John Piper – Emerging church leaders lives are in shambles because of a low view of truth

I realize that this video is a couple of years old, but it still has value for conversation about the “emerging church.”

John Piper may or may not be right about the “emerging church” no longer being talked about ten years from now (at least in the form it took during the past decade). But the way he characterizes it, including the “shambles” of its leaders because of a low view of truth, is just flat out unfair. He mischaracterizes the movement as a whole.

By putting Truth over-against relationships, he has put two things in contrast that were both foundational to the early church. They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching AND fellowship/community. The list in Acts 2 is not a hierarchy but a description of the equally important aspects of being a Jesus follower. And for the record, the early Christians didn’t do systematic theology :-)

I’m not passionate about the “label” by any stretch and I do wonder why so many emergent types seem to simply have embraced mainline liberalism, but I think that the best expressions of this movement/conversation have added Kingdom value to the church in the West.

Granted that, what do you think of the emerging church conversation? Will it be over in 10 years or will it evolve into something new?

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  • Jamie Arpin-Ricci

    I say this as a dual citizen of Canada & the US living in Canada, but the “emerging church” conversation in the US is only one, very unique expression of the larger conversation, yet it seems to be the most centrally considered by most people.

    • Kurt Willems


      That’s an important point!

    • Erin

      Thank you! As a Canadian, I often raise an eyebrow at the US-centric stance that dominates conversations when so many different movements around the world are living out ‘emergent communities’ (if we need to use labels), and having good discussions around important issues. I haven’t been impressed with Piper for a while, but I read last night about evangelicals denouncing him because he practices a ‘lite’ form of lectio divina (gasp!), which is still considered pagan and cult-like in many churches. My hopes were momentarily raised, and then I saw this. Well, I still need to consider him a brother and grow from there. But yeah, I’d like Piper and other Americans to dig past the US focus and engage the rest of us. We all might be surprised.

  • James Williams

    While you focused on his assertion that the EC won’t be around in 10 years, what I heard was that it’s dangerous to focus on relationships over truth, and that neglecting truth can be dangerous. And Piper is dead right on that.

    • Kullervo

      I’m not sure scripture supports you on this.

      • James Williams

        I only said two things. Which do you think Scripture disagrees with?
        1. It’s dangerous to focus on relationships over truth
        2. neglecting truth can be dangerous

        • Tiro Lynn

          “1. It’s dangerous to focus on relationships over truth”

          Part of the truths of Scripture are that Christians are to live in their relationships according to holiness, godly love, graciousness, etc. All the fruit of the Spirit is relative to living godly holy lives within our relationships.

          It is a strange illogic to think one can pit God’s Truth against or contrary to relationships. God’s truths encompass all our relatiionships. We even live within relationship when we die and go to heaven. We are after all part of God’s family.

          • James Williams

            Are you saying it’s not possible to choose a relationship over what’s true? Seriously? It’s called people-pleasing. It’s also a mistake many parents make. I can’t believe I have to explain this.

    • Luke

      You must be talking about some other kind of truth than what is found in the bible. I the bible we see a Truth that is embodied primarily in the person of Christ, and seen primarily through relationships with others and the world. So focusing on relationships would be focusing on truth.

      • James Williams

        Luke 14:26 “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple.”

        Clearly, Jesus doesn’t mean to hate your family. But He does mean that if you have to choose between His truth and your relationships, you choose Him.

        • Dan Jr

          James it’s amazing how you parceled that verse from it’s context. That verse is speaking to the formation of a new community (new relationships) that should take precedence over previous relational alliances. If anything Jesus is declaring the vital nature of community as a means to following him. The whole Sermon on the Mount is a call into a new way of relating as a conduit for following King Jesus. Truth is embodied actual flesh and blood.

          • James Williams

            You’re right. I knew that was a terrible example as soon as I hit the send button. My original point stands, though. God is, or should be, center stage. Many of the leaders/authors Piper speaks of are encouraging Christians to be man-centered. Many of them value human relationships over truth.

          • KA Crosby

            I have a feeling that’s a rather large assumption, “many” are valuing human r’ships over truth.. I think a better way of positing your point is that many of the progressive persuasion are recapturing ancient ways of defining truth. Which is not the same definition or bundle of assumptions as today’s conservative-modernist doctrinal truth statements. What we have here is a rejection of a particular cultural conception, not the rejection of truth itself.

            Agree with Dan, truth is embodied in the incarnate, flesh and blood Christ. Truth is a person, as Jesus himself said. Relationship with God in Christ has primacy. Relationship with others is a close and related second. This IS truth. Any other conception of “truth” lends itself to error.

  • Ahmed

    It’s a conversation where it’s okay to ask questions and attempts to tackle the hard questions of life that people have in an honest way, unlike the ‘sweeping under the rug’ that most churches do. With that said I emphasize the fact that it’s a conversation some are having and fostering that is ecumenical and interdenominational. Therefore there is no centralized body or leadership structure to refer to or even a category people can check off on a survey about what they believe. So how piper and others think they can say that it’s declining or gonna end is beyond me. It’s an organic movement and there are no stats they can rely on to make their assertion. As long as we are still asking life’s basic and deep questions there will always be people who are willing to create space in churches for honest dialogue, expression and service.

