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John Piper and Guns

Today I must strenuously disagree with John Piper. I’ve disagreed with him before, but never like this. In most other disagreements, I’ve at least had some empathy with his position. In this case, I have none; his logic is badly flawed.

If it was almost anyone else, I’d probably ignore it; but John Piper has a following of bloggers who run to their keyboards every time he moves, gasping breathlessly at the profundity of his latest twitch. So I expect to see his latest statement spread virally all over the blogosphere in this and following weeks. In fact, I’m seeing it start already, and it was only posted this morning (it’s Sunday as I write this). And, though his sentiments are noble, I think they are completely wrong-headed, and deserve a rebuttal.

I’m referring to his statement on the Desiring God blog concerning the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the 2nd Amendment was properly (though narrowly) upheld.

Dr. Piper made no statement on the court’s decision per se. His statement addressed why he would not use a gun to defend his home, and expressed his hope that no one else would, either. He used, as his example, Jim Elliot and his fellow missionaries, who chose not to defend themselves against the spears of their attackers because “The natives are not ready for heaven. We are.”

I tend to believe that those young missionaries made the right choice. However, I don’t believe their reasoning applies in the vast majority of home-defense situations. My reasons are as follows (none of them would have applied in the jungles of Ecuador):

Piper’s goal of saving the lives of those who “are not ready for heaven,” though noble, is myopic and misdirected. It would be better served by doing whatever is necessary to stop the violent criminals who kill them.

Postscript: That was to be the end of this post, but a couple of additional points have crossed my mind.

Addendum: James White addresses this issue in I Beg To Differ, Brother Piper. Dr. White takes a more wide-angle view than I did. Although the comments section of this post has taken in more, my intention was to focus on Dr. Piper’s single expressed reason for sparing the intruder, i.e., that he is “not ready for heaven” (in case you didn’t get that).

Posted 2008·06·30 by David Kjos
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#1 || 08·06·30··08:27 || John R.

Piper is dead wrong. If he thinks I'm going to leave my children at the mercy of some psycho, he's lost his mind. Maybe he's read too much from Ben Witherington. But I had no idea that Piper was a de facto pacifist.

I like and respect Piper, but I don't understand where this extremist position comes from. It is not demanded by the New Testament. There are times to fight and times to die. Piper's statement about leaving his family vulnerable is very troubling to me. It has nothing to do with Jim Elliot's correct decision for his particular calling.

#2 || 08·06·30··10:07 || brooke

No one has quoted Scripture in these arguments. But I do know that Piper seemed to have felt the same when his four boys were home. And he actually still has a daughter in the home.

You may believe your arguments do not apply to Elliot and his friends ... but they would certainly apply to the people who are persecuted as believers in other countries ... would you say they should also defend themselves when beaten in China, North Korea, Eritrea and Muslim countries the world over because those people will only go on to hurt someone else in the jail who is "not ready for heaven"? And yet, the stories are of officers coming to the Lord through being loved in return/prayed for/blessed ... and of others who hear of and see what happened coming to a saving knowledge of Christ because of the believer's strength to not return what was given. We don't argue based on someone's past and future capabilities of sin in our Christian response (and I don't mean governmental punishment ... but I do mean our day-to-day Christlike responsibility).

Not defending oneself is truly leaving oneself in the hands of God. It is not allowing evil to go unchecked. It is extremely unbiblical to say that if believers don't react in retaliation rather than obeying Scripture, God's hands are tied to defeat evil. Now, I don't have all the answers to this, I don't know really where I stand on the issue of self-defense. I was never raised as a pacifist and we are raising four boys ... so this is an issue that is difficult to understand for us. But I do know that Jesus does tell us to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, to pray for our enemies, to bless, to not return evil for evil, to leave room for the wrath of God, to give a soft answer,... It tells us that anyone would be willing to die for a good man ... but who is there righteous enough willing to die for an evil man? Now there are some verses that would have to be gotten around before determining that the righteous thing to do would be to point and shoot first ... who cares about God's design or commands?

