God, Guns, and John Piper

April 4, 2014 | by Pastor Jim Harrison

Let me begin by stating all of the necessary caveats.  The following statements are to be read without the slightest hint of sarcasm.  I write each one in total sincerity.

 I love John Piper.

I’ve profited much from both the preaching and writing of John Piper.

John Piper is humble enough to have engaged in correspondence with an unknown pastor like me on one occasion.  (Though for the life of me I can’t remember what the subject was).

John Piper is more gifted, and has done greater good for the Kingdom of God than I could ever dream of doing.

I am not fit to untie John Piper’s running shoes.

 But…

 John Piper, like you, me, and everyone else who has ever walked the face of the earth, (save for one Notable Exception), is sometimes wrong.  And I think he was wrong in his March 26, 2014, “Ask Pastor John” podcast entitled, “God, Guns, and Biblical Manhood”. 

 The question put to him by a listener asked:  “Is it necessary, in his divine calling as a Christian man, to protect his wife and children, to own and to be willing to use a gun?”  Pastor John’s original answer was a simple, “No”, which is usually a pretty safe answer when the question includes the phrase, “Is it necessary…”  There are few things in life that are necessary.  If he had stopped there, I would have agreed, there would have been nothing to write about, and you not be reading this post.

 But one cannot publish a podcast and expect people to keep listening if one gives answers like, “No.”  And so Pastor John went on, saying, “There are at least four reasons I would discourage people from owning firearms for the purpose of self-defense.”

 Now, I do need to state that at the very beginning of his answer, Pastor John states that this is his decision and the reasoning which has led him to this decision.  He says very clearly that he’s “bearing testimony,” “not prescribing.”  He ends his answer saying the same thing.  It is good and right that he qualifies his remarks in such a way.  We should never seek to impose our erroneous reasoning on others. (playful smirk here)

 I don’t think that Pastor John’s reasoning holds up.  If he were speaking as just another guy on the street, and speaking of a position he has arrived at based on his own feelings, then again, you wouldn’t be reading this because I wouldn’t have bothered to respond to it.  But Pastor John is basing his reasoning on his understanding of the Scripture and the faith that is informed by the Scripture, and I believe his reasoning to be so clearly flawed, that it does call for a response.

 After hearing that podcast, I also went back into the Desiring God archives to see what else he may have said on the issue and found that these are not the first time he has spoken out.  So I will also be replying to past statements, which are, as far as I can tell, entirely consistent with what he has said most recently. 

 So, here are the four reasons that Pastor John brings forth in this podcast.  I’ll set them forth first, and then explain why I think they misrepresent not only the issue of self-defense, but the Scripture, as well.

 

Argument #1:  The human heart is vengeful and quick to anger.

 Pastor John says, “I am really quick to think ‘payback’, and that is unbiblical and unchristian.”

 

Argument #2:  Cultural influence.

 Pastor John says, “The culture around me, with movies and TV shows and humorists and literature is shot through with the glorification of cool, hard, tough-talking, tough-acting women and men who have a kind of unflappable cocky swagger that gets the last word and has the last shot.”

 

Argument #3:  The teaching of Jesus and the apostles.

 Pastor John says, “Jesus and the apostles discourage us from preparing ourselves to return evil for evil.  Instead they push us toward being wronged rather than being violent.”

 

Argument #4:  “All who take the sword, will perish by the sword.”

 Pastor John says, “So what does that mean?  I think he means something like, the mindset that plans to save its life by killing is not inviting the protection of God but the violence of man.”

 Pastor John closes his podcast with a statement that reflects an earlier argument based on the experience of Jim Elliot and the other missionaries who were slaughtered by the Auca Indians whom they sought to evangelize.  It really amounts to a fifth argument, so I’m going to treat it as such.

 

Argument #5:  I’m ready, and they’re not.

 Pastor John says, “I would rather be killed, than to kill.  For me, that would mean instant joy, but if I killed him, it might mean instant hell.  I’m ready, and he may not be.”


These are his arguments for why he does not and will not own or use a firearm.  Fine.  As a personal matter, it concerns me not at all what Pastor John’s decision is in this regard.  But this is, I think, a helpful case study in arriving at these kinds of decisions in both a biblical and rational manner.  So allow me now to push back against (most of) Pastor John’s arguments.

 (I say most of because I do not believe argument #2 to be any kind of argument at all.  In fact, it’s actually quite curious.  Pastor John speaks of the impact of the culture upon him through movies and TV shows and humorists and literature.  And yet, he has made no secret of the fact that he does not own a TV, and I can’t imagine that he would subject himself to the kind of movies that would exemplify what he there describes.  As to his taste in literature and humor, I could not comment except to say that I would expect that Pastor John guards his own heart, ears, eyes, and mind, quite stringently.  That being the case, I’m not sure what kind of impact these things could have upon him personally, which is his focus.  So, I’ll leave that “argument” alone).


