SUMMARY: Few Christian books can integrate and appeal to Scripture without sounding preachy, pretentious, or perfunctory. Even more so when an author takes on a polarizing subject such as guns. And yet this is what Michael W. Austin‘s God and Guns in America excels at. Biblically rooted as well logically sound Austin’s approachable writing style is like sitting with a friend telling you how and why they arrived at a conclusion – in this case his view on guns/gun violence through a Christian lens.
“American Christians, especially evangelicals, need to look at the teachings of Jesus and ask themselves and others some very pointed questions about the relationship among faith, weapons, and violence,” Austin writes. “We need a robust theological discussion focused on violence, guns, and what can be done in the United States to deal with these issues.”
Austin’s goal is two fold – to develop Christian character and to encourage legislative reform. He suggests “that Christians in the United States of America need to carefully rethink the use of weapons, guns included” (the development of Christian character) and that “the United States needs to implement more effective gun laws and strategies for limiting gun violence” (legislative reform).
Part of developing Christian character is coming to terms with the fact that many American Christians have not internalized the good news of the gospel. This is a lack of hope for a better future manifests itself as a decision to accept and normalize violence. Specifically this can mean faith in guns over God and/or a rejection of any type of gun reform. Other writers such as Shane Claiborne and James Atwood define this as a lack of moral imagination.
“The gospel is the good news that God is making himself and his kingdom available to us now…Those who entrust themselves to God are not accepting a future kingdom to be enjoyed later but are choosing to enter into that kingdom now,” Austin pens. “When they love God with all that they are, and their neighbors as themselves, and abide in Christ, it will be ‘natural’ to seek justice and the common good.”
This is where Austin pinpoints an opportunity to break out of the usual paradigms of pacifism and justified violence that dominate the theological discussion around gun violence. Instead, he presents a third way, peace building.
“Both pacifists and supports of justified violence find ample support in Scripture. The Bible supports both positions. As such, its collective voice supports neither,” Austin says. “There is another way peace building.”
Peace building “rejects (the) pacifist belief that violence is always wrong and absolutely prohibited. Due to the inherent value and dignity of all human life, peace building allows for violence only as a last resort and includes a very strong preference for nonviolence. Peace building is distinct from defense of or participate in just way in that it takes seriously the use of violence as a last resort.”
Austin devotes the final two chapters to legislative reform which includes polices to advocate for in local government and in a local church. The ideas range from [need to look at the book here].
“The best arguments for more restrictive gun laws recognize that no law is foolproof. These arguments emphasize, however, that such laws can reduce the likelihood that some criminals will have access to guns, in turn reducing the overall level of gun violence. This is the heart of the issue–given that we cannot eliminate all gun violence, what can be done to reduce it? What can be done to make it more difficult for criminals to gain access to firearms?”
Due to Austin’s kind and welcoming writing God and Guns in America is one of the most approachable books we have read geared towards Christians on the topic of guns and gun violence. God and Guns in America in conjunction with Whom Shall I Fear? by Rosalind Hughes are required reading for churches and individuals who are interested in developing a unique, Christ-centered theological framework for approaching guns and gun violence.
KEY QUOTE: “An uncritical embrace of American gun culture is inconsistent with beliefs about the sanctity of life. We must be careful that we are not eager to kill, nor to take killing another human being–any other human being–too lightly. All human beings, no matter how good or bad, have equal inherent value because they are made in the image of God.”
BONUS: Get a free study guide from the Diedrich Bonhoeffer Institute.
BONUS II: Listen to Austin talk about his book on Think Biblically.
DID YOU KNOW? Sunday to Saturday has a Good Reads page where we post all of the books we have read – even the ones that didn’t make the cut.
More curated books on guns/gun violence:
Pastor James Atwood, who passed away in 2020, called gun violence the most important theological issue for the American church. His conviction is rooted in Mark 12:28-34 where Jesus says the most important commandment is to love God and love your neighbor. Atwood says you cannot love God and not love your neighbor, they are fundamentally connected. Collateral Damage is a prophetic call for the church to get involved and not remain silent when 40,000 fellow image bearers are being killed each year while hundreds of thousands more are psychologically and emotionally damaged from the effects of gun violence.
As humans, most of the time we want complex issues to be solved easily. For instance, if individuals with guns are targeting churches, then members of churches should carry guns to counteract the threat. While on the surface that may seem like the logical thing to do, and certainly a good portion of Americans would agree, as Christians we must consider what the Bible has to say. In Whom Shall I Fear? author and pastor Rosalind C. Hughes doesn’t say whether a church should hire armed security or not, but invites the reader to take a step back and answer the question, “What is the church and what is its mission” before deciding how to deal with the violent culture we live in.
We have read many books on gun violence– one that details a prophetic Christian call towards gun violence (Beating Guns), one that tells a personal shooting survivor’s story (When Thoughts and Prayers Aren’t Enough), and one that details the enormous mental, economic, and physical cost of gun violence (Collateral Damage). Children Under Fire carves a different path by telling the heartbreaking, intimate stories of two seven year old children, Ava Olsen and Tyshaun McPhatter, who form a profound friendship after being deeply traumatized by gun violence.