As for Elliot ... well, those Indians who killed him and his missionary buddies ... they fell exactly into every category you listed. The Indians had killed in the past those who were "not ready for heaven." They would easily go on to kill those who were "not ready for heaven." The threat of guns could definitely have subdued them out of fear (because they have gone on to say they killed out of fear), and could have caused them to expect weapons from other visitors to their region. They in all likelihood expected the missionaries to be armed, but were not stopped. Sacrificing their lives allowed those Indians to live on capable of killing others "not ready for heaven." Instead, Elliot's own wife, Saint's own sister, Elliot's own daughter ... went to show Christ's love to them. Saint's own children were baptized by the believers of the same tribe. The fruit of these men's choices and their family's choices afterwards was amazing. Here they were, in the same situation you described in trying to say they were NOT in the same circumstance ... they reacted the opposite of what you recommend ... and their fruit is likley the opposite of what we would humanly expect.

(not that I have an answer in this difficult topic ... but I certainly don't fall categorically on one side of this argument without reading scripture)

#3 || 08·06·30··10:32 || John R.


I agree with you that the issue is not simple. But let me put it in the concept of masculinity. Are not two of the responsibilities of a man to protect and to provide for his family?

There are OT precedents/principles to consider as well. (Not direct carry-overs to our day, but principles...)

There is a difference in taking persecution for oneself for the sake of Christ and in the name of the faith.

But I believe it would be immoral to leave the helpless and defenseless at the mercy of madmen. Just look at the movies that are made today on the extreme of violence. For those who wish to act out that way, I believe the smell of gunpowder should be what greets them when they prey on the innocent.

I firmly believe it is immoral not to defend your children.

#4 || 08·06·30··10:42 || Daniel

It seems a pretty slippery slope to me. How much self defense is acceptable/godly? Can we lock our doors at night? Can we have unlisted phone numbers. How far do we stretch, "I am going to heaven so I will not provide security for myself or my family in any way" ??

I mean, if we are saying that there is some biblical warrant for a "level three" defense, is a "level four" defense too carnal?

I haven't been following this, and frankly, if it is just Piper's opinion or personal preference, I have nothing to say about it except that if he is pleased in his opinion, I am by no means offended by it. But if he is suggesting that the bible teaches us that it is un-Christian to defend ourselves, I should like to learn how deep that rabbit hole goes.

#5 || 08·06·30··10:51 || Mrs. Damian Garcia

I read or heard a message by Mike Pearl that really settled it for me. He said that in the name of Jesus he would not fight. If someone punched him because of sharing the Gospel then he would not strike back. But on the other hand when he came across a woman being raped in the woods he didn't hesitate to shot the rapist either. To stand by while evil is being done is wrong. The Bible says to protect those that can not protect themselves.

If someone breaks into my home I certainly will defend my family, to the death if I have to. But, in the name of Jesus, I will try my best to turn the other cheek. I can't say I would absolutely because I am human and tend to react to violence with violence. For our family, that settles it.

And I agree with you. It is immoral to not defend our children. I couldn't look my child in the eye knowing I did nothing while they were being raped or beaten.

#6 || 08·06·30··11:18 || David


OK, no one has quoted Scripture; let me be the first:

Luke 22:35 And He said to them, "When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?" They said, "No, nothing." 36 And He said to them, "But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one."

I wonder why Jesus said that. I suppose they might have needed swords for cutting their food, eh? Or maybe for opening envelopes.

Self-defense is preventative, not retaliatory. And retaliation is what the admonition to "turn the other cheek" addresses.

The notion that there is no difference between the savages who killed those missionaries and a criminal breaking into my house and threatening my family is baffling. The differences are striking. Here are just a couple:

  • The indians didn't come to the missionaries homes bent on mischief; the missionaries went to their world, knowing full well it might end badly.
  • Shooting the indians would not have had the same deterrent effect. It would only have put them in fear of future visits from white men. The others would have gone on with their lives as before. (And, I dare say, the knowledge that other tribes were armed was already a deterrent to conflict between them. So there's a similarity for you.)

Anyway, to get back to my original point, Piper's motive is good; but it isn't well served by his pacifism, and his pacifism is not required by Scripture.

