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God and Guns: The Bible Against American Gun Culture

Edited by Christopher B. Hays & C. L. Crouch
Published by Westminster John Knox Press in 2021

Like many children raised in the 1960’s, I was taught that guns were for soldiers and police officers and certainly not for play. My brothers and I tried to persuade our mother to let us have plastic guns or, better, air rifles, so that we could go out back and morph into Marshall Dillon or, my favorite: Lucas McCain, Rifleman. 

“No, and don’t ask again,” our mother would say, as she calmly ironed, squared, and stacked our dad’s hankies. 

Then, when I was 21, two ski-masked men with guns reinforced her teaching. Around midnight they snuck into our college home of 5 friends, rapped a loaded gun at the back of each of our heads, made us lay face down on the floor, tied our hands behind our back and our ankles together, and then for about 5 hours ransacked every inch of our house for anything of value. When the police arrived the next morning and dusted the place for fingerprints, they made one thing clear, as we shivered close by in this house that no longer felt like home: “If you’d tried to resist in any way, you’d be dead.” 

To this day I have absolutely no doubt that owning a gun would have gotten us killed that night.

 So, when I read about God and Guns, The Bible Against Gun Culture, edited by Christopher B. Hays and C.L. Crouch, I knew I had to read it–because as a Christian I also believe, as Hays puts it early in the book, that “any Christianity that supports guns as a solution to social problems is not Christianity at all” (10).  Written and edited by seven Biblical scholars with an excellent foreword by Stanley Hauerwas, each chapter is steeped in Biblical scholarship but written for a wide audience. The authors recognize that there are good people on both sides of this issue; however, as Hauerwas says, they still “must challenge what has been and continues to be taken for granted by good people” (x).

         The book opens by categorizing the latest data: 58-percent of Americans have experienced gun violence in their lifetime; 67-percent of gun owners “list protection as a major reason why they own a firearm,” even though “guns at home are 4 times more likely to be involved in an accidental shooting…, and 11 times more likely to be used in a suicide than they are to be used for self-defense” (xvi). The statistics are clear: a gun makes a home less safe, not more. 

         One essay includes this alarming statistic: “Protestants constitute the highest percentage of gun owners (with white evangelicals, perhaps predictably, leading the way), more than Catholic, Jewish, or nonreligious populations” (113), which is why each author here carefully considers how the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, addresses violence. They recognize that, just as with the argument over slavery among Christians in the 19th Century, the Bible can be used and misused to support both sides of today’s  gun argument.  The book’s structure proceeds from an emphasis on Old Testament passages that focus on violence to the New Testament ones that do as well, building to a final essay that asks, simply, “Can a Christian own a gun?”  

         Brent A. Strawn makes the case that often the concept of “projection”–where we take our own nasty baggage and project it onto people we dislike–is at work both within the Israelites’ attitudes toward the Canaanites and within us as we read of the violence perpetrated by Israel in the Book of Joshua. He claims that the violence within our culture today is worse than what we read in Joshua, quipping, “When we come to the Bible and say, ‘My, my, I’m shocked at all the violence here,” we might well imagine the Bible looking at us and saying, ‘Who are you to be calling me violent?’” (24). He argues that, like the Israelites, white males with guns often justify them by mistakenly projecting their own violence onto people of darker skin tone. The statistics agree: “Gun owners with the highest moral and emotional attachment to their weapons are 78% white and 65% male,” even though “the chances that a white man will be killed by a black man are extremely slight” (33).  He concludes with a memorable paraphrase of Matthew 6:24 and Luke 16:13: “you can’t worship both God and Glock” (36). Of course,  some politicians try: consider their family Christmas photos portraying each member, young to old, piously smiling as they clutch their arsenal of lethal weapons, peaceful Christmas symbols cozying the background.        

Yolanda Norton’s essay uses the Old Testament story of Rizpah to show how a mother’s public lament over a slain son can be “a prophetic witness” to both state and community, citing contemporary instances of such lament by mothers of slain black sons. Her essay is a powerful indictment of American gun culture, which, she argues, “has again and again, demonstrated its own willingness to sacrifice Black bodies to its own purposes” (53).    

