I wish to offer a rejoinder to John Piper’s assertion that Christians should not carry concealed weapons. In a recent post at Desiring God, Piper wrote: “Exhorting the lambs to carry concealed weapons with which to shoot the wolves does not advance the counter-cultural, self-sacrificing, soul-saving cause of Christ.”

His post takes direct aim at Jerry Falwell Jr, who recently urged students at Liberty University to procure their concealed-carry permits and “teach [terrorists] a lesson if they ever show up here.” I don’t know Jerry Falwell, and I’m sure we wouldn’t agree on everything. But here’s how he explained the context behind his statement:

As the president of this university community of nearly 15,000 students and 7,000 faculty and staff, I take very seriously my responsibility to keep you safe in an increasingly dangerous world. That’s why in 2011 I asked our Board of Trustees to consider a concealed carry policy. It wasn’t because of Islamic terrorism, it was because what happened (just) up the road at Virginia Tech. More than 30 innocent students and faculty were murdered viciously and none of them had the ability to protect themselves. The day that happened, I thought we needed to do something different here at Liberty… [We have] 950 here now with concealed carry permits, and after I made those remarks on Friday we had 240 sign up for a course tomorrow night.

I find this eminently reasonable. Here’s a Christian leader, responsible for the safety of thousands of people, urging responsible citizens to act within their legal rights to obtain gun permits in light of a tragic instance of campus violence. Piper sees this as out of step with the New Testament. I see it as profoundly in line with the Christian responsibility to love our neighbors as ourselves. If an active shooter showed up on campus with intent to harm, the loving thing to do would be to take him out before he killed dozens of people.

There’s certainly room for freedom of conscience on this issue. Christians will have differing convictions on the use of lethal force. But the case Piper makes against lethal force is a weak one, and its weaknesses need to be highlighted in order to move the conversation forward. In an age of terrorism where churches and schools are soft targets, Christians need to think more critically about this important matter.

Piper offers nine considerations in support of his thesis. I will advance three critiques that reveal some weaknesses and inadequacies I perceive in Piper’s viewpoint. And I hope to offer all of them in a tone that conveys the eminent respect and esteem I have for Dr. Piper.

1) Piper fails to substantiate his assertion that Romans 13 does not apply to private citizens in a democracy.

Piper writes:

[Any] claim that in a democracy the citizens are the government, and therefore may assume the role of the sword-bearing ruler in Romans 13, is elevating political extrapolation over biblical revelation. When Paul says, “The ruler does not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4), he does not mean that Christian citizens should all carry swords so the enemy doesn’t get any bright ideas.

What does Paul mean, then? Certainly he doesn’t mean that Caesar must personally carry a sword and execute all justice by his own hand. By “the ruler,” we understand Paul to be speaking symbolically of every civil magistrate, and by “the sword,” we understand him to be speaking symbolically of all the various forms of justice that the civil authorities enforce.

Therefore, it is not “political extrapolation” to say that governments may wield fighter jets instead of swords. And neither is it political extrapolation to say that citizens in a democracy may bear arms. This is called biblical application. Romans 13 allows citizens to carry and use weapons as long as their government allows it.

Piper draws a distinction between “policemen or soldiers” using lethal force and “ordinary Christians” using lethal force. But he fails to reckon with the reality that in the United States, a Christian citizen who legally uses deadly force to stop an attacker is a legitimate extension of the government’s sword-wielding power. If God has given the ruler the right to bear the sword… and if the ruler extends to private citizens that right… then where exactly is the extrapolation?

2) Piper fails to meaningfully differentiate persecution from acts of terrorism.

Acts of terrorism can be persecution (for instance, when ISIS militants behead someone for their faith in Christ). But not every terrorist attack equates to biblical persecution. The Christian response to persecution is to patiently endure and prayerfully turn the other cheek (1 Peter 2:19, Matthew 5:44-45). The Christian response to terrorism is to stop the terrorist from killing human beings who are made in God’s image. I agree with Piper that Christians should not carry concealed weapons for the purposes of (in the order of his arguments) 1. avenging ourselves, 2. retaliating for unjust treatment, 3. handling hostility, 4. advancing the Christian cause by force, 5. returning evil for evil, or 6. resisting persecution. As a friend of mine observed, “If you used a gun for any of those reasons, you’d be in violation of the law anyway.”

Piper marshals these arguments in order to build a case about “the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life.” He seems to be saying that a Christian demeanor of mercy and humility and godliness is incommensurate with “a disposition to use lethal force.” But it seems to me that this argument proves too much. If it’s impossible to have a Christian demeanor and still be willing to use lethal force, does this not preclude Christians from being police officers or serving in the military?