#7 || 08·06·30··12:36 || Shannon

I'm a BBC member and it always amazes me what I find in the blogosphere when Pastor John says something. I don't really think this was much more than a passing observation. He wasn't making some long, eloquent speech about how we should all put away our guns and leave our children to the mercy of evil. (In fact, in his sermon series on marriage, he suggested that the man of the house better get up and lay the smack down on any intruder - even if his wife has a black belt in karate!).

It's his opinion, he's allowed to have it. :)

#8 || 08·06·30··13:49 || Tom

I respect Piper's decision but I don't agree with it. A person who comes into my house knowing that my family and I are home intends to do harm to us. It is my job to protect my family by whatever means necessary. I will not hesitate to defend my family with force if the need arises.

#9 || 08·06·30··15:35 || David


Now that you mention it, I think I've heard him say that. My first impression of this latest statement was that it was born of an emotional impulse, and not too well thought out. Nevertheless, he did say it, and since he is very influential and gravely wrong, I thought it good to rebut it.

#10 || 08·06·30··15:38 || Bike Bubba

Shannon, drive past a typical men's prison during exercise time and tell me that the typical cubicle dweller like myself is going to be able to "lay the smackdown" on one of those guys without a little help from Mssrs. Smith and Wesson, or at least without "home security by Purina"--especially considering that a large number of home intruders are packing as well.

The reality is that your pastor has missed here what the book of Judges well notes as the shame of Israel at times; there was not a sword, spear, or shield to be found in all Israel. God didn't tell Israel to "lay the smackdown" on Midianite invaders with fisticuffs. He told them that from about age 20 to 50, they were to provide themselves with arms.

#11 || 08·06·30··19:42 || Rachael

I do wonder whether arguments along these lines are more "cultural" than a "christian issue"

Not being American I have noticed the tendency to equate American culture with Christian culture. This is a complete non-issue in my country. I have certainly never heard of anyone owning a firearm to protect their family.

Just a thought....

#12 || 08·06·30··22:25 || David


You haven't heard of it most likely because it isn't allowed in your country. Cultures whose individual right to self-defense has been taken away become conditioned to depend on police protection, even though it is ineffectual. And so they say, as you have, that owning a gun has never even occured to them, because it hasn't. What one generation neglects, the next forgets.

#13 || 08·07·01··04:12 || Andrew

And therein, David, lies another whole issue- what are our "rights"? We must be careful about viewing our Christian "rights" by virteu of our cultural "rights."

#14 || 08·07·01··07:24 || Kelly

Thanks for posting your thoughts on this post. I can't say that I didn't have them as well.

#15 || 08·07·01··07:39 || Mark

Andrew - that is a philosophical discussion, but I would say that Scripture quite clearly paints a picture of the "natural rights" which all human beings possess, but which tyrannical governments run by fallen men frequently seek to restrict or obliterate. Among those being one of the most fundamental - the right to defend yourself against an aggressor.

I wonder what Piper would say to those who serve in military service. Are they allowed to act in defense of themselves - or more importantly of others? Or are they to simply go into combat unarmed and let the enemy shoot them because they are ready for heaven and the enemy most likely isn't?

Brooke -
Your scriptural references there need to be addressed, and I don't have time right now to do justice to your objections, but I do wish to make a couple of comments. Hopefully I'll have some time later to come back and say more.

You have taken the passages about our response to the evil of others out of context. I do not say that to suggest you are doing it on purpose - most people today do that. This is the single most prevailing view of those passages. So I can't fault you for holding it.

However, you must understand the cultural context in which Christ said those words. There was a specific meaning behind striking a person on the cheek, in terms of a slave/master relationship. To turn the /other/ cheek would require them to strike you in such a way as to treat you as an equal. It would demean them to strike you again.

In those days, a roman soldier was allowed to (and frequently did) force you to carry his equipment for 1 mile. But that was the limit. By going with him two miles voluntarily you would cause him embarrassment and potentially trouble with the law.

Each of the things Christ lists carry cultural weight which shows an often non-violent response to aggressive, but non-violent actions against you. It is not a command to be a footstool for the wicked.

