John Piper, Liberty University, and Guns: My Response

David Burchard Christian Ethics, Politics

Note: This was the first article published on The Vidette, my blog from 2015 to 2020. While I would change some of the details of the argument today, the basic premise, that Christians should use violence to protect others, even to the point of killing assailants, still stands today. I leave the article largely unedited as a record of the argument made at the time.

Many have watched the video clip of Jerry Falwell Jr. speaking at Liberty University’s Convocation following the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, CA. In the clip, Falwell Jr. criticizes President Obama’s call for more gun control; and he actually encourages Liberty students to get a gun and a concealed carry permit so that they can protect each other in the event of a terrorist attack on campus. The relevant clip can be viewed here.

He spoke further on the topic on The Sean Hannity Show, the segment viewable here.

At the following Liberty Convocation, Falwell Jr. took further time to expound on his remarks, which can be seen here.

John Piper wrote a 9-point response to what Falwell Jr. said. This response was published both at Desiring God and on the Washington Post’s website.

Not surprisingly, Piper’s article has been shared a lot. And his voice among many young Christians is a persuasive one. For some reason, someone wanted my thoughts on what Piper wrote. So here is my response to John Piper. I do not comb through every detail of what Piper writes. Rather, I have sought to identify the crux of Piper’s article and respond to that.

I recognize that Christians are going to take different stances on this issue. But let me state clearly: just because there are different views on an issue held by true Christians does not mean that we lack the ability to discern the correct position. It does mean that there can be respect for those with whom one disagrees. It is from that understanding that we have to have this conversation.

And so allow me to express my immense respect for John Piper. God has used him uniquely in my life. That said, this is not one of his finest articles. In it, he muddies the issue, instead of clarifying it, by talking past Falwell Jr. and others like him. I don’t believe for a second that he does this intentionally; but he does it all the same.

Piper identifies his primary concern with Falwell Jr.’s comments at Liberty’s Chapel, “And let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.” His concern is: “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.”

Piper has framed his article very persuasively, but incorrectly. He holds up in contrast the disposition of someone wearing a policeman’s hat or soldier’s hat and the disposition of someone wearing a Christian hat. I think the relevant question at hand is what should be the disposition of someone, an adult, wearing the American citizen hat. Institutional thinking leads us to ask who is authorized to do what? The question then is, “What is the responsible conduct, what is in fact the duty, of an American citizen in the defense of others against Muslim terrorism?” Because the Bible doesn’t encourage separatism (the belief, held by Mennonites and other Anabaptist groups, that because a Christian is a citizen in heaven he is not to actively engage as a citizen of any earthly kingdom, and therefore should not vote, hold public office, serve in the military, etc.), a Christian adult actually needs to ask this question. He needs to wear the citizen hat, and wear it well.

Piper writes, “The apostle Paul called Christians not to avenge ourselves, but to leave it to the wrath of God, and instead to return good for evil. And then he said that God gave the sword (the gun) into the hand of governmental rulers to express that wrath in the pursuit of justice in this world.”

Again, Piper holds up two ideas in contrast, two ideas that are indeed true, that miss the mark in bringing clarity to the conversation. Falwell Jr. is not talking about revenge. He is talking about the defense of oneself and others around you who are vulnerable when confronted by a jihadist attack or a malevolent campus shooter. Revenge is a distinct action.

Piper throughout shows himself to be missing the conversation, asserting that, “The early church, as we see her in Acts, expected and endured persecution without armed resistance, but rather with joyful suffering, prayer, and the word of God.” College campus security against the threat of jihad is not a question of Christian persecution. It is a question of what do American citizens do when a group has declared war and is acting on that declaration.

Regarding the 8th point of his article, trusting that the Bible does answer our questions on what to believe and how to act, I am convinced that Scripture calls the Christian to a pro-life disposition. And so, I would kill a man, without any moral qualms, for seeking to kill my wife. Sometimes to save life, life must be taken. That has nothing to do with revenge; it has everything to do with biblical manhood and a holy anger against life-taking sin. As a man before God I must act to lead, provide for, and protect the women in my life and those in my care. That is my duty. I do not want to kill an assailant in my home. But if he does not want to be killed, he should stay out of my home.

Piper has been a major Bible teacher to me in life. I so deeply appreciate his zeal for the glory of God and his insistent aim for consistency in belief and practice. But I do disagree with him here. His article is packed with wonderful truths of which Christians need to be reminded. But in his primary point, as a response to the primary argument made by Falwell Jr., Piper is dead wrong.