The following are in no particular order:

 Against # 5:  There is a difference between facing violence and death for one’s faith and witness, and being the random victim of criminals looking to rob, steal, rape, and kill without regard to the theology of their targets.  If someone wants to do me harm precisely because of the gospel and my faith in Christ, I will not lift a finger to oppose them.  If they break into my home, and seek to do harm to my family, that’s another issue altogether.  Being killed in a home invasion is not martyrdom, and Pastor John is comparing apples to oranges when he does makes such an equation.

 In an earlier statement, Pastor John references Jim Elliot and the other missionaries killed by the Auca Indians.  But martyrdom is not at all the issue.  In that case, Elliot and the others went into the Auca’s territory.  They had peaceful intent, to be sure.  But from the Auca’s perspective, they were the invaders.  The Auca’s did not come toinvade the missionaries homes, threatening their families. 

 Elliot and the others did exactly the right thing.  It was a gospel issue.  When some rabid meth head breaks into some random home, there is no possible comparison to be made.


Against #1 & #3:  These two arguments are really both the same argument.  Pastor John is concerned about vengeance.  But the issue is not vengeance.  It is self-defense.  These are not remotely related.  Preventing an attack on my family is not “payback” (argument #1), and “returning” evil for evil (argument #3) assumes that the evil has already taken place and now one is simply seeking retribution.

 This is what I meant when I wrote that he is misrepresenting the issue.  Self-defense is not vengeance.  It is prevention.  And there is a solid biblical basis for it, which I may put forth in a subsequent post. 

 The authors of the Westminster Larger Catechism recognized this when they wrote:

 Q. 135.  What are the duties required in the sixth commandment?

A.  The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence, patient bearing of the hand of God, quietness of mind, cheerfulness of spirit; a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent.

 

 Against #1, #3, & #4:  Remember the title of that podcast: “God, Guns, and Biblical Manhood”.  It seems that the “manhood” part of the title goes largely unaddressed.  Pastor John is constantly speaking in very personal terms about what “he” would do if something happened to “him”.  He says, for instance, “…the mindset that plans to save its life by killing is not inviting the protection of God but the wrath of man.”

 Setting aside the question of whether that is actually true, shouldn’t we also ask the question, “What about your family?”  It is the responsibility of the husband and father both to provide for and to protect his family.  What we might choose to do in regard to our own safety is one thing.  But he who fails to provide for his family, including the provision of safety and security, is worse than an infidel.

 Elsewhere Pastor John stresses that he is not a pacifist, and that he is not opposed to less lethal means of defense.  In a sermon series on marriage, he went so far as to say that if there was a threat, the husband better get up and “lay the smack down on any intruder”.  But I wonder if he has really thought this through.

 Pastor John seems to be in good shape for a man of his age, but I don’t that he’s going to be “smacking down” the kinds of people who will be breaking into his home and threatening his family.  Chances are it will be someone who has already spent time in prison, and who is both young and hard, both physically and emotionally.

Pastor Jon speaks of his personal experiences of living in the inner-city of Minneapolis for the last thirty-three years.  He speaks of being surrounded by petty crimes, hearing some gun shots, and a “little bit of a break-in”.  Praise God that’s all he’s experienced.  I’m thankful that his family has never faced anything more serious.  But not everyone is so blessed.

 A simple Google search turned up numerous recent home invasions in Minneapolis and the surrounding area.  In one case, a group of five or six armed men and at least one woman broke into a south Minneapolis apartment, while the resident was home, in a neighborhood where “this never happens.”  The invaders then attempted to force the resident to get them into a neighbor’s apartment, as well.  When he hesitated, they kicked the door in, and held both at gunpoint while they ransacked that apartment, as well.

 In another case, two men broke into a home, beat the husband with a heavy object, and tied up his wife.

 In yet another case, a stranger came pounding on a man’s back door, screaming, “Let me in!  Somebody’s going to kill me!”  A 69 year old Good Samaritan let him in, and locked the deadbolt behind him.  The man he tried to “help”, proceeded to shoot him in the head, and then to attack his wife.

 These are the kinds of people that Pastor John advises us to “smack down”. 


Against #4:  Pastor John makes much of Jesus telling Peter to “Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.”  Obviously, the parallel that Pastor John is seeking to draw is between Peter possessing a sword and our possession of firearms today. 

 I find a few things about this account quite curious.  For instance, why did Peter have a sword in the first place?  I mean, a sword is not exactly something that can be easily concealed.  Surely Jesus knew that Peter had it.  Why didn’t Jesus say something earlier if he viewed the possession and use of a sword for its intended purpose as in anyway inappropriate?

 And why does Jesus simply tell Peter to “Put your sword back into its place”?  If Pastor John is correct, shouldn’t we expect Jesus to say not just, “Put it back into its sheath”, but “Peter, get rid of that thing!”?

 And isn’t it interesting that in Luke 22:36, Jesus specifically instructs his disciple to go out and get swords for themselves, saying, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.”

 On the very basic principle that Scripture does not contradict itself, Pastor John’s understanding of Jesus’ words to Peter seem to be unthoughtful and ill-considered, at best.

