John Piper and the Desiring God Conference

John Piper addresses “Emergent Christians” at last weekends Desiring God conference, which I blogged about back in February. Sounds like the conference was a big success and a boon to reformed folk – especially in light of their current trendiness. Piper has a warm tone and fatherly heart for the “emergents” in the audience and his message deserves to be heard, even if his description of the “postmodern mind” does not fit. It doesnt fit me either, but there is still value in listening.

– John Piper’s address for emergents is online. The MP3 has far more detail and includes some healthy banter with Mark Driscoll – who was also presenting.

– All conference talks are available here [Thanks guys]
Challies blogged the conference.

My take after listening to John Piper’s message:

– It sounds like Piper is addressing those who

a) minimize propostitional truth and biblical theology.

b) don’t believe in hell or penal substitution

c) those in the Emergent Village group in USA and probably not the global emerging church movement (D.Dash is asking)

– I feel expository preaching is not the only way to preach. I agree with Tim Keller’s comments on this, recorded in a recent interview with Justin Taylor.

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– I was assuming that their definition of postmodern world would be more holistic than just a point of view, a “postmodern mind”. Because after listening to them expound the postmodern mind, I dont see myself in their definition but I AM still living in a postmodern world. I am not “post-propositional”. God revealed himself through incarnation, proposition, narrative, parable, demonstration of power and other means. And I want to honor and expound the Scriptures in their given genre. Preaching expository sermons out of Proverbs or Revelation or Psalms may be doing violence to the text if the books are not treated in their historical and literary context.

– I believe in the supremacy of God in equal measure to John Piper and was brought up to be reformed in theology. And yet here I am serving the emerging church. Is it possible that the straw man under scrutiny is a few straws short of complete?

– I believe in “statements” and “statements of faith” – I even see value in affirming them and promoting them as i do with the Lausanne Covenant – but I am not a credalist. And as a missionary, I have seen the damage done when one country forces another country [or culutre] to adopt their statement. I am naturally suspect of man-made constructions of theology. I will not trust the sweetest frame but will only lean on Jesus name. Does that make me a postmodernist? What would John Piper say about being “post-colonial”?

– I am glad Mark Driscoll was invited because he’s a lovely guy and a good friend. But if they want a reformed-theology-embracing leader inside the emerging church, then there are plenty out there starting churches that are not based on the inherited, attractional model like Mars Hill. I wish every success for Mark’ s church, and have enjoyed my visits there, but there is a danger in reinforcing the idea that the residual model of church that has worked so well for hundreds of years, has plenty of milage, which I dont see as a viable reality for the future of the American church.

I would be curious to hear how you experienced the conference.

Piper on the supremacy of Christ

– Related: John Piper and a Postmodern World where I quote an artist saying

“the term ‘postmodernity’ describes the condition of the accelerated, played out and media saturated times we live in. Dont confuse it with Postmodernism, the short lived collage-based design and literary movement prevalent in the 90’s.”


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Wow – reformed conferences on Youtube. Whatever next?
    I like Piper, but I must admit this started to wind me up. It was a bit Doecetic – I love the humanity of Jesus – his compassion, emotion, even self doubt. This has none of that…

  • Tim Keller says:

    I think it’s premature to say what the future of the American church will be. Frankly, almost every model you can think of is ‘working’ here–seeker services/traditional church growth, attractional/hip, classic charismatic, non-attractional Hirsch/Frost, traditional Reformed/puritan, L’Abri cultural engagement, Sojourners-like social justice, –I mean everything. Like you, I have my private guesses about where things will be going, but my biggest problem with (nearly everyone !) is how confident we all are that ‘that’s not the future.’

  • iMonk says:

    Gracious and on target. Thanks TSK, and great to have you back.

  • Laurence Keith says:

    hi Andrew, glad you conquered the blogging bug. Thanks for this – i like this preacher man. never even heard of him before, but i have appreciated being reminded of such truthful good stuff. take care.

  • andrew says:

    thanks tim. but with attendence in local “inherited” churches on the declin, i find myself siding with people like George Barna predicting a massive shift to alternative, small, relational models [which he says will be the new majority]
    but yes, lets have a ‘proper confidence’ and be open for God to do whatever He desires. Even to resurrect the old Enlightenment models.

  • Tim Keller says:

    Well, with respect, that’s what I mean. I don’t think we can say with confidence which models are ‘Enlightenment’ models, or (put another way) how purely any church model is based on modern or post-modern sensibilities.

