Christianity 201

June 20, 2016

The Culture of Jesus and the Culture of Guns

Swords into PlowsharesAt Christianity 201, I avoid topical issues; avoid them like the plague! But there can be no doubt that the issue of gun violence in the U.S. gives many pause to think, and hopefully pause to pray.

But what do you pray for?

We can think the issue through emotionally, or we can look at it constitutionally, or we can even look at it logically, but until we develop the mindset of looking at the world theologically, we’re not letting the light of Christ shine on and shine out of our lives.

We’ve looked at the question, “Is America mentioned in Bible prophecy?” or the similar, “Why isn’t the U.S. mentioned in Bible prophecy?” It occurred to me a few days ago that it is.

He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. – Isaiah 2:4

I realize that there are many applications to prophecies of this nature, and how different overarching viewpoints on interpretation might affect what you take from any given passage. At Crosswalk.com we read,

Whole books—make that shelves of books—have been written on hermeneutics, but I want to mention just one hermeneutical principle here that, if grasped, will make a huge difference: Context is king. What is context? Well, an online dictionary says it is “the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect: You have misinterpreted my remark because you took it out of context.”

When it comes to Scripture, we need to interpret prophecies—and everything else—in context. This means that we need to look at the context of a prophecy in several dimensions: the immediate context (the paragraph or section in which it appears); the larger context (the chapter); the Bible book; and the Bible as a whole.

At BibleOnly.org, the different methods are categorized:

The Historical/Critical school believes that prophecies such as Daniel are not really prophecy, having been written at a time later than stated in the text, and were designed to act as encouragement to Israel rather than being true prophecy.

The Dispensationalist/Futurist school believes that God has operated under different rules in different “dispensations”. The prophecies are to be interpreted exactly as written, without any transformation from physical Israel to spiritual Israel. They also believe that the seventieth week of Dan 9:24 has not happened, and will be in the future. This leads to predictions such as the restitution of literal Israel, with mass conversion of Jews, an antichrist who forms a one-world government, peace treaties with the Jews, and a physical battle of Armageddon.

The Preterist school believes that all prophecy has been fulfilled. The book of Revelation was written about AD60, rather than AD94 as many believe. Jesus came the second time in AD70 at the destruction of Jerusalem, which was the “midst” of the 70th week of Daniel 9:24-27. This coming was a spiritual rather than a physical event. In order to allow this interpretation, they maintain that the entire NT after the gospels is to be interpreted spiritually rather than physically.

The Historicist school believes that prophecy has been in large measure fulfilled, but that the second coming and events surrounding it have not yet happened. The physical promises to physical Israel became spiritual promises to spiritual Israel when the Jews rejected Christ. Rather than declare a priori that all texts should be read physically or that all texts should be read spiritually, historicists believe that the natural reading of texts should have the greatest weight, but that such a reading needs to take into account the linguistic and cultic elements of the day of the writer, as well as the conditionality of prophecy enunciated in Jer 18:5-10.

Still, it’s difficult not to read the “swords into plowshares” verse today without thinking of the unique American situation vis a vis gun violence. A collection of 13 different charts helps visualize the situation.

If you studied elementary economics, you’ve probably seen the graphs showing the trade-off between guns and butter. Interesting that Matthew Henry mentions this two-way street:

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares; their instruments of war shall be converted into implements of husbandry; as, on the contrary, when war is proclaimed, ploughshares are beaten into swords, Joel 3:10.

Some, like Shane Claiborne, are actively involved in turning guns into garden tools, as described in this 2013 video, or this 2015 article:

Shane Claiborne, founder of the Simple Way faith community, hopes the event will inspire people to “bring life out of death, turn weapons into tools, and rejoice in the promise of resurrection.”

Many Christians reading this however, do not hold to this view or support the broader pacifist position held by Shane, Benjamin Corey, most Mennonites, the Amish, the Anabaptists, and others. They are actively involved in the NRA (a gun lobby group) or are part of local church congregations who post “concealed carry” rules at the front door of the church, meaning that the person who is sitting in the pew next to you may be armed.

I mentioned thinking through the issue theologically. Much energy has been spent discussing both sides of the issue online. How can people, each committed to follow Christ, each reading from the same scriptures, come to such totally opposite views on the issue of gun ownership?

We do see times in scripture — such as Paul’s differences of opinion with John Mark and Philemon — where people agreed to disagree. Digging deeper, can we know the heart of God on some matters? Has God revealed himself on certain issues? What would Jesus do?

…At a longer article at GotQuestions.org, we read:

Christians are called to submit to governing authorities, and they are to obey the laws of the land (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). This would have to apply to gun laws, too. If American gun laws change, American Christians should submit to these changes and work through democratic means toward any desired alternatives. The Bible does not forbid the possession of weapons, and neither does it command such possession. Laws may come and go, but the goal of the believer in Jesus Christ remains the same: to glorify the Lord (1 Corinthians 10:31).

The country that I live in has landed the plane in an entirely different place on this issue; as have most other nations, so I see this issue quite differently than many of my American friends and readers at Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201. My wife and I have suspended all travel plans to the U.S. indefinitely.

The takeaway today is that you; that we think it through in the light of scripture. That we learn to process the issues of the day related to politics, lifestyles, money, and even worship itself through a theological lens.


The Christian and social issues
The Christian and current events

This is from the blog Nacreous Kingdom in 2010:

Karl Barth is said to have said: “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” Actually, The Center for Barth Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary has not been able to pin down exactly from whence that quote emanated. However, it is widely known that Barth made the Bible/newspaper connection frequently throughout his illustrious career. They have, however, substantiated the following quotes…

In an interview from 1966, for example, he stated: “The Pastor and the Faithful should not deceive themselves into thinking that they are a religious society, which has to do with certain themes; they live in the world. We still need – according to my old formulation – the Bible and the Newspaper.”

Perhaps the source that is most consistent with the alleged ‘quote’ comes from a Time magazine article published on Friday, May 31, 1963, which states: “[Barth] recalls that 40 years ago he advised young theologians ‘to take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.'”


Learn more about turning swords into plows at RawTools.org


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