THEOLOGY OF ARMED DEFENSE The West Freeway Church Shooting

THEOLOGY OF ARMED DEFENSE The West Freeway Church Shooting

Most people live with one of two worldviews: one that matches reality or one that ignores it. We’re watching those two worldviews play out in daily debates about all kinds of things, including abortion, marriage, transgenderism, parenting, and in Virginia, the Second Amendment.  Watching the last press conference held by law enforcement the night of the West Freeway Church of Christ shooting was a refreshing dose of reality in our ongoing debate about gun ownership in America.

The Lieutenant Governor, the FBI Special Agent in Charge, the state Director of Public Safety, the town Police Chief, all concluded the same things:

  1. Violence can happen anywhere, at any time, usually when you least expect it.
  2. Law-enforcement cannot always arrive in time to prevent crime or death.
  3. Be prepared ahead of time.

Jack Wilson, the man who took down the shooter, was more succinct: “The events at West Freeway Church of Christ put me in a position that I would hope no one would have to be in, but evil exists, and I had to take out an active shooter in church.”

Mr. Wilson’s comment is completely in keeping with the Biblical worldview of violent evil and how to deal with it. But some of us still wonder if there might have been some other way. Here then, is a brief biblical theology of armed self-defense.

Violent evil will be with us until Christ returns.

From our point of view, violence is random. We never know when it is coming our way. Therefore, we must be prepared to meet it. The State is biblically responsible for protecting us from violence.[1] Texas did that when it passed laws enabling armed church security that took into account the fact that, even with improved response times, law enforcement can’t always get there.

Evil must be resisted, sometimes by force.

Many assume that Jesus’ only response to evil was passive acceptance. That is inaccurate, as well as inadequate. Jesus actively resisted all kinds of evil. He illustrated some of his teachings by referring to a “strong man, fully armed, guarding his own house,” and with a “King, preparing for battle,” without implying that there was anything wrong with the use of force in those moments. When asked by soldiers how to practice righteousness, he did not tell them to lay down their arms and resign their commissions. When preparing his men for his departure, he urged them to provide themselves with swords (Luke 22:36). He taught us not to take personal vengeance for a wrong committed against us. But by no means did he advocate acquiescence to violent, criminal, aggression. Turning the other cheek to a slap means absorbing a deeply personal insult without retaliation. It does not mean submitting to violent crime without a fight.

Every passive defense system can be compromised.

In WWII, France staked its security on the Maginot Line, a huge, expensive series of fortifications along its borders with Germany and Italy and fell to the superior mobility of the Wehrmacht in short order. The standard operating procedure with airline hijackers before 9/11 was negotiation, a passive defense. Now, many pilots fly armed, and negotiation isn’t part of the defense plan. Newtown school had a good system of passive defense that was diligently applied. But it was completely inadequate to the task.

Many people in our country believe that the best way to prevent more mass shootings is to disarm the public, to take guns away from all law-abiding citizens. That view ignores reality, embracing passive defense as the only defense. Criminals and the criminally insane will find weapons. The best defense against violent evil is an equally violent offense. Therefore, the best defense against the next mass shooter is a properly trained person equipped with adequate firepower to meet the threat.

[1] See Romans 13.

THE SAINTS GOT ROBBED! NFL No-calls and the Judgment of God

THE SAINTS GOT ROBBED! NFL No-calls and the Judgment of God

The Saints got robbed! Or, maybe not. It depends on your point of view.

In case you don’t care about sports or have been living under a rock, the New Orleans Saints came within a few seconds of being the NFC champions last week and going to their second Super Bowl under coach Sean Payton, and quarterback Drew Brees. They were tied 20-20 on the Rams 13 yard-line, third-down and ten to go with 1:45 left on the clock and had possession of the ball. They only needed one more first down and a chip-shot field goal to run out the clock and win. Brees threw to Tommy Lee Lewis who was hit by Rams defensive back Nickell Robey Coleman and knocked out of bounds before he could touch the ball. It was obvious pass interference, but the ref made no call. The Rams kicker tied the game with a fifty-seven-yard field goal and LA won it in overtime.

The Superdome exploded in rage and the whole sports world is still talking about it. Some fans are so upset, they are suing the NFL over the call. Maybe they shouldn’t have bet so much on the game.

New Orleans Saints Tight End, Benjamin Watson, interviewed by Fox News Laura Ingraham, said, “We as athletes have a saying: It’s an imperfect game played by imperfect people and obviously, refereed by imperfect humans … When you have a non-call at a clutch time in a game like this, that’s not how any team wants to win or lose … but we understand that life goes on and life isn’t fair.”[1]

Watson, who is an evangelical Christian, nailed the biblical worldview, not only about the NFC championship, but about football in general. One of the reasons we love football so much is that it’s a microcosm of life. The referees are imperfect, the players are imperfect, and the game is imperfect. That’s what happens in a fallen world. Rules are important, especially where player safety is concerned. But the more perfect we try to make the competition with rules and video reviews the less it will look like real life—unless you like lawyers—and the less we will like it.

