What about survivalism? Are these people on the right track biblically? Can Christians be "survivalists”?

Survivalism as a popular movement is well worth understanding, especially as some Christians are attracted to it. This attraction is increasingly common in society at large; think of the many TV programs, like Survivor, or movies, like The Book of Eli, or video games, like Fallout.

Survivalists believe that the responsible thing to do before the inevitable breakdown of society is to become self-sufficient. One will need adequate supplies of food and water to last for months (if not years) of anarchy and chaos. People need to provide for their families. Those who fail to take measures should not count on hand-outs. "The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty" (Prov 22:3).

Further, one would be foolish to trust that normal human civility will suffice to maintain possession of one's cache. It may be necessary to defend it with force. Further, the time to load up on ammunition is now—before gun stores close.

It would be foolish to stay in or near a city. Better to plan on surviving in a rural and (preferably) isolated area. A sturdy shelter will be needed (underground is best -- maybe a luxury doomsday condo, if finances allow), and a generator may also prove helpful if and when public utilities are completely disrupted.

Assumptions
What are the fundamental components and assumptions of survivalism?

  • Things are going to get bad. (Even if they don't, it's wise to be prepared.)
  • God wants us to stay alive. Injury and death must be avoided (at all costs).
  • We should stockpiling water and food guarantees so that we have enough to survive until such time as things are safe again. (Think Old Testament siege conditions, as in 2 Kings 6 and 2 Kings 18.)
  • A cache of weapons and ammunition is crucial. If someone trespasses onto my property I am justified in using lethal force, especially if he is attempting to raid my provisions.
  • Since society will be in a state of chaos, we should plan to live in a secure shelter (amply furnished and supplied).
  • Since money will lose its value, wealth should be converted to gold, silver, or other intrinsically valuable media of exchange.
  • We shouldn't count on rescue. Normal disasters elicit assistance from the government; this time the cavalry won't be coming to save us. In effect, God helps those who help themselves. 

These, then, are the fundamentals of survivalism and the assumptions on which it is based. Now it's time to evaluate. Survivalists make some good points, a number of which resonate with thoughtful Bible readers.

  1. Society may well collapse one day. No empire lasted forever, after all.
  2. The prudent take this into account. He or she prepares. One should not bank on rescue.
  3. "Paper money" is arbitrary. Banknote values depend wholly on the strength of the government backing them.
  4. Wicked men will try to rob us. This is already the reality the case, and crime tends to increase in times of civil chaos.
  5. It is right take up arms to defend the innocent, like oneself and one's family.

Let me respond to the previous 5 points. After that we will examine the teachings of Jesus and Paul with implications for survivalism. As we will see, there are numerous fundamental problems with survivalism.

  1. Indeed, empires come and go. Even Rome fell (as intimated in Revelation); we should pay attention and learn. A breakdown of society, perhaps a massive technological failure or terrorist attack, is not a possibility to be dismissed. I recently read Marc Elsberg's novel Blackout. Although it is a work of fiction, even since it was originally published there have been attacks on the electrical power grid (in Europe) that demonstrate the plausibility of the scenario he envisions. 
  2. Preparing for contingencies is biblical. Yet we are not our own saviors; as much as we like to be in control, Jesus is the Savior. Yet that hardly means he shields us from hardship, suffering, or persecution. Romans 8 is no promise of peace and prosperity. There the only guarantee is that nothing, however horrific, can separate us from God's love.
  3. This point doesn't go far enough. If we "cash in" our paper money for gold, silver, etc., these too are arbitrary. They have no intrinsic value (apart from, say, industrial applications). Further, the Bible warns us not to love money or allow it to become an idol. See Luke 16:13-15!
  4. Since thieves break in and steal, we had best store our treasure in heaven (not in a bunker). Not fair that the evil men succeed? Relax; one day there will be a Day of Judgment. (See Psalm 73.)
  5. Defending the innocent in court is a strong prophetic theme. Yet while the OT allowed limited violence in self-defense, in the NT we are told to relate to enemies in a different way. The use of lethal force was unacceptable even in the case of Christ—and no one was more innocent than he.

Jesus and Paul on Survivalism
To embrace survivalism as normally conceived requires a rejection of the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, as well as of Paul's teaching in the epistles. Please take a moment to read over three passages, two from Matt 5-6, and one from Rom 12. They are somewhat lengthy, but if we want our convictions to come from scripture, we need to engage. Take your time; digest them.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt 5:38-48).

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matt 6:25-34).

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:17-21).

  • Jesus gave us the formula for surviving in any situation: Seek first the kingdom.
  • Rather than hoard food and refuse it to one who is hungry, we are to feed him—even if he is our enemy! Further, hospitality is one of highest biblical virtues, including taking the stranger into our home. Recall the Parable of the Great Banquet (Luke 14:15-24).
  • As my friend David Berçot observes, "Survivalism is kindred to the spirit of the man Jesus described in the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21). The rich fool was hoarding his goods so that he could later take life easy. The survivalist hoards his goods to make sure he will have something for tomorrow, in case calamity comes. Neither person really trusts in God’s provident care. Both types of persons are focused on themselves (and their families), instead of others."
  • Jesus forbade all forms of violence. "Put your sword away. He who draws the sword will die by the sword" (Matt 26:52). Now that we live in the Messianic Age, swords have been beaten into plowshares (Isa 2:4; Mic 4:3). We don't "study" (prepare) for war any more. No more killing.
  • Interestingly (Berçot again), "Jesus told His followers that a horrible calamity was coming on Jerusalem in the near future (Matt 24), and indeed the calamity came with the Roman army (70 AD). Yet he didn’t advise his followers to start building up a survival cache; he said just the opposite! Once the calamity was at the door, he told them to leave everything behind and flee. That’s exactly what the Christians in Jerusalem did. God provided for their needs, and they all survived by fleeing to Pella (a town across the Jordan)."
  • Biblical Christians do not choose life over faithfulness. We do not have to survive some coming apocalypse, but we do need to remain obedient to God's commands.

Thus we see that even a cursory reading of the NT scriptures reveals that survivalism as commonly presented is un-Christian on multiple fronts. If you are reading this article and have been attracted to this position, I urge you to rethink your position.

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If you'd like to explore the topic in more depth, this will get your started:

  • The website of Modern Christian Survivalist, which attempts to combine survivalism (as I have delineated it above) and the Bible.
  • The article by Focus on the Family: A Biblical View of Survivalists and Preppers fear "sanctified paranoia," which is a nice introduction to the issue.
  • The Survivalism page at Rational Wiki. The article is very well done. "Meet Your Neighbor, The Survivalist" (CNBC, 29 May 2009), about a survivalist who has stockpiled far more food than he could ever eat, so there's plenty to share with others.