John Piper vs. Emergent Church

Todd Hertz

March 29, 2010

I appreciate Piper. I really think he has a great heart for the Church (big C). But I think that he really is attached to a particular view of what the church is. McLaren is not claimed as a "guru" among any of the emergent church guys that I follow. I think it may be true that Emergent church term may be gone. But more because people like Piper are working to distort the intention of the word.<br><br>I was just writing a review of Unfashionable this morning where Tchividjian makes the same charge, that Truth is more important than love. While I think truth is important, Truth without love is just as distorted as Love without Truth. And I there is a backlash that may go to far focusing on love without truth, but what Piper, and Tchividjian, and others miss is that the focus on Love is a direct result of the recent history of Evangelicals to embrace Truth without any Love. <br><br>This is a bad time I think to talk about Piper given his recent leave. But I think Piper is doing exactly what I think he needs to be doing. Getting away to rediscover how his own issues with truth create pride and arrogance. I am praying for him and hope that many others will as well.

March 29, 2010

Seems to me that Piper is glad all this is going down. If he really saw McLaren and the Emergent Church straying from orthodoxy into heresy, you'd think he'd be more upset by this. Instead, he seems to have an "I-told-you-so" attitude. Not impressed.<br><br>And if it's such a fading reality, how is McLaren's new book doing so well on Amazon?

March 29, 2010

It may be true that the specific term "emergent church" may be left to history ten years hence, but the movement - its ideas and underpinnings - will have become a dominant force in Christendom displacing the fundamentalist evangelicalism of Piper, et al.<br><br>Properly understood, the emerging movement is not discounting truth, but is redefining, or, more precisely, broadening both the definition and the sources of truth. The emerging movement isn't prioritizing relationship over truth, but is claiming that relational truths are as "true" as propositional truths. A fact that Piper, despite his public claims to the contrary, seems to "get" in his announcement of his impending sabbatical.

March 29, 2010

There is a lot of chaff in the emergent movement. Yet there is a lot of conviction in what they're doing—both conviction in how they relate to and serve people, and conviction AGAINST the evangelical church for being so unwilling to engage the world in a realistic and meaningful way. Where the emergent movement denies the Trinity or otherwise strays from other orthodox beliefs, we cannot be silent. Where the emergent movement simply makes us uncomfortable, we cannot ignore that either—we must evaluate if there's some stronghold we've built up in evangelical Christianity that needs challenging. This is the strength of the emergent movement as a whole, whether or not it's called "emergent church" in ten years.<br><br>Rather than throwing out the baby with the bathwater, Piper should consider why the emergent movement exists at all, and whether or not it has something to say about evangelical Christianity. Heck, evangelical Christianity itself might not be around in 10 (or 20 or 50) years, as has its OWN serious challenges (apathy, irrelevance, an utter lack of spiritual maturity, a systematic quenching of the Holy Spirit, etc.). These are some of the problems with the institution of "church" that many in the emergent movement see and lament.<br><br>Finally, and respectfully, I disagree with Dr. Piper that you "get relationships thrown in" when truth is prioritized. I think you CAN, and you SHOULD, since truth on the whole includes loving your neighbor enough not to beat them over the head with that truth, or to wear it like a badge of pride. But the reality is that people who are so focused on truth and doctrine tend to wear down and destroy relationships based on a hyper-focus on being RIGHT. Ultimately, I see what he's saying—those people that ignore love are ignoring truth—but it's a lot trickier than just pointing to the emergent movement as getting it wrong.