What Watson said about the game is also true about life. “We as a league, the NFL, try to put forth a product that is full of integrity, something that we can be proud of. But these things happen, and the sad thing is that there is no remedy.”[2]

No matter how long God allows us to live on this earth we will be imperfect players in an imperfect game being refereed by imperfect people. We try our best to represent the perfection Jesus modeled. But we will fail, life won’t be fair, and bad things will happen. The good news is that there is Someone watching who sees everything, who is completely impartial, who never blows a call, and who will render just judgment when the game of life is over. We can make peace with injustice and unfairness because we know he will make things right in the end.

13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. [3]

 17 Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.[4]

The even better news? Christ has taken all the penalties that we deserved with him to the Cross. We—including NFL referees—are free to pursue excellence without worrying about our mistakes, yet conscious of what our sins cost him and motivated not to repeat them. Put your faith in him.

[1] https://video.foxnews.com/v/5992638275001/#sp=show-clips

[2] ibid

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 4:13). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The New International Version. (2011). (1 Pe 1:17). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

GROWING UP IN GOD’S UNIVERSITY

The interview was disturbing. The young woman I was counseling was in deep-dish trouble. Her relationships were dysfunctional, she was up to her armpits in debt, and most of her decisions were based on a daily reading of her horoscope.

But the most troubling thing is that she had grown up attending church. She was supposed to know how to manage life. But she didn’t. Her spiritual journey included a lot of lessons to help her feel good, but very few to help her live as a true follower of Christ. I should not have been surprised.

In 2005, University of North Carolina sociologist Christian Smith and colleague Melinda Lundquist Denton published The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, revealing that most teens adhered to a pseudo-religion Smith dubbed MTD, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Its tenets:

  • There is a God who created everything and watches over us.
  • That God wants people to be good as defined by most world religions.
  • The goal of life is happiness and feeling good about oneself.
  • We only need God when we have a problem.
  • Good people go to heaven when they die.

In other words, the moral part is superseded by the therapeutic. Purity of heart, Christlike sacrifice for others, repentance, forgiveness and the pursuit of righteousness and the rule of God in life[1] aren’t in the picture. Feeling good trumps everything.

Smith’s follow-up research published in 2011 showed nothing had improved. Though 40 percent of young believers said their moral beliefs were grounded in the Bible or other religious feeling, it is unlikely that those beliefs were biblically consistent. And 61 percent “had no moral problem at all with materialism and consumerism.”[2]

Those teens are grown up now and most of America follows MTD.

That isn’t the way Church is supposed to be. The Church should be God’s university on planet earth, a learning center for Biblical life lessons, a place where each member is constantly growing up into maturity in Christ.[3]

Healthy Churches equip believers to discern between wisdom and the world’s empty values.

Consider some examples: What do you think about climate change?  How about a nuclear-armed Iran? What about health care? College debt? How about the Virginia Tax Code? And what about education? Helping the poor? Sex-ed in schools?

Simple answers elude us. How should a serious Christian respond? Can the Bible help?

The Bible doesn’t always teach us what to think. But it can teach us how to think. That’s what it means to develop a Biblical Worldview. Christians truly educated in God’s university know how to ‘think Biblically’ on issues from Abortion to Zoning laws. In that sense, a healthy church produces better parents, better students, better leaders, better workers and better citizens because it produces better thinkers.

THE SEARCH FOR RELIABLE REPORTING

25 years ago, I asked a friend in the Christian radio business if he knew of anything like National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, but from a biblical worldview.

“No,” he said, “But there is this guy named Rush Limbaugh who is singlehandedly rescuing AM radio from oblivion with his talk show. If you can get past his schtick, he has some important things to say.”

I never did get past his schtick. But I have, along with many other conservative Christians, listened to Rush off and on ever since and been alternatively incensed, offended, aggravated, humored, surprised, and informed. Limbaugh, along with his many imitators, has coarsened public discourse and contributed to the polarization of our politics. He has also drawn back the curtains on the cynical manipulation of the public by those in power, particularly the Clintons, and was amazingly prescient about the success of the Trump campaign. While I agree with many of the conservative principles he espouses, Limbaugh’s crudity, bombast, and inflammatory rhetoric — audience building tools all — are at odds with biblical principles of civic conversation.

Then again, so were Martin Luther’s. But that’s a blog for another day.

