Piper's recent article on armed Christian self-defense has stirred up a lot of controversy, primarily because, in it, he sheds a lot of doubt on whether and when it is ever appropriate for Christians to physically defend themselves––particularly with a weapon. While the points in his article offer a much needed Biblical emphasis on trusting and glorifying God in the midst of tribulation, the article doesn't seem to leave much room (if any) for glorifying God through self-defense. However, I would like to submit the bold idea that Piper's position might be altered if he were to think a little bit more like a Christian Hedonist about this issue.
Piper's primary concern is that we not forget that "the whole tenor and focus and demeanor and heart-attitude of the Christian life" should lead us to "not avenge ourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God"; to live as exiles who "expect and accept unjust mistreatment without retaliation"; to see violent hostility as an opportunity to bear witness (not arms); and to "endure persecution with joyful suffering, prayer, and the Word of God". All of these concerns have very strong roots in the New Testament (read Piper's article to glimpse a few), and as such, should not be hastily written off by modern gun-toting Christian conservatives. As Doug Wilson has helpfully pointed out in his response to Piper's article, if we are going to take the Bible seriously, me must wrestle with all of these texts which, at first blush, may seem "pacifistic". While I can't do an exegetical study on all these passages in this one blog, my aim is to set forth a paradigm that I think can go a long way in helping us to make sense of these passages in a way that embraces Piper's Biblical concern for a general Christian heart-attitude and the concerns of many others when it comes to self-defense. That paradigm is rooted in Piper's own Christian Hedonism.
In many ways, Christian Hedonism is a rebuke to the idea that Christians are "preachers of death"; that Christian self-sacrifice and self-denial are ends in themselves. The remarkable response of Christian Hedonism is that the Bible is always calling Christians past the suffering and the sacrifice to the glorious rewards on the other side, with Christ as our prime example: "He endured the cross for the joy set before Him" (Heb. 12:2). So, according to Christian Hedonism, all Christian suffering is meant to be value-oriented. Every Christian loss is meant to be a net gain. There is no value in suffering, as such. Only in suffering for the sake of the gospel––only in sharing in the fellowship of His suffering (Phil. 3:10). What does this mean? It means we don't seek out suffering. We follow Christ, avoiding unnecessary suffering, and joyfully embracing any suffering which is necessary. Necessary to what? To following Him.
Falling on the ice and breaking your leg is not necessary to following Christ. Being publicly mocked as a Christian by unbelievers is (or might be in a particular situation). So, we try not to do kart-wheels on the ice, but when we are mocked for our faith, we embrace it and rejoice, knowing that our reward is great in heaven (Mt. 5:11). What does this have to do with self-defense? Quite a bit. As with everything else in the Christian life, as we approach the idea of self-defense, the good Christian Hedonist should be asking himself, "where's the ultimate value here?" As Jesus indicates in Mt. 5:11, the ultimate value being sought when enduring persecution for your faith is "your reward in heaven".
What about when you're "persecuted", but not "for the sake of righteousness"? What about a random assailant, who has no clue you're a Christian––and who couldn't care less? Where, specifically, is the value in patiently enduring his violence? How, specifically, is Christ magnified? I don't think He is. I don't think there is any value to be sought in passively enduring random assaults which are not primarily related to one's faith in Christ. No one will magnify Christ because you refused to defend yourself against a drunken thug. This, it seems, would be a bit like doing kart-wheels on ice, and then saying "to God be the glory" for the suffering incurred as a result.
Perhaps one of the reasons we may be tempted toward a more pacifistic position in regard to random (non-faith related) assault, is that we do not have a category for the eternal value of our own individual lives (or of those around us). Here's a thought experiment: Do you think Jesus would have passively allowed himself to be killed by a random thief before His time came to go to the cross? God aims to be glorified in our life and in our death (Phil. 1:20). Piper is known for saying "don't waste your life". I would add: don't waste your death. Each Christian is called to glorify Christ to the max in this life. Some will be called to give up that future glory for the sake of a greater glory brought on by being killed for the faith. But what glory is there to be found in giving up the future glory of one's life by being killed, not for the sake of the faith, but for the sake of... nothing?
That is where self-defense comes in: self-defense is the refusal to waste one's own death on the meaningless, the nothing, the zero. General self-defense is essentially no different than taking medicine to fight off infection, or having a life-saving operation. Each functions off of the principle that one ought not allow oneself to die for no reason; that death must come either as a result of circumstances outside of one's own control, or as the conscious and joyous choice to hold on to those eternal values which death can't ever take away. Anything less would be a waste. And we dare not waste the life, or the death, given to us by God.
So, as we move forward in this discussion on Christian self-defense, let us strive to be ardent Christian Hedonists. Let us labor to identify all of the specific values involved, and to always pursue the path of greatest eternal treasure. Let us refuse to stoically embrace all suffering and death as ends in themselves, and joyfully embrace only that which actually and specifically points to Christ. Let us develop heart-attitudes which drive us to administer immediate Christ-like compassion after stopping an assailant, praying for them as our enemies, and tending to their wounds (in the safest manner possible)––perhaps even sharing the gospel with them as we do.