“A person commits the fallacy of bifurcation when he or she claims that there are only two mutually exclusive possibilities—when, in fact, there is a third option (or more)…The fallacy of bifurcation may be more difficult to spot when the person merely implies that only two options exist, rather than explicitly stating this.” Jason Lisle1
“Peter’s aim for Christians as ‘sojourners and exiles’ on the earth is not that we put our hope in the self-protecting rights of the second amendment, but in the revelation of Jesus Christ in glory (1 Peter 1:7, 13; 2:11; 4:13; 5:1). His aim is that we suffer well and show that our treasure is in heaven, not in self-preservation.” John Piper2
As I noted in my last article, there is much that I agree with John Piper on. We are to put our hope “…in the revelation of Jesus Christ in glory,” and we should focus on building up “…our treasure in heaven” (see Matt 6.20). However, these truths do not nullify other truths, nor do they make those other truths any less spiritual. I like what David Chilton wrote in explanation of what being “spiritual” truly means:
“The unbiblical idea of ‘spirituality’ is that the truly ‘spiritual’ man is the person who is sort of ‘non-physical,’ who doesn’t get involved in ‘earthly’ things, who doesn’t work very much or think very hard, and who spends most of his time meditating about how he’d rather be in heaven. As long as he’s on earth, though, he has one main duty in life: Get stepped on for Jesus. The ‘spiritual’ man, in this view, is a wimp. A Loser. But at least he’s a Good Loser.
“The teaching of the Bible is very different. When the Bible uses the term Spiritual, it is generally speaking of the Holy Spirit (which is why I use a capital S). To be Spiritual is to be guided and motivated by the Holy Spirit. It means obeying His commands as recorded in the Scriptures. The Spiritual man is not someone who floats in midair and hears eerie voices. The Spiritual man is the man who does what the Bible says (Rom. 8:4-8). This means, therefore, that we are supposed to get involved in life. God wants us to apply Christian standards everywhere, in every area. Spirituality does not mean retreat and withdrawal from life; it means dominion. The basic Christian confession of faith is that Jesus is Lord (Rom. 10:9-10) –Lord of all things, in heaven and on earth. As Lord, He is to be glorified in every area (Rom. 11:36). In terms of Christian Spirituality, in terms of God’s requirements for Christian action in every area of life, there is no reason for retreat.”3
The Christian who acts spiritually walks in accordance with what God has said in His Law-Word. All Scripture being God-breathed then must be weighed exegetically, contextually, and categorically (i.e., situationally), so that the man of God is fully equipped to live a righteous life. Typically the symbol of the suffering servant is ascribed to the Christian faith. This is in honor of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He who was counted with transgressors though Himself innocent, is our example (see Isa 53 & 1 Pet 2.18-19). There is no question then that suffering persecution as our Christ did is a direct consequence of being His follower. Something He taught our brethren before us:
“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you…Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you…” (John 15.18, 20a).
It would seem the apostle Peter took these words of Christ to heart. His challenge to fellow believers dispersed throughout the Roman Empire in the 1st century is to remember their Lord (1Pet 1.1, 13). Remember His attitude (1Pet 2.21-24; 4.1-6). And, be willing when the time called for it to endure evil even though they were doing good (1 Pet 2.18-20, 3.16-18). The world would hate them just as it hated Jesus (1Pet 4.12-14, 16-19). The devil would use such opportunities to seek whom he might devour (1Pet 5.8). But in resisting the temptation to give in and give up, he would flee (1 Pet 5.9; cf. Jam 4.7). And they, having gone through such fiery ordeals would be all the stronger in their faith for it (1Pet 1.7; 5.10-11).
That being said then, suffering persecution is not the end all of the Christian life. Piper presents the issue as if it is an either/or option (the other name for the Fallacy of Bifurcation cited above). Either we willingly suffer persecution for Christ’s name or we are concerned about “self-preservation.” Either we are concerned about heavenly things and are thus “spiritually minded,” or we put our hope “in the self-protecting rights of the second amendment” and prove ourselves to be only earthly minded.
