Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary

8 Jan 2016

More Neo-Kuyperian than Biblical?


Back when I was in seminary, one of my professors used to warn us seminarians to be neither “more pious than Paul” nor “more Christian than Christ.” Such a stance might win us halos on earth, but no crowns in glory. This instruction was never more vivid to me than when I read John Piper’s pacifist critique of the Second Amendment.

Piper makes a few helpful points. For instance,

  • He rightly encourages believers not to develop a disposition of violence. Christians should not be a pugnacious people who rabidly seek multiplied occasions for legal expressions of force.
  • He reminds us most helpfully that believers should not be in the revenge business, a point made throughout both testaments of Scripture.
  • He also affirms that the Christian message must never be advanced by means of the sword, noting the damage to the Gospel that has been caused by error in this regard.
  • Finally, Piper makes an excellent case for submitting to religious persecution without violent retaliation.

All good. But here’s the thing. There are other reasons than these for carrying and using a gun—reasons that are biblically commendable. In addition to just war (which is not really the point of the article—Piper allows, it seems, for governments and their duly constituted armies to bear the sword), there is the matter of self defense. To make preparations to defend my life or my family’s in the face of assault or physical threat is not to adopt a “disposition of violence.” Nor is it to sanction revenge. Nor is it an attempt to advance the Gospel by means of the sword. Nor is it an attempt to meet religious persecution with violence. It is the exercise of my God-given obligation to function responsibly in civil society as a good husband, father, neighbor, and citizen. As such, I would argue that almost none of the passages cited by Piper has any bearing at all on our exercise of the constitutional right to bear arms.

One passage, however, Luke 22:35–38, does speak immediately to the issue. It suggests that believers, even in the broad exercise of religious duties, should take necessary precautions to use capital force (a sword) to meet personal violence. In fact, it was Christ’s explicit command that they do so! Christ does add qualifiers: (1) self-defense shouldn’t be an obsession (two swords are fine for a dozen apostles) and (2) capital force in the face of legalized persecution is inappropriate (so vv. 49–51). But for what other reason than self-defense would Christ command his disciples to carry swords, pray tell? To pare their fingernails? I think not.

The problem, I believe, lies in a failure to discern God’s multiplex purpose for the present age—a failure to recognize Calvin’s “two governments of God” (or Luther’s “two kingdoms”)–in lieu of a Neo-Kuyperian merger of all God’s purposes into one monolithic monstrosity. Piper makes clear that there is but one goal for believers in the present age—to advance the Gospel. Anything we do that impedes the Gospel (e.g., in Piper’s article, killing a violent man who is raping my wife and thus cutting off his opportunity to repent and embrace the Gospel) is therefore wrong. This is absurd. The Gospel may be the Church’s mission, but it is not the whole of God’s plan for the universe. God is also concerned for the civil advance of justice, order, peace, and civil society—causes that quite often are achieved only with a sword.

There is “a time to kill and a time to heal,” so says the Preacher. It is impossible, in the name of Christian piety, to eliminate the former and cling only to the latter. The complexity of this issue is much too great for such a simple solution.


8 Responses

  1. Very nice. I was thinking of writing an article called, “A 2K response to Piper,” but never got around to it. You did a better job than I would have (not surprising).

  2. Ralph L. Warren

    Thanks for your well-reasoned article. In a very brief article you eliminated his reasoning while establishing a thoughtful response.
    Well done and much needed!

  3. H. Billings

    Good response BUT what gospel is John Piper ‘advancing’? The ‘Hillsong” gospel? The Beth Moore gospel? The Crowder gospel?

  4. John T. Jeffery

    My responses when I read Dr. Piper’s article:

    I find it passing strange to see a Soviet weapon (Makarov, 9mmx18) that was used by the KGB in the photo, and with the safety off.

    I also find it passing strange that no consideration was given in this article to the transcovenantal incident (not under the theocratic Mosaic covenant) where Abraham defended his relatives and property with a violent armed response, and was blessed by Melchizedek following his slaughter of the armies of Chedorlaomer, and the kings allied with him:

    “And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan. And he divided himself against them, he and his servants, by night, and smote them, and pursued them unto Hobah, which is on the left hand of Damascus. And he brought back all the goods, and also brought again his brother Lot, and his goods, and the women also, and the people. And the king of Sodom went out to meet him after his return from the slaughter of Chedorlaomer, and of the kings that were with him, at the valley of Shaveh, which is the king’s dale. And Melchizedek king of Salem brought forth bread and wine: and he was the priest of the most high God. And he blessed him, and said, Blessed be Abram of the most high God, possessor of heaven and earth: And blessed be the most high God, which hath delivered thine enemies into thy hand. And he gave him tithes of all.” (Genesis 14:14-20; emphasis mine)

    Finally, I find it passing strange that in this article human government is seen as not bound by the same principles that we as individuals are, i.e., the only entity/institution that may utilize the sword in defense is the state, and not the home. The problem with the bulk of the article is that it does not address these issues at all, but focuses on persecution and suffering as Christians. Therefore the civil issues with responses to crime are relegated entirely to the state.

  5. John K

    I think a little more work expositing Luke 22:35-38 would be helpful. The people I have heard address this verse (David Guzik’s commentary being one) indicated that Jesus is not literally talking about the the issue of taking up individual arms. If he is. then, in the most literal sense, every disciple who didn’t have a sword should get one, which means 12 swords (Jesus plus 11 disciples) would be more like it, not just two. Yet in Matthew, Jesus tells Peter “those who live by the sword shall die by the sword” as a rebuke to his actions. It would be helpful to see how you navigate these issues.

  6. Van

    This is dead on. I would add that if the government is to bear the sword, then the state that empowers me to bear the sword or arms and gives a legal framework for defense of self and others is an extension of that.

  7. Lorraine Fiedler

    Great article. Being sensitive to the Holy Spirit in leading us through our lives is the key. Every life circumstance is different, so often, what we should do is not ‘cut and dried’. Being ill prepared is not a wise choice and neither is being so prepared that we forget Who is soverign over every part of our lives.
    Thank you for broaching the subject and cover in it in a commendable way.

  8. Rick

    Well then, if I am not supposed to be more pious than Paul, I find his own particular actions in similar situations to be insightful. Paul did not passively submit to religious persecution. I seem to recall that he crawled into that basket and allowed his friends to lower him down the outside wall of the city. Good thing Paul did not subscribe to Piper’s foolish notions of passivism.