         Of course, the Bible has nothing to say directly about guns per se, but T.M. Lemos makes a fascinating comparison between Israelite bows and American guns, showing how hypermasculinity is common to both. He argues that “This idea of personhood, grounded in domination, is something that other parts of the Bible take great pains to reject. This has important implications for the place of the gun in the life of contemporary Christians” (78). Given the multifaceted, violent media environment we inhabit in 2023 and the pride with which mostly men pose, biceps bulging, their AR15 front and center, it’s hard to argue with Lemos’s point.

         David Lincicum’s concluding essay, “Can a Christian Own a Gun?” cuts to the Biblical chase: “The gun is a temptation to arrogate life-destroying power to the wielder and should be resisted by those who follow in allegiance to a crucified Messiah” (116). He crafts a strong argument using eight illuminating sub-theses; one especially stood out because it’s missing from most anti-gun arguments I’ve heard. In developing it he quotes Bruno Latour who writes, “You are different with a gun in your hand” (117). Do most Christian gun owners have the moral imagination and the preparation and training to appreciate the full depth of that fact? As Lincicum puts it, “But if a gun extends the range of possible actions available to a person, it also extends the range of possible moral actions, and so opens that person up to new possibilities of moral scrutiny” (117). It’s clear to me that you can’t pick up a gun in the morning, as easily as you do, say, your car keys or cell phone, and expect to be the same person. Keys open doors; phones start conversations; guns end lives. There is a reason so many soldiers and police officers, who daily carry and are trained to respect the lethal consequences of their gun, still suffer from PTSD after shooting another human being.

         Lincicum ends with a challenge:  how do those Christians who carry guns for self-protection “meet a stranger as a neighbor”? (128). He asks several other tough questions that every Christ-follower needs to consider before strapping on a gun: “Who then is my neighbor?… Have I habituated myself to violence with the intention that I should kill effectively when my neighbor confronts me? How then can I fulfill the second commandment–to love my neighbor as myself–if I am preparing myself to kill my neighbor if I believe necessary?” (128).

         This book is a crucial gift to our violence-weary culture and especially to every Christian who wants to influence fellow Christians against the lure of guns. Each essay leaves the reader well-equipped to make an informed, biblical case against owning guns for protection. Of course, “This book alone will not change that behavior,” Stanley Hauerwas admits in his preface, “but it is a start. Thank God for it.”

Mark Hiskes

Mark Hiskes is a retired high school English teacher from Holland, Michigan, who devotes his time to a number of things: two delightful grandchildren, Sylvie and Paige; his wonderful wife, Cindy, with whom he rebuilds and refurbishes old furniture for sale in her antique booth; reading ever more great books, ancient, old, and new; and doing his best to write poetry, stories, and essays that might, God willing, tell some manner of truth.


  • Marlin Vis says:

    Thank you Mark. I need to buy you a cup of coffee.

  • Pamela Spiertz Adams says:

    Mark, I agree with you. My now dead husband did also. He learned to be a pacificist when he was in ROTC his freshman year of college. The smaller guns were OK with him but when the guns got so large that they would lead to total erasure of life, he became a pacificist. He believed as you do that having guns in your house awakened the need to defend yourself and your family in unbiblical ways.

    • Mark S. Hiskes says:

      Thanks, Pamela, for your reply and the touching story about your late husband. I didn’t know him, of course, but he sounds like a brave, thoughtful man.

      • Pam Adams says:

        Mark, Charlie was a professor at Dordt University and he started the Engineering program. Yes, he was a brave and thoughtful man about everything.

  • Keith Mannes says:

    Mark… What a strong and intelligent work you’ve done here. It really helped me. Thank you so much.

    • Mark S. Hiskes says:

      Thanks, Keith! Proud to be in the same journal and in the same week as you, friend. Thank you again for “Janet, Chester, and Sinning boldly.”

  • Deb Toering says:

    Thank you Mark for your inciteful article and book synopsis. It givies us all a clearer understanding of America’s relationship with guns and what our Christian response should be.

  • Glenda Buteyn says:

    Mark, what a strong argument for why Christians need to look at our gun problem in America and make a stand for a Biblical perspective. Thank you!

