John, get your gun...

Error message

(NOTE: “Johnny” is a diminutive of “John.” After titling this piece, it occurred to me that using the title “Johnny get your gun” would be seen as disrespectful, so I’ve changed it to “John, get your gun.” I respect John Piper and apologize for a title that didn’t show proper respect for him.)

The Reformed church has been all atwitter over John Piper’s response to Jerry Falwell encouraging the students of his Baptist college to get a gun and help protect the campus against armed attack. John tells his readers that he talked with Jerry before writing him up. Then, he frames his response to Jerry this way: 

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.

Of course, this is an uncharitable summary of President Falwell’s position since no one carrying a gun on Liberty’s campus is primarily concerned about himself. Christians don’t carry guns because they don’t want to be killed themselves, but because they want to be faithful to defend others—particularly women and children. This is our calling as Christian men. We defend the innocent and defenseless. It would have been more kind for John to phrase it this way: “I have the power to defend my sisters in Christ here in my holster, so don’t mess with them!”

(Henry Holsters are the superb work of a member of our church, Andrew Henry. Buy one.)

I haven’t read any of the responses to John’s anti-gun piece except Doug Wilson’s. Doug makes a good point when he begins his defense of John this way...

Now this all comes from John Piper being so d___n controversial. John is a friend, but if I have said it to him once I have said it to him a hundred times, “John, you shouldn’t be so controversial. You should try to be more mild and soft-spoken. Try to imitate my mellow groove.”

Of course Doug is joking. Friends of John know that John is not “controversial,” but “mild and soft-spoken," and one might say John invented the pastoral “mellow groove.” What Doug wrote is funny precisely because John is non-controversial and non-confrontational. I’ve walked through a major public conflict with John and talked with him about another conflict he gave himself to, but conflict does not define his life and ministry. Quite the opposite, as Doug points out.

This fact commends John's piece against guns because it shows John’s consistency. Pacifism is his lifestyle and it has nothing to do with guns. John writes against guns out of his lifetime commitment to, as he thinks of it, turning the other cheek. This is the “heart-attitude” he believes honors our Lord, so his condemnation of Christians who carry guns is natural. It should be noted John's condemnation isn't universal, since near the end he writes, "I would be very slow to condemn a person who chose differently from me."

John and Doug Wilson are of a generation quite different from those younger than us because John, Doug, and I each had to make a choice whether to serve in the military or take a draft deferment. We came of age during the Viet Nam War, so this issue of guns has never been hypothetical to us. Either we registered for the draft or, like my cousin Robert DeWalt, we refused to register and went to federal prison. If we registered, we then decided whether to claim "conscientious objector" status. Finally, if we registered and did not claim conscientious objector (CO) status, we then decided whether to serve or to take an end run by losing lots of weight (the path chosen by one of my work colleagues at Tyndale House), going to college or seminary, or claiming some other deferment.

Doug served. He was a submariner in the Navy and this explains a lot of Doug's gifts for ministry, especially his loyalty to fellow (pastoral) combatants and his innate understanding that true pastoral ministry is never risk averse and never chooses peace over protecting the sheep and God's Truth.

So far as I know, John didn't serve and I'm guessing he registered with the Selective Service without claiming CO status.

I registered with the Selective Service, but claimed CO status because I was a pacifist. My pacifist convictions didn't start when I registered, but a few years earlier through a set of circumstances I won't bother to explain, here. Even those circumstances, though, came out of a family context.

Dad was raised Presbyterian. His doctrinal commitments were typical of Reformed Protestants. He warned his sons not to get our theology from C. S. Lewis, directing us to Charles Hodge. Yet, when it came to the Viet Nam War, he was against it and minced no words in opposing his alma mater's mandatory ROTC program. I remember his column in Eternity calling out his friend, Hudson Armerding (President of Wheaton and himself a former Navy man) for requiring Wheaton's male students to take ROTC courses.