James Zwier
March 29, 2010

I don't think its fair to characterize this as an imbalance between truth and relationship. That's not how the emerging church sees itself.<br><br>The book he refers to is Brian D. McLaren's latest book released Feb 18, 2010: "A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith." <a href="http://amzn.com/0061853984" rel="nofollow">http://amzn.com/0061853984</a>

March 29, 2010

Wow. What a breath of fresh air. “An upper middle class departure from orthodoxy.” I think the emergent church brought several valuable things to the church, such as an emphasis on informality, authenticity and relationships but it was often at the cost of truth or doctrine. Just as Calvinists use the term TULIP to reference doctrinal committent to Calvinist theology, I have an acronym for the emergent church. The emergent church resists doctrinal statements. Emergent theologian LeRon Shults, the influential Emergent theologian, explains why they don’t have a doctrinal statement by saying, “such a move would be unnecessary, inappropriate and disastrous.” So, in the absence of a doctrinal formula I’ve donated one I call WUPSI. Purely my invention, but it represents a fair amount of reading and listening to Emergent writing. WUPSI stands for a Weak view of scripture, Universalism, militant Pacifism, Syncretic acceptance of world religions, and an Inadequate atonement. This does not exhaustively represent all the controversial beliefs of Emergence, but it represents the key points of doctrine that all their other commonly held positions flow from. I should also say that emergence is a sliding scale and not every church or cohort (as smaller groups are labeled) holds all five of these beliefs, much like those who call themselves 4 point or 3 point Calvinists. There are many good, sincere Christians who may hold a few of these beliefs and not every worshipper in an emergent church clearly understands the doctrine they are being fed. In fact there are many good, sincere pastors who love the Lord are attracted to the youthfulness and lack of pretense of the movement but may not understand the under-pinnings of the doctrine. Good word from John Piper.

March 29, 2010

Anyone interested in a factual, truthful but also very fair and balance take on the Emerging church would benefit tremendously by reading "Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church" by D.A. Carson. Carson is a Research Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, so the book is pretty scholarly. But it takes a very detailed look into what exaclty the Emerging church is, how it came to be and what's good, bad or indifferent (or at least in need of more cautious waiting and seeing) about their approach to Christianity and Church as an insitution. Not a light read but an excellent book.

March 29, 2010

Piper's response to the questions doesn't surprise me at all given both framework from which he tends to approach Christianity and the shape of the emergent movement.<br><br>1. A "movement" is by nature a broad and amorphous thing, especially one that has rejected both teaching and institutional specificity which this one has done. That makes it difficult to discuss. Could we talk about the 19th century millennial movement without talking about dispensationals, JW, LDS, Adventists, the Modernist/Fundamentalist feud and the impact that literalism had on American evangelicalism? <br><br>2. The framework that Piper applies: "truth vs. heresy, doctrine vs. relationships" is one that many in the movement resist to begin with. For whom is Piper's critique then helpful besides those who already buy his framework and don't buy the emergent critique. This is preaching to the choir. <br><br>3. I tend to agree with Piper that as a movement with this specific label (although many emergents deny this label and reject any other) will likely not endure for long. He correctly notes the demographic descriptor (white, middle class, educated) and McKnight and others have highlighted the tendency towards a broader movement of liberal Christianity. <br><br>4. I think, however, we should also recognize that the emergent movement tended to focus on some questions and challenges of evangelicalism which are more enduring and more important for Piper and all of us to wrestle with. Evangelical answers and structures were judged deficient and that judgment is not going to pass away. One ought to head the Proverbs where it is beneficial to listen to those who critique us. pvk

