Prairie View

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

In Over My Head, Under the Gun, and other Cliches

With a nudge from Dwight Gingrich, I wrote a response to Tim Challies' article with this title:  "How Should Christians Use Guns?"  It's copied below, but first, some background.  To wild applause, Jerry Falwell, Jr. president of Liberty University (formerly Liberty Baptist College) on December 4 urged students at that school to carry guns and use them on Muslims.  The story was widely reported in secular media.  You can read one such report from the Washington Post here.

Subsequently, John Piper, chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary, wrote an article with this title:  "Should Christians be Encouraged to Arm Themselves?"  You can read that article here.  Piper answers that question with a simple "No." He goes on to list nine considerations that lead him to this conclusion.  What Piper says resonates with me.

Tim Challies is the third person on stage in this blog post.  He wrote a response to Piper's article.  You can read his response here.  Essentially Challies quotes people who disagree with Piper, and indicates his preference for the views of those who disagree with Piper.  Among Christians, Tim Challies is an extremely popular blogger, author, book reviewer (for World magazine), and pastor in the Reformed (Calvinist) tradition.  I got those last details from what he says about himself on his blog.

The last person on stage in this post is Dwight Gingrich.  He currently lives in Leon, IA.  I've never met him, but knew both of his parents-in-law.  I like reading what he writes and admire his ability to engage on topics where I'd be "in over my head" in short order.  He is an apologist for (and occasional critic of) Anabaptist theology and practice--my description.  Dwight wrote a response to Challies and urged others to do so also.  I read his urging on Facebook and ignored it, believing that I would be in over my head on the topic.  In an effort to keep my thoughts calm and untroubled, I didn't even read Challies' article.  Then Dwight tagged me and a number of others in the Facebook post where he had originally urged others to write.  So I read Challies--after I read Dwight's response to Challies.  Without being sure that I knew what I was going to say, I followed the link to Challies' article and then to the section for responses.  I hope that what I wrote is not counter-productive.  I know it is not based on being widely read in Christian literature on the topic of Christians and non-violence, and for that I feel a bit unsure of myself.  That it's also definitely an "off the top of my head" offering is a little scary too.  Here it is (in its non-paragraphed format):


"To kill animals for food, to kill animals that threaten the safety of humans, and sometimes to kill animals that endanger property." That's my answer to the question of how Christians should use guns.  Guns are designed to be efficient killing machines.  As such, they should never be seen as appropriately turned on human beings.  I say this because of what I believe to be Scriptural regarding the sanctity of human life.  Francis Schaeffer alluded to this by saying that in God's creative acts, he drew two distinct lines--one between Creator and creation; the other between man and the rest of creation.  While all of creation is separate from the Creator, only man bears the image of God, and I believe that to use lethal force against any human being is wrong because of the value God himself places on human life.   The second reason I feel that using lethal force is wrong is that it directly counters the teaching and example of Christ.  At Calvary, he confronted injustice and danger with suffering love.  We are to follow that example.  Once that is settled in our minds, all hypothetical circumstances can be trusted to the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God who leads us, who is our refuge and strength, and who is our ever-present help in time of trouble.  I believe Preston Sprinkle's book Fight:  A Christian Case for Non-violence to be a worthwhile read on the topic your article addresses.  I believe it to contain wisdom revealed by a careful study of God's Word--a value I see referenced in your writing as well.


I will copy here also Dwight's Facebook post on the topic.  Note that part of it is the "urging others to write" part, and part of it is Dwight's actual response to Challies.  In posting it here, I am joining Dwight in urging thoughtful people to consider responding to Challies also.

Suggestion: If you are a nonresistant Christian, please write a respectful "letter to the editor" to Tim Challies regarding his coverage of John Piper's article about Christians and arms. This seems to be an opportune moment to invite our Reformed brothers and sisters to more fully embrace the way of suffering love.
And here you can write him a letter:
I suggest you include two things in your letter:
(1) A brief response to something in Challies' post (perhaps challenging one of the rebuttals against Piper's article) or an affirmation of something you liked in Piper's article.
(2) A suggestion that Challies read and review Preston Sprinkle's book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. ( If he receives a minor flood of letters recommending this book, perhaps we can convince him to read it. Imagine if he would actually start promoting it!
Here is the letter I just sent:
Dear Tim Challies,
Thank you for giving John Piper's article on Christians and arms respectful press. I found his words a refreshing breath of Christ-centered love. In response to your summary of responses, I have two thoughts:
(1) While Piper's article is not perfect, I am disappointed that he has been charged with being "biblicistic and dependent upon a specific understanding of the relationship between the New Testament and the Old" (Wedgeworth's words). How can it be wrong to see the new covenant as our lens for interpreting and applying the old, as Piper is trying to do? As an Anabaptist, I come from a long theological heritage of doing just this, and our people have suffered for centuries for refusing to bear the sword. I don't think it is true that Piper "assumes that we need a direct biblical teaching on a matter in order to know whether it is morally permissible or not" (Wedgeworth's explanation for his "biblicistic" charge). Rather, Piper is drawing biblical theological deductions from the pattern of God's unfolding revelation, which climaxes in Christ's defenseless self-sacrifice and his call for us to follow in his steps. This is no mere simplistic "biblicism."
(2) Since you have expressed interest in this question of Christians and the use of force, I strongly encourage (exhort, implore, urge, beg!) you to read and review Preston Sprinkle's book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence. A complex topic like this cannot be properly addressed in a handful of short articles. Sprinkle deals with the biblical evidence from both testaments in detail, historical evidence from the early church, and the toughest practical questions from today. He says he is from your own Christian neighborhood: "The Christian subculture in which I was raised and still worship is nondenominational conservative Reformed. I've been influenced over the years by John Piper, John MacArthur, R. C. Sproul, and many others who swim in that pond" (from Chapter 1). So you will identify with his way of handling Scripture. And he's thought about this for a long time, making what he calls a "reluctant journey toward nonviolence." Piper needs to read this book (I think he's stranded somewhat inconsistently halfway on the journey). And I think you would find it very helpful as well. Tolle lege!
God bless you as you continue blogging for the glory of Christ!
Dwight Gingrich


Just this yet . . . I was frankly horrified when I read what Falwell said, and am really gratified that Piper is going on record in challenge to Falwell.  I'm grateful also for others of lesser fame who are raising a prophetic voice on the topic.  It's often difficult (perhaps especially for Anabaptists?) to get exactly the right balance of truth-telling and respectful dialog.  Kudos to those who make the effort.


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