  • Jesse Reese

    I’m actually working on a blog post right now concerning my thoughts about the “emerging church” movement. Recently, since I graduated with my bachelor’s, I realized that the term has been in decline and I decided to search around online and investigate the reasons.
    My sense is that I don’t really buy the “emerging church” as a coherent way forward at all, but rather an umbrella term/community for Christians “in transition.” What I mean is that the emerging church seems like a label used when evangelicals realize that they are dissatisfied with “modern church” and decide to search for “alternative ways of doing church” that can cope with the “challenges” of postmodernism. The problem is that all of the terms in quotes are defined differently by different members of the movement, and as their concerns and goals become clearer, they either engage with pre-existing movements or start new ones (often overlapping and innovating in the process) that are distinct from the “emerging church;” i.e., neo-Anabaptists/New Monastics, social evangelicals, neo-Reformed, ancient-future, etc. Sometimes people retain the “emerging” identity, sometimes they don’t, but I would want to say that they have become something distinct and “emerging” has become quite secondary.
    So, in response to John Piper (whose opinions I almost universally love to despise), I would say that any statements about the “emerging church” at all are overgeneralizing and unjustified sweeping remarks from those who simply don’t want things to change and aren’t much concerned with what they change into. Nor are they concerned with understanding the diversity or underlying concerns of the emerging conversation. The “emerging church” is not in shambles, it is simply giving way to subgroupings that are becoming more primary than the overall identity.

  • Derek Rishmawy

    Pre-video comment: Kevin DeYoung joked at the opening of a lecture on another subject that he had decided to not give his usual, “Why I’m Not Emerging, and Nobody Else Is Either Anymore.” The emerging church is/was kinda like a third party movement. It raised a bunch of important issues that needed to be raised. It then gave answers that weren’t so great and now it’s dying. It will fade and get absorbed. It was inevitable when you think about how deeply anti-institutional it really is. Movements don’t last without institutions. This doesn’t mean than it hasn’t had an effect. It has, and continues to. One thing I think it did was push a lot of people in various directions out from generalized evangelicalism. Some who bought some of the solutions offered have moved mainline. Some of us who bought diagnosis but not the cure have looked elsewhere. I have friends who went E. Orthodox, or Roman Catholic, or Anglican. I went Reformed and Presbyterian.

    Again, this is before watching the video, quick thoughts on the emerging church’s slow fade.

    • Kurt Willems

      Thanks for your thoughts… More interested in commentary on the emerging church than this video anyway :-)

  • Mark Currey

    WWJM – who would jesus mock?

  • Jonathan Brink

    The shambles part is specifically in reference to Tony Jones who went through a divorce at that time. This is kind of old news though, especially in light of Piper’s own “sabbatical” to focus on relationships. ;-P

    • Kurt Willems

      Aaaahhhh…. To claim that such is because of a loss of truth is not appropriate from what I can tell. As I know you agree. ;-)

  • Steve, Winnipeg, Canada

    This is kind of an old video, isn’t it? I vaguely remember seeing this last year. I’m just curious, why discuss it now?

    • Kurt Willems

      It was new to me as of yesterday… And it’s still relevant for dialogue.

  • Charles Riley

    I think there are some problems that are hard for me to put into words and of course I don’t know anyone who has had their lives turn into shambles from following this movement. As a Therapist and trained Pastor I think relationship is everything but there has to be something that these relationships are built on and that is Christ including his teachings and his act on the cross and the empty tomb. I will not judge others but I will share my understanding of what Jesus says. I will let God work things out. If there are Christian that are pulling away from established truths such as the need to accept Jesus as our only way to be joined with our God then those individual may have problems. To water down the Gospel that is to do away with hell, the resurrection or the borrowing from other non Christian religions or watering down other Biblical truths might fall under the curse Paul states in Galatians about promoting another Gospel. If this movement is not of God, God will deal with it. Who knows but God may be using this movement to reach people.
    It may be that their are some who need this movement to help them come to grips with Bible truths that are hard to accept and this type of movement may relax a belief that makes their faith easier to accept. Who knows. I have seen movements come and go and we have to be careful not to follow people or movements. Nothing plus Jesus is everything. Corky

  • David Warkentin

    While any official organizations will not likely develop or sustain itself (e.g. Emergent Village seems to have fizzled somewhat, no?), I do think the movement will continue to influence. It may remain on the margins, yes, but the influence will remain.

    I wrote an article last summer that traces the movement and draws some connections to Anabaptism as well:

  • michael j. kimpan

    hurtful and unfortunate. the entire trajectory of the ‘us/them’ conversation is sadly anti-gospel. looking forward to exploring these thoughts in my upcoming blog series ‘solidarity’ (feel free to stop by and visit here :: largely based around thoughts and conversations from mclaren’s MOST recent work on inter-faith dialogue. i hesitate to imagine what piper would have to say about *this* one.

