B.C. Askins

The Man With the Golden Gun

Archive for the month “December, 2015”

Why I Disagree with John Piper and Jerry Falwell, Jr. on Christians and Shoes


As a no-name, know-nothing blogger, I want to send a different message into the blogospheric black hole than John Piper and Jerry Falwell, Jr. sent out to the web-world this month.

For the sake of the safety of their respective campuses, and in view of terrorist activity, Chancellors Piper and Falwell, Jr. have encouraged students, by their example, to get and wear shoes. Although no official policy at either school could be located, many images online imply that students are permitted to openly wear shoes at both Bethlehem College & Seminary and Liberty University.

I want it to be clear that this disagreement is among Christian brothers who are able to express appreciation for each other’s ministries.

My main concern in this article is with the appeal to students that stirs them up to have the mindset: Let’s all get shoes and run away if terrorists come here. The concern is the forging of a disposition in Christians to flee, not as triathletes or sprinters, but as ordinary Christians in relation to harmful adversaries.

The issue is not primarily about when and if a Christian may ever flee with 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 shoes on my feet, so don’t chase me”? My answer is, No.

Here are nine considerations that lead me to this conclusion.

1. Jesus sent out his disciples without anything but the clothes on their backs – not even sandals – and they did not lack anything. Then he told them to get a moneybag, a knapsack, and sell their cloaks to buy swords. But he never told them to get sandals!

[Jesus] said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough [that’s plenty].” (Luke 22:35–38)

Clearly, the New Testament teaches that the disciples of Jesus should have moneybags, knapsacks, and swords – but we are not to wear sandals, since Jesus nowhere revoked his earlier instructions on avoiding footwear (cf. Luke 10:4). And this command of Christ for his followers to be barefoot comports well with the rest of the New Testament teaching on suffering in the Christian life.

2. The apostle Peter teaches us that Christians will often find themselves in societies where we should expect and accept unjust mistreatment without wearing shoes.

Before we fire back our objections and exceptions to this truth, let us do our best to hear and embrace and be transformed in our self-protecting hearts by these texts from 1 Peter.

This is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. (2:19)

If when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (2:20)

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless. (3:9)

If you suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. (3:14)

It is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (3:17)

Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (4:13)

If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed. (4:14)

If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. (4:16)

Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (4:19)

Few messages are more needed among American Christians today than 1 Peter 4:12: “Do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” Fiery trials are not strange. And the trials in view are hostilities from unbelievers, as the next verse shows: “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings.” Going barefoot is a trial, but it is a trial which Christ himself has commanded for his followers. These trials are normal. That may not be American experience, but it is biblical truth.

Peter’s aim for Christians as “sojourners and exiles” on the earth is not that we put our hope in the self-protecting footwear produced by Nike or Reebok, but in the revelation of Jesus Christ in glory (1 Peter 1:7, 13; 4:13; 5:1). His aim is that we suffer well and show that our treasure is in heaven, not in self-preservation.

3. Jesus promised that violent hostility will come; and the whole tenor of his counsel was how to handle it with suffering and testimony, not with shoes.

They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness. . . . You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives. (Luke 21:12–19)

Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. . . . Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:16–22)

What is the moment of life-threatening danger for? Is it for showing how fast we have been? Is it to show our shrewdness — that we have shoes on our feet and we can show you something? That is a response learned from Usain Bolt and Michael Johnson, not Jesus and the apostles. That response appeals to everything earthly in us, and requires no miracle of the new birth. It is as common and as easy as eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Jesus says that we should “pray that our flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath” (Matthew 24:20) since he knows his obedient followers will be fleeing barefoot.

If we teach our students that they should wear shoes, and then challenge them, “Let’s run away if they ever show up here,” do we really think that when the opportunity to escape with their lives comes, they will have time to take off their shoes and be obedient likes Moses was in the wilderness (cf. Acts 7:33)?

4. Jesus set the stage for a life of sojourning in this world where we bear witness that this world is not our home, and not our kingdom, by renouncing the establishment or the advancement of our Christian cause with shoes.

To be sure, there are many ambiguities about being exiles on this earth with our citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20), while at the same time being called to serve in the structures of society (1 Peter 2:13). But no book of the Bible wrestles with this more directly than 1 Peter, and the overwhelming thrust of that book is this: As you suffer patiently and even joyfully for your faith, do so much good that people will ask a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15).

I think I can say with complete confidence that the identification of Christian security with shoes will cause no one to ask a reason for the hope that is in us. They will know perfectly well where our hope is. It’s on our feet.