  • Lance Engbers says:

    “You are different with a gun in your hand.” So true…Love God with heart, soul, mind and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. It goes even further — Love your enemies! “You are different with a gun in your hand.” Thanks Mark, for a strong argument and a strong reminder.

    • Mark S. Hiskes says:

      You are welcome, Lance! It’s a simple truth–“You are different with a gun in your hand”–but too often ignored. So good to see you and your wife yesterday.

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    Thank you Mark,
    I know you were doing a short book review, but somehow the issue seems more complicated. For example, Switzerland by population has more guns than us, but basically no mass shootings. My wife grew up in a family of hunters, and I’ve never met a group of people who respected the poor of guns more than them. I have members of my church who are gun owners (much to my chagrin), and they are deeply faithful followers of Christ. I don’t own guns. I’ve hunted and donate or eat everything I’ve killed and killing an animal is traumatizing, let alone a human being (I can’t imagine). I’ve also had a gun pointed at my face with an angry man holding his finger on the trigger (if I had resisted, I also think I would have died that day). To add more complexity, but support to your review, in the 1960s the NRA supported significant gun control action. Why? The Black Panthers decided the best way to protect their communities from state sanctioned violence was to openly carry rifles.
    I wonder if, like so many other things-money, TV, etc.-if guns are a tool, thus neutral, and can be used for good (hunting, sportsmanship, military protection) or for evil (murder, death by suicide, toxic violent identification), and our gun culture in America has become so toxic that we struggle to understand the difference between the tool and the culture of evil that defiles the tool.
    I don’t know. I’d be in favor of do a gun buy back from the government that removes every non-shotgun, hunting rifle from American soil, and extensive training and registration for every citizen that buys that shotgun/hunting rifle, so I’m not writing against the book/review. I just wonder if there is more to the story.

  • Mark S. Hiskes says:

    Rodney, thanks for this very thoughtful response. The authors of the book are clear that they are not addressing hunters, Christian or otherwise. I’m not a hunter either, but I, too, have no argument with those who do so responsibly. And, yes, the issue is certainly a complex one for our culture, though I think the authors do a good job of challenging Christians who would disagree with them. This book will, if nothing else, make them seriously consider their attitudes toward guns. My only disagreement with you would be with your suggestion that, perhaps, guns are a neutral tool. I have trouble seeing them that way. And I heartily agree with your government by-back program. Oh, would that it could happen! Thanks again for this thoughtful post.

  • James C Dekker says:

    Thank you so much. I have never owned a gun, had to use an M-16 rifle in the US Army basic training, taught rifelry at a Christian camp in the late 60s. I am not a hunter, but accept that there is a place for hunting, with bow or shotgun/rifle. The many hunters I know despair of handgun ownership. Yet I also know oyf members of CRCs who carry handguns into worship.

  • John Hubers says:

    Thanks for this, Mark, especially as it introduces us to a book whose content challenges an idolatry that has gone unchallenged too long in American Christian circles.

    I became aware of this issue from our time overseas when I came to realize that nearly every country in the world restricts or strictly regulates access to weapons (Switzerland a case in point). And the body count is much less.

    So good to know that the negative theological ramifications of our obsessive gun culture is finally being aired in such a thoughtful manner.

    Thanks for alerting us to this important book.

    • Tom says:

      Just a note: in Switzerland you or I could walk into a store and buy a fully automatic rifle after passing a background check. You can’t do that here. Switzerland is about the least regulated gun culture in the world, but has one of the lowest rates of gun crime. Americans are more violent than most, we do shoot each other a lot, but we’re also on the leaderboard for stabbing each other, beating each other to death with blunt objects and just about any other violent act you can come with.

      I’m pretty neutral on gun control, but it is true that it’s the people, not the guns. I’ve chosen not to own a gun, but I must admit that if I ever end up in the middle of a mass shooting, I will hope there is a concealed carry type somewhere nearby. And will feel some guilt for needing someone else to put their life on the line to protect the innocents when I could have prepared myself for that moment.

