Title: Beating Guns:
Hope for People Who are Weary of Violence
Authors: Shane Claiborne & Michael Martin
Genre: Theology/Philosophy/Politics
Pages: 288
Rating: 3 of 5
Future Release Date: March 5, 2019 (Thank you to the authors and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of the review)

I come from a denominational background (American Evangelical/Baptist) where it is not uncommon for people to treat the broadest possible interpretation of the Second Amendment (right to bear arms) with practically the same devotion as any of the basic tenets of the faith. Attempts to discuss gun violence are met with, “It’s not a gun problem. It’s a heart problem” or some similar slogan. Over my last eight years as a pastor I have grown increasingly troubled by the gun culture I see among Evangelicals and the not-so-Christlike attitudes that it seems to foster in many people. I picked up this book to try to get another perspective on the issue.

These authors contend that the US has both a heart problem and a gun problem. The book is loaded with history and disturbing statistics on gun sales, ownership, lobbying, laws, crime, self-defense, and suicide in the US (especially as compared to other industrialized nations). Furthermore, they point out Scripture passages where the prophets speak of a future without weapons or warfare (the title Beating Guns is a play on prophetic verses about “beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks” – Isaiah 2:4) and where Jesus speaks of non-violence and loving one’s enemies (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 5-7). While leaving some room for individual conscience as to what “commonsense gun laws” and responsible gun ownership might look like, they rightly challenge Christians to seriously reflect on how we as followers of Jesus Christ should relate to guns as far as ownership, admiration, advocacy, voting, etc.

Unfortunately, there is some serious “cherry picking” going on in their use of Scripture. They completely ignore passages that are in tension with their completely pacifist approach…passages that, if we take the Bible seriously, must be taken into account. For example:

  • Most of the prophets who describe the coming world peace talk about it being preceded by violent judgment from God/Jesus rather than a utopia brought about purely by social reform (e.g. Revelation 19)
  • Jesus’ rebuke of Peter for attacking a member of the party who came to arrest Jesus is preceded by a difficult, variously-interpreted passage in which Jesus talks about his disciples arming themselves (Luke 22:36-38)
  • The government is said to be God’s instrument for restraining evil, including by use of the sword (Romans 13:1-5)

This is not to say that the authors are entirely wrong in their concerns, but their approach to the Scripture is selective and incomplete. This makes me wonder if some of the history and statistics have been similarly oversimplified or misrepresented.

Another minor quibble that I have with the book is that the some of the information gets repeated over and over with very little variation in wording. I did read an eARC so maybe an editor will remove some of the redundancy and tighten things up before publication.

Overall, I appreciated the roundup of information and the challenge to think biblically (not just pragmatically) about the issue, but I do feel that there was some serious oversimplification going on here.

10 thoughts on “God & Guns

  1. Well, as much as I’m coming from the other end of the spectrum from these writers, it sure sounds like they’re starting with a conclusion and then working backwards.

    Philip De Courcy had a couple of radio sessions recently about just this issue and I found it very illuminating. I believe it was 3 episodes entitled In Self Defense. I don’t know if that would be something you’re interested in but you might be.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There is some definite eisegesis going on. At least one of these authors comes from the part of the theological spectrum that focuses on social justice to the near-exclusion of the Gospel of eternal salvation by grace through faith.

      To be fair, it’s also pretty hard to find a more “pro-gun” position that takes Scripture rather than the second amendment as its starting point.

      I may have to track down the DeCourcy broadcasts at some point. Is he the pastor who was a cop in Northern Ireland during “the troubles”?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Here is a link for De Courcy:
        https://www.oneplace.com/ministries/know-the-truth/listen/in-self-defense-a-727304.html

        That is part 1.

        I actually know very little about him, as he’s on at 1530 on the radio and I’m usually not able to listen until 1630 when I’m driving home. He definitely has the accent so you might have the correct guy.

        As for this whole issue and the religious background, I’d wonder what people would say if the issue was “voting” instead of gun rights. A lot of what we have as Rights here in the US are definitely derived Rights, not direct Scriptural Rights (not sure that is the correct term, but I hope you know what I mean). I think a lot of the debate is because one side (I’m totally 100% gun rights here, so I’m super biased against authors like who wrote this book) deliberately conflates the Derived and the Scriptural. But like I said, I’m not even trying to say I’m not biased.

        I also don’t want to start a debate since I’m sure you’ve heard almost everything already that I could say 😀

        If you ever do figure out that balance that works for you, I think you should write a post about it. I’d be interested anyway!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yep, I’ve heard pretty much all the “pro” arguments… at my last church 80% of the men and several of the women worked at a business that produced guns and gun parts (their main product was an upper that transformed an AR-15 into a 9mm belt-fed) and they ate, slept, and breathed guns. To be honest, the aggression and paranoia that characterized quite a few of these people was one of the factors that made me start really thinking about “is this a neutral political issue? does it make people more like Christ? less like Christ?”

        I don’t like engaging in political debates so don’t hold your breath on a purely “my opinions on this” blogpost :).

        One thing that I always try to think through in connection with how I personally make use my politically guaranteed rights is to distinguish between “biblically permissible” and “edifying to others and glorifying to God” (1 Corinthians 10:23-33).

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol…one year our Vacation Bible School had a Medieval theme and that’s my costume. I took that picture and slipped it into a slideshow of pictures of the kids to make them laugh (in the next picture I believe I was running from a dragon). When I came up with the Tolkienesque username I needed a suitably medieval/fantasy picture to go with it so I put a filter on the old VBS pic and voila 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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