Getting Jesus Wrong in the Face of Tragedy

or

When ideology interferes with the truth of the Gospel

It’s been a while since I’ve responded to something that John Pavlovitz has written, namely because I don’t think that it’s either necessary or polite to respond to such emotion-driven rhetoric on a regular basis. John has no desire to listen to the other side, and seems to love firing up strawmen on a regular basis. But in the light of two terrible tragedies in the United States, El Paso and Midland/Odessa, I feel some compulsion, indeed a necessity to respond to Pavlovitz for a number of reasons: first, he claims to believe in Jesus and offers a particular representation of him to the world as the only way to perceive him, and second because he’s simply wrong. Demonstrated in nonsense Tweets like this:

I know that such language seems rather presumptive. I wrote a brief post back in 2015 intended to answer the question, was Jesus a pacifist? I came to the conclusion of “no”, because people will often cherry pick a single passage and use that to make the argument, even though the passage doesn’t have anything to do with the question.

Titled, “No, Christian, Jesus Didn’t Say You Can Have Your Guns,” Pavlovitz argues that,

“In the wake of the shameful growing legacy of mass shootings in America, one of the saddest realizations, is that the loudest, most vehement voices championing the cause of weapons of brutality—have come from professed Evangelical Christians.

Well, we have to ask, what does he mean by “weapons of brutality”? Literally anything from a word to a bomb can be used to brutalize another person, so is this just being vague or intending emotional incitement? I’m going for the latter.

He continues from his fiery opening,

“The cognitive dissonance of supposed followers of Jesus choosing the side of violence and opposing the movement of mercy is staggering, exceeded only by the contention that Jesus says they can pack heat.

Well, the hidden assertion there is one of silence: if Jesus—and by Jesus “saying” something he means, “in the red letters”, that Jesus said something—the burden of proof is on him to prove that Jesus 1) was utterly opposed to the use of violence, and 2) that Jesus prohibits his followers from carrying or using weapons.

The obvious refutation of the former is that Jesus himself used violence to drive the moneychangers and traders from the temple, which is dealt with later. The latter, well—let’s just see where John goes.

He insists that,

“There simply aren’t any theological gymnastics wild enough to make it work.

But is that the case? He asserts,

“Not with the Jesus who preached that those following in his footsteps would turn the other cheek to violence.

Well, little problem there, it’s not necessarily “violence” in Matthew 5 that his followers were to “turn the other cheek” to. It was mere insult. John Stott, in his book, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount: Christian Counter Culture, writes on the passage in question,

“His purpose was to forbid revenge, not to encourage injustice, dishonesty or vice. How can those who seek as their first priority the extension of God’s righteous rule at the same time contribute to the spread of unrighteousness? True love, caring for both the individual and society, takes action to deter evil and to promote good. And Christ’s command was ‘a precept of love, not folly’. (p. 108)

Jesus wasn’t calling his followers to be doormats, but to be doers of good, and violence can sometimes be used to do good. The problem that Jesus was concerned about was escalating violence, and unnecessary violence, as Stott notes,

“[The] scribes and Pharisees evidently extended this principle of just retribution from the law courts (where it belongs) to the realm of personal relationships (where it does not belong). They tried to use it to justify personal revenge, although the law explicitly forbade this…

Stott then quotes from Wenham’s Christ and the Bible,Thus, ‘This excellent, if stern, principle of judicial retribution was being utilized as an excuse for the very thing it was instituted to abolish, namely personal revenge.’(emphasis added, p. 104)”

Pavlovitz continues,

“Not with the Jesus who spoke of the blessed nature of the peacemakers.

And what are the peacemakers charged with? Again, turning to Stott,

“[Peacemaking] is a divine work. For peace means reconciliation, and God is the author of peace and of reconciliation. Indeed, the very same verb which is used in this beatitude of us is applied by the apostle Paul to what God has done through Christ. Through Christ God was pleased ‘to reconcile to himself all things, … making peace by the blood of his cross’. And Christ’s purpose was to ‘create in himself one new man in place of the two…(p. 50)

The only way that men can truly have peace with one another is to first have peace through a reconciliation with the God who made both.

Pavlovitz again,

“Not with the Jesus whose benevolence and lack of force were ever-present.

I’m sorry, does anyone have a Bible to give John that has the cleansing of the Temple in it, because that demonstrates Jesus not only willing to use force when necessary, but also purposefully, and his clearly doesn’t have that passage in it.

See also: Gary DeMar’s Response to Brian McLaren who makes a similar argument in Time Magazine

John continues,

“Gun-loving Jesus followers love to point to a passage in the Gospel biography written by Luke, where Jesus speaks about his impending unlawful arrest by Roman soldiers and instructs them to “bring a sword.”

“They fail to stick with the same story for a couple of paragraphs; when the Romans arrive, and one of Jesus’ students named Peter, takes out one of said swords, and cuts off a soldier’s ear. Jesus verbally tears into Peter, heals the solider’s ear, and tells those with him that this will not be their way.

Eh, not exactly. It’s not just “bring a sword” that Jesus tells his disciples. It’s “buy a sword”, it’s the active imperative form of the verb agorazo, which means “to go to the marketplace”. Further, countless commentators have noted that this command—and that’s what it is— even though it seems to fly in the face of Peter’s subsequent actions in attacking the cohort sent to arrest Jesus. However, those same commentators note that Jesus wasn’t calling for violent overthrow of the human government, but that Jesus was clearly concerned for his disciples ability to protect themselves against unjust actions by those who were acting illegitimately, unlike the police who were simply following the orders of their superiors.