Former Insider
March 29, 2010

I'm writing as a former insider. I was an emerging church planter/blogger about five years ago. In the early days of podcasting, I was a regular in the top 100 iTunes charts and one of (if not the only) emerging podcasts on the list. I was one of those who saw blogging as a thing of the past five years ago (I was wrong, haha), and was proud of my 2k readers, which is only a drop in the bucket of some of the major Christian blogs today.<br><br>About ten years ago, and more manifest within the movement over the past five years, there was a major split within the emerging movement. On the one hand there were those who loved the church and wanted to reform it. The names of those in this group, who are still around, are Andrew Jones, Scot McKnight, Dan Kimball...and ten years ago it would have included (though definitely not anymore), Mark Driscoll. All of us in this group were motivated by the gospel primarily which led us to care passionately about people...but we didn't think the way that church was being done was communicating the gospel effectively. We were unified in an "orthodox" understanding of the gospel, but completely free in how that orthodoxy engaged culture. I think it would be fair to say that our theology moved from God to people. We believe that despite the corruption, the Holy Spirit has been moving through the church in all ages. As such, we need to look back and find where the Spirit really was, where the Spirit is and where the Spirit will be.<br><br>Some of our friends (and I do mean friends) had a different idea. Their theology moved from people to God. They understand God through their relationships to people. They love people, and love the way Jesus loved people. They want to love people like Jesus loved people and one of the ways Jesus loved people was by pointing them to God, but people come first...God second. I'm thinking here of Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt and McLaren of course. There are others, but these are the ones everyone knows. These are of course those associated with the latter Emergent Village, who call their Christianity "progressive" or even "new." You see this clearly in Brian's new book. The criticism has been made that Brian loves Jesus and hates God...I think this is incorrect, but gets at the point being made. When you read Brian's stuff, you see his love for people (which is very real), but you also see that he doesn't like the Old Testament God, or more specifically the way the people in the Old Testament saw God. His "new" Christianity actually seems more in line with the typical mainline Christianity that others like Tony Jones have been schooled in.<br><br>It's this difference in theological perspective that harnesses their focus. Driscoll writes books about doctrine now, and Kimball is all about emerging churches joining into the Lausanne movement (and its confession). They care more than anything else about changing people spiritually, believing that will lead to their social change. On the other side, Jones, McLaren, etc. write about social issues, politics, injustice, etc. and believe that if you change people socially, they will be changed spiritually.<br><br>Now, where do I see this latter movement going? Ten years ago, the movement was about compassion and acceptance, but once the two sides split, they spit out as much negativity toward each other as the churches they were critiquing back then. Compare the (possibly condescending) way Driscoll writes about liberals in his new book versus what McLaren writes about traditionalists in his. The language is slightly different, but the attitude is identical...it's no longer about a compassionate, accepting critique against misguided traditionalism. It's "us against them"...even within the emerging camp.<br><br>Where we stand now is that some of the former leaders are gone. No more Driscoll. McKnight, McManus, Kimball, et. al. have moved onto the Origins movement and are more concerned with what Lausanne is doing internationally. Andrew Jones is only loosely involved, yet more associates with Kimball. Emergent Village (the left side of the old emerging church) has dissolved completely, but its leaders are still somewhat influential. The problem is that their influence has changed audiences. Ten years ago, when McLaren first wrote "A New Kind of Christian," everyone reading the book was an evangelical or at worst a "post-evangelical." Many evangelicals didn't follow his trajectory over the past ten years though. Let's be honest, like him or not (I often don't), Driscoll ended up being the most influential of the bunch, and most of the evangelical emergents followed him. Many of the other emergent crowd ended up filtering into standard mainline churches. McLaren's readers today are the same crowd of mainlines that were reading Borg ten years ago. They're trending older and his writing is not getting the younger crowd anymore.<br><br>I think there are still emerging Christians. I think there is still an emerging church. But, I think when historians look back in ten, twenty, fifty years, they will see most of the movement having either melded into mainline churches or followed after Driscoll/McKnight/Kimball out of the movement altogether.<br><br>Is Piper right? Is McLaren unorthodox? In one area (the Fall), they possibly are. Jones and McLaren would both want to defend (and have openly defended) Pelagius against some criticisms, but I don't think either are yet (or will ever be) completely willing to follow Pelagius into what the church for 1500 years has considered heresy.

