How Should Christians Use Guns?

John Piper sparked a firestorm with his recent article Should Christians Be Encouraged to Arm Themselves? Piper’s article was a response to Jerry Falwell Jr., who has encouraged the students at Liberty University to secure permits to carry guns. I appreciated Piper’s attempt to answer a difficult question, and equally appreciated some of the measured and helpful responses from those who disagreed with him. What follows is a summary of some of the points he made along with some of the major points of three people who interacted with and (tactfully) disagreed with him: Steven Wedgeworth, Bob Thune and Douglas Wilson.

Here is Piper’s big point in his own words:

My main concern in this article is with the appeal to students that stirs them up to have the mindset: Let’s all get guns and teach them a lesson if they come here. The concern is the forging of a disposition in Christians to use lethal force, not as policemen or soldiers, but as ordinary Christians in relation to harmful adversaries.

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. 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.

In response to this, Steven Wedgeworth writes, “This is a good way to approach the issue and a very important one for the average pastor to be able to consider. An eagerness to shed blood is anti-biblical and a real temptation in our contemporary culture. But Dr. Piper’s declaration that he is not “primarily” interested in self-defense falls flat when he goes on to directly address self-defense and tie it in to a larger theological framework of sacrifice and exile.” Several others noted roughly the same thing, that Piper says he is attempting to deal with a limited and defined point, but actually goes significantly wider than that. Much of the disagreement comes from these wider points.

Wedgeworth goes on to offer these three critiques:

1. “Piper’s argument is biblicistic and dependent upon a specific understanding of the relationship between the New Testament and the Old.” [For a definition of biblicism, click here and scroll down to the heading Biblicism.]

2. “Piper confuses self-sacrifice with the protection of others.”

3. “Piper’s essay is actually a very confusing piece of argument.”

He concludes by saying, “[Piper’s] logic is badly confused, as he fails to distinguish between the spiritual and temporal realms, misunderstands the civic role of the family, and conflates the question of preservation of life with vengeance and bloodlust in general. Thus, he is unable to offer any sort of corrective and may actually give a cure that is worse than the disease.”

Later in his article, Piper writes, “[A]ny claim that in a democracy the citizens are the government, and therefore may assume the role of the sword-bearing ruler in Romans 13, is elevating political extrapolation over biblical revelation. When Paul says, ‘[The ruler] does not bear the sword in vain’ (Romans 13:4), he does not mean that Christians citizens should all carry swords so the enemy doesn’t get any bright ideas.”

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Tim Challies
Tim Challies, a self-employed web designer, is a pioneer in the Christian blogosphere, having one of the most widely read and recognized Christian blogs. He is also editor of Discerning Reader, a site dedicated to offering thoughtful reviews of books that are of interest to Christians.