 What are we to make of Jesus’ instruction, then?  It doesn’t seem very complicated.   Jesus is telling Peter to put away his sword because there is no proper justification for its use.  Lawfully engaged officers of the ruling authorities are coming to arrest Him.  They have not, as yet, committed or threatened violence.  They are not bandits and thugs.  They are duly authorized instruments of the authorities of the land, carrying out their duty.


Against #5:  When Pastor John makes the argument that he is ready for heaven and his attackers are not, it makes me think once again about his family.  Are his kids ready?  How would he really know?  And does he have the right to make such a decision for his family?  What about the people that these same criminals may hurt or kill in the future?  Are they ready for heaven? 

 Is it not his responsibility, as the Westminster Catechism says, to defend the innocent against violence?


Against #5:  When Pastor John says that he is ready for heaven and his attackers may not be, it causes me to wonder when he began to think like an Arminian.  Or do we set aside our theology when it comes to emotional issues? 

 If someone enters my home intent on doing violence to my family, and I resist the attacker with fatal result, I have not changed that man’s eternal destination.  Everyone who is the elect of God will come to Christ.  And those who come to Christ, He will raise up on the last day.  I know that Pastor John knows this, because He was one of my teachers in regard to these truths when I first began to work out their implications. 

 There is surely more that could be said, but I’ve gone on far too long. At some point in the near future, God willing, I’ll seek to put forth the positive, biblical case for not only the privilege, but the responsibility of self-defense.  Praise God for John Piper.  May God continue to protect him and his family.

1 Comment

  1. As a gun owner myself, nevertheless I cannot say I agree with all the reasoning set forth here.

    “Being killed in a home invasion is not martyrdom, and Pastor John is comparing apples to oranges when he does makes such an equation.”

    However, Jesus and Paul’s preaching on the matter does not say the point of not defending oneself has to do with martyrdom. When speaking of lawsuits Paul tells the Corinthians, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?” Jesus concurs: “Do not resist an evil man.”

    Ironically, Paul was probably talking about theft (what else would two Christians go over court over other than disputes over private property?) and as Jesus made clear about going the other mile and turning the other cheek, that even a degree of physical abuse is preferable than trying to “right” the situation.

    I don’t think the preservation of one’s goods or one’s bodily security is grounds for self-defense, at least by the examples set forth in the Bible. Paul was stoned, and not with drugs, twice. Where is his concern to protect himself from bodily harm? He didn’t travel alone, so some sort of conscious decision is made to allow even physical harm to come to himself in order to avoid physically engaging those who abused him. Further, when Christ talks about Roman soldiers extorting you or turning the other cheek, he isn’t talking about dealing with religious persecution.

    After all, Christianity conquered an empire not through force or even personal defense against persecution, but by non-violence. Even in the twentieth century, Segregation was ended in the south and the nation of India was reclaimed from imperial overlords through non-violence.

    A sovereign God can cause people to prevail even in the face of force, just as he can hand us over to bodily harm no matter how well we defend ourselves.

    The key principle behind why I own a firearm ultimately is not to protect myself, or my stuff, but rather my wife and eventually, God willing, children. I believe the key difference is that the motivation behind self-preservation is not God-pleasing, even dissuaded against, while the desire to consider the needs of others before oneself is taught as a Christian obligation. I cannot think of any other Christian justification for self-defense.

    “It is the responsibility of the husband and father both to provide for and to protect his family. What we might choose to do in regard to our own safety is one thing. But he who fails to provide for his family, including the provision of safety and security, is worse than an infidel.”

    This is ultimately the conclusion I came to as a gun owner. Would I call the cops if someone wanted to harm my wife? Yes. Would I cheer on if my neighbor pulled the trigger if someone was trying to harm my wife? Yes. Should I pull the trigger if it prevents someone from harming my wife? Yes.

    Unless we want to welcome physical harm to those God has entrusted under our protection, I cannot see the justification. I think John Piper has pious intentions in letting God be his 12 gauge hidden under his mattress, but in some ways it is dangerously negligent. He is allowing his wife and family to be possible victims so he can quell his own conscience. And, unless he wants to preach to the police and military to convince them to put away their guns because he wouldn’t want their protection either, I don’t see what justification he has for his position. It is ultimately hypocritical.

    “For instance, why did Peter have a sword in the first place? I mean, a sword is not exactly something that can be easily concealed. Surely Jesus knew that Peter had it. Why didn’t Jesus say something earlier if he viewed the possession and use of a sword for its intended purpose as in anyway inappropriate?”

    This is a good question, but I have heard it put forward by gun nuts when Christ tells the disciples to sell what they have to buy a sword and they respond “we have two” to be justification for buying weapons. Yet, a few hours later, Jesus tells them to put away their swords.

    I don’t think Jesus was teaching about self-defense OR non-violence. Rather, His sovereign will was to create a confrontation where there would be arms involved so that He could caution his disciples not to respond to persecution in this way. Not so coincidentally, it is the model Christians followed for their first few hundred years of existence.

    So no, I don’t view Jesus saying “go buy swords” as tacit approval of sword or gun ownership any more than we should be looking in the mouths of fishes to pay our taxes. Rather, he was setting up an event that would transpire a few hours later.

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