I have regularly said over the years one of the best things that can happen to you in your own personal growth, is for one of your favorite authors or teachers to write or teach something with which you disagree. This challenges you to decide if your thoughts or beliefs are really your own and well thought-out or are they just “me, too” ideas. John Piper’s recent article, Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves? dated December 22, 2015, was one of those occasions for me. If John Piper’s name is on an article I normally read it with assurance, but this time was different. In his article, he gave nine reasons Christians should not arm themselves.
The first seven reasons Piper gives are the basic Scriptures that show Christians are to suffer persecution and not avenge themselves, with which I totally agree if kept in the proper context. However, he used those verses to indicate that Christians should never use self-defense. The verses he used to defend his premise speak to groups or governments persecuting Christians. They should not be interpreted to say Christians should not have arms or defend themselves from evil attacks on their family. It is true, when Christians are persecuted, mocked, or harmed, we should never take revenge or take up arms and go after our assailants. The Bible is clear that vengeance belongs to our Lord and we are not to render evil for evil. That part everyone gets. I hope. However, Christians are often unclear beyond that. One reason for this lack of clarity is that we don’t take the Bible as the whole counsel of God but only use verses from the New Testament. For example, we are not left to wonder God’s view on self-defense. It is made clear in Exodus 22:2, “If a thief is caught breaking in at night and is struck a fatal blow, the defender is not guilty of bloodshed.” Self-defense is appropriate when resisting potential harm against yourself or your family. Breaking in at night when it is dark speaks to the reality that all the facts can’t be seen only that someone is attempting to harm you or your family. God would rather side on self-defense than being able to get all the facts straight before taking up arms.
The apostles were more than willing to suffer for Christ and I think one of the highest rewards as a Christian is to suffer for Him. To receive marks of persecution or even die for the gospel is a great honor. The Bible tells us Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in all authority, but He stood up as to receive Stephen when he was being martyred. Stephen said, “I see Jesus standing at the Father’s right hand” (Acts 7:56). What a message being delivered here. Jesus standing to welcome the Church’s first martyr. There is no question concerning the call upon all of us to suffer for the kingdom. That is a clear message of the Bible. I trust everyone is in total agreement here.
In reading Piper’s article, however; you would think that Christians are to lay down and take whatever is coming. Would Piper rebuke Paul for escaping over the wall to avoid persecution? What about Christian under persecution in China, North Korea, and other parts of the world that escape their persecutors?
Would Piper admonish Paul for scolding his persecutors and calling the high priest a “whitewashed wall” (Acts 23:3)? Was Paul wrong in demanding his persecutors escort him out themselves because he was a Roman citizen (Acts 16:37)? Are any of these actions taken by Paul a preservation of “self” or are they not wisdom exercised in the moment? These are actions that Paul took when being persecuted, what about defending one’s family?
Defending oneself or family in the moment of a crime is stopping a crime. It is not taking vengeance nor acting selfishly. In fact, it is the opposite of selfishness. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend. Christians risked their lives to defend Christians and Jews during the Holocaust of Germany.
Piper finally gets to the practical aspect of what I will call, his hug-a-thug theology, with his own question. He writes, reason number eight for not being armed. “A natural instinct is to boil this issue down to the question, ‘Can I shoot my wife’s assailant?’” Then he gives his seven-fold answer.
In his second answer to, “Can I shoot my wife’s assailant?,” He states, “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.” Is Piper saying I should allow a thug to rape or assault my family in hopes of showing Christ? That if I don’t take up arms then I am giving opportunity for a witness? I could not help but feel sorry for his wife and family over how he is deserting his own responsibility to provide for them a sense of safety. If one refuses to defend themselves that is one thing, but to refuse to defend your family or others is to allow evil. Sacrificing yourself is one thing; sacrificing others is another. Proverbs tells us a man is held accountable to protect others from evil, “Rescue those who are being taken away to death hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” (Prov 24:11-12). If you see someone about to cause death or harm and you can stop them then you must.
Piper’s third answer why he could not shoot his wife’s assailant was, “Jesus died to keep the assailant from sinning against my family.” Well, that is the long-range answer for sure, but how does that fit into the moment of your family being attacked? Obviously, the gospel transforms hearts and the aggressor might in theory later, through salvation, turn his sword into a plow shear. To refuse to defend our families in the present moment because Jesus died for sin, I believe is a twist in thinking and shows a giant leap in logic leaving many other Bible verse unanswered.
Answer four; Piper writes: “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.” So is he saying, that only if my motives are free from fear, anger, or revenge I can call the police? Calling the police or defending yourself in the moment can never be seen as revenge. That is why God calls for the state to defend its citizens and call those authorities his ministers. Revenge is a planned response to a previous action taken against you. We are talking about defending ourselves or calling the police in a moment of crises to stop a crime of evil. Is Piper going to tell me that he will not resist an assailant in raping his wife because he might be angry, fearful, or revengeful and therefore it would be better to not call the police? We should be angry about evil. We can be angry without sinning. Revenge does not even fit this scenario. Revenge is what you do after the fact. As far as fear goes, the bravest of us all experience fear when being mugged or attacked. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the means to do what is right in the midst of fear.
Piper continues in his seven-fold answer to advise Christians not be bear arms for self-defense. He states he lives in a metropolitan area and would not bear arms, but says he would not judge someone who does. I am not sure why he has written this article arguing that Christians should not bear arms if it doesn’t matter.
Edmund Burke’s famous quote comes to mind, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” I don’t question John Piper’s commitment to Scripture, but his reasoning is reduced to that of a pacifist. These type of debates are good and should be on the table, but I believe Piper’s hug-a-thug theology is more confusing than helpful.