Shoot don’t Shoot: The Proper Distinction between Law and Taunting, by Jonathan Townsend

October 16th, 2008 Post by

(Editor’s Note: Jonathan is a laymen from Michigan. His posts can be found in his regular column “I Desire Mercy and Not Satire…” He also writes and produces the John the Steadfast radio spots heard on Issues, Etc.)

 

It is the year before I was born, 1971, and a hardboiled detective named Harry Callahan was busy keeping the streets of San Francisco clean. His tactics are “dirty”, but who can blame him? Murderers, rapists, scum….they deserve what they got coming to them. Isn’t this what we want to see? We want the guilty punished!

 

At the end of the movie “Dirty Harry”, Harry has the bad guy with his back against a lake and a hostage in front of him. Harry is at least 40 feet away, but he shoots the bad guy in spite of the human shield. The hostage runs free and the bad guy is on the ground, halfway between kneeling and prone, with the gun he had two feet from his hand. Our hero, Dirty Harry utters these famous words:

 

I know what you’re thinking. “Did he fire six shots or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky?…. Well, do ya, punk?

 

The bad guy reaches for his gun and Harry pulls the trigger. He did fire only five and his prophecy comes true. Harry walks up to the body pulls out his badge and throws it far out into the lake.

 

The truth is that Harry threw his badge away before he even pulled the trigger.

 

At times Lutherans can be like doctrinal Dirty Harrys. There is a real sense of power when you are walking around with the theological equivalent to a .44 Magnum, namely the Book of Concord. That book is no .22! Couple that with the dead eye accuracy of a Christocentric approach to scripture and the hollow point stopping force of CFW Walther’s The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel and you are loaded for bear! You can get out there in your 8 mile per gallon Grand Torino and be the bane of Papists, American Evangelicals, Calvinists, Liberals, Seminexers and whoever else crosses your path and looks at you the wrong way.

 

Guns don’t kill people, people kill people

 

Lutheran doctrine is awesome! It is good, it is right on the money. It is perfectly balanced – but the balance is not always for perfect positioning on a shot of Law between the eyes. The balance is to heal what the Law does with the Gospel. That Gospel is Christ’s mercy freely given through His obedience, suffering, death and resurrection.

 

To carry on the analogy, the Proper Distinction between Law and Gospel is a lesson in shoot/don’t shoot awareness. We have the Law and it is deadly. Walther correctly instructs us to use it in all its sterness on sinners. He also instructs us to give the Gospel in all its sweetness to the penitent.

 

So, you already took a shot at a law breaker and hit him. He is down. He is seething. The gun is out of his hand, but not out of reach. Is he going to surrender or reach for the gun?

Who cares, right? Let him reach for the gun. If he does, it is his own fault that he dies. Give him a verbal jab, watch him act out and finish the job.

 

Wrong.

 

If Dirty Harry were a good cop, he could talk about his .44 Magnum all he wants and explain what the next shot would do. In mercy he must at some point say, hands up! Since he is “Dirty” he taunts the criminal to break the Law again so that he can play executioner.

 

Not everyone at gun point begs for mercy. Some freeze. Some put their gun at their side. Some drop their weapon to the ground, but don’t raise their hands in surrender. A good cop keeps his gun pointed at the criminal with his finger on the trigger, but he does a few things to get the situation more under control. 1. He calls for backup. 2. He closes the distance.

 

1. Calling for Backup

15“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ Matthew 18:15-16

 

Calling for back up is obvious. The officer radios into dispatch what the situation is and asks for additional help in subduing the fugitive. This is a no brainer right?

 

In terms of the Christian and the use of the Law to bring people to repentance, once we have spoken the hard words of the Law, we need to ask God to send His Holy Spirit to come and subdue our old Adam and the person to whom the Law is being applied. It is not safe for us or for the other person in this case to go it alone. An “officer down” or case of “police brutality” can easily happen – and our Lord doesn’t need a dashboard camera to see it.

 

2. Closing the Gap

Most who have studied some kind of martial art know of the concept of the closing the distance or closing the gap. The closer you are to an opponent, the harder it is for them to generate force to strike out; or if they are armed it gives you a chance to disarm them – the type of attack or weapon they are using helps one make the decision on what the distance should be. You don’t want to be an arm’s distance from a man with a knife, but if he has a sword you actually want to be closer to him than an arm’s distance if you plan on defeating him. But let’s go back to the Dirty Harry scenario. Closing the gap to about 15 feet is good. The suspect who has to reach a few feet for a gun most likely will not because your chances of a missed shot at 15 feet are very low – and he knows it too.

