Wayne Grudem is Prof. of Theology & Biblical Studies at Phoenix Seminary in Arizona, USA. His recent book, Politics according to the Bible (2010) addresses the issue of gun ownership & gun control (pp. 201-212). Grudem argues that the Bible justifies people (at least Americans) arming themselves with guns.
Prof. Grudem: the Bible justifies Guns
Grudem deduces that the Bible gives people the right to defend themselves. He alleges Jesus' words about â€˜turning the other cheek' have been misunderstood. Jesus said, "You've heard it said, â€˜An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, â€˜Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well'." (Matt. 5:38-40)
Dr. Grudem says, "Sometimes people think that Jesus prohibited all self-defense_ But Jesus is not prohibiting self-defense here. He is prohibiting individuals from taking personal vengeance simply to â€˜get even' with another person. The verb â€˜slaps' is the Greek term rhapizÅ, which refers to a sharp slap given as an insult_ So the point is not to hit back when someone hits you in insult. But the idea of a violent attack_ is not in view here." [Grudem, Politics, pp. 201-2] Grudem emphasizes the insult, over the assault. But, is that really what Jesus meant?
Non-resistance limits Self-defense
It seems to me Grudem's emphasis on â€˜a slap in insult' is overly narrow. Jesus first gives the principle: "Don't resist one who's evil." No doubt it's not easy to apply, but that fact doesn't justify tempering this injunction's sharp edges. The principle of non-resistance--"Don't resist an evil person"--is illustrated by an unprovoked slap, taking you tunic, etc. Luke adds "if someone takes away your goods don't demand them back" (6:30). Jesus told his disciples not to exercise their right to retain possession of their own goods, clothing or an un-bruised face in response to an evil person's actions. Surely this precept does circumscribe the self-defense of one's possessions and physical wellbeing! Considered in context, Jesus' charge of non-resistance severely limits his disciples' exercising their rights of self-defense. David eluded King Saul's spear; Paul evaded his pursuers by escaping Damascus in a basket; Jesus escaped hostile crowds (Luke 4:29-30; John 8:59). But these are examples of self-preservation, not of self-defense.
Jesus encouraged his Disciples to have Swords
Grudem offers as an added basis for armed self-defense: Jesus' dialogue with his disciples just prior to his betrayal: "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: â€˜And he was numbered with the transgressors.' For what is written about me has its fulfillment." They said, â€˜Look, Lord, here are two swords'. And he said to them, â€˜It is enough'." (Luke 22:36-38)
Grudem claims "People commonly carried swords at that time for protection against robbers, and apparently at least two of Jesus' disciples _were still carrying swords, and Jesus had not forbidden this." (p. 202) He concludes from this "that Jesus is encouraging his disciples to carry a sword for self-defense, and even to buy one (v. 36) if they did not have one." (p. 203, emphasis original)
Jesus numbered with Transgressors
But this dialogue occurred in the context of Jesus' betrayal and arrest. Jesus said, "This Scripture must be fulfilled _â€˜he was numbered with the transgressors' [Isa. 53:12]." Were the disciples, armed with swords, the "transgressors," with whom Jesus was numbered? Jeremy Schipper is more definite, saying, "Jesus instructs his disciples to arm themselves in order to fulfill the prophecy _In Luke the Lord draws a connection between himself as an innocent figure [Isaiah's suffering servant] associated with wrongdoers." [J. Schipper, Disability & Isaiah's Suffering Servant, p. 75] Thus expositors suggest Jesus told his disciples to arm themselves as a deliberate fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy; they played the role of "transgressors" or "wrongdoers." In this case, Jesus' endorsement of swords is explained by the exceptional circumstances of his betrayalâ€”a prophecy must be fulfilled. It follows that this incident does not establish a general principle justifying Jesus' disciples arming themselves with weapons. But this refutes Grudem's position.
Jesus told Peter, "Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matt. 26:52-53) In this context isn't Jesus discouraging the use of swords? Moreover, why did the disciples need weapons for self-defense? Jesus could summon "twelve legions of angels" (i.e., 72,000 angels) for their protection, as well as his?
Not "take up your swords & follow me"
Other relevant Scriptures are not addressed. Jesus told Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world." (John 18:36) Jesus' servants didn't fight (offensively or defensively) because Jesus' kingdom is "not of this world." The reason (Jesus says) is not because he must be crucified, it's due to the nature of his kingdom. Throughout Christian history thousands of missionaries and martyrs have been wounded and killed, without resorting to weapons of self-defense based on Jesus' teaching. Were they all misled? Jesus didn't tell his disciples "take up your swords and follow me," as we might expect from Gruden's exposition. He said, "Take up your cross..."
Rather than finding "significant support" from Scripture for weapons of self-defense, Grudem has failed to prove his case. If he's correct we should find support for his view in Acts or the Epistles. But when Stephen and Paul were about to be stoned, they didn't draw swords in self-defense (Acts 7:58; 14:19). Plus Paul told Timothy to bring his cloak, books, & parchments (1 Tim. 4:13); he didn't ask for his sword! We don't find any support for Grudem's argument in the rest of the New Testament.