Piper leans heavily on the book of 1 Peter, where Christians are urged to endure unjust suffering. But contextually, that persecution was coming from the government itself. If at some point in the future our government turns with hostility upon Christians and uses the “power of the sword” against us (as did Nero in the first century), then certainly we must bear that suffering without retaliation. Many of our Christian brothers and sisters are doing this right now throughout the world. But it’s a stretch to say: therefore, Christians should lay down while a radicalized terrorist shoots innocent people.

3) Piper makes arbitrary distinctions in his application of texts like Romans 13.

Piper asserts that there is, in the Bible, “no direct dealing with the situation of using lethal force to save family and friend, except in regards to police and military.” But can he point to the chapter and verse where the Bible deals with police and military using lethal force? No. Because there isn’t one. The assertion that police and military may use lethal force is an application of texts like Romans 13. And so is the assertion that a private citizen may use lethal force! A police officer and a private citizen who use lethal force to stop an attacker are both doing so legally, as an extension of the state’s authority, and with the expectation that they will have to answer for their actions. If Piper is OK with a Christian police officer using lethal force in a case of imminent danger, then he should also be OK with Christian students at Liberty University doing the same.

Throughout his article, Piper draws lines between police and military using lethal force and private citizens using lethal force. But this distinction is not present in the biblical text. It is a distinction in application. And it is, I assert, an arbitrary one.

Piper’s primary concern is with the spirit of Jerry Falwell Jr’s remarks – specifically, with the statement, “Let’s teach [terrorists] a lesson if they ever show up here.” I agree that that specific statement is unnecessarily provocative. And I think Dr. Piper could have written a very thoughtful blog post taking issue with it. Unfortunately, he has done more than that. He has taken a theological position against Christians carrying concealed weapons. And I find that theological position, as argued by Piper, to have some significant weaknesses.

On December 9, 2007, an armed attacker with a semiautomatic rifle and 1400 rounds of ammunition began a shooting rampage at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. He killed two teenagers in the parking lot and then moved toward the building where about 700 people were gathered. His murderous advance was stopped by church security team member Jeanne Assam, who shot him with her concealed handgun. Her quick and decisive action likely saved dozens of lives. I would not deem Ms. Assam more Christlike if she had prayerfully set down her weapon and “accepted unjust mistreatment without retaliation.” And I suspect the students at Liberty University would not either.

As you’ve likely heard already, we’re seeking to launch a new classical, Christian, collaborative school in Omaha. We’ve been pleased with the interest in this proposal, and we’re ready to host our first informational meeting. The meeting will take place on Friday, September 18 at 7 PM at the Burt Street Chapel (3528 Burt Street, Omaha, 68131).

Attendance at this meeting is limited to 100 people, and you must RSVP to claim your spot. You may do so by clicking here and filling out this short form (it will take less than 2 minutes).

Please help us spread the word to others who may be interested! And don’t worry… if you can’t make this meeting, others are soon to follow.

Say anything about education and you’re likely to ruffle feathers. My wife and I learned this the hard way when our eldest son was in kindergarten. Simply by weighing the options and deciding to home-school him, we instantly offended a couple of our friends who were public-school teachers. They understood us to be passing judgment on the whole public-school enterprise.

one-room-school-houseAnd in a way, we were. But not in the way they thought. A critique of the system is not a critique of everyone in the system. If I lament the inefficiency of the US Postal Service, that doesn’t mean I hate the mail carrier. And we need to get this straight so we can have honest conversation about post offices and schools and a hundred other things.

So at the risk of offending everyone, I want to start some honest conversation about our schools. And about the philosophy of education that undergirds modern schools. And I want to do this in the service of – spoiler alert! – bringing a new type of school to the Omaha area.

Let me start by saying that I cherish Christian freedom in this area. I’m thankful that Christian parents are free to arrive at differing conclusions about how to educate their children. At the same time, I do believe that a Christian worldview has implications in this area. Education is not neutral. It proceeds from a worldview – a set of basic assumptions about reality. Or, to quote James K.A. Smith’s excellent book Desiring the Kingdom:

“Behind every pedagogy is a philosophical anthropology.”

What does that mean? Well, a pedagogy is a method or practice of teaching. And a philosophical anthropology is an understanding of human nature. So Smith is saying that how we teach reveals our understanding of human personhood. Our fundamental assumptions about humanity are manifested in our approach to education.

So let’s consider the modern secular approach to education. What view of human personhood does it suggest?

First, consider the average school building. In our great-grandparents’ era, one-room schoolhouses were still common. But today, we send our kids to sprawling buildings in order to generate an economy of scale (more production, less overhead). Second, consider the class schedule. The average school day might consist of 8 periods, each 43 minutes long, with 6 minutes between bells and a 29-minute lunch period. And there’s no clear connection between 3rd period US history and 4th period Algebra, except for the fact that both subjects will be “on the test” (whether we’re talking about an elementary-level state achievement test or a college-entry SAT exam). Third, consider the stated goal of modern education (or, as Aristotle would call it, the final cause). What is education FOR? So that students can a) get into college, b) earn a college degree, c) secure a good-paying job, and d) make more money than they would otherwise. I dare you to pay attention to how your local school describes its purpose and see if it differs significantly from this basic narrative.