      • David E Timmer says:

        I’m not sure that your first sentence is accurate about Swiss law regarding fully automatic weapons. As I read it, such weapons (along with high-capacity semi-automatic weapons) require a may-issue permit, which gives local authorities much discretion. Laws governing ammunition possession and storage are also more restrictive. The general ethos around guns also differs from the US: they are seen as intended for hunting, sport shooting, and national defense, not personal protection.

        Here is a link to an article by a former US police officer, now a political scientist living in Zurich, Switzerland.

  • Kris Swieringa says:

    Thank you for this Mark. I am looking forward to reading this. I also do not own a gun, have never even held one. I hope many Christians, and others, read this and hopefully change their views on common sense gun reform.

  • Mark Stephenson says:

    Mark, thanks for this review. I feel so sad that guns in the home make that home more dangerous, and I don’t understand the mentality that chooses to ignore this reality. In 2021, firearms accounted for 54.64% of all suicide deaths in the US according to Gun owners often get defensive about a stat like this saying something like, “If a guy wants to off himself, he’ll find a way no matter what. It’s not the gun that killed him. He made the decision to take his own life.” That’s decidedly not true. Perhaps, as you write, the mere ownership of a gun changes the way you think.

    • Rodney Haveman says:

      If you ever hear that sort of nonsense, please tell this person that the vast majority of people with suicidal ideation will choose to not act on given time and (hopefully) conversation about life and their situation. Unfortunately, the presence of a gun allows someone struggling with these horrible thoughts to act quickly given access to a gun. Without that access research shows most people with these struggles will not “find a way no matter what.” That sort of crass, harsh, unempathetic thinking is “anti”-Christ, and it needs to be called out for what it is.

  • Ken Kuipers says:

    Very well written review of this book on the Bible and guns. Unfortunately, the Christians that I know who believe in the value of possessing guns, do not quote the Bible for their support. They refer to the Bill of Rights in the US constitution which gives them the right to bear arms even though the US no longer has a militia. How ironic it is for the “extreme right’ to use the Bible to support their various positions when it is convenient but reach for other sources for support when the Bible is less supportive.

    To me, it is hard to imagine either the Bible or the US constitution supporting the right of citizens to use assault weapons as civilians.

    Once again, great job on a most relevant topic.

    Ken Kuipers
    Holland, MI

  • James Vanden Bosch says:

    Thanks, Mark. The book you review addresses a set of issues that we haven’t engaged with fruitfully. If not in this generation, maybe in the next one we will begin to see churches and families address this set of issues in ways that are formative for Christian discipleship.


  • Daniel Walcott says:

    Thanks Mark, your voice reminds me of Isaiah and Amos.

  • Jack Ridl says:

    Thanks, Mark, so very much. And paragraph two is a gem!
    Kinda unsettling that we need a whole book to try to convince the unconvinceable.
    If I had owned a gun, I likely wouldn’t be here. Pills could be pumped out.
    Again, and again, thank you.

  • Robert says:

    There is 8 minutes of my life I will never get back. I haven’t heard that many strawman arguments since I watched my last political debate. But we do agree on 1 thing…I don’t want you owning a gun either.

  • Steve Van't Hof says:

    Can a Christian own a gun? For personal defense? Personally, I always ask myself whether or not I could trust that individual with a gun. After reading the many responses supporting your essay’s conclusion, I’d have to agree with Robert, no, in many cases, I wouldn’t. Not because of any known disqualifiers, more so because their replies suggest disinformation and inexperience with defensive firearms. But that’s okay, a world without any firearms would be a better world. However, “we live on the broken side of eternity” (a friend’s quote, not mine). And this plea to the Second commandment, “…Have I habituated myself to violence with the intention that I should kill effectively when my neighbor confronts me? How then can I fulfill the second commandment–to love my neighbor as myself–if I am preparing myself to kill my neighbor if I believe necessary?” It’s not near that simple. Nehemiah didn’t think so when he armed half the returning Israelites to the teeth while they guarded the other half doing the Lord’s work…from their neighbors (Nehemiah 4: 13, 16-18).

    • Mark S. Hiskes says:

      Thanks for your response. Based on what you say here, I think you would appreciate this book and the way they interpret some of those violent passages in the Old Testament.