Arguing For or Against Armed Defense: A Critique of John Piper’s Position on Armed Christians

“‘Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, ‘I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me’? My answer is, No.”–John Piper1

“If you or your child has been trained in self-defense, of course, you may be able to dispatch your assailant with a minimum of force. Always realize, though, that the man who attacks you, or your wife, has forfeited all his rights to ‘fair’ treatment. Women should be prepared to gouge out the eyes of any man who attacks them. In summary, the Bible teaches us to avoid all fighting, and to suppress it. Only in the case of a direct threat to one’s person or property, when an appeal to arbitration is not possible, is fighting [self-defense] permissible (Ex. 22:2).”–James B. Jordan2

INTRODUCTION:

On what basis do we argue for the right of self-defense? Is it a right afforded to us by the civil government? Or, is it a right granted to all image bearer’s at the moment of their coming to be? Meaning, a divine right not to be molested by human forces of any sort. The issue is a sticky one to be sure but one that needs to be discussed nonetheless.

Earlier this year, I had promised that I would comment on an article written by Rev. John Piper. It is late in coming, but I finally decided that it was time to knock the digital dust off this work3 and post it for my reading audience. Over the past few months I have witnessed the growing divide over the issue of bearing arms in the defense of life (2nd Amendment) continue to deepen. I realize that guns, self-defense, and arguments surrounding the 2nd Amendment seem to fall into the category of a political discussion rather than a religious one. This is believed by those inside and outside of the professing Christian Church. My conclusions/convictions, as you will notice, differ. You may find that you are of a different mindset. That’s okay. However, my hope is that you will at least have the courage to hear me out first.

Prefacing my talk…

Christians often disagree on things. Just like members of the same household will, at times, argue with one another over the importance of this or that matter. After identifying a problem, different minds will come to different solutions. Some times differences of opinion on how to handle a matter can be good, at other times not so much. One thing to remember is that Christ calls on His people to be of one mind, one heart just as He and the Father and the Holy Spirit are (cf. John 17.11, 20-21—in reference to the Father and the Son and their people; John 16.13-15—in reference to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit who is sent into the world to represent God by guiding the children of God in Christ into all truth). This unity of heart and mind is only possible through an adherence to the Word of God:

Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17.17)

A commitment that sets the true follower of Christ free from all forms of bondage; free from sin and its curse upon the heart and mind of His image bearer’s:

If you continue in My word, then you are truly My disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8.31-32).4

You see, it is the duty of every believer to know the truth, to diligently seek for it (cf. Deut 13.14; 17.4; 19.18)5 to discern its value and treasure it (cf. 1Cor 2.15; 1Thess 5.21); for this reason, it is likewise the duty of the believer to vehemently deny a lie. To take no part in it, to share nothing with it. As it is written,

Keep deception and lies far from me…” (Prov 30.8a).
Remove the false way from me, and graciously grant me Your law…[for] From Your precepts I get understanding… [Therefore,] I hate and loathe falsehood, but I love Your law” (Psa 119.29, 104a, 163).

A Question of Self-Defense…

So, what shall we say of self-defense and the right to bear arms? Is that something that Christians can disagree about? I think that it is obvious that Christians can disagree about it, but a better question is “Should they?”

As I have said before, not all situations are the same. Each one must be properly weighed in light of contextual considerations. We must be careful to separate categories of thought. Is the deed in question a wanton act of violence? Or, is it a question of defending life?

The whole argument is situated around whether or not it is right or wrong for a Christian to use force—even deadly force, in some circumstances, with a gun—to protect life. You see, one of the positions is wrong. Either it is honoring to defend oneself if the circumstances call for it, or it is dishonoring. Either it is sinful or it is an act of righteousness.

Therefore, we ought to see that the issue is an ethical one; thus, it is also a religious one; and so, it likewise falls into the category of a political one.

An in House Debate…

As with all things related to our faith the only way to settle the issue is by carefully considering God’s revelatory instruction. This John Piper attempts to do in his article entitled, “Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves?” An article he penned in response to Jerry Falwell Jr.’s6 invitation to students at Liberty University on December 4, 2015 to take advantage of a free concealed gun safety course offered (at that time) on campus.

On December 22, 20157 Piper lists 9-points (one is really just a review of other things he states in his argument), what I identify as his pillars of thought, that he believes should be weighed in the minds of believer’s before they attempt to make a commitment towards armed self-defense. I will grant that this article is a bit dated (7-years old), however, the fact remains that many of the convictions shared by Piper are concerns still held by individuals today. As I noted above, in recent months, we have seen an uptick in the number of reported shooting incidents that our cherry-picking media has reported to the public.8

Piper’s 9 Pillars…

Here are the list of points along with their scriptural references: 1) Vengeance/Repaying Evil—Romans 12:17-13:4; 2) Suffering Injustice—1Peter (various texts); 3) Suffering Witnesses—Luke 21:12-13, 16-19; Matt 10:16-18, 21-22, 28; 4) Alien citizenship=no dominion—John 18:36; Matt 26:52; Phil 3:20; 5) Loving Enemies—Matthew (various texts); 6) Historic Church (Acts)/Argument from Silence—Acts 4:29-31; 5:40-41; 8:1-3; 16:37; 22:25; 7) Figurative/Metaphorical Argument—Luke 22:35-38; 8) Denying Emotional Instinct (a review of his former thoughts)—Luke 6.27-28; Acts 9:1-2; 9) Heavenly Reliance—Psa 46:1; Phil 4:19; Luke 10:3; 21:17-18; 2Cor 10:4.

