Christians And Guns: A Response to John Piper

Days before Christmas, noted evangelical pastor and author John Piper published an article on Desiring God (it was also published by the Washington Post) claiming that Christians should not be encouraged to arm themselves. The catalyst for Piper’s foray into the gun debate was a comment made by Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, urging students on his campus to obtain both a concealed carry permit and a firearm so the school can “teach them [mass shooters] a lesson if they ever show up here.”

Piper is the president of his own small Christian college in Minneapolis. Falwell has since clarified his remarks.

As Christians, both of us appreciate Piper’s ministry, and both of us are concealed carry license holders in our respective states. We both believe that not only is it okay for a Christian to arm him or herself, but it is a duty – where possible – that is endorsed by Scripture.

Before refuting Piper’s well-intentioned but utterly misguided reasoning and conclusions, it is worth noting that Falwell should have approached the issue of concealed carry on campus with more gravity. The purpose of defending one’s self doesn’t include the passion to  “teach them a lesson,” but instead to rightfully do what one can to stop evil.

For the Christian there are really two types of violence. The distinction between the two is important, and when some sincere believers – Piper included in this instance – overlook that distinction, wrong conclusions are reached. First is persecution violence of the sort the first century church encountered on nearly every side. Persecution can be government-sanctioned (Jewish rulers in Jerusalem, Rome under Nero) or simply rising from individuals who hate the targeted religion and execute violence against others simply for what they believe, not because of what they do. The second kind of violence is simply evil men doing evil works against their fellow men, and the offenses range from assault to rape, and even murder. The motive of this kind of violence isn’t religious beliefs (the fervent embrace of one religion or unquenchable hate of another religion) but a range of base, sinful human motives. It is simple, common criminality.

Conflating these two types of violence does a disservice to the martyrs of Church History, from St. James to Jim Elliott and others who suffer for the Gospel in oppressive conditions today, and ignores the proper Biblical response to each. When Christians are threatened for being Christian, they may well have to give up their life and demonstrate the grace of God in a radical fashion to their oppressor.

But the average crime American Christians will face, and the sort of thing Falwell was talking about, are acts of violence apart from Christian profession. A murderous gunman who walks onto a college campus is more than likely there to make a name for himself, fulfill a sick fantasy, or adhere to some other motivation than disgust with the Gospel. In instances of this sort of violence the Christian is absolutely justified in responding with equal force – including deadly force if the criminal is using deadly force – to end the violence.

In Romans 13, Christians are commanded to uphold governmental institutions. One of the wonderful blessings of living in the United States of America is that we have the 2nd Amendment to our Constitution that guarantees that we have the freedom to own firearms. Just as importantly, state laws that punish people who misuse that freedom draw clear distinctions between those who use a firearm in self-defense and those who use it to perpetrate a crime. There is a reason someone who walks into a bar and shoots someone faces potential criminal conviction and jail time, and someone who defends from an attempted murder or rape does not face prosecution. Government has established that it will encourage conduct – self defense – that is designed to stop misconduct.

More convincingly, in I Timothy 5:8 Scripture commands: “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he had denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” The context here is Christian parents taking care of their responsibilities, particularly the young lives of children and the life of a spouse. Provision doesn’t just include the economic, although that’s the daily grind portion of it, it includes protection and security. It’s not a stretch at all to say this passage is a sort of Biblical “castle doctrine” arguing in favor of parents doing what is necessary to protect those God has entrusted to their care.

In the context of the New Testament and the lessons that we’re taught there, it’s clear that what may be legal (biblically) may not always be permissible in certain cases. Piper acknowledges this in his 8th point:

“I realize that even to call the police when threatened — which, in general, it seems right to do in view of Romans 13:1–4 — may come from a heart that is out of step with the mind of Christ. If one’s heart is controlled mainly by fear, or anger, or revenge, that sinful disposition may be expressed by using the police as well as taking up arms yourself. […] It seems to me that the New Testament does not aim to make this clear for us. Its aim is a radically transformed heart that lives with its treasure in another world, longs to show Jesus to be more satisfying than life, trusts in the help of God in every situation, and desires the salvation of our enemies.”

On those points, we definitely agree. If Piper is convicted that the scriptures he mentions preclude him from carrying a gun then he should follow that prick of conscience. To do otherwise would be a sin.

Those who do not see a prohibition against carrying a weapon or using it in response to violence have an equal, if not greater, examination that must take place. Just as there is a real difference between the appropriate response to religious oppression and general violence, there is also a difference between a mugging and a terrorist act. Understanding the right action in such difficult situations requires significant contemplation before being faced with a life and death question. As Christians, we know that our final judgment isn’t temporal and that requires a higher standard of behavior than the American legal system.

Finally, we are called as Christians to a spirit of grace and love, not fear and vengeance. In all our thoughts, words and deeds, we should constantly measure ourselves against Christ’s example.

Whether you carry a gun or not, examine why. There are good reasons for each. Understand the implications of its use and consider the circumstances under which your conscience would be at peace. Be educated on the laws, be trained in its use but understand that legality and training aren’t what God will judge you on. Act rightly in His eyes.