March 30, 2010

I don't think there is a whole lot of substance here. Fads and trends in the church are about as meaningful as fads and trends in consumer culture. Nothing spoils a church like reading up on the latest books, devising sermons from the latest books, watching the in crowd on TV. Frankly, I don't place much stock in doctrine, not because truth is relative, but because human beings are fallible. Oceans of blood have been spilled fighting over doctrine, and we are no more enlightened about the questions at issue than we were before the first sword was drawn. I'm neither a Quaker nor a Congregationalist, but I think both denominations provide a certain valuable example for any practice of Christian faith. The truth expresses itself through the inner light in each of us (there is a bit of that in John Wycliffe also) but none of us have complete and perfect possession of it. How could we? It is too big for any one of us. On the other hand, if you want bishops, submit to one or more. You could do worse. I don't much care about "the emergent church" or Piper or any other trendy current. I belong to a somewhat rejuvenated relatively mainline church, of medium size, where the pastor says anytime this church is too big for me to know everyone by name, the assistant pastor is going to take half of you and start a new church. Ultimately, my relationship to God is mine, and isn't a perfect fit for anyone else's.

March 30, 2010

This is a really helpful post. Thanks.

April 1, 2010

How about admitting what you are doing-putting down the competition? It is inappropriate of you to speak about it in the past tense. It is inappropriate to speak of a brother's work as though you are God. That's the problem the Emerging Church is addressing. By what authority do you have the right to bring wholesale condemnation against a competitor of yours, other than the Emerging Church might take some of your customers.<br><br><br>Mimi Rothschild<br>(Attended Vineyard Fellowship for 5 years)

April 5, 2010

I am a bit surprised at some of these comments about Piper. I actually go to his church. I don't think he is a fad and if you listened to his sermon about his leave, you would realize he is a very humble man. We all have pride issues as one can tell from reading some of the comments on this post. I subscribe to his wife's blog as well and she talks about his leave more and how he was protecting her because they were in it together. I am kind of sickened by some of these comments. Since when is Christianity a competition (@Mimi)? I don't think Piper or others who condemn the Emergent church are trying to wipe out the competition. I do think we need to look to God, the Bible and quit trying to follow the newest, greatest thing that has come around and makes us feel good.

April 10, 2010

You have to question Piper's initial criticism that the 'leadership is failing' or 'in shambles' or 'immorality is rampant' as a clear ad-hominem attack. We could easily look at any denomination or movement in Christianity and find plenty of examples, his included. Even if true, this does not necessarily negate the spiritual value or truth that this movement is/has produced.<br><br>I also disagree that this whole thing will be done in ten years. It doesn't matter what you want to call it, there clearly is a shift happening within broad sectors of Christianity, and it is influencing probably all ends of the faith, even those who are reacting against it, like Piper.<br><br>I recently attended the Re-Emergence Conference in Belfast with people from all over the world and there is a genuine excitement over the unique and creative ways God is at work in our various contexts. My sense is that many who fear all things 'emergent' or 'emerging' are generally only marginally familiar with the actual conversation that is happening. This is fueled by youtube clips like this, which is a second-hand take on it by someone not involved in it, who admits to not even having read McLaren's latest book, but feels free to declare it a 'disaster'.<br><br>A far more fruitful posting would be something by McLaren or Tickle or whomever else is involved, and could more accurately speak to its direction, energy, ethos, etc.<br><br>Feel free to listen to a five minute BBC radio clip of the conference here:<br><a href="http://www.watershedtc.org/downloads/re-emergence.mp3" rel="nofollow">http://www.watershedtc.org/dow...</a><br><br>Or my own blog in response to the Re-Emergence conference:<br><a href="http://pubtheologian.wordpress.com" rel="nofollow">pubtheologian.wordpress.com</a>.

Bruce Wayne
December 28, 2011

Christ says, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set your free."  If you take the view that humans are fallible and don't put any stock in people, this is clearly an attack on the human intellect. In other words, "How dare you say you can know something! How dare you!" If truth was unknowable and humans are too fallible to discover it, there would be no science or advancement.

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