Christian, what did you expect? Guns, politics, and Christian eschatology

18 Jan

I recently had a discussion with friends about how Christians might respond to the gun control debate.  Is it really out of character for a Christian to purchase firearms for self-defense?  A friend suggested that a Christian will have a hard time squaring gun ownership for self-defense with the ethical principle of WWJD.  Ultimately, I argued that this belief is due to an over-realized eschatology, expecting too much bliss (featured in the age to come) in the here and now.  Here’s what I wrote about this:

If a Christian thinks that a ban on shoulder fired missiles is permissible, he has already acknowledged that the right to bear arms is limited to some extent. It very well could be that high capacity magazines and “assault” weapons are also reasonably restricted. That would probably depend upon whether those restrictions would really reduce violent crime, I suppose. Stepping back a bit, we have to remember what Jesus said, not what we wish he said or what we wish he was like and so on. So often, WWJD really just means to many What Would Rush Limbaugh Do (for the right) or What Would Santa Claus Do (for the left). In Christian theology, the world in which we live is fallen, broken, and corrupt. It must remain so until Christ comes back and perfects it, with total peace and total reconciliation of all things to their original good creational purposes. So we are living “between the times” which produces tensions in our public theology. Given this reality, Christ was a realist as well as an idealist. He wanted us to care for the poor, but warned that the poor will always be with us. He wanted us to practice peace, but warned that we must protect ourselves from those who would do violence to us. He wanted us to love our neighbor, but warned that we must operate as sheep among wolves, shrewd as serpents but harmless as doves. This is simply the posture of a Christian living between the ages of Eden and Heaven on Earth. It’s not a matter of simply looking in the Bible for your favorite kind of attitude (Santa or Rush). It’s a matter of carefully considered the whole counsel of God from Genesis to Revelation, doing biblical and systematic theology to uncover what God has really said, in full. Anyone can go on a fishing expedition in the Bible and simply throwback what they don’t want to catch. But that’s not doing theology, something all Christians are required to do (but few churches care for these days, opting instead for entertainment). Christians, then, as citizens in the City of Man, must not simplistically push for laws that are a better fit for the age to come (pure idealism). They must operate in this realm, in this age, according to the realities that they face in the here and now, where sin remains man’s biggest problem (idealism constrained by realism). In many ways, the question about whether Christians can or should rightfully morally own guns is similar to why in Christian theology there is a need for human government. In Eden, there was no human government. In the New Heavens and New Earth brought about by Christ in the age to come, there will be no human government. But in the intervening age, this age, there is, precisely because human nature is corrupt. So Christians agree with James Madison for why there is government, because men are not angels. It’s not a crazy logical leap to see why, then, Christians might feel theologically justified in arming themselves. We need government for our protection (Rom. 13) precisely because men are not angels, they are born in sin. We are permitted to own guns because men are not angels (protection against criminals). Moreover, we are permitted to own guns because government isn’t composed of angels (protection against governments). So Christians may feel justified in owning guns because they are skeptical that even our president can truly bring about a fundamental change in the human heart. Only Christ can do that.

This will ruffle feathers, but so be it. Having a biblical view of eschatology (the “end times”) will guard against the tendency to expect too much (or too little, though that’s less of a problem for Christian Right evangelicals and liberal protestants). Ultimately, Christians are citizens of another country, pilgrims in this land, subjects of another King, obedient to a higher law. Yet, many of us are too comfortable in the here and now and have what Christian theologians call an “over-realized eschatology” (a view of the church/Christian living now which unbiblically and unrealistically expects this world to look more like the next than it can or will in biblical time). In essence, we expect what should be seen as our hotel, to be our home. And so, we have become more patriotic than we probably should be, less critical of our favorite political parties than we probably should be, less critical of our favorite political ideologies and ideologues than we probably should be, we expect too much change and conformity to Christian moral norms in the culture, than we probably should, we are more obsessed with, demoralized or elated by presidential elections than we probably should be, and so on. Why? Because we act and feel more at home in a fallen world than in the perfect world to come. We let things in this world compete with our higher allegiances. It doesn’t help that our churches do not hearken us to another time and place, but present a version of Christianity to us that looks almost entirely like the world at present (but without all that cussing). Of course, we are to be salt and light in the world, and strive to impact the world for the Kingdom of Christ. But a Christian who is thinking biblically will ask with all seriousness, what did you expect? Did you expect a society that is peaceful or non-violent? Did you expect a society with no divorce? Did you expect a society where there is no poverty? Did you expect a society where there is no sexual immorality? Did you expect a society featuring God’s Own Party? Did you expect a society that is God’s Own Country? Did you expect a society with no war, disease, or famine? Did you expect a society where everyone is a Christian or even respects Christian belief or ethics? Personally, do you find that you do not struggle with sin, host as you are to the Holy Spirit? No? Then why do you expect any more in the world? If you expect these things, perhaps you are living prematurely in the age to come. Talking about being set up for failure…

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2 Responses to “Christian, what did you expect? Guns, politics, and Christian eschatology”

  1. thesilverhouse January 22, 2013 at 2:14 am #

    Romans 13 was quoted to me in regard to the promotion of further gun control, as if I was violating scripture for being pro-gun rights. To me, Romans 13 is a highly abused section of scripture. On the one hand, when “our guy” gets elected to an office, immediately it is a government by the people. However, when it is a policy “we support” and yet, is highly contested, then it is the ol’ Romans 13 move.

    In actuality, to quote the afore mentioned section of scripture in a conversation, such as on gun control, is usually a means of escape from having to truly deal with the issue at hand. My questions for those people who would call themselves Christian, and who resort to using Romans 13 to end a conversation would be as follows:

    Will you be subject to the governing authorities when the government prohibits Christian worship? Will you be subject to the authorities when they are taking away the brethren to jail for preaching the Gospel? When your comfortable American Christian lifestyle goes away and the government turns on all Christians, will you be consistent and be subject to the authorities? If not, then don’t use the scripture as a weapon against other believers because your too lazy to truly think through the issues.

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    • Jim George February 10, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

      http://www.freethought.mbdojo…. has a thoughtful discussion of the topic. Personally, I have difficulty imagining Jesus returning fire – no matter what the circumstances.

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