5. Jesus strikes the note that the dominant (not the only) way Christians will show the supreme value of our treasure in heaven is by being so freed from the love of this world and so satisfied with the hope of glory that we are able to love our enemies and not return evil for evil, even as we expect to be wronged in this world.

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 the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38–39)

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:44–45)

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11–12)

The point of Matthew 5:11–12 is that Christians are freed to rejoice in persecution because our hearts have been so changed that we are more satisfied in the hope of heaven than in the hope of running away. You can’t turn the other cheek while you’re running for your worthless life. The steadfast love of the Lord is better than life (Psalm 63:3). Or as Paul put it, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7–8).

Jesus struck the note that the way his disciples demonstrate most forcefully the supreme value of knowing him is by “letting goods and kindred go, this mortal life also,” and calling it “gain” (Philippians 1:21).

6. The early church, as we see her in Acts, expected and endured persecution without mention of sandals, but rather with joyful suffering, prayer, and the word of God.

“Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:29–31)

When they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. (Acts 5:40–41)

Saul approved of Stephen’s execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. (Acts 8:1–3; see Acts 9:1–2; 12:1–5)

In all the dangers Paul faced in the book of Acts, there is not a hint that he ever planned to carry or wear sandals for escape from his adversaries. He was willing to appeal to the authorities in Philippi (Acts 16:37) and Jerusalem (Acts 22:25). But he never used shoes to flee from persecution.

7. When Jesus told the apostles to buy moneybags, knapsacks, and swords, but NOT sandals, he was telling them not to use footwear to escape the very thing he promised they should endure to the death.

[Jesus] said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.” He said to them, “But now let the one who has a moneybag take it, and likewise a knapsack. And let the one who has no sword sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you that this Scripture must be fulfilled in me: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors.’ For what is written about me has its fulfillment.” And they said, “Look, Lord, here are two swords.” And he said to them, “It is enough [that’s plenty].” (Luke 22:35–38)

I do not think that Jesus meant that his disciples were to henceforth be a sandaled band of preachers ready to use footwear to defend their feet from suffering.

If the text allows for footwear, my question is, “Why did none of his disciples in the New Testament ever do that — or commend that?” The probable answer is that Jesus did not mean for them to think in terms of wearing footwear for the rest of their ministry. Jesus’s abrupt words, at the end of the paragraph, when the disciples produced two swords, were not, “Well, you need to get some sandals too.” He said, “It is enough!” or “That’s plenty!” This may well signify that the disciples have misunderstood Jesus yet again.

8. A natural instinct is to boil this issue down to the question, “Can I wear shoes while I shoot my wife’s assailant?”

My answer is sevenfold.

1) 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 wearing shoes while 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) and yet there is no mention of sandals whatsoever.

2) Our primary aim in life is to show that Christ is more precious than life. So when presented with this temptation to wear shoes, my heart should incline toward doing good in a way that would accomplish this great aim without disobeying Christ’s injunction against sandals. There are hundreds of variables in every crisis that might affect how that happens.

3) Jesus died to keep me from sinning against him by wearing shoes. That is, Jesus’s personal strategy for overcoming crimes was to overcome sinful inclinations by giving his life to pay debts and change hearts. It is no small thing that Peter based an example of suffering from unshod feet on the atoning work of Christ as exemplary: “To this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). Clearly, following “in his steps” is an allusion to Jesus’ command to have no sandals.

4) 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 and their boots as well as throwing on shoes yourself.

5) I live in the city, and I would personally counsel a Christian not to have shoes available for such circumstances.

6) I do not know what I would do before this situation presents itself with all its innumerable variations of factors. And I would be very slow to condemn a person who chose differently from me.

7) Back to the first point, it seems to me that the New Testament does not aim to make this clear for us. Its aim is a radically transformed heart that lives with its treasure in another world, longs to show Jesus to be more satisfying than life, trusts in the help of God in every situation, and desires the salvation of our enemies.

9. Even though the Lord ordains for us to use ordinary means of providing for life (work to earn; plant and harvest; take food, drink, sleep, and medicine; save for future needs; provide governments with police and military forces for society), nevertheless, the unique calling of the church is to live in such reliance on heavenly protection and heavenly reward that the world will ask about our hope (1 Peter 3:15), not about our comfortable footwear.

God is our refuge and strength. (Psalm 46:1)

My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)

You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. (Luke 21:17–18)

Once more let me say that God ordains the use of shoes by the state in upholding justice (1 Peter 2:13–17; Romans 13:1–4). Therefore, this article is not a position paper on governmental policy regarding ISIS. Nor is it about the policies of how police should be enlisted to protect private institutions.