"It is morally right _to be able to use _a gun."
Notwithstanding his failure to prove his case, Grudem continues, "If the Bible authorizes the idea of self-defense in general, and if Jesus encouraged his disciples to carry a sword to protect themselves, then it seems to me that it is morally right for a person to be able to use other kinds of weapons for self-defense. Today, that would include the use of a gun_" (pp. 203-4, emphasis original). But, since we reject the first two "if" clauses, we also reject Grudem's inferenceâ€”"that it is morally right _to be able to use _a gun." This is not a Bible-based teaching. Rather, it appears that Dr. Grudem is reading his right-wing American values into Scripture (what's called, eisegesis).
Grudem on Gun Controls
Having argued that the Bible justifies guns, Grudem gives "recommendations about laws and policies." These are supposed to follow from Scripture. The author emphasizes that "It is important to understand that I see these positions as flowing out of the Bible's teachings rather than positions that I hold prior to, or independently of, those biblical teachings." (p. 13) Turning to specifics, Prof. Grudem asserts that "Laws should guarantee that citizens have the right to possess_ effective means of self-defense." (p. 210) Then he recommends "In the US, the rights of citizens to own guns for_ self-defense should be protected by laws." (p. 211) Third, Grudem addresses the issue of gun control. He states that, "Governments should place reasonable restrictions on gun ownership." (p. 211)
What does Grudem consider "reasonable restrictions" on guns? First, "governments should prohibit convicted felons and the mentally ill from owning or possessing guns" (p. 211). Second guns should be prohibited from "sensitive places such as courtrooms or on airplanes." Third, "reasonable restrictions would include the prohibition of private ownership of_ weapons not needed for personal self-defenseâ€”for e.g. weapons such as machine guns, or an anti-tank rocket launcher or an anti-aircraft missile launcher_" (p, 211).
Right Wing ideology in theological Garb
This list would be amusing if the author wasn't serious; but he is! Prof. Grudem has avoided the hard questions. No one, not even the NRA, would oppose prohibiting machine guns, anti-tank- & anti-aircraft missile launchers. But, what about semi-automatic Bushmaster AR-15 used in the Connecticut mass shooting and to ambush firefighters in Webster, NY? The same gun was also involved in the 2003 Washington DC sniper shootings in which killed 10 people. What about similar weapons? Prof. Grudem is silent on these issues.
Grudem's Bible is a Right-wing American Book
Right Wing Americans and the Christian Right won't be offended by Wayne Grudem's policy positions. In fact, they'll be grateful that he has provided a "biblical justification" for their position. However, in my view, Grudem's conclusions are the result of reading Right Wing Republican values into the Bible, rather than letting the Bible speak for itself on the issue of guns. Grudem says, 'I am well aware that the Bible is not an American book.' However, in his hands the Bible becomes a very American book, aligned with the conservative wing of US politics. On the issue of guns, Wayne Grudem presents conservative ideology as theology. What he portrays as "policy according to the Bible" is (in fact) Right Wing American ideology cloaked in theological garb.
After being involved in several recent conversations with both conservative and liberal Christian friends, I desired to get away from my "feelings" on some of the issues of the day, and be informed instead by what the Bible has to say about them. While looking for resources to help, I discovered Grudem's book.
Wayne Grudem does an excellent job, I feel, of taking scripture passages as a whole (not pulling verses out of context) to develop his views on many of the issues facing us as individuals, families, our nation and the world. Where there are no scriptural guidelines for a given issue (and there are few), he clearly states that, but then continues to offer solid reasoning to support his views. While I don't agree with each and every viewpoint he maintains, the scope of scriptural foundation and thoughtfulness with which he makes his case are impressive.
Regardless of your political persuasion, this book can be used to either help solidify your beliefs or challenge your assumptions. I highly recommend it.
A Review of Wayne Grudem's Attempts to be Comprehensive
Politics is a very broad subject which allows for a great deal of disagreement. Likewise, the Christian faith has many values that are unique to individuals and groups. Combining the two is not always easy, and it certainly does not make for precise clarification. Each system presents a unique set of biases which have a tendency to taint the other. Understanding what the Bible teaches about politics ought to be a great concern for Christians. The challenge then, is to be willing to examine our preconceptions and not allow them to be determined for us.
I was mislead in my initial approach to reading this book. Perhaps it was Peter Sanlon's review in The Gospel Coalition's Themelios in which he called Grudem a Libertarian. Or maybe it was because Voddie Baudham recommended it in his endorsement of Ron Paul. I would wager to say that neither of them actually read the book because it would clearly clash with their statements and positions.
Wayne Gruden is a theologian, professor, and author of several books, but most widely known for his book on "Systematic Theology." He admits upfront that he is not a political journalist, and that his approach is slanted from a conservative mindset. As a relatively trusted resource among evangelicals, I can understand why people would turn to him on such a subject, but one thing is clear, he is not an authority on political matters. He may even be overestimating his attempts by thinking his principles apply across cultures and party lines.