  • andrew says:

    and even if we could . . . our models should still undergo a regular scrutiny and occasional reformation, lest the yeast of the kingdom lose its power to reproduce and fill the whole lump.
    Tim, i cant get over a nagging feeling that many of the reformed folk speaking at that conference represent the white upper middle class that Presbyterianism has become known for. I wonder if the agenda for church planting, having a healthy denominational budget behind it, is partly driven by a nostalgic adherence to the past rather than strategic thinking – the kind of investment mentality i find in the Christian Foundations whose standards are very demanding – ie, they want to spend thousands to reach millions and would not be impressed in a proposal that spends millions to reach thousands.
    The expectations for both groups are different. And if we think we need a multitude of new churches – as i do – then we must think differently about church – and be open to think again about the church in form that is less hierarchical, more participatory, and more economical.
    maybe its just the pragmatist in me.

  • Ranger says:

    I love what I have listened to from the conference so far, particularly the very moving response from Don Carson on pastoring smaller churches that I transcribed for Justin Taylor’s blog.
    It seems though that John Piper’s definition of postmodern does reflect many of the ideas of phillosophical Postmodernism. I think for many pastors from Piper’s age bracket, they see or hear the word “postmodern” and think philosophical Postmodernism, and define it as secularism, humanism, pragmatism and everything else they have been fighting against since reading their first Francis Schaeffer book in college.
    I also think that many from Piper’s age bracket do not see the aspects of the postmodern world that are a progression. They see pragmatism, humanism and post-propositionalism, and those are so dangerous to their minds, that they don’t see the accelerated culture, or media saturated life as a part of postmodern…because that’s simply progression and outside of the realm of philosophy.
    With that said, I like the definition of postmodern that you quoted and I think the global EC would agree with that definition. I see the global EC as much more missional than philosophical on the whole, and desiring at its root to see people encounter Jesus more than anything else. That’s what matters to them, and that’s what matters to Piper. They are not trying to bring about a revolution (as some in Emergent Village USA), but are just trying to encounter Jesus in the world where they live.
    I think the future is far too pluralistic to say that this will survive and that won’t. I think both/and/or forms of church will all survive in the future because people and cultures are too unique, changes are too fast and although the trend to move toward the relational, small group church is definitely a reality in America today (and in the West at large), the trend is not necessarily the norm in the global world that we live in. If anything, that’s been the model for years and years in certain parts of the world, and as it becomes stale I believe Christ will reveal Himself afresh…and for all I care it can be an Enlightenment model church as long as Christ is encountered in a fresh way.
    Overall though, I am completely impressed by the heart of the speakers at the DG conference, and particularly Tim Keller and Don Carson. I was impressed by their openness to relating the Word to people in new ways (I know this obviously differed between speakers, as some where more open than others) As someone who’s very much Reformed and very much missional, I think that this conference will spawn great conversations among those who attended the conference and especially among the younger Reformed crowd.

  • matybigfro says:

    What he has to say is all good but
    how a christ that owns a world in which you see the evil beheadings and owns all power sits in heaven storing up wrath is a christ that is equally supremely loving
    I struggle with
    but then maybe I just haven’t read enough theology

  • the heart – yes – thats why i had to post about Piper. i will get around to listening to Mark and Tim Keller soon.
    and i like the way they opened it up – free MP3s and allowing live blogging
    The word “postmodern” still has milage but i tend NOT to use it with older folk around because of the same missunderstandings you outlined.
    i DO think we must start talking about “post-colonial” when we bring the mission aspect into the conversation.

  • Andrew,
    I lost a lot of respect tonight for the excellent communicator Mark Driscoll. He was a bit over top in his denunciation of the other side. The first 2/3 of his message (his first point) basically called his “good friends” like Brian McClaren et al., heretics. What I like about those in the emergent movement, from what I have read and listened to make their case without the destructive personal nature of their argument. Mark had some things to say but they were overshadowed by his tone.
    I am planting a missional church in Vilnius, Lithuania. Stop by if you are in the area. We would love to chat with you

  • Doug says:

    I love Piper. I loved his message. I felt frustrated at the conference, not because I expected more, but because I got a bit of what I expected — a good natured attempt to address “the emerging church” as if there were such a thing in terms of a definitional entity. I too get nervous with some of the less than theologically careful writings of McLaren and a couple of others. But it is so easy to find a quote, show it is wrong and then in draw the logical conclusion (Brian is wrong, Brian is emerging church, emerging church is wrong).
    That said, Piper came across as so humble (not so much Driscol — but he is young). It was great to watch piper hear Mark and to hear Keller. Keller nailed it.
    It really is all about contextualization — if people don’t hear what we say (for whatever reason) then we need to shut up and learn to say it in a way that they can hear.
    If that’s emerging, cool, if that’s missional, cool. ‘Cause it’s biblical.