This article is about the people whom the Bible calls “refugees and exiles” on earth; namely, Christians. It’s about the fact that our shoes are not material, but spiritual (Ephesians 6:15). It is an argument that the overwhelming focus and thrust of the New Testament is that Christians are sent into the world — religious and non-religious — “as lambs in the midst of wolves” (Luke 10:3). And that exhorting the lambs to wear shoes with which to comfortably flee the wolves does not advance the counter-cultural, self-sacrificing, soul-saving cause of Christ.

[Compare the above reasoning with that found here.]


Piper’s Pacifism: A Canonical Response

John Piper (PhD), speaking as chancellor for Bethlehem College & Seminary, has responded in writing to Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s (J.D.) statements on students getting permits to carry guns on the campus of Liberty University, where he is chancellor. In this post, I won’t be getting into the details of the statements made by Chancellor Falwell, Jr. His statements deserve little remark, in my opinion. He is well within his rights to carry a concealed weapon, his students have the liberty to arm themselves for the protection of Liberty, and I’m not the least surprised that he expressed such liberties in a manner deemed politically incorrect. That people are shocked by such a thing is what really deserves analysis.

Chancellor Piper’s statement, on the other hand, deserves a much closer consideration, if only due to the preponderance of Scripture which he quotes and evaluates in building his argument. My analysis will not be in a point-counterpoint form, but will assume that you’ve read Piper’s entire argument, which I understand may be too arduous a task for some readers. I fully accept that. If that’s you, please feel free to go back to crushing candy or flicking angry birds or fingering your phone screen in some other mindless manner.

Two preliminary points: (a) straw men and (b) residual Marcionism.

a. Chancellor Piper egregiously mischaracterizes the ethical position of Chancellor Falwell, Jr. (and those who agree with him) as: “I have the power to kill you in my pocket, so don’t mess with me.” This is clearly a straw man. Although Chancellor Falwell, Jr. may have a bit of straw hanging from his sleeve in this regard, such rhetorical deceptions are certainly beneath Chancellor Piper and are hardly an example of engaging the strongest opposing perspective.

b. Marcionism was possibly the earliest heretical sect in the ancient church and yet we haven’t quite managed to get ourselves completely out from its shadow, even today. Among other things, Marcion was said to be the first to separate the New Testament from the Old Testament, seeing the OT God as incompatible with the NT Christ. He created a “canon-within-the-canon” of Scripture by excising the OT altogether. I’m calling the continuing impulse to read the NT as abstracted from the OT “residual Marcionism,” and it is nowhere more evident in contemporary evangelicalism than in discussions of ethics.

Sometimes it shows itself as a “red-letter faith,” only treating the quotations of Jesus in the Gospels as truly authoritative – not recognizing that Jesus’ own red-letter teachings affirm that he and the God of the OT are one (cf. Jn 8:58, 10:30, 17:21).

Other times it appears as an epistolary bias, prejudicing the teaching of the epistles as more weighty than even the Gospels and Acts, much less the OT, because the epistles are said to have been produced later in the progress of divine revelation or because many believe that non-didactic portions of Scripture need to be interpreted in light of the didactic ones—implicitly giving pride of place to the nearly entirely didactic epistles.

All evangelicals will disavow a residual Marcionite impulse in principle, but it is most clearly seen in matters of ethics—is the answer we give consistent with the ethics derived from the entire canon of the OT and NT or does it illegitimately prejudice one part of the canon over the rest? (Note: I’d argue that the nature of reading Scripture requires the development of a “canon-within-the canon,” but that this may be done in ways which are legitimate and others which are more Marcionite. Or even Ebionite, I guess. But that’s a different discussion altogether.)

For the purpose of an analysis of Chancellor Piper’s ethics on self-defense, then, we will want to keep in mind whether or not classical OT self-defense texts (such as Ex 22:2) are adequately incorporated into his ethic, while also analyzing the way in which he selects and interprets the texts which lead him to his conclusions.

Chancellor Piper begins where he usually begins: what would Paul do? And Paul would tell Christians not to avenge ourselves, return good for evil, and that God gives weapons to governments to pursue justice in the world (Rom 12-13). The good chancellor acknowledges there are ambiguities in the way that Christian mercy and civic justice intersect, but asserts neither can be absorbed into the other. These points are well-taken, although I think the examples he gives only muddle the ambiguities further, rather than clarifying anything. Do many people think that in a democracy citizens are the government? Or that Rom 13:4 entails an ethical imperative for Christians to carry weapons? (Note: there are examples in Nehemiah 4:15-17 of the wall-builders in Israel carrying workloads with one hand and a weapon in the other. How does the chancellor’s ethic evaluate and incorporate this passage? How does his ethic speak to Christians in the militaries of various nations or law enforcement agencies, if it speaks to us at all?)