  • Frank

    Considering that the Emergent Church is made of of privileged whites still after 10 years should tell us all something… It does not in any way, shape or form reflect the diversity that the Gospel demands.

  • Dan Martin

    The emerging church as a named movement may have lost some momentum, but I think that may be because a variety of different types of dissatisfaction with current incarnations of church were erroneously lumped together. There was a sizeable Postmodern and post-Postmodern contingent. There were also quite a few who were disillusioned with the pat answers (and pat questions) of Evangelicalism, but as they went deeper it turned out they were disillusioned for different, and sometimes contradictory, reasons. Then there was no small representation from the too-hip crew that just jumped on the latest thing to curl their elders’ hair.

    As others pointed out in comments above, some of these have moved on to other denominations or traditions, while others have found new ways to be cool and/or iconoclastic. There remains, however, a core that continue to explore biblical texts and community in non-standard ways…people such as myself who are not satisfied with current definitions of orthodoxy as mediated by any existing institution, but who conversely find conventional liberalism wanting in standards or rigor. We never quite fit with the emergents anyway, but as they evaporate or move on, we’re still mining the Scriptures and wrestling together on their implications. I don’t know where we’ll be in 10 years, but I’m pretty sure we won’t have disappeared.

  • A friend of Jesus

    In England people are bored of the established church as it no longer speaks to normal people. There is a move to keep things traditional rather than have any concern for the people outside. As a result groups are starting to appear where Christians are just getting together, reading scripture, worship and prayer, and really trying to work it out and then trying to apply it to their lives and then inviting people who are not Christian to join them. Is this the emergent church? Truth in England is a buzz word that Right wing evangelical Christians use to justify their own position. They rather speak of truth, than Jesus. If they speak of Jesus, then truth will follow.

  • Jimmy Spencer Jr

    Really? This video is not shocking but still very sad. John Piper is solely determined to advance his very narrow systemic brand of Christianity. His arrogance and intolerance are what the average person sees in the USA and a perfect example of why people no longer take Evangelical Christians seriously–because we think we have the right to determine who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’

    Piper should just be honest and stop saying he wants everyone to believe in
    ‘truth’…he wants everyone to believe in his version of truth.

    There are plenty of smart, educated and good-hearted people who love Jesus that completely disagree with his biblical views.

    • Jimmy Spencer Jr

      …and yes the clip is older…and still relevant. :(

    • Kurt Willems

      Completely agree with you bro!

    • W Scott Womer

      You are influenced by post-modernism in saying that there are different versions of truth. The Bible is the source of truth and not the emergent church, which wants to reinvent orthodox doctrine that will condone homosexuality, include yoga and meditation, pray to idols and saints, deny a literal hell, and preach Universalism. Don’t take my word for it; read what the leaders of the emergent church have said.

  • Ron Cole

    It’s has emerged and morphed into progressive christianity.

  • Ryan Robinson

    I think it will be over as a label because its impact will have spread through every facet of Christianity. It isn’t a fad. It is a revival movement that is adapting the church to function within the postmodern world.

  • Kathleen Ward

    My impression is that the “emerging church” was Gen X’s way of deconstructing church to make way for reconstruction. As far as I can see, the organic/ missional/ simple church movements are alive and well and rapidly multiplying across the world. Additionally, msny churches are opening up to new forms of ministry. “Emerging” was always going to be a temporary name – it no longer applies once the movement has “emerged”.

  • taddelay

    i always thought it spoke volumes that this video of him blasting fellow christians came out literally only days before he stepped down due to “several species of pride.”

  • Greg D

    Piper’s message of doom shouldn’t be a surprise to us since he often equates disasters, catastrophes, demise, shambles, etc. with those who he doesn’t agree with theologically and socially. He is, for all intents and purposes, the voice of today’s fundamentalists. Unfortunately, 10 years from now these fundamentalists (under the guise of Reformed) will likely still be around, loud and clear, much like a clanging bell drowning out the voices of others who cannot compete with them. If the Emerging Church does die out, it’s only because of folks like Piper, Driscoll, The Gospel Coalition, and others within the “young, restless, and reformed” who will drown them out in their relentless pursuit for power and popularity within the Evangelical church.

    Will the Emerging Church (EC) still be around 10 years from now? Absolutely it will. I have observed that even though it may seem the EC is dying out, it is in fact growing under the current guise of the Missional movement (see Alan Hirsch, Robert Frost, and Neil Cole) and the Progressive movement (see Tony Jones, Shane Claiborne, and Gregory Boyd). However, I don’t think the EC exists as a formal cohesive unit, easy to peg down and contain like other groups. Rather it permeates churches and ideologies through individuals scattered throughout the Body. I believe the EC is a result of our entrance into a post-modern world and therefore the existence of an EC type of dynamic will forever be unavoidable.

  • Michael Tyler

    Precisely because “Emergent” is a loose vague category, Piper is wrong in leveling specific accusations. That’s like saying you don’t like “Alternative” music. Well, almost.
    But, he may be correct that the category may get replaced by a more descriptor.