I do agree with the poster above regarding when and how and why we act in self-defense, and particularly excluding persecution for the sake of Christ. I don't believe that we can't do anything (see Paul's objections on the grounds he was a Roman citizen to flogging at their hands) but we should not respond in violence to it.

#16 || 08·07·01··07:49 || John R.


I continue to appreciate John Piper, but I disagree with him on this point. He did make a public exhortation not to use stimulus checks to buy guns. I uphold his right to his own opinion...and mine to respond.

Concerning the intruder: If it is the man's job to put a smackdown on an intruder, he be better make the smackdown potentially fatal. What's the difference between breaking someone's neck and shooting him?

I'm amazed at how twisted and evil our culture becomes. I have no assurance that an intruder simply wants my TV. If I knew that was all he wanted, I'd give him my DVD player too.

But I have no such assurance.

Smackdowns or bullets. Its all the same.

John made a sincere mistake concerning a very emotional issue.

I'm going to move on and continue to listen to the Desiring God podcasts! :)

#17 || 08·07·01··08:36 || David


We possess both natural rights (to do that which we were designed to do, and that which God has commanded us to do) and legal rights. In the United States, the right to self-defense is not only natural, but legal. So I am not confusing actual rights with cultural rights. And I am not primarily saying that it is my right to defend my home, but that it is right to do so, i.e., my duty.

#18 || 08·07·01··08:37 || Ruth

Does anybody remember what it said in the Bible about Paul taking a beating from the Romans even though it was against the law to flog him because he was a Roman? As far as I remember, he decided to not tell them about his rights as a Roman citizen and to take the flogging.

At another time he decided to prevent a flogging by letting them know about his citizenship... I am sure he had his reasons.

It is up to each man's conscience.

I like the above comment that Brooke left...

#19 || 08·07·01··08:56 || David

All these references to Paul are interesting and relevant to our dealing with the law and suffering for the sake of the gospel, but they have nothing to do with defending our homes.

To repeat what I've already said, this is not primarily about rights, but about right.

#20 || 08·07·01··12:23 || Bike Bubba

Ruth, remember what Paul did the day after the flogging? He reminded the jailers of his citizenship--terrifying them.

I'm not particularly convinced he had much say in whether he'd accept the flogging or not, but he certainly did point to his rights as a citizen after it had been administered.

#21 || 08·07·01··13:44 || David

Read James White's rebuttal. It addresses the questions coming up here.

#22 || 08·07·09··14:13 || Victoria Lynch

I really do love your reasoned out argument for home protection! Many times I have prayed about what I would do if an intruder broke in and meant to rob or kill us, or both.
At the risk of being soundly rebuked by many-I have to admit that I have a loaded 20 gauge shotgun in my bedroom, and I know how to use it.
I feel pretty sure I would use it--that is after I prayed!

#23 || 08·07·09··17:13 || David

Victoria, I will certainly think twice before breaking into your house.

#24 || 08·07·14··04:23 || Wes

If you have any doubts about 2nd amendment, consider Canada, where we don't have it.

Google 'Caledonia', 'Oka' or 'Burnt Church', and see a few of the standoffs between one (very well armed) sub-set of the population [which group is secondary, the dynamic would be the same even if some other group did it], the legitimate government, and the beseiged *unarmed* property owners caught in the middle.

If the property owners were equally armed, such uprisings would not be so boldly undertaken.

#25 || 08·10·31··19:50 || Brent

I agree with Piper almost all the time but not here. I think his mind is so wrapped up in theological and spiritual ideas that he forgets the practical day to day life we have to and are called to live in. We live by faith but we use the physical realm and the means before us to carry out His will. God chooses to work through us as well as beyond us. When he works through us it is through the physical limitations and clashes of wills that we humans have. We come to blows with one another. We confront intruders and foreign armies and evil men. God has called us all to be willing to die when appropriate and to fight when appropriate.