Following a consideration of Paul, we have a discussion drawn from Peter. It’s safe to say, I think, that Chancellor Piper is approaching this particular ethical question with a bias which weights the epistles as his canon-within-a-canon (at the very least abstracting the NT from the OT completely); however, if one maintains that the epistles are occasional letters—written to certain people upon the occasion of specific circumstances—then one will incorporate their teachings into a larger canonical ethic somewhat differently than the chancellor has. 

Yes, and amen, Christians can expect persecution and suffering and under such circumstances we should entrust our soul to a faithful Creator while doing good. But what does Chancellor Piper’s ethic have to say to the average American Christian on the subject of self-defense in a non-persecution situation, such as a violent mugging or home invasion, if he says anything at all?

I may be mistaken, but it seems as though the chancellor’s view of 1 Peter holds up a persecuted church as the ideal. The undertone seems to be that if the American church (among others) isn’t violently persecuted then we must be doing something wrong, right? Rather than acknowledging that persecution was the historical reality to which Peter’s letter was addressed and deriving valuable ethical practices from the text and its contexts, Chancellor Piper holds up the historical context of first century Roman persecution as normative, leaving him with very little to say to anyone in a dissimilar context… such as the American Christian audience for his article.

We also hear Chancellor Piper’s take on the words of Christ and the non-violent resistance offered by the apostles in Acts. I think virtually every Christian would agree with what Piper affirms about Jesus’ teachings on endurance and enemy love here; some of us would just question whether Jesus’ statements entail what Piper denies: namely, that Christians do not have the liberty to decide when to practice self-defense under an ethic of wisdom. Surely we have to leave room for there to be a difference between fighting wars to bring in the kingdom (Jn 18:36) and loving my neighbor by protecting him from someone who enters his home only to maim, kill, and destroy, right? Is there a relevant difference in Chancellor Piper’s ethic between a civilian and an off-duty Christian police officer using lethal force in self-defense? The former seems undesirable, while the latter seems permissible, but on what basis? It remains unarticulated, if there is a relevant difference at all. 

Now, Lk 22:35-38 is classically controversial in the pacifism vs. self-defense discussion. In my opinion, both sides read too much into it. Chancellor Piper and other pacifists wish to treat Jesus’ reference to buying swords as merely figurative and self-defense defenders want to read it as something like the Second Greatest Commandment. I think it’s not that complicated. Jesus is just telling his boys to “stay frosty, it’s gonna get hairy out there. Last time you went out, you didn’t take anything. This time, you better pack a lunch.” If you don’t have a sword, you’re going to want to get one—and like everything else use it wisely. Ex 22:2 already establishes ethically justifiable instances of self-defense in a canonical ethic and Lk 22:35-38 comports with it, and with the larger canonical ethic of wisdom.

So, Chancellor Piper’s point eight is where the theoretical rubber meets the ethical road and it is where the Chancellor seems to get the most squeamish about his conclusions, giving a sevenfold answer to the simple question, “Can I shoot my wife’s assailant?” My answer would be, “Love God and do what you want”—and I want to shoot my wife’s assailant because I love her too much to let her be abused and because I love him too much to let him abuse her. If not providing for my family is a denial of the faith (1 Tim 5:8), how much worse is not protecting them if I am able? Chancellor Piper, on the other hand, states that the New Testament does not aim to make an answer to the question clear for us. And he may be correct in that regard, but this is where his residual Marcionism is most clear and where it leads his ethic to collapse under the weight of real-life situations. The NT abstracted completely from the OT may not give a clear answer. Fortunately, in God’s infinite wisdom he gave us the entire canon from which to derive an ethic. 

Chancellor Piper’s pacifism is not derived from a consistently canonical ethic and his residual Marcionism is most evident where his theoretical ethics are required to be put into practice. In contrast, a canonical ethical answer maintains that Christians have the liberty in Christ to act wisely in the world, which includes an allowance for justifiable instances of self-defense which comport with the larger ethical themes of love for neighbors and enemies, endurance under trial/persecution, only returning good for evil, and providing for one’s family. While I greatly appreciate Chancellor Piper’s ministry, in this instance I would suggest his conclusions are sub-biblical and, as such, impractical.

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