Growing up, we were not allowed to play with guns of any sort, including water pistols, nor were we permitted to play with kids on our block who themselves played with toy guns. My Dad was neither an Anabaptist nor a pacifist. Yet he was similar to John Piper in thinking Christians should have nothing to do with guns.

Doug Wilson and I are the same age. We had draft lottery numbers, but it was the tail end of the Viet Nam War so neither of us were in any danger of killing or dying there. John is older, though, and that made all the difference. Men his age—many men his age—went to Viet Nam and died.

A few years after registering as a CO because of my pacifist commitments (my father-in-law, Ken Taylor, remained a pacifist all his life), I repented of my pacifism and have regretted my claim of CO status ever since. It happened this way.

One night I was visiting my sister, Deborah, who was teaching in the inner city in Chicago. As we walked down the stairs behind the three story apartment house where she lived, a man who rented the apartment directly beneath her came out on the staircase and began harassing Deborah. I was on the landing below them and turned around to help. The man was getting aggressive and I warned him to stop and leave my sister alone. He paid no attention and grew increasingly hostile. I began climbing the stairs toward him and warned him again, more severely this time. At that moment, this thought went through my brain: if this man lays a finger on my dear sister, I will attack him. In fact, I will kill him if that's what is required to assure the safety of dear Deborah.

At that same moment I realized I was no longer a pacifist and it came to me that God made me a man for such a moment as this. Since then I've only grown in my commitment to this newfound duty of my sex.

A few years later I was at a conference listening to Chuck Colson and found his phrasing very helpful. He said the Christian man values God's gift of life so highly that he's willing to kill and to die in defense of it.

Well said.

The Christian man loves life and so he's willing to die in defense of his wife and children, his fatherland, and his neighbor. Better love has no man than this—that a man gives up his life for his friend. Does it matter whether the attacker is an aggressive man in the flat below and his hatred is directed towards my sister or a jihadist sent by Islam to kill the students of Liberty or Bethlehem Baptist colleges?

Not at all. Love requires laying down our life for our wife, mother, aged father, son, daughter; or for our defenseless sister in Christ walking across the quad to each lunch in the cafeteria.

So what about Jesus' command to turn the other cheek?

Three responses: first, it's one thing to choose to allow a predator to kill me and not defend myself. I have this freedom and many Christians have chosen to die a martyr's death. God has received glory from each precious drop of blood they have shed. May I be faithful to give up my life if I am the one under attack, and not my wife, my grandchildren, or God's people including nursing mothers in the cry room. Turning the other cheek when we are the only one under attack gives us no right to abdicate our responsibility to defend the aged, women, children, and the flock of God. As men, we are to confess our sex by following our fathers Abram and Job in breaking the jaw of the wicked and yanking his prey from his bloody mouth. We are to confess our sex by giving up our lives in defense of our bride just as Jesus Christ gave Himself up for His Bride, the Church.

Second, I'm quite certain John does not consider the command to turn the other cheek an absolute. In the same sermon in which Jesus commands us to turn the other cheek, He also tells us not to take oaths:

Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, "you shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord." But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is "the city of the great king." Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your statement be, "Yes, yes" or "No, no"; anything beyond these is of evil. (Matthew 5:33-37)

And again:

You have heard that it was said, "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth." But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42)

In his interpretation and application of these commands from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, I'm sure John is no consistent anabaptist. Surely he's taken vows at his ordination and wedding ceremony. Also that he locks the doors of his house, his car, and the doors of Bethlehem Baptist Church. Also that he doesn't give his shirt and coat to every beggar he runs into. Yet I'm also sure John is a man of his word and I know he is generous to those in need.

Finally, although I have no direct knowledge of it, I'm also pretty sure John goes to church surrounded by men who are carrying guns and are trained and committed to using those guns to protect the women and children of Bethlehem Baptist Church.

That's as it should be. There's likely no megachurch in our country (except perhaps a Mennonite congregation in Lancaster, Pennsylvania) whose insurance carrier does not require the church to hire men to patrol their premises when women and children are present. So every large church now has security officers or off-duty police officers carrying guns who are ready to use them in protection of the women and children of the church.

Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!