 

The internet allows for the Dirty Harry scenario all the time – the distance is too large for a clean shot. There is no way to close the gap. There is no way to tell if the suspect is in terror or is madly and unrepentantly defiant. You can’t hear the waver in the voice, you can’t see the fear in another’s eyes – the suspect can’t hear the earnestness in your voice, he can’t see the concern in your eyes. Because of the distance the suspect is encouraged in his defiance.

 

Applying Law and Gospel tactics in the internet environment can be a gross misapplication because the subtle shift that shows one when to apply the Gospel part of the equation is often unapparent in the written word. The speed of the internet makes one think it is a live and close scenario, but the technology does not allow for the whole range of communication – the context, subtext, visual cues and body language are all missing and without the entire picture making the shoot/don’t shoot call can end up in disaster.

 

The success of teaching others about historic Lutheran theology and spreading a Confessional worldview is aided by an awareness of our limitations. The Word must be applied correctly. When the Law is spoken or written, it acts as curb, mirror and rule – it warns of impending doom. The Law administered by one living in the mercy of Christ does not taunt. Taunting is how satan twists the Law. When a Law situation occurs we need the Holy Spirit to comfort us so that we do not become full of a wrath that we have no claim to and that we cannot control. We need the Holy Spirit to call and enlighten the other sinner involved. We need the backup of other Christians in witness and wisdom. We have to come close enough to judge what is really going on and to let the other one involved know that the true intention of the Law is to drive one to flee to the Gospel, found in the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 


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  1. Carl Vehse
    October 16th, 2008 at 18:03 | #1

    Comparing the film character, Harry Callahan, and his methods of law enforcement to the Lutheran’s proper distinction of Law and Gospel is a stretch way beyond the breaking point.

    “It is the year before I was born, 1971, and a hardboiled detective named Harry Callahan was busy keeping the streets of San Francisco clean. His tactics are “dirty”, but who can blame him? Murderers, rapists, scum….they deserve what they got coming to them. Isn’t this what we want to see? We want the guilty punished!”

    First of all, the nickname “Dirty Harry” (and the original film’s title) comes not from his tactics, but from the cases harry has to take on, like getting a rooftop suicide jumper down (puking, but alive, btw). In the film, Harry remarks to his new partner, “Now you know why they call me Dirty Harry; every dirty job that comes along.”

    “The truth is that Harry threw his badge away before he even pulled the trigger.”

    That’s ridiculous! And it misses the point of why Harry threw his badge away. When the original “Dirty Harry” film was made the producers had no idea of doing a sequel. At the end of the film, Harry threw away his badge because in the story, he saw that law enforcement had been taken over by leftwing, Miranda/ACLU-loving politicians, DAs, and judges who cared more for the criminal than for the victim. That theme was played in the various film sequels. (A couple of years later, in real life, leftist traitors in the Supreme Court showed their disdain even for the unborn.)

    “If Dirty Harry were a good cop, he could talk about his .44 Magnum all he wants and explain what the next shot would do. In mercy he must at some point say, hands up!

    It’s not even the real cops’ job to decide on mercy, it’s their job to enforce the law. That’s probably why they call it “law enforcement.” Besides, Harry did say “hands up” in his own “Dirty Harry” style. The wounded bank robber definitely understood. And Scorpio understood, but made the wrong (or cinematically the right) choice.

    In “Sudden Impact”, Harry tells the coffee shop robbers they can’t leave with their hostages:

    Harry Callahan: Well, we’re not just gonna let you walk out of here.
    Crook: Who’se we sucka?
    Harry Callahan: [slowly drawing his .44 Magnum] Smith and Wesson… and me.

    And of course, the classic Harry Callahan “hands up” line, “Go ahead, make my day!”

    It’s called entertainment.

  2. Jon Townsend
    October 16th, 2008 at 22:03 | #2

    Carl:
    Tell me that you have not seen the taunting of weaker brothers on blogs and discussion forums.

    Tell me that you have not seen the excessive use of force in these forums.

    I like Dirty Harry too. I watched “The Enforcer” last night.

    As far as making comparisons instead of writing my point in three sentences, I will quote you, “It’s called entertainment.”

    Jon

  3. Carl Vehse
    October 17th, 2008 at 08:21 | #3

    Tell me that you have not seen the taunting of weaker brothers on blogs and discussion forums.

    Tell me that you have not seen the excessive use of force in these forums.

    If you have specific examples of “taunting of weaker brothers on blogs and discussion forums”, please present them for comment. Such examples should not be confused with postings that correct false teaching or point out specific inconsistent and illogical arguments, even if such examples do not have an inroductory politically-correct boilerplate.

  4. Jon Townsend
    October 17th, 2008 at 10:32 | #4

    Carl -
    You want examples? Go to LQ any day of the week.

    The illusion of the internet is distance. I believe in all the sterness of the Law. But it is best administered close up and personal, so that the Gospel can be proclaimed before desperation and dispair take hold.

