So yesterday John Piper posted an article in response to Jerry Falwell Jr.
From all the responding blog posts and social media comments that I’ve run across, I think he ruffled some feathers. For my part, I loved the article and so much of what I love about Piper’s ministry comes out in it (like the fact that he personally emailed and then talked to Jerry Falwell Jr before he wrote the article to get clarity). I have so many thoughts but here are just a few
(1) I appreciate Piper’s thesis statement and completely agree with it.
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. – Piper
The key words there are “heart-attitude”. He’s addressing what God cares about most – “heart-attitude” and what “tenor” and “focus” and “demeanor” the “New Testament” speaks of in the Christian life. That is, at the heart of it, is the Christian life a call to safety or sacrifice? At the heart of it, does Jesus present a life of calm or of suffering? At the heart of it, does the new covenant encourage us with hopes of in-this-life intervention or reward in the one to come. At the heart of it, does the scripture work us towards preoccupation of long life or does it work us towards preoccupation of doing whatever it takes to bring people into the kingdom of God?
(2) I appreciate Piper’s approach to the topic. Take what the bible gives and deal with it. Don’t scrub it. Live in it’s ambiguities if that’s where it ends you.
This instinct is understandable. But it seems to me that the New Testament resists this kind of ethical reduction, and does not satisfy our demand for a yes or no on that question. We don’t like this kind of ambiguity, but I can’t escape it. There is, as I have tried to show, a pervasive thrust in the New Testament pushing us toward blessing and doing good to those who hate, curse, and abuse us (Luke 6:27–28). And there is no direct dealing with the situation of using lethal force to save family and friend, except in regards to police and military. This is remarkable when you think about it, since I cannot help but think this precise situation presented itself, since we read that Saul drug men and women bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1–2).
At the end of the day, we have to wrestle with all that the scriptures have to say. Hot social topics should be addressed like any theological issue – thoroughly biblical. So when I read an article like this and I feel push back in my heart, the challenge before me is not to ignore all these verses and find one or two other ones that supports my thoughts. The challenge to being a follower of Jesus, submitted to his word, is to ask what is God saying through all of these together. Doing this carefully and honestly helps form main thesis on topics and keeps the fringe situations exceptions rather than main points.
(3) I appreciate Piper’s pressing of heart sin. This is where I think the gospel is so ridiculous. For example, when Piper says the below, is he speaking from reality and biblical truth?
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.
My first reaction to Piper’s statement is “Wow, that’s crazy.” But on reflection, here’s what I know. I know that it’s possible to do the right thing in life and have a wrong heart while doing the right thing. It’s possible to be right in calling the police for safety but be wrong in that while I’m calling the police …
- … I don’t pray
- … I don’t believe God sees my situations or that He cares
- … I get so caught up in the moment I start to say things that are at it’s root unethical
- … All I care about is justice and there’s no mixture of compassion or love
I have never been in the situation Piper is addressing, that of an assailant against my wife. But I have been in situations where I have been wronged, and in doing what was the right thing in response, I did it with a wrong heart. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have done what I did, but it does mean I still have to wrestle with how I did it. And of course, while I want to believe that God would only cares about my right action, I know and am often confronted the fact that He also cares, deeply cares, about my heart in the response.
I’m convinced the bible creates no space in life, nor moment in time, where God’s demand for me to reflect His character in totality is lessened. I see this, for example, in the fact that while God executes justice, he also declares of himself
Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord GOD, – Eze 18:23
The implication then is – actions are not all that’s at stake. Heart matters. Attitude matters.
A Final Thought
In topics like this, it helps me to process it through my fatherhood. That is, when all is said and done, when my kids stand over my grave, or more telling, when they stand before the throne of Jesus, will their testimony of my discipling of them be :
“Dad taught me to give people what they had coming to them?”
When I think hard about the cross, all that is within screams no.
That, by the way, doesn’t mean I’m against guns or would never own a gun or might use a gun to protect my family. It does mean that at the deepest level, I want my kids to process all issues of life, to understand “freedom” and “rights” through this lens first and foremost:
“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)