Piper’s perplexing perspective on gun possession
I do not own a gun. Friends will tell you I have questioned the practicality of civilians owning assault weapons.
If I were to rank gun ownership on my list of social issues that concern me, it would not be as high as other issues, with Sanctity of Life being number one and Sanctity of Marriage being number two. Gun ownership may not make the top five.
I address this issue because it has become a hot topic among two Evangelical Christian leaders. Earlier this month, Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, addressed the student body after the killings of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif. by two radical Muslims. Falwell encouraged students to pursue getting concealed carry licenses and mentioned LU offered a course that would allow attendees to legally obtain such licenses.
This week, John Piper, well-known author and pastor and chancellor of Bethlehem Seminary and College, wrote on his website DesiringGod.com and in the Washington Post a rebuttal to Falwell’s position. On the website, the article is titled “Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves?” The Washington Post presents a more direct title, “Why I Disagree with Jerry Falwell, Jr. on Christians and Guns.”
What I appreciate about what Piper wrote is that he did have direct contact with Falwell, through email and phone, and discussed respectfully this issue. If you don’t get anything else from reading this blog, please understand the importance of reasoning together as Christian believers.
“I want it to be clear that our disagreement is between Christian brothers who are able to express appreciation for each other’s ministries person to person,” wrote Piper. Because he wrote this, Piper still has my respect and also for making the effort to discuss this matter with Falwell.
Before I express my concerns about what Piper wrote, let me also clarify that I do not wholeheartedly agree with Falwell’s presentation. Some have said he lacked some prudence in how he encouraged students, especially in such a public arena. Encouraging with such boldness to pursue concealed carry licensing allows himself to be misunderstood. As a friend told me, this action by a college president is “unbecoming.”
However, I have a bigger issue with Piper. After reading his article, I found him to be veering way too close to being a pacifist.
Early in his piece he wrote, “The issue is not primarily about when and if a Christian may ever use force in self-defense, or the defense of one’s family or friends.”
Then, he wrote a statement that implies he is not sure he would defend his wife if she were attacked by an assailant. “I do not know what I would do before this situation presents itself with all its innumerable variations of factors,” he wrote.
Piper did say he “would be very slow to condemn someone who chose differently from me.” Though I appreciate his reservation to condemn, my perplexity would be on why he would not confidently say he would do everything within his ability to prevent someone from attacking his wife. And if he has hesitancy to protect his wife, what does this say about him if he were in the position to protect a stranger who was attacked?
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her” (Eph. 5:25). Christ giving Himself for the Church is the example husbands are to follow. Protection would be an easy understanding to gain from this passionate effort husbands are to demonstrate in loving their wives.
Piper also wrote, “Our primary aim in life is to show that Christ is more precious than life. So when presented with this threat to my wife or daughter or friend, my heart should incline toward doing good in a way that would accomplish this great aim. There are hundreds of variables in every crisis that might affect how that happens.”
In a recent edition of my weekly column “Doyle’s Half Dozen,” I said that I am willing to give myself but not willing to give others. Yes, Christ is more precious than life, but this would be applied to how we view OUR life, not the lives of others. I challenge Dr. Piper to find a passage in the Bible that states Christians are to sacrifice other people’s lives, especially the lives of spouses, children and friends.
Piper also questions the instructions of Christ regarding possessing weapons (Luke 22:36). All through his commentary he makes it sound as though his opponents believe Christ is telling them to “be an armed band of preachers ready to use violence to defend themselves from persecution.”
There are Christians who hold a more militant or cowboy philosophy than I do when it comes to weaponry. Perhaps such Christians could learn from Piper’s viewpoint. However, Piper clearly is addressing the issue of vengeance while appearing to disregard a person’s right to protect themselves from harm.
And I detect some ambiguity in this response to those who cite Luke 22:36 for having weapons: “If that is the correct interpretation of this text, my question is, ‘Why did none of (Christ’s) disciples in the New Testament ever do that — or commend that?’”
How does Piper know that none of the early Christians possessed weapons? None of the New Testament writers clarify one way or the other.
What we do know is the New Testament does teach Christians to be reasonable and sensible. We know that Paul did run away from situations that would harm himself, such as when he was lowered down in a basket from the wall of Damascus (Acts 9:25). We also know that Paul instructed Timothy to take care of himself when he was sick (I Tim. 5:23).
So if Piper uses the perspective that Christ is more precious than life to argue not defending ourselves, why would New Testament teachings instruct us to avoid those who would kill us as well as treat ourselves if we are sick? The question is silly but so is Piper’s view of passivity, especially when it comes to protecting the lives of others.
In closing, I want to stress the importance of sensibility, especially when it comes to protecting others. I do believe it is appropriate for Christians to have concealed carry licenses but with proper training and understanding of when guns can be used appropriately.
Consider this. When Falwell made his speech, he pointed out that he did have a gun in his back pocket. Something that is overlooked is the fact he did ask if it were appropriate for him to show it. To me, that is a sign of sensibility. He could’ve just pulled out the gun and acted like Yosemite Sam.
Be aware. These are fearful times in our country. But even in times of fear, we can still be sensible.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness but one of power, love and sound judgement” (II Tim. 1:7).