His Preface…

Before Piper begins to list his points of consideration he reveals to his audience what he believes the central issue (his thesis) is. He writes,

The issue is about the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life. Does it accord with the New Testament to encourage the attitude that says, ‘I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me”? My answer is, No” (italics in original).

Thus, the issue has been settled already. Before any argument is presented. Before any text of the Bible is reviewed. Piper’s presuppositional lens prevents him from seeing self-defense (in this case being armed with a gun) as a right of the Christian.9 To be fair we all have presuppositions that guide and guard our thinking. I don’t fault Piper for that. But the fact is we must be aware of them lest they blind us to the truth. You may wonder, “How could presuppositions blind us from the truth?” By preventing us from being taught from God, rather than, hearing the echoes of our voice in our heads.

My initial thoughts…

Two things immediately stand out to me as I reread Piper’s thesis. First, he says “New Testament”…that’s where his focus is. I’m not sure where he stands in relation to the Old Testament and its usefulness for the Christian today, but attempting to hone your argument in on just what the NT says will narrow your scope of understanding. Paul says to Timothy in 2Tim 3:16 that “All of Scripture is God-breathed” (theopneustos; Grk. theos—god, pneo—to blow [out]) and he said it is to be used to make the Christian “fully capable, equipped for every good work” (v. 17). Paul is referencing the OT here, not the NT. Therefore, the point I am making is that without an approach that encapsulates the totality of the inscripturated word (including both testaments) you’ve reduced your ability to see the truth in its entirety; severely, curtailing your capacity for discernment.

Second, he speaks of the attitude of the person carrying a concealed weapon. Why is an emotional response being addressed here? Why is that the focus? And, it does appear to be Piper’s focus throughout his written work.

If I say that I have no desire to use violence, if I have no desire to extract vengeance, but I am only desiring to deter a would-be attacker and possibly, if forced, to do whatever is necessary in the preservation of life—either myself or another—then may we dispense with the argument against me (or any other) about bearing arms? Now this might not seem plausible to those who detest the idea of armed Americans, but isn’t this a legitimate response? And if so, doesn’t it settle the issue right there?

It should. It probably won’t. Given the way these conversations have went for me in the past, I think it is safe to extrapolate and assume that this would not satisfy those who detest the idea of armed Americans, let alone armed Christians.

Closing Remarks…

Originally, I thought to do a point-by-point response to Piper’s 9 Pillars of Thought. I have decided to take a different approach. Many of his points have enough overlap that I don’t need to deal with them separately. If I make a specific reference to one of his “pillars of thought,” then I will identify which one it is. Bear in mind that my critique isn’t personal. It is theological, ethical, political, and religious, but not an axe I’m desiring to wield against another.

The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him” (Prov 18.17)

What follows next, then, will be my own examination of Piper’s plead case against bearing arms in terms of self-defense.

To be continued…

ENDNOTES:

1John Piper, “Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves?” Desiring God, December 22, 2015, accessed 12/30/2021, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/should-christians-be-encouraged-to-arm-themselves?.

2James B. Jordan, The Law of the Covenant: An Exposition of Exodus 21-23 (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), 112, PDF e-book.

3Due to time constraints because of my other responsibilities this file has sat pretty much untouched for months (since Feb 2022) in a document folder on my office pc.

4There is no distinction between Christ’s Word and the Father’s Word for as Jesus explained to those who challenged Him, as well as those who sought His tutelage: “For I did not speak on My own, but the Father Himself who sent Me has given Me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak…therefore the things I speak, I speak just as the Father has told Me” (John 12.49, 50). And, as His prayer to the Father reveals His own disciples understood this: “Now they have come to know everything which You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they received them and truly understood that I came forth from You, and they believed that You sent Me” (John 17.7-8). Moreover, we could add that the Holy Spirit, in unison with Father and Son, speaks (repeats, emphasizes) in a similar manner for that is His purpose in being sent after the ascension and glorification of the Son, Jesus Christ: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, he will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you” (John 16.13-15).

5Also see: Bahnsen, Greg L. Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen. Edited by Gary DeMar. Powder Springs: American Vision Press. 2007. Bahnsen offers the following advice in this compilation of a series of lectures he gave at a conference hosted by American Vision before his untimely death on December 11, 1995: “In the matters of judicial inquiry mentioned in these texts [cf. Deut 13:14; 17:4], man must search for truth: he must do research to establish his understanding of a situation. He does not instinctively know all things. The same is true in any area of life: we learn through diligent inquiry. Man’s philosophical and scientific understanding comes discursively [‘analytical reasoning’] by involvement in God’s world and under His rule” (81).

6The truth of Falwell’s argument cannot be dismissed now that he has evidently apostatized from the Christian faith.

7I realize that this article is a bit dated but the counterpoints that Piper provides are important and still popular.

8Here are some recent examples that have been noted in the last few months:

9Actually he attempts to steer clear of a “self-defense” argument in general. Piper notes at the beginning of his article, “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. There are significant situational ambiguities in the answer to that question.” Ibid., par 5. Unfortunately, his argument as it unfolds is a still one against supporting an individual’s right to self-defense.

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