At the risk of putting it rather starkly, this pedagogy reflects an assembly-line view of human personhood. What kind of end product do we want? We want citizens who are good consumers and faithful economic producers. We want students who will grow up and take their place in the social order, facilitating the worship of our cultural idol: prosperity. At the root of our modern educational system lie three basic philosophical assumptions:

  • Mechanism: man is a machine. There is nothing mysterious, immaterial, or soulish about us. We are nothing more than complex biological machinery. (Therefore, education is functional, not formative; it’s about making the human machine work better, not about shaping the loves of the human soul in accordance with truth, goodness, and beauty).
  • Utilitarianism: The real value of anything is measured by its usefulness (utility). If it’s not useful, it’s not valuable. (Therefore, education exists to help people be useful, productive members of society).
  • Nihilism: “All is vanity.” There is no ultimate meaning or purpose to human existence. (Therefore, the subjects in school are not connected as a unified whole in a meaningful universe, but are disparate pieces of knowledge to be collected and used for personal advantage. And once you’re done with school, “get all you can, cause you only live once”).

To be clear: I realize there are thousands of public-school teachers and administrators who do NOT espouse this view of humanity. I’m thankful for thousands of Christian students swimming upstream against this worldview. I’m thankful for faithful Christians seeking to be salt and light throughout the school system, honoring Christ and holding forth a different anthropology. But the exceptions prove the rule. There’s no doubt that this is the philosophical anthropology driving the modern educational establishment at its highest levels.

By contrast, the Bible’s anthropology is quite different. Scripture teaches that human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Whatever else we say about a human being, we must acknowledge that every human is an image-bearer of the Creator. If we don’t, our anthropology is false. And that’s the problem with the anthropology reflected in modern schools: it’s false. It proceeds from an incorrect understanding of human personhood. And thus it’s destined to fail. Modern education may in fact produce men and women who can function in a mechanistic society, but they will be “men without chests,” as C.S. Lewis so presciently put it:

All the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible… In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful. (from The Abolition of Man)

The Abolition of Man was a book about education. And Lewis was making same the observation I am making now: we long for qualities (honor, virtue, enterprise) that our pedagogy makes impossible. If we want human beings with virtue, we need a pedagogy that cultivates virtue.

In other words: we need education that starts from a correct anthropology. We need schools that see education not as the building of skills, but as the ordering the soul’s affections in accordance with what is true and good and beautiful. We need curriculum that is oriented not toward “passing the test,” but toward forming virtuous, thoughtful, well-rounded human beings. We need to teach art and music and literature not for the sake of their utility, but for the sake of their beauty.

I champion any and all efforts to reform the current public-school system in this direction. But I also suspect that those efforts will ultimately fail, because we are dealing with a worldview problem. The problem won’t be solved by better methods. It will only be solved by a shift in the philosophical anthropology of public education. And apart from a massive movement of God, that’s not likely to happen. Secularism is too deeply entrenched at the institutional level.

Therefore, living redemptively in our culture means that Christians must create alternative approaches to education. This is what we’re trying to do in Omaha with our proposal to launch a classical, collaborative Christian school in the Fall of 2016. This proposal doesn’t solve all the problems in American education. But “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” I trust that this post – and this effort – will get Christian parents thinking more deeply about the education of their children. And I hope many other leaders will be emboldened to innovate in the realm of education. The future of America lies not in the reform of the public schools, but in the creation of alternative schools that can save civilization when secularism caves in upon itself. And if you don’t believe that will happen… I recommend a class in the history of Rome.

Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. (C.S. Lewis)

Clear, coherent thinking about marriage is utterly necessary in our current cultural moment. And the beautiful thing about marriage is that it has an objective structure. What marriage IS is clear, whether or not we choose to admit it.

Last week I taught a special lecture entitled “What is Marriage?” My goal was to speak simply and clearly to that fundamental question, showing why only the conjugal view of marriage is philosophically defensible. I chose to work from a natural-law perspective in order to a) help Christians think more broadly about the issue and b) make common cause with those who don’t yet espouse a Christian worldview.

Below you will find audio files for both the lecture and the Q&A, as well as video of the lecture. In the lecture I acknowledge my dependence on the written work by Girgis, Anderson, and George on this subject, which I highly recommend. I am also indebted to the fine people who attended the event and put forward some challenging and thoughtful questions.

What Is Marriage? [Teaching Audio] [Q&A Audio] [PDF Lecture Outline}