Then there’s National Public Radio. NPR does many things very well. From Morning Edition to All Things Considered, NPR succeeds with its breadth of topics, in depth reporting, and literate reporting staff. But more than anything else I appreciate its tone. Unlike its commercial, conservative competitors, it isn’t crude, repetitive, personality-driven or sensationalist, but rational, reasonable, and understated.

The problem, and it is a deep one, is NPR’s Darwinian, post-modern, politically correct point of view. As Juan Williams said in 2010, when he was unceremoniously fired from NPR for mentioning his reasonable fear of Muslims on airplanes, “To say the least this is a chilling assault on free speech. The critical importance of honest journalism and a free flowing, respectful national conversation needs to be had in our country. But it is being buried as collateral damage in a war whose battles include political correctness and ideological orthodoxy.” Williams, no knee-jerk conservative himself, was dead right.

Enter WORLD RADIO and its daily podcast, The World and Everything In It, a thirty-minute radio news program that drops every morning at 5:30 AM. The World and Everything In It, along with the weekend program Listening In, takes the best of NPR, its tone, its breadth, and its intelligence, and presents its news and commentary with biblical objectivity. They call it biblical worldview journalism. WORLD is refreshingly honest about this, unlike NPR, which pretends impartiality as it promotes the PC party line. WORLD’S contributors and regular guests include Cal Thomas, Warren Cole Smith, and John Stonestreet.  Weekly features include legal analysis of cases before the Supreme Court every Monday, Whitehouse Wednesday, and Culture Friday, along with interviews with thinkers and policy makers from all walks of life.

WORLD RADIO is also committed to journalistic integrity. They do the hard work of chasing down the facts, verifying them, and reporting them with balance and without gloss. Like the magazine from which it grew, WORLD RADIO doesn’t shy away from difficult stories. It will report corruption and failure within the evangelical church as well as without, yet without the rancor and insensitivity found in some other publications.

WORLD RADIO is part of World News Group, which also produces the monthly WORLD MAGAZINE and GOD’S BIG WORLD for kids. They also sponsor the Hope Awards for effective charity. Like NPR, WORLD is a non-profit, which works in its favor. It does not let advertisers shape its content. Yet unlike NPR, which is partially funded by tax-payer dollars, WORLD depends on listeners and like-minded organizations for support.

If you are ready for some world-class journalism from a biblical point of view, or looking for a great Christmas gift for information-hungry friends and relatives, I urge you to try WORLD RADIO and WORLD MAGAZINE. Get a risk-free, three month trial at www.getworldnow.com, check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WorldandEverything/, and find them on the web at www.world.wng.org.

REMOVING HISTORICAL GLOSS: Metaxas’ Enlightening Luther Biography

Johann Tetzel was being robbed. The Dominican friar and Grand Commissioner for indulgences in Germany was on his way from one very profitable preaching crusade to another when a German nobleman, one who had made a great point of asking whether all future sins could be forgiven if only the right indulgence was bought, cashed in on his prior purchase and relieved the preacher of his purse.

At least, that’s how the story goes.

Yesterday, October 31, 2017, was the five hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, which, according to the 2000 edition of LOOK magazine was the second, behind the invention of the printing press which enabled it, greatest event in the last one thousand years. The story of Tetzel and the robber baron, which is probably mythical, is one of many that Eric Metaxas covers in his excellent work, MARTIN LUTHER: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World.

Although I am only halfway through the book, listening to the audible version, I am totally sold on Metaxas’s ability to make a complicated story not only accessible and informative, but entertaining.

Mailed Not Nailed

For example, everyone knows that a theologian and monk named Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation by posting 95 theses opposing the sale of indulgences on the Castle Church doors in Wittenberg, Germany. (An indulgence supposedly draws on the merit of the good works of Christ and the saints to deliver a sinner from punishment on earth or in purgatory). But most do not know that Luther may or may not have personally nailed the document to the doors, the bulletin board of its day. It could have been a clerk that swung the hammer. What sets October 31st apart, according to Metaxas, is that is the day Luther mailed his theses to his presiding bishop, Cardinal Albert of Brandenburg, with a proposal to call a conference of theologians on the abusive sale of indulgences.

Gutenberg’s Internet

Metaxas also illuminates the fact that, in those early days of the printing press, Luther had no intention of igniting a revolution and no idea of the part he would play in it. He was simply a pastor / theologian and faithful Catholic trying to do his job and protect his parish from oppression and heresy. The 95 theses, written in Latin, would have been indecipherable to most Germans who passed the church doors. They were meant for a limited audience of theological scholars who would have had thoughtful discussions and sent their conclusions and recommendations off to higher authority for approval.

