith.

Piper’s second categorical complaint is that Christ taught us to be sojourners in this world rather than pushing for the “establishment or the advancement of our Christian cause with the sword.”

Traditionally, the term “with the sword” has meant compelling others to accept your faith through the medium of violence. Protecting one’s family from an attacker is hardly analogous to forcing conversions at gunpoint.

To further make his point that we do not use the sword to advance the banner of Christ, he invokes Christ’s warning to Peter that he who lives by the sword dies by the sword (Matt 26:52).

However, the succeeding verses demonstrate that this passage was not addressing this issue.

Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?” (Matt 26:53-54 NASB).

Simply put, Christ’s instruction to Peter to sheath his sword was His way of saying “Relax Peter. My death is supposed to happen and if I want protection I can take care of myself. Put your sword away before they execute you too.”

This verse has nothing to do with condemning the spreading the faith through “the sword.” Nor is anyone arguing that we should do such a thing in the first place.

Thirdly, Piper says that God has entrusted government with administering his vengeance rather than individual people.

Piper is quite right to emphasize that Christianity does not support vigilantism and that Christians do not have the right to “avenge themselves.” However it must be asked, does the use of firearms to protect innocent lives constitute “avenging?”

Does the Bible draw a distinction between shooting a man who is about to kill your child and vengefully shooting a man after he has done the deed?

The answer is yes. In Exodus 22:2-3 (NASB),

“If the thief is caught while breaking in and is struck so that he dies, there will be no bloodguiltiness on his account. But if the sun has risen on him, there will be bloodguiltiness on his account. He shall surely make restitution; if he owns nothing, then he shall be sold for his theft.”

In the first scenario, a man breaks into the house at night when it is harder to see, especially in the ancient Middle Eastern environment. Consequently, the law assumes that any killing that occurs would be in self-defense and thus no “bloodguiltiness” falls upon the homeowner. In the second scenario it is daylight, making the thief clearly visible. This makes it nigh impossible to argue that the killing was not vengeful retaliation worthy of “bloodguiltiness.”

This last point underlies a key problem with Piper’s analysis. He never invokes the wisdom of the Old Testament. This is problematic because the Old Testament informed and governed Christ’s ministry (Matt 5:17-19). One cannot get an accurate picture of Jesus without looking to the Law and the Prophets that He fulfilled.

In the end, Piper is not a theological traitor, nor is he manipulating the scriptures for his own end. He is simply an earnest servant of the Lord who came to an incorrect conclusion.

Rather than run him down, we should treat him with the mercy and understanding that is due a Christian brother.

5 Responses to A Note on John Piper and Guns

  1. Tom Morris says:

    I will opt to protect my family in case of a dangerous break in or encounter. If someone breaks into my house and does not immediately take my suggestion to leave, I will exercise my rights under the law to use force.

  2. HarrisonWellsII says:

    Are we ignoring verses about not repaying evil with evil?

    A fun article on what happens when a generally conservative theologian isn’t conservative enough.

  3. StarTripper says:

    I never understood pacifism. Self-protection is an individual obligation. Denial of that by philosophy is foolish. Denial of that by law is evil.

  4. SonofLiberty says:

    It discourages me greatly when a typically biblical scholar/theologian writes articles/books/etc. that misleads thousands of Christians and places them on the ‘wrong side’ (unbiblical side) of an argument as they buy into his views.

    How readily do some ‘cherry pick’ the verses that substantiate a particular viewpoint. God’s Word is not a buffet that we can choose what appeals to us and reject that which doesn’t.

    One passage that clearly speaks to this situation is found in Luke 22:35 – 38. Earlier, under his protection, the disciples took nothing on their ‘mission training trips.’ Now he directs them to be fully armed! And if they don’t have a side arm (sword), to sell their cloak – a garment that is the most valued of all garments to a Jewish man/woman of that day! SELL IT, if you need to; to have sufficient funds to buy a sword.

    Lastly, the creators of the US Constitution recognized that we are granted certain ‘inalienable’ rights — given by our Creator (God) — and NOT man. Among those are the right to bear arms for the protection of ourselves, to form/fight as a local militia against tyranny, and for the protection of our families and our countrymen/women. I recognize their words do not measure up to the level of validation that God’s Word does, yet they were able to see in Scripture that the ownership and use of firearms for self-defense (etc.) is God given.

    May the God Lord grant him a clearer view of what God’s word truly declares regarding the principle of firearm ownership and usage to defend one’s person, family, and neighbor.

  5. John S. says:

    One reason for Piper’s comments could be (and I don’t know nor have I followed his comments on this) the fact that much of the gun lobby emphasizes the purpose of the 2nd amendment as a check on the government and a license to revolution when the government acts in a way the advocates disapprove of.

    Through this lens his comments make far more sense than to be seen as an attack on self defense from human predators.

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