John asserts,

“This, they claim [Luke 22:38] is their God-given gun license.

Well, not exactly.

Unlike John, I consider all of the words of Scripture the words of Jesus, since he is the Incarnate One after all, not just the red ones, and so I can point to numerous instances where self-defense—which implies the use of a sword or some other object—is clearly prescribed. It seems like John is simply unwilling to distinguish between those whose desire it is to protect themselves and their families from those who would do them harm, from those whose desire it is to do harm. If the preservation of life and the protection of property is something that God desires and prescribes, then God expects his people to employ the most modern and effective means at their disposal. For Jesus’ disciples in the 1st century, it was the common sword, for believers today its a Colt AR-15 or similar variant.

Roman-style Short Sword
Colt AR-15

For John to fail to make the logical distinction between the two groups is to do harm to human reason itself.

Referring back to the arrest of Jesus, John jabs,

“This narrative doesn’t let them have Jesus and NRA membership at the same time.

Not only is that anachronistic—and thus fallacious—, it presents a false dilemma. Can a Christian be on a football team (American or otherwise) because they’re inherently violent?

Can a Christian play golf? I mean, you are swatting a tiny, defenseless ball with a giant club, maybe you’re dreaming about bashing baby seals, while doing that. I don’t know.

As a believer in Christ, I have to ask—before I join any organization—what is the mission and goals of this group?

According to the group’s website, the National Rifle Association is dedicated to “…training, education, and marksmanship…”. One of their primary focuses today is hunter education and safety, something that I, and my sons, have taken and recommend for all hunters, young and old, to invest in. They train police officers in firearms, as well as the protection and promotion of Constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms.

Now—full disclosure—I’m not presently an NRA member, but I was one in the past, and I probably would not rejoin the organization today for any number of reasons outside of the scope of this response. However, I cannot, in good conscience—as a believer in Christ—tell another believer to not join the NRA. Just like I cannot tell another believer not to join the Democrat Party. Why? If it is not opposed to the preaching of the gospel, it is not an enemy of the Gospel.

John continues,

“This narrative actually tells them to drop their weapons and to beat them into plowshares, and to be those who live differently than the fear-bringers.

Yeah, no. John is simply being dishonest here. Jesus never tells anyone to “drop” their sword. He tells Peter to put his sword back in its sheath (Matthew 26:52) because, in his well-meaning zealotry, he was actually opposing the will and purpose of God. John’s own zealotry in his position causes him to eisegete terribly into this passage a context that cannot come until Christ rules over all and in all.

John does seem to realize the weakness of his argument because he goes to Christ’s own use of violence to try to defend his position,

“Christians straining to hold on to their guns, talk about the story of Jesus fashioning a whip to drive money lenders out of the temple, as some half- baked gun blessing—which again is such a perversion of the story that it would be laughable if it weren’t resulting in so many dead school students two thousand years later.

Now, to his credit, and some refreshing exegesis, John recognizes the actual context of the passage is that Jesus’ action is in response to abuses by the religious authorities. However, John seems oblivious to the fact that in this act that he brings up, Jesus clearly uses violence for righteous purposes—which is both an immediate and a direct refutation of any assertion by John that Jesus was explicitly opposed to the use of violence.

Now, let’s just look at John’s statement here, and ask the question, is anyone using this passage to condone the actions of mass shooters?

No? My condolences to the family of the strawman, and to the families of the children whose bodies John feels compelled to stand on to create his soap box.

John continues,

“This is why people outside Christianity think that followers of Jesus picking up the cause of tools of mass murder and rapid carnage is a blasphemous disconnect—because it is.

Um, John, do you drive a car? Then how can you, in good conscience use a tool that has been used to commit mass murder, such as this incident in Oklahoma or in New York City?

What about a knife? Do you own one of them? Don’t you know how many times knives have been used to commit mass murder and assault, such as this incident in China and this recent one in California? How can you, as a Christian, own such a destructive device?

Own a hammer, got hands, etc? More people are killed annually in the United States with “personal objects” than with rifles and shotguns combined. So, why hasn’t John had his hands and feet surgically removed?

John’s problem is that—aside from being openly hypocritical—is that he’s not rational. He blames inanimate objects for something that Jesus clearly indicates come from somewhere else.

Jesus, in Matthew 15 clearly indicates the source of the problem,

“ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”

Now, John Pavlovitz has offered false testimony and slandered fellow believers by claiming that organizations like the NRA are at fault—without evidence mind you—, and that believers who belong to such organizations are contributing to the problem, which makes me question the sincerity of his confession of Christ because it is so divorced from reality, which is where the believer lives out his faith. It is my duty then, to call him to repentance and to apologize to fellow believers. To call him to think rationally, for to do so is to honor his God.

I’m not telling John to join the NRA or to go buy a firearm. I am saying that he does need to calm down. He’s divorced himself from simple facts, and is not afraid to abuse Scripture in his quest, as demonstrated by the rest of his post.

I’m as concerned about mass shootings as the next person, but I’m also concerned about intoxicated driving, since—according to 2017 numbers—almost 30 people a day die in such accidents. And with the push to legalize marijuanna its likely that the numbers will continue to climb. So where is John’s anguish there and calling for the banning of intoxicants? Where is the outcry over the Labor Day weekend shootings in Chicago, which as of this reporting equalled the Midland shooting?

I ask myself, why does this happen? And then I remember: it’s because the human heart is wicked and self-destructive.

The only cure is Christ. And until you get that right, no law will matter.