What about a third option? What about embracing both? Is that possible? Is that a spiritual option Christians ought to pursue?
Jim Elliot and guns…
Under his third point, what I’ve labeled—The Suffering Witnesses4, Piper decries that teaching Christians to arm themselves will nullify their work as Christian Witnesses. Offering citations from Matthew 10 and Luke 21, he closes with this thought:
“If we teach our students that they should carry guns, and then challenge them, ‘Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here,’ do we really think that when the opportunity to lay down their lives comes, they will do what Jim Elliot and his friends did in Ecuador, and refuse to fire their pistols at their killers, while the spears plunged through their chests?”5
The name of Jim Elliot sounded familiar but it wasn’t a subject that I could recall off the top of my head. I know now that I must have read about the story previously in a class dealing with missionary work while in seminary. Jim Elliot was a missionary that died in Ecuador at the age of 29, along with four others, while attempting to witness to a hostile jungle tribe called the Aucas.6
There is no question that Mr. Elliot was a brave young man who loved the Lord. He was willing to sacrifice much to share his faith in Jesus Christ. If half of the testimonies are true about this young man and his faith, then I expect to see him one day in heaven. I’d love to sit down and have a talk with him. The one thing that I would like to do is ask him whether or not he would have approached the situation with the Aucas in the same way that he did if given another opportunity.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the absolute sovereignty of God, and I know that His providence is felt throughout all creation as He carries out the plan He established before the beginning. But that doesn’t mean that all of our decisions in life will be proven to have been the right ones. One of the errors that the young missionaries made in their witness to the Aucas is a failure to consider how dangerous a communication gap can be.
The missionaries only knew a few phrases of the Aucas. They learned these phrases from the Quichuas, known enemies of the Aucas. It would have been more beneficial to learn the language first, especially when one considers what Elliot and his friends did after they finally got an opportunity to meet with one of the Aucas tribesman.
They’d been dropping off gifts via plane for a few weeks, along with some messages to the Aucas. This was meant to soften them up, to make them more receptive to the strangers who wanted to witness to them. The pilot noticed a beach where he thought he might safely land the plane. The missionaries invited the Aucas to meet them on the beach. One tribesman and two tribeswomen showed up. After sharing a meal, Elliot and those with him thought it a good idea to invite the man for a plane ride. They flew him around a little bit before dropping him off.
On a personal note, I wonder whether it was wise to take this tribesman up into an airplane to fly around the jungle. “Why?” you may ask. Because of the possible religious beliefs of the Aucas; what were they? Taking a superstitious person up on a plane in my estimation could be a recipe for disaster. The individual might have had deep-seated beliefs about demons and spirits. Who knows what would have gone through the tribesman’s head or his tribal leaders when he told all that had transpired that day? With such things in mind, I was not surprised by what happened next.
The next time they invited the whole tribe to the beach. They waited a few days before anyone showed up. This time it was two women. The young missionaries eagerly came forward to meet them. About this time a group of warriors could be heard shouting and seen charging from the treeline. It is said that Elliot’s hand rested on his gun strapped to his hip, but he never raised it in defense. He and his friends died on the beach that day with spears driven through their chests. It is true that later on, Jim’s wife and daughter along with some other women picked up the baton of witnessing to the Aucas. Many were saved through their ministry.
Personal Musings on Elliot and Piper’s Conclusion…
But does this prove Piper’s point? That is something we must consider. Does an anecdotal event prove that arming oneself with a gun limits our witnessing ability for the Christian faith?
Looking at the situation that the missionaries were presented with I’m not convinced that Elliot had only two options before him: shoot to kill or die a martyr. Nor am I convinced that defending his life or the life of his brethren would have been sinful. I’m not saying that he should have wasted every Auca warrior on the beach, but he could have fired warning shots, even maiming one or two7, so that he and his friends could flee to safety.