"Politics According to the Bible - A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture" is Grudem's attempt in creating a resource for Christians in understanding and interacting with government. Written in three sections, the first lays out a thorough explanation of how Christians approach the balance of faith and politics. He then develops a biblical worldview that addresses many of the passages where the Bible addresses politics. The second section deals with particular issues relating to a wide range of topics most specifically focused on political policies. In the final section he addresses the culture of politics and how it works in the US.
The premise that a book can address every issue in politics according to the Bible is rather bold. It comes along with a wave of thought that everything Christians involve themselves in somehow needs to be related to biblical principles. Grudem points out in his introduction that much of what he has to say cannot be supported biblically. "I am certainly not claiming that the Bible also supports all the facts I cite about the world today." With this admission, Grudem explains three standards he used in forming his premises: Biblical certainty, broader principles, and an appeal to facts. In reality, what he does is substitute broader principles for his presuppositions and an appeal to facts as philosophical arguments. If it were a cake recipe, the philosophical notions would be the flour, his presuppositions would be the sugar, and the biblical principles would be the baking powder. Hardly the comprehensive book it is selling itself to be. Certainly this can't be avoided, and I wouldn't even attempt to write a book on politics suggesting that everything had Scriptural support, but the issue I take with this claim is Grudem's response that he is not going to distinguish between these three. Instead, he leaves that up to the reader to determine if he is right. But what, then, is the purpose of a comprehensive work claiming biblical affirmation? This allows Grudem to present his views to a Christian audience without the strenuous effort of explaining his premises. He can make an emotionally charged case without Scriptural support and rest assured that he had warned his readers he would do so.
While claiming to be comprehensive, the book is 600 pages long, I feel he has failed to fully address the full spectrum of ideas. Section one is exhaustive in the sense that it addresses the wide spectrum of evangelical positions, but it is the only section where he fully expounds on opposing views. Once you get into the second section, making up the majority of the book, Grudem's views are narrow and slanted. Instead of making the effort to explain every angle, he writes directly to his audience. Some of his arguments are solid and can be supported, but most of them are narrowly guided by his political slant.
Grudem's conclusions could better be described as the typical evangelical default position. The reader really needs to be aware of the very real problem of confirmation bias. Grudem does not make a special effort to explain his positions to those who would disagree with his premises. Instead, he writes directly to an audience that already agrees with him. I even got the impression that many of his points were being read back into the text instead of coming from a biblical perspective. This is a dangerous method in developing a political worldview that most people won't notice as long as they agree with them. In this way, I cannot stress enough how destructive this is in creating a sound, theological worldview.
In the end, "Politics According to the Bible" is a mix bag of common sense, conservative values, and totalitarian ideals. Though written from a conservative perspective suggesting limited government, several of his religious convictions are allowed to seep into his political perspective and influence his decision in a totalitarian way. Even though he addresses where socialism and totalitarianism are wrong, he is not able to see where he crosses that line himself. This is another major problem we are facing today because the conservative side alleges that they are fighting for limited government, but in reality, they only want to limit it in certain areas. Many of their attacks on the liberal system can be made against them as well for different policies. This is obviously not something that Grudem addresses in the book. The two parties in the system are more alike than they are willing to admit.
I was prompted on several occasions while reading through this book to write complete essays in contradiction to Grudem's positions. (Maybe I still will through the coming month. You can start looking forward for those.) In many cases he uses bad information, relies on traditional values, and assumes the reader agrees with his premise. He quotes Aristotle, a totalitarian, on defining marriage. He uses gross logical fallacies to build his argument on national defense. Some of what he says is completely accurate, particularly about the environment and special interest groups. But in other areas he contradicts himself when suggesting that the public school system is flawed and then presenting how he would fix it without actually restructuring it. Furthermore, He wrote this several years ago before current events that would contradict several things he said. He suggest that nuclear power plants present little to no risk as a form of energy. Something I think he would retract in light of the tragedy in Japan. He supported Mitt Romney in the 2008 nomination, and he makes a special effort to attack Ron Paul. In many ways, this book already has an expiration date and it is already a couple years old.
Initially, I thought I would be able to recommend this book as a resource with some reservations. I assumed it would be a scholarly attempt to paint a wide picture of where Christians can see the full spectrum of politics according to the Bible. Sadly, I was greatly disappointed in the process which he uses to determine his convictions. It's not that we disagree that bothers me, but how he draws many of his conclusions and fails to point out their limitations.
Grudem's thoughts represent an older generation of conservative values which are not being translated into contemporary language. There is a major shift taking place in the next generation of the conservative party, and Grudem's views are antiquated. It's not that he is wrong, or that his concerns are not longer relevant, but that his method in presenting them does not speak to the people who will become the next leaders in our generation. It is like writing an instruction manual for those about to retire. For this reason, I won't recommend this book, even as a resource guide. There are much better resources and they don't have to carry the name of Christian or biblical in order to be trusted as authorities. So, with sadness, I can't recommend this book.
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This book should be on the reading list of every person in the USA. It provides a reasoned, logical discussion of the realities of US politics on major issues from a biblical world view. It is also readable despite its length!