  • djchuang says:

    TSK: “the kind of investment mentality i find in the Christian Foundations whose standards are very demanding – ie, they want to spend thousands to reach millions and would not be impressed in a proposal that spends millions to reach thousands. … we must think differently about church – and be open to think again about the church in form that is less hierarchical, more participatory, and more economical.”
    Having participated in both conversations, among foundations and among emerging churches, both are definitely after economy of scale, if you will, to impact people with a shrewdness on finances.
    Sure, some investors are risk-averse, yet some investors are more adventurous. The former more traditional, looking to past performance as the main indicator for the future, while the latter are open to new models and kinds of emerging churches. If God is behind raising up new churches, He can raise up new advocates and investors too.

  • andrew says:

    DJ – this is happening already in many places. Obviously the idea of starting movements using organic and economic means makes sense over buildings and salaries.

  • Melody says:

    Thank you for putting John Piper on video. He doesn’t look anything like I thought, but that’s okay. He always makes me feel convicted which is what I need.
    I like your statement – “as a missionary, I have seen the damage done when one country forces another country [or culutre] to adopt their statement [of faith]. I am naturally suspect of man-made constructions of theology. I will not trust the sweetest frame but will only lean on Jesus name.” This is why the United States came into existence, the Puritans could not adopt the statement of the Church of England and thus they came here. Thank God we can have a Christian president and not a Christian dictator or king.
    Question for Mark Fletcher, when did Jesus have ‘self-doubt’?

  • Melody, i think the story of the church taking root in USA without conflict or colonization would be different depending on who is telling the story and who was uprooted. my wife, for example, is part cherokee and she might have a different story. in fact, many first nations people have already told a different story. maybe there is something to learn there?????

  • Melody says:

    Andrew, I too, am part Cherokee as is a significant chunk of America. I agree that the person telling the story makes the story different sometimes. But you must admit that cuts both ways. We seem to have many people re-writing the story these days to fit a liberal agenda that is anti-american. That doesn’t make their version of the story any more true than the one they claim to replace, does it? So let me tell you what I heard an American Indian Chief in full native dress say recently, (I’m paraphrasing as I don’t have the quote in front of me) “The white man came and took the Indian’s land and what you did to us was terrible. But you also brought us Jesus, and I want Jesus more than anything.” I cried when I heard him say this because he is living proof that God can and will get his message of love and repentance to those who truly seek him in spite of our bungling ways. Besides, I never said the church took root without conflict or colonization. It never has. I was simply agreeing with you.

  • andrew says:

    yes – how amazing that God uses weak stupid vessels like us.
    i see now why I felt compelled to mention the cherokee thing.
    and yes – the story always cuts both ways and both cultures can teach each other. iron sharpens iron.
    in the future, as the internet opens up more opportunities for the gospel AND more dangers of a new colonization, lets be careful how we build and constantly check our bags (Luke 10) to make sure we are not bringing extra baggage with us into this pilgrimage with Jesus.
    Peace out . . .

  • Ed Enochs says:

    What in the world does being a Cherokee Indian have to do with anything pertaining to theology?

  • andrew says:

    hi ed. we were just talking about colonization and the bullying that took place when the First Nations people of North America were not given respect but rather had their “pagan” drums replaced with organs and were quickly taught English because their language was not suitable for church.
    [interesting sideline – i was at a reservation in Neah Bay, Washington where the Native American believers told me their worship was revived when New Zealand Maoris visited and showed their dances that were performed to God. They said the missionaries had taken all those dances away]
    Its good to see a lot of that change. I was just looking at some Native American worship sites and its great to see believers worship in their native dress and using native instruments – like Shelley Pajak is doing here with her church.
    I guess I brought up the issue because when we think of America as a land of “free” religion, we should not forget those who lost some freedoms in the process.

  • Melody says:

    Andrew, I agree that some missionaries saw some native practices as wrong that weren’t necessarily. How does one decide what is a Christian practice or a pagan practice? And does God care whether we engage in pagan religious practices if we say we are doing it to glorify Him?

  • andrew says:

    i find this a tricky situation and something that i have to ask again and again – especially at Easter and Christmas time, knowing that many emerging churches overseas have chosen to forsake these festivals because of their pagan origin
    but Romans 14 is helpful here.
    i find it helpful to ask the nationals what practices they believe are pleasing to God and which they consider dark – this is not the only criteria, obviously, but it is part of the picture.
    Like USA when some Christians meet around the pole for prayer and others say Mayday is a pagan festival
    or Easter, or Christmas.
    what do you think?

  • David says:

    I really love a speaker who thinks that by talking really loudly he can do away with sensible arguement. (Driscoll) I will listen to Piper later.

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