Furthermore, the death of the missionaries cannot be said to be the only successful method of witnessing to the Aucas. I’m not knocking their faithfulness or zeal for the Lord, but it wouldn’t have hurt to be more patient in pursuing this venture. It took him years to learn the language of the other tribes in the area, so why advance on a tribe of people known for their aggressive nature without a better mastery of their language? What about the Aucas’ religious beliefs? Were they given proper consideration? I might be wrong here, but all I’m saying is that you can’t prove the only reason the Aucas became receptive to the gospel was due to the deaths of the young missionaries on the beach. If the Lord was going to save them, they’d been saved in time anyway.
There are two final observations to be made of the appeal to Jim Elliot and his missionary band. Both are assumptions made by Piper; although, I’d be willing to wager he’s not alone. First, it is assumed that Jim Elliot and his band died on the beach that day at the hand of the Aucas because of a gospel witness. No testimony was given. Moreover, we are not told the content of the message they had previously had with the Aucas. The gospel is not action but words—i.e., good-news. What was the good news shared that day on the beach, or the days previously with, an at best, broken form of dialogue taking place? Communication barriers are difficult to overcome when we speak the same language, much more difficult are they when we don’t, let alone when we are not fully equipped. Personal intent while important doesn’t qualify as “dying for the gospel as martyrs if the gospel was not communicated.” Good intentions alone do not equate to “God’s work.” I don’t want to seem callous about Jim Elliot and his missionary coworkers, but it does appear that before we appeal to his action in the face of danger we carefully consider all the elements surrounding the event.
Secondly, we should note that Jim Elliot had a gun strapped to his hip, and yet when the opportunity came to brandish the weapon in self-defense he refused and died as a result. This is an important point that runs counter to Piper’s assumed claim. According to Piper, teaching kids to arm themselves with guns will somehow cloud their vision when it comes to being a suffering witness for Christ, however, the example he cites to rebuke them reveals a young man who carried the type of weapon Piper so eagerly condemns. That point in and of itself should be enough to silence the pacifistic complaint about being armed with a gun as somehow counterintuitive to being a suffering witness for Christ. It didn’t keep Jim Elliot from doing so; why then suppose that it would other genuine believers in Christ?
The Question of Citizenship…
What is our status on this earth? Piper believes like many Evangelicals do today, that the earth is not our home, heaven is. Earth is a “way station” of sorts that we travel through to make it to our final destination, a godly abode. He writes,
“Jesus set the stage for a life of sojourning in this world where we bear witness that this world is not our home, and not our kingdom, by renouncing the establishment or the advancement of our Christian cause with the sword.”8
Before I address the issue that concerns me most, allow me a moment to address the “straw man” in the room. The Christian faith is not established and does not advance by the sword. Christianity is not Islam. True, fools have claimed the name of Christ in the past to advance their own sinfully guided agendas, but the Christian faith does not allow for such activity as it is counter to the method prescribed in holy Scripture. The proclamation of Christ’s Kingdom is the command to repent and believe in Jesus of Nazareth, the son of David, the son of Abraham, and the son of Adam as the earth’s only Savior and Lord. Salvation is found in no other name, and it is by the Holy Spirit’s power that men and women, and children are brought to new life in Him. It is, therefore, childish and dishonest (perhaps even confused) on Piper’s part to claim that the desire to arm oneself in defense is an attempt to establish or advance the “Christian cause with the sword.”
Now that is finished let us address this last point here before closing.
Jesus did not say His kingdom is not in this world, He said it is not “of” this world (John 18.36). He was merely explaining to the Roman governor Pilate that “[His] kingdom [His kingship] was not from the world.” That is the meaning of the term “of” in relation to the world and our Lord’s Kingdom (i.e., Kingship). His Kingdom—i.e., His Kingship—did not originate in this earth, but from Heaven (cf. Isa 9.6-7; Dan 7.14; Matt 28.18).
