Guns and the Gospel: a match made in…somewhere

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. To the NRA, I became a proponent of concealed hand guns, to win gun rights advocates.

What do you think? I recently received an email from someone at a church that is planning an outreach event that combines the Gospel and guns. The church is reaching out the community by offering a concealed handgun license course. But, the real purpose of the course is to reach out to people who wouldn’t otherwise come to church and use it as an opportunity to share the Gospel with them. So, ultimately, the event isn’t really about guns, it’s about the Gospel. The guns are just to get them in the front door.

My first reaction to this was not terribly positive. But, I had to stop and double-check myself. I didn’t grow up around guns and have never really understood the need for the average person to carry a concealed handgun. So, I have to consider the possibility that my reaction to this event has more to do with my personal biases than legitimate concerns.

My second reaction to this still isn’t terribly positive. At the very least, I don’t like bait-and-switch evangelism. Maybe that’s not what is being planned here. But it sure sounds like the kind of event where you invite people to something that sounds fun, and then you sneak the Gospel in the back door. Sure it’s a church event and people probably expect that they’ll need to endure the Gospel so they can get to the good stuff. But is that really how we want to do things?

But, more to the point, the way that we present the Gospel matters. And, I can’t think of any way of hosting an event like this without connecting the Gospel to a whole raft of issues surrounding gun rights advocacy and conservative political ideology, not to mention all of the images and associations that people have with handguns, none of which have anything to do with the Gospel. Do we really want to align the Gospel with things like this?

To be clear, this has nothing to do with the question of gun rights in itself. That’s a separate issue, and one that I don’t want to get into here. This is a question about where and how we share the Gospel and how that shapes the way people hear the Gospel.

What do you think? Is this just a cultural issue? I’m just a pampered city boy from liberal Portland, so I can’t really understand what’s going on here. Or, are there legitimate concerns in connecting the Gospel and guns in this way?

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on August 25, 2011, in Culture, evangelism, Gospel. Bookmark the permalink. 22 Comments.

  1. Feed the hungry and they may listen. Help the poor and they may listen, clothe the naked, visit the shut in…Actually I think those things are all integral to the gospel anyway and not optional extra’s or draw cards….

    But I have a fav saying…if you scratch people where they itch…they will most likely listen to what you have to say.

  2. I think there is definitely a cultural aspect–Portland is going to react very differently than Texas (or so I would think) to the point that doing something like this in Oregon would be like flipping off the community in the name of Jesus. Granting that there will be different reactions based on location and culture, I still don’t like the pairing of the two. What is the ultimate purpose of a concealed weapon? Is that congruent with the purpose and message of the gospel? I think it conflicts and ultimately will confuse people.

  3. I think the picture says it all. Holding this kid of event at a church is like saying God endorses it. It’s confusing since we believe the 10 commandments were given to Moses by God, one being “thou shalt not kill”.

    Then there is the fact that the church is assuming that the people interested in guns would not come to church otherwise. A bit of religious profiling? The better question the church should ask itself is, “Why are we having trouble conveying the very simple truth Jesus brought to this world, and the love he wants us to share with one another?”

  4. I’m from Texas so me and the two handguns I’m using to type this comment will show our bias upfront! This is very much a cultural issue… I think it will be difficult to understand what this church is trying to accomplish unless you understand the culture of Texas and unless you understand the culture of this church. As someone who has a relationship with this church I was actually encouraged to hear about the class. When I think of cutting edge and innovative, this church in question is not one I typically think of, so to see them engaging their city in a creative and culturally acceptable way (think Texas not Oregon) I was excited. While I too hate bait and switch evangelism, I’m not sure that any of us have enough info on the event to say with certainty that that is what will occur here. I see the concerns on the other side of this discussion, and I have no doubt we could all build equally biblical/convincing defenses, but I think in the end we can all agree that for some reason our perfect God continues to use fallible humans and flawed churches to build his kingdom, and for that I am grateful.

  5. I typically do not like responding anonymously, nor like reading comments posted anonymously but I attend the church spoken about here so please allow me to do so.

    I think to assume that we are having trouble conveying the gospel so we have to trick people into coming to our church is a little silly. Now for the most part, I agree with a lot of what you guys are saying. I probably don’t have as much a problem with an event like this because I am from the south. I have heard of churches in the northwest offering beer brewing and wine tasting classes (I have no problem with these), which people in the Bible belt would be appalled over so I tend to see these types of events on the same level.

