Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Piper, pacifism, and complementarianism

Today, John Piper came out of the closet as a pacifist:

I don't really have anything new to say about pacifism that I haven't already said. I would mention in passing that it's muddleheaded for him to equate protecting the weak and innocent with "love of this world" (#5).  

But I'd rather focus on a different point: There's an ironic tension between Piper's pacifism and his complementarianism. I believe Piper is a founding member of the CBMW. 

As he himself admits, men have a natural protective instinct. An instinct to protect women and children–especially (but not exclusively) their own.

Yet his pacifism requires Christian men to suppress that male instinct. To suppress that male virtue. His pacifism saps masculinity. It generates intense friction between an effeminate pacifist ethic and manly complementarianism. 

Look at the impotent handwringing that his position leads to:

A natural instinct is to boil this issue down to the question, “Can I shoot my wife’s assailant?”
I live in the inner city of Minneapolis, and I would personally counsel a Christian not to have a firearm available for such circumstances.
I do not know what I would do before this situation presents itself with all its innumerable variations of factors. 

That moral paralysis in the face of the obvious course of action is effete and decadent. There's nothing to agonize over in that situation. A man's duty is clear. 


  1. I have struggled with this issue for a number of years and frankly, am still divided on the matter. On the one hand, I'm quite certain that if the situation arose I would use any means at my disposal to physically protect the innocent from violence. On the other hand, I ask myself the question, Is God COMPLETELY sovereign?

    If so, and I'm certain that He is, then am I not required to rest in that sovereignty and "resist not an evil person, and turn the other cheak". Am I not required to "love my enemies", and "pray for those who spitefully use" me, etc? Wasn't Jesus unprotesting and unresisting to those who did him violence? Is there any indication that he meant for us to do differently in light of God's sovereignty? Despite my animal/fleshly instinct to the contrary, I'm not sure that he did.

    You mention the male instinct as if it is sacrosanct. I'm not certain that anything that my flesh produces is Godly, and so my tendency is to question my male instincts. After all, my instinct outside of my Christian and societal restrictions is to pursue and sleep with every woman I find attractive.

    Please understand, I'm trying to take a contrarian position for the sake of exploring the issue. Until unequivocally convinced otherwise, my intention is to protect my family with the (very) extensive means I have accumulated. I would like to pursue this discussion if you're willing.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts.


    1. The point being made isn't self-preservation, but protecting another, for example your wife or child.

      You may be in fact risking your *own* life, even laying it down, for the sake of *others*. Jesus did that, and although I'm not saying protecting your wife and/or children approaches the sacrifice of Christ (it doesn't), there's still an analogy.

      You also have duties to your wife and children that outstrip your duties to their attacker. There are hierarchies of duties.

      Finally you have a duty to self-preservation because of your duty to provide for your wife and/or children, which is notoriously difficult to perform for the dead.

      God is sovereign, *and* he uses secondary means. He says He will provide for all His people's needs, but He expects His people to work, put on their own clothes, put food in their own mouths and chew it, etc.


    2. i) There's a danger here of confusing divine sovereignty with fatalism. God's sovereignty doesn't mean God will do everything for me.

      ii) If protecting my wife could infringe on God's sovereignty, then God isn't really sovereign. If my physical intervention is a threat to God's sovereignty, then his sovereignty depends on my nonintervention. But what kind of sovereign God is that?

      iii) There's a difference between turning my own cheek and turning my wife's cheek so that an assailant can slap her on the other cheek.

      iv) Jesus had a unique mission. He came to die. Naturally he didn't resist arrest, since that would thwart the plan of redemption.

      v) I mention male instinct because, as I said, Piper is a complementarian. He thinks male and female traits should be affirmed.

      Male instinct isn't carnal in the sense of sinful impulses.

    3. George I, you mentioned Matt. 5:39 which states, "But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." This passage has to do with personal offenses and insults. It's not referring to physical violence and attack.

      I don't know how exegetically sound the following explanation is, but some people argue in the following way. Assuming the fact that the majority of people are right-handed, being slapped on the right cheek requires a right-handed person to slap the other person with the back of his right hand. This is not an effective way to attack someone. It requires an extra and inefficient movement that's less damaging. It makes most sense that Jesus is saying if someone insults you by slapping you with the back of his hand on your right cheek, you ought to have the attitude of love to be willing to be slapped on the left side as well.