Under Piper’s 2nd Pillar of Thought, he cites heavily from the apostle Peter’s 1st epistle. He highlights that Peter addresses his readers as “sojourners and exiles,” this line of thought is seen expressed in Piper’s 4th and 5th Pillars. He uses it here (pt. 4) to argue that we are not to trust in armed security. He reasons: Jesus didn’t fight Pilate’s Rome or the Sanhedrin’s Israel, though He commands the armies of heaven, therefore, Christians shouldn’t fight. Likewise, Jesus tells Peter to put his sword away and warns those who attempt to live by the sword will meet its fate; therefore, Christians today need to get the hint! He leans heavily on the understanding that heaven is our home, not earth; heaven is where our citizenship rests, not earth. Thus, according to Piper, we need to put away the idea of protecting and preserving ourselves for in so doing we testify to the world that our hope rests in our might, not in the Lord’s.
“I think I can say with complete confidence that the identification of Christian security with concealed weapons will cause no one to ask a reason for the hope that is in us. They will know perfectly well where our hope is. It’s in our pocket.”9
There that fallacious reasoning is again. We are not only citizens of heaven, but we are also citizens of this earth (cf. Acts 22.8; Phil 3.20). We have dual citizenship. Christ’s kingdom might not be from this world, but it is in this world (cf. Luke 11.20) and His authority is exercised both here and in heaven (cf. 1 Cor 15.25; Psa 110.1)! And one can bear arms and at the same time trust that it is the Lord who fights our battles for us (cf. Exod 17.13; Psa 44.3-6; also see: 1 Sam 13.22; 14.6-15)—even if that battle is an intruder in our home! In each situation, it is not either/or, but both.
In this post, I honed in on a line of reasoning expressed by Piper that is situated on faulty ground. In each situation, he attempts to present to his reader that there are only two options available. Either a person looks at the issue of armed defense in a spiritual light, in terms of his or her heavenly citizenship, or they do so with worldly intent. “If we teach our people to arm themselves, then they will fail to be a godly witness to the citizens of this earth. If we teach our people to arm themselves, then they will trust in their own might rather than the Lord’s.” I reject such reasoning on its face for it cannot stand up to the scrutiny of a biblical critique. There are a few more areas of Piper’s Pillars that I intend on addressing before I lay out what I believe is the foundational ground—biblically speaking—from whence the argument of self-defense or the preservation of life is unshakably set.
Until then, I thank you for your diligence and patience in reading through my thoughts on this issue. Feel free to leave a comment or inquiry below.
To be continued….
1Jason Lisle, Discerning Truth (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2010), 32, 33, Adobe Digital Editions.
2John 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?. Piper on: Suffering Injustice—1Peter (various texts), Pt. 2, final par.
3David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion (Tyler, TX: Dominion Press, 1985), 3, 4, PDF E-book. Emphasis in original.
4Piper on: Suffering Witnesses—Luke 21:12-13, 16-19; Matt 10:16-18, 21-22, 28, Pt. 3.
5Ibid. Pt. 3, final par.
6“Jim Elliot: Story and Legacy,” Christianity.com, accessed September 3, 2022, https://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1901-2000/jim-elliot-no-fool-11634862.html.
7I can see where one might disagree with any sort of act of violence (even a defensive one) seeing it as a detriment to any witnessing effort. In effect, it may be viewed as “burning the bridge” type of incident where no one could come back from. Meaning that the Aucas might have held a grudge and the door would have remained shut to any further witnessing opportunities. But since we are attempting to extrapolate from personal experiences here, I have a counter one to offer. When I was younger there were times when I would get into fights (sometimes with bullies, sometimes with friends), but when the dust settled a mutual respect and friendship developed afterwards. It didn’t always happen that way, but my point is that not every physical altercation ends the possibility of a relationship.
8Piper on: Alien citizenship=no dominion—John 18:36; Matt 26:52; Phil 3:20, Pt. 4, heading. Emphasis added.
9Ibid., Pt. 4, final par.