    Am I 100% okay with this class? No, but I have sat in the offices of the men who planned this event and they have thought through it deeply, taking into account Scripture and the culture in which we live. The argument for and against this is circular in my head because you will be hard pressed to make a sledge hammer argument from Scripture.

    As Marc said I don’t want to stray to far off the point of this post, which is basically, do the ends justify the means in our evangelistic efforts? However, I would like to speak from a southern perspective on the point of concealed handguns. I would say the primary point of a concealed handgun is protection, not only for yourself, but others around you (I do not own a gun so I had to talk to someone else about this). To be violent and kill is not a mandate found in Scripture, however, protecting those who cannot protect themselves is.

    So while I may not do this if I were a pastor, I think to regard a CGL class as necessarily making statement that we support violence or killing is over presumptuous.

    • I normally don’t like anonymous comments either, but in this case we’ll make an exception. Thans for commenting.

      And, I apologize if I gave the impression that I was saying that this church is having problems sharing the Gospel such that it has to trick people into coming. I don’t really know anything about this church (other than this one event) so I couldn’t possibly know that. I tried to indicate that in the post by saying “Maybe that is not what is being planned here.” So, my comment was more about bait-and-switch evangelism in general, rather than this event in particular. If the event is presented up front as an opportunity to hear the Gospel, great. I just don’t like it when an event gets promoted as something else and then the Gospel gets slipped in as something extra.

  6. It is a tension of the good – evil paradigm v Kingdom of life paradigm. I suppose the wanton rape of one of our children, the gas chambers for our defenseless kin, or the modeling of the cross of our Savior … leaves some of us in tension. The film “The Mission,” an absolute must see, lays out my personal dilemma of the question of fire arms or the deeper question of ‘just defense’ more clearly. I appreciate your introspection, Marc, about the PDX context. For the rest of those growing up in the progressive secular milieu never deeply considering a ‘just defense dilemma’ in the face of your loved one’s murderers… the day of the hell of war has never been feed with the whine that nourishes your anti-NRA attitudes. Taste it someday and maybe the hands on your Glock will change in time or maybe the second option of “the mission” will prove you holy. Obtusely yours…jerome

  7. ps…I re-routed to what might draw folks…admittedly off subject…so you can pull if you like 😉

    • Nah, I think you’re fine. Granted, you’re flirting with heading into the question of gun control itself, which, as you noted, is where I didn’t want to go. But, your comment does also deal with the issue of whether you can put handguns and the Gospel together without inadvertently undermining the latter. So, I’ll leave it and trust that everyone will stay on topic.

  8. Bobby, I’m impressed by how well you can type with guns in your hands. Do all Texans know how to do that, or is it a special talent? 🙂

    I also like it when churches engage their culture in meaningful ways. So, I’m glad the church is trying to be creative in this direction. The problem is that “culturally acceptable” alone isn’t a sufficient standard for determining whether we should proceed. There’s a lot about the “hipster” culture in Portland that I wouldn’t want the Gospel associated with either. (BTW – I should point out that Portland is far more culturally diverse than is often recognized and its not just full of a bunch of hipsters. And, I actually live in a town north of Portland where gun ownership is probably the norm rather than the exception.) So, the challenge is to understand how cultural practices may inadvertently impact how people hear the Gospel and what they associate with the Gospel.

    • Typing with guns in hand is really not that difficult unless I’m on my horse trying to get to the office quickly, but I manage… You hipsters are just jealous that you can’t conceal a glock in your skinny jeans! (jk… jk)

      I totally agree that “culturally acceptable” and biblically permissible do not always go hand-in-hand. I too have no desire to get into issues of gun control, but at this point I think the real question that has to be answered is whether guns and concealed handgun courses promote violence to a level that is unbiblical?

      I agree that instructing people how to sneak guns into schools and government buildings for hostile takeovers and then explaining how Jesus left his CHL (concealed handgun license) at home so he wouldn’t be tempted to defend himself and instead died on the cross for your sins (can I get and AAaaaMeN!) would be ridiculous. However, knowing this church, and knowing CHL courses, I highly doubt that is what will take place.