  5. Susan R
    October 17th, 2008 at 10:43 | #5

    Internet limitations abound, as you said, Jon Townsend.
    Immediacy is indeed as much a lie as it is the truth: commenters can indeed parry back and forth with speed, but not with absolute speed, and more often than not, not without interruptions to the flow. Other people and other conversations are simultaneous, and they’re distracting (unintentionally) and they reduce effectiveness. It can’t remain one-on-one–and often doesn’t even remain on the same subject.
    Also, one tends–and not only on the internet–to think one is arguing for or proving one’s self, and not something from outside the self. It all gets taken (and given) on a very personal, and thus sinful, level. As you said, we have no rightful claim to wrath, nor to any of the certainty we so ardently feel.
    I’m speaking totally from personal experience: I’m guilty as sin of thinking my communication skills are just the ones needed, to win a point, which can only, ultimately, condemn a soul.
    Maybe we should consider ourselves more as guides than as warriors. Certainly not as commanders-in-chief, or even as irreplaceable generals.

  6. October 17th, 2008 at 16:13 | #6

    Jon,

    I was cleaning up my .44 for some good times in the blogosphere… thanks for ruining my fun! *holsters pistol*

    ;-)

  7. October 18th, 2008 at 09:19 | #7

    Jon, interesting points. The Law is hard hitting, the Gospel sweet forgiveness, your analogy is not bad as analogies go. I also find that we get a bit to testy on the Lutheran blog sites such as LQ – something I find hard to understand. We are brothers in Christ, and while debate can be fun and even edifying, snarky replies are just that – and as such unbecoming to us all.

    I like the Dirty Harry movies too. Do ya feel lucky?

  8. Helen
    October 18th, 2008 at 10:51 | #8

    Interest comments about LQ, Jon Townsend.
    But why make them here?
    Have you posted them on ***usFirst?

    Some of those taunting remarks are their party line.

  9. Jon Townsend
    October 18th, 2008 at 22:02 | #9

    Helen:
    Being a frequent participant at LQ, I didn’t really mean to malign it as much as it may have sounded.

    Carl Vehse wanted examples. LQ is one place to see the Law severely misused at times.

    I have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus First. I am not anyone they would have an interest in. Nor I them.

  10. Carl Vehse
    October 19th, 2008 at 00:09 | #10

    I agree with “ron the ranch hand” that occasionally “we get a bit to testy on the Lutheran blog sites.” But I have seen, even on Luther Quest, that Lutheran newbies, lurkers, or others posting sincere questions about Lutheran issues are treated more gently than longtime or well-known posters or those who sign on just to hawk their favorite heterodox agendas.

    So I would disagree that LQ or most of the other Lutheran blog sites I’ve seen having demonstrated a regular pattern of “taunting of weaker brothers.”

    Where I have noticed a sharp temperature rise on a Lutheran blog is when certain “hot buttons” are pushed. The “hot button” topics vary depending on the character of the blog site, the owners, and the makeup of the regular blog posters. Usually only veteran bloggers get involved in these “theological brawls.”

    The old Lthrn-L listgroup in the late 1990s and early 2000s went through some pretty heated exchanges as postings dominated back and forth between ELCA, JF/DS groupies, Missouri Synod Waltherians, and Hyper-Euro-Lutherans.

  11. October 19th, 2008 at 12:11 | #11

    I’ve certainly seen cases around the web where what I thought was an innocent question from someone questioning the faith (or a specific point) is shot down with all sorts of accusations and bad tone (attacks against the questioner basically).

    Perhaps the others who are writing have experience with the particular person, and it’s the 10th time they have brought up this topic (on other boards), but there’s no evidence on the board that the discussion erupts on that this is the case. It makes the confessional side look bad since they are so quick to jump on people.

  12. Carl Vehse
    October 19th, 2008 at 19:50 | #12

    “I’ve certainly seen cases around the web where what I thought was an innocent question from someone questioning the faith (or a specific point) is shot down with all sorts of accusations and bad tone (attacks against the questioner basically).”

    As I noted earlier, I think such personal attacks of “weaker brothers” who asked “innocent questions” are relatively rare on confessional Lutheran blogs. If such attacks were common, specfic links to three or four recent Lutheran blog examples should be easy to provide from those who think otherwise.

    It may also be helpful to distinguish between an “innocent question” and a “loaded question” posed by a troll.

  13. Helen
    October 19th, 2008 at 21:06 | #13

    I have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus First. I am not anyone they would have an interest in. Nor I them.
    Comment by Jon Townsend — October 18, 2008 @ 10:02 pm

    I didn’t intend to suggest that you were a member, Jon.
    My point was that the objectionable statements on LQ often come from that direction. Posting here may be talking to the wrong people.
    But as has been suggested, a few examples could prove me wrong.

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