But the printing press was to the sixteenth century what the internet is today. Information transfer went from snail’s pace to light speed almost overnight. Further, with no copyright law in place, Luther could not prevent publishers from pushing his ideas far beyond the boundaries of Wittenberg and Mainz. He was soon embroiled in a battle that he had not planned and could not have anticipated. (He also never made a dime from his writings). Ultimately, Luther saw this series of unfortunate events as providential and embraced his calling as a reformer. But Metaxas removes the gloss of history and helps us see that Luther, like many of us, was a man of his times driven as much by circumstance as by conviction to take up the work which God had prepared in advance for him to do.

I’ve only brushed the surface of Metaxas’s latest, but I hope you will read it. It will give any Christian a greater comprehension of the treasures of grace we possess, the place in history we occupy, and perhaps help us see our calling as well as Luther saw his.

PRODUCING BETTER THINKERS

The discussion had been disturbing. The young woman I was counseling was in deep-dish trouble. Her relationships were dysfunctional, she was up to her armpits in debt, and most of her decisions were based on a daily reading of her horoscope.

But the most disturbing thing was that she had grown up attending church. She was supposed to know how to manage life, but she didn’t. Her spiritual journey included a lot of lessons to help her feel good, but very few to help her be good.

That isn’t the way Church is supposed to be.

The Apostle Paul said that in the Church we are to “in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” (Eph 4:15). We have the Scriptures for, as he told Timothy, “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16-17)

The church is supposed to be God’s university on planet earth, a learning center for Biblical life lessons, a place where each member is constantly growing up into maturity in Christ.

A healthy church is a place where the Christian’s life foundations are laid, where we learn how the Bible applies to everyday life. Healthy churches equip believers to discern between wisdom and the world’s empty values.

Consider some issues believers should be able to think through and come to soundly biblical conclusions: How best to manage our finances? How are we to think about gun violence? What is the best way to help Puerto Rico recover? Should we stay in NAFTA? How about student loan debt? How should we lower the burden on college students? How can we discern between so-called fake news and the real thing?

The list of things we need to know how to think about is endless and simple answers elude us. How should serious-minded believers respond? Can the Bible help?

The Bible doesn’t always teach us what to think. But it can teach us how to think biblically on issues from Abortion to Zoning laws. That’s what it means to develop a biblical worldview. Healthy Christians develop a biblical worldview in God’s university, the local church, becoming in the process better parents, better students, better leaders, better workers, and better citizens.

I’m so grateful for the dedicated Sunday School teachers and small group leaders our church has benefited from over the years! The list is long, but each one has helped us “grow up in all things into Christ,” to think biblically about our world.

And what about you? Do you have the ability to teach? Have you ever tried? Could you take a rotation in Children’s Church, or as a small group Bible study, or Sunday School teacher?

Just like the young woman in my office that day, the church needs good teachers on all levels now more than ever. Ask God if he is calling you to lay the foundation for someone else’s future.

A FACE LIKE FLINT: Os Guinness’s Call to Courage

8 “Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.”[1]

Thus spoke God to Ezekiel, his prophet to the exiled Jews in Babylon circa 593 B.C., and so speaks Os Guinness to a church increasingly exiled from American culture today in his book, IMPOSSIBLE PEOPLE: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization.

Guinness, the great-great-great grandson of Arthur Guinness, the Dublin brewer, is author of over 30 books and one of the most erudite and articulate spokesmen for the truth and goodness of the biblical world view working today. IMPOSSIBLE PEOPLE is a clarion call to the church to face up to the realities of the forces arrayed against the faith and to stand strong against “everything that contradicts the call of our Lord – whatever the cost and whatever the outcome.”

“At stake,” writes Guinness, “is the attempted completion of the centuries-long assault on the Jewish and Christian faiths and their replacement by progressive secularism as the defining faith of the West and the ideology said to be the best suited to the conditions of advanced modernity. The gathering crisis is therefore about nothing less than a struggle for the soul of the West and the place of faith – any faith – in the life of advanced modern societies.”[2]

With that introduction he proceeds through seven concise but weighty chapters to explain the philosophical, social, political and spiritual roots of the mudslide of global modernity now enveloping Western Civilization.

Guinness is not content with social criticism. He does not stop at analysis nor does he offer up practical but ultimately shallow steps at making a difference. He goes deeper by helping us think and pray about our part in the grand drama that is the Church in the world.

The book’s brevity, it is only 225 pages, and Guinness’s clarity make his analysis convincing and fascinating, but it is weighty. It is not a “how-to-do-it” book, but a “how-to-think-about-it” book. Each chapter concludes with an insightful prayer and three discussion questions designed to help the reader decide how he or she will participate in the grand struggle for the soul of civilization. If you like meat in your morning devotions you will find it here. I read it with pen in hand after my first cup of coffee and found it compelling.

The Church in what remains of Western Civilization needs more Ezekiels. Those who feel the call to fill those shoes need to read Guinness.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eze 3:8–9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] P. 22