      Instead Christians and nonchristians alike will gather to learn about how to obey state laws with concealed handguns, gun safety (increasing citizen awareness and preventing accidental violence/injury), and their responsibility to prevent violence against themselves, their families, and others (which I certainly feel there is ample biblical support for… and I’m sure someone could build an equally biblical case against). Additionally this will provide an opportunity for members of this church to invite friends who wouldn’t otherwise come to church, to an event at their church and show them that they wont turn into pillars of salt the moment they step inside.

      Bottom line, CH courses don’t promote violence, they promote gun safety, and therefore (in my opinion) biblically permissible. Whether this is a gospel bait and switch is still open to debate… I for one an impressed to see this church taking steps to reach the community around them.

      Please forgive the long response… we’re still a week away from dove season and seminary classes starting here in the nation of Texas and I find myself with a lot of time on my hands. Thanks for asking good questions!

  9. As a born and raised Texan, and one who has hunted extensively growing up, but more importantly as a Christian…I think this is a fail, well intentioned as it might be. A hunter safety course would be much different, and probably just as plausible in Battle Ground (aptly named). But conceal and carry is simply about instruction for carrying a gun whose primary purpose is to kill someone. Has the church decided that Scripture teaches, that a) it is preferable to kill than be killed, and b) the best way to protect your family is with fatal violence? That is an easy gospel, but not one I would need to go that church to hear.

    Q: Would the next step to have the folks who passed the class then bring the guns to worship on Sunday morning?

    http://arkansasnews.com/2011/03/24/bill-to-allow-guns-in-church-advances-2/

    • To kill rather than be killed is one thing, but isn’t to watch someone get killed (or raped, assaulted within an inch of their life) rather than killing to save a life wicked as well? Not saying I stand definitively here but I am just asking.

      To answer your second question, in the past two churches I have been involved in, the pastor asked certain individuals in the congregation to carry in the services. Not so much to protect the pastor, but the congregation.

  10. Anonymous – your hypothetical begs the question. Why does attempted rape justify killing someone? The point of the lex talionis (“eye for an eye” teaching) is so that there wouldn’t be the overreaction you suggest. And why do either of your situations necessitate a handgun? Or killing someone? Why not take self-defense lessons (karate)? Or buy a tazer? Or…(multiple options). It is a deep loss of imagination on our part as Christians that sees our situation as “you either have a gun and be willing to kill someone” or you are wicked and ineffectual in protecting your stuff and family.

    Those other “gun totin'” churches sound dreadful. I have also attended liberal churches that fudge Scripture – I’m glad you got out!:-)

    • Like I said before I am not necessarily for or against CHL course at this point but I don’t want you to get the picture that when the pastor makes a strong point in his sermon that we pull our our smith &wessons and start firing in the air instead of simply saying “amen.”

      And regarding the hypotheticals, they are what they are and when I have to resort to using them I should just stop talking.

      If I were a pastor I can say with a fairly high degree of certainty that I would never do this, but like Bobby said, I am also proud of them for thinking outside the box and pushing the envelope a bit because we typically don’t do that…ever. To answer Marc’s question on whether or not guns and the gospel should be joined – I don’t think so.

      To everyone who responded: thanks for helping me work through this. And thanks to Marc for posting it.

  11. I should have known that it was going to be almost impossible to keep this from becoming a discussion about guns, violence, and pacifism in general. But I still think those issues can and should be distinguished in this discussion. Isn’t it possible to conclude that something is a legitimate option for Christians (e.g. owning guns) without drawing the separate conclusion that it is therefore okay to connect that activity to sharing the Gospel? For example, I have no problem with Christians watching the Super Bowl, but I think churches should be much more careful about associating the Gospel with all of the materialism and consumerism that comes along with the Super Bowl. I guess that doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t do it, but at the very least we need to be much more careful than I often see in such events.

    Regardless, this has been an interesting discussion. It certainly forced me to think outside my own box and try to see this from a different perspective.

  12. Now wait…if you fired a pistol at a good point in the sermon that changes everything! I take back all that I said!:-)

    Best,
    PGR

  13. <After saying this, I will run away very fast, cackling with an evil laugh It could be a good method of reaching out to some Muslims. 😉

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