      It's true that one can be knocked out by a "Bitch Slap" (whether using the front or back of the hand) but that's different from an ordinary slap. The fact that Jesus first referred to being hit on the right cheek suggests it's a back hand slap that is not intended to knock the person out, but to insult and humiliate.

    4. The pacifist position INVITES attack by the violent and criminal. If criminals knew that Christians were a group who didn't arm themselves, they would repeatedly target Christians. Just like lions go after easy targets. Namely, the slowest in a herd (of zebras etc.), rather than the fastest. Some pacifists argue it's okay to use non-lethal martial arts (e.g. Aikido) and restraining methods. But those methods can't do anything against a criminal armed with a gun.

    5. Paul believed in God's absolute sovereignty. Yet he set in motion events that would lead to the use of Roman soldiers to protect him on his journey to Felix (see Acts 23:21ff.). God's sovereignty includes not only the ends (i.e. what will happen), but also the means (i.e. how they will happen).

  2. A few years ago John Piper wrote an article titled Guns and Martyrdom. James White respectfully responded with an article of his own titled I Beg To Differ, Brother Piper. Dr. White's article made a lot more sense.

    It just so happens that last week I watched the documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor (and obvious reference to the title of Elisabeth Elliot's book Through Gates of Splendor). Having read the book 20 years ago, recently watching the documetary and recently reading H. Rider Haggard's classic story King Solomon's Mines, I disagreed with the missionaries decision not to bring guns/rifles. Having a gun doesn't necessitate you're going to kill anyone. They could have used the guns to scare the natives away if they were attacked (as they were). Loud unexplained noises can do that to civilized persons. How much more people from a primitive tribe? In King Solomon's Mines guns were used to trick the natives into thinking the gun owners possessed powerful magic to kill animals (and by extension humans) at an extreme distance. Obviously, appeal to magic is out of bounds for Christians. Nevertheless, the demonstration of superior killing power along with clear altruistic activity (e.g. offerings of food, medicine, tools, technology etc.) could still pave the way for a reception of the Gospel. The men who died at the hands of the Auca (AKA Huaorani/Waorani/Waodani) are missionary heroes. I see them as such still. They definitely had good intentions. But I don't think it was the wisest approach. Besides, as James White points out, there's a difference between dying as a martyr and dying because a thief, rapist and killer enters your house in the middle of the night. The former is in the context of spreading the gospel. The latter is not.

    1. Piper wrote:
      The missionaries had guns when they were speared to death. One of them shot the gun into the air, it appears, as he was killed, rather than shooting the natives. They had agreed to do this. The reason was simple and staggeringly Christlike

      I didn't realize one or more missionary did shoot a gun or rifle in the air. I was under the impression that they left their guns at home with their wives and flew the short distance to the Auca without weapons. There was nothing wrong with what they did in refusing to shoot an attacking Auca. At least one of them tried scaring some of the Auca away. However another option could have been to temporarily maim an attacker. Or better yet, use rock salt filled shotgun shells. It's (allegedly) non-lethal and likely won't result in permanent injury. That would have been enough to stop an attacking band of natives.

  3. "Finally you have a duty to self-preservation because of your duty to provide for your wife and/or children, which is notoriously difficult to perform for the dead."

    CR, do Christian husbands/fathers have a moral obligation to buy life insurance?

    1. Not everyone has the option either because 1. their country doesn't allow for it or 2. they can't afford it. Presumably you mean if a Christian husband/father has the opportunity. That would depend on the circumstances. Maybe he's so rich it's not necessary. Maybe he's so poor he can't afford it. Maybe his wife is dead and his children are old enough it's not necessary. Or maybe his children are all wicked and would use inheritance money and insurance money to promote evil things like atheism or the occult etc. I don't think a father has an obligation to bequeath great wealth to prodigal or even postively evil children.

      However, All things being equal, and if one can afford it, why not? That's more inheritance for children and provision for one's widow.

    2. I basically agree with what AP has written here. I think it's probably bound up in stewardship issues for those who have access to life insurance, and the means to afford it.

      Not sure I would view it as an intrinsically moral matter, although that could come into play depending upon the situation.