Dietrich Bonheoffer too was a pacifist until he decided it was his duty to assassinate Hitler! Not only self-defense but assassinates! And rightly so!
What about when God had Elijah slay the prophets of Bale or Joshua defeating his enemies or David and Goliath. It does not break faith or go against God to use violent force. Sometimes God demands it. Our country, full of freedoms (including freedom of religion) was born out of God directing men with guns to fight.

Piper's phrase "live by the gun and die by the gun," is over simplified. To own a gun and even perhaps use it is not living by the gun. Living by the gun is to put all your faith in that gun. We put our faith in God but sometime God might require us to use a tool (this time a gun.)

God gave us the Second Amendment! That amendment safeguards all the rest of them. To not use this amendment weakens all the other rights we all have. In a world of no rights many will not be given the chance to hear the Gospel. An armed society is a polite society and a free society. A free society has the ground for the gospel to grow. All these things are tools for the gospel!

#26 || 08·11·04··14:44 || will hapeman

I want to do this right, so I practice with my guns and bible a lot. I live in a rural area, it takes state police 11/2 hours to get to my area after dark. It takes the ambulance 30 to 45 min to crew and arrive. My goal is to preach to a disarmed individual. If the intruder disarms himself that is good, if I have to do it he may need to hold pressure on the wound. Smart intruders will get the 1/12 hour sermon, fools the short version.
Anybody remember the wound Martin Luther gave himself with a sword?

#27 || 09·03·14··11:31 || John


I appreciate your desire to defend your pastor. However, he chose to publish his ideas online. Therefore others are well within their rights to engage and even to criticize his ideas.

BTW, I happen to be among those who think what Piper wrote on this issue is dead wrong. A man who won't defend his wife and children from criminals to the point of being willing to use deadly force should not consider himself to be prolife for he has de facto chosen not to defend innocent life.

#28 || 09·03·22··01:24 || Chris Ashton

Only in America would a man like John Piper be called a "de facto pacifist" and accused of holding an "extremist position" (John R. #1) for saying that he would not shoot an intruder and suggesting that Christians should not buy guns with stimulus money.

That is all that Piper said in his blog post. He didn't even suggest that others should not defend their homes with guns (contra the original post).

Piper addresses the claim that he is a pacifist and the questions about police and military service here.

I'm no pacifist either, in fact I'm a former police officer who really enjoys shooting. But I'm also live in Australia where it is illegal to own a gun for self defence, unless you are a security guard or law enforcement officer, and even then, they are not permitted to bring their firearm home under normal circumstances. And I don't think that's a bad thing.

The most disturbing aspect of this whole conversation is that there are way too many reformed Christians in America who think that their American-ness depends on their gun ownership, and that their so-called right is a gift from God.

And finally, the America-as-God's-chosen-people attitudes really should stop among reformed Christians. The "God gave us the second amendment" comment (Mark, #25) is only applicable as far as God also gave you Roe v. Wade.

#29 || 09·03·22··08:48 || David


Let me see if I've got this straight. You're not a pacifist, but you think it's good that the general population is forced, by law, into pacifism. That's a bit confusing.

Piper absolutely did suggest that others should not defend their homes with guns. What other point could there be? He was clearly saying that the criminal that breaks in is not "ready for heaven," so don't shoot him.

As for the "God gave us the second amendment" comment, that's the kind of exuberant comment Americans sometimes make, particularly those who like to see the flag in church (I don't, and I'm not suggesting the commenter in question does). America-as God's-chosen-people is not really a Reformed-American idea. Look to the fundy Baptists for that. But we Americans love our liberty, and I make no apology for that. We do believe our Constitutional Republic is a superior form of government, and though we will always be considered arrogant for saying so, I make no apology for that, either. That doesn't mean we are God's chosen people, or superior as a people. It does mean we have been especially blessed.

Comparing the providence of the Second Amendment (or any part of our Constitution) to that of Roe v. Wade is ridiculous. Yes, God sovereignly ordained both, but that in no way makes them equal or equivalent. One is good, the other bad; one a blessing, the other a curse. And as law, one is Constitutional, and therefore foundational, sound law, while the other is unconstitutional and therefore illegal.

Comments on this post are closed. If you have a question or comment concerning this post, feel free to email me.