Recently at The Gospel Coalition, Senior Pastor Garrett Kell, of 9 Marks Del Ray Baptist, wrote about the role that Campus Crusade for Christ played in him coming to the Christian faith. This post is going to look at a glaring problem in Jonathan Leeman’s view of 9 Marks. Had it been rolled out and practiced against para-church organizations as Leeman believes, would Garrett Kell be a Christian today? Would he be the Senior Pastor of Del Ray Baptist?
“Shelby explained he was with a group called Campus Crusade for Christ and that he’d like to meet with me when we got back to school to talk about God and the Bible. We exchanged information and he headed off.”
From Garrett Kell’s Testimony
“I expect this might sound radical to people, but let me point again to two biblical principles. First, a Christian ministry’s primary concern must be with the reputation of Jesus Christ in the world. Second, Jesus authorized the local church to exercise the keys. Every other ministry must understand, therefore, that it plays a subordinate role.”
Jonathan Leeman on how para-church ministries should submit to the local church
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Psalm 139:7-12 NIV
Del Ray Baptist Church snapped on the way home from work
University of Wisconsin – Stout in Big Break in Panama City, Florida.
Recently I saw a post by Garrett Kell at The Gospel Coalition that I knew needed a response. Garrett credits Campus Crusade for Christ as one of the ways in which God reached out to him in Panama City Beach, Florida. He also was involved in Campus Crusade for Christ at Virginia Tech. I myself was deeply involved in Campus Crusade for Christ. I was first involved in Fresno State, or technically California State University Fresno, and later I moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to attend grad school at Marquette University. From 2000 to 2002 I helped plant and labored hard to grow a chapter. At Marquette in the beginning it was me and 4 girls. The very existence of a thriving and growing Cru chapter at Marquette today is a part of my spiritual heritage. I love, and respect Cru. It is for that love that I raise deep concerns about the direction of part of Cru. For example in this post I looked at Cru at George Mason University and asked why are they referring and promoting Sovereign Grace Fairfax with all the allegations of criminal activity, child sex abuse cover up and more? Where is Cru’s discernment? Then in this post I did a review of all the Christmas Conferences Cru held in 2015. I myself in the past went to TCX in Minneapolis, in this post I recommended against going to TCX due to the promotion of Acts 29. It is with that in mind that I read the following post that Garrett Kell wrote called “Followed by the Grace of God.”
There is a glaring and massive elephant standing in the room, that I need to ask and explore. At the same time I wanted to write about Garrett Kell’s article. By now you may be asking…who is Garrett Kell? Garrett from what I read grew up in Berkley Springs, West Virginia. He attended Virginia Tech and after graduation was the evangelism pastor at Denton Bible Church in Denton, Texas. After graduating from Dallas Theological Seminary Garrett served as the Senior Pastor at Graham Bible Church in Graham Texas. He later served on staff at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. He eventually became the lead pastor at Del Ray Baptist Church in 2012. Del Ray is largely a satellite of Capitol Hill Baptist as I have come to understand it.
I have written about Del Ray Baptist before. I explore and critique Del Ray’s membership statement in “A Critique on 9 Marks’ Del Ray Baptist Church’s Sample Statement on Church Attendance.” Since we also are back in 9 Marks I want to highlight one of the most read posts I have written. That post is called “9 Marks: What is it? How Mark Dever Undermined it and Made it Worthless.” In that post I explained how Mark Dever violated at least 5 of the 9 Marks when he let C.J. Mahaney in all his
manliness, whoops I mean cowardness flee Covenant Life Church and hide behind Mark Dever. In that post I show how Mark Dever violated membership, “The Gopsel”, leadership, discipline, and discipleship. My question still stands…when is Mark Dever going to face church discipline for not adhering to 9 Marks? Or is he above church discipline?
Having explored all that I am going to comment on Garrett Kell’s article called “Followed by the God of Grace.” My comments below are going to be in red. As always I invite feedback and even criticism. And yes Garrett if you want to critique me you are free to do that, as I have no problem with others doing that with me.
It was early in my junior year at Virginia Tech, and everywhere I turned it felt like God was following me.
It all began a few months before, when a friend talked to me about Jesus at a Halloween party. Since that night, I couldn’t shake his words. I believed God was real, but I wasn’t ready to surrender my life of dating, drinking, and drugs. Yet I couldn’t escape the sneaking suspicion my friend had told me the truth.
Several times that semester I found myself smoking a blunt, only to be compelled to flush it and pick up the Bible. One early morning I became so overwhelmed that I printed out portions of Revelation and nailed it to the door of “the white devil” who’d long been my cocaine dealer (yes, that freaked him out). On the weekends I’d party hard but somehow attend a church on Sunday, no matter how strung out I was from the night before.
My soul was conflicted. Though I loved the fleeting pleasures of sin, I felt as if I was being pursued by the One I later heard called “The Hound of Heaven.”
In the middle of this soul-searching, my buddy Adam suggested we go to Panama City Beach for spring break. It didn’t take much convincing for me to agree I needed a little fun in the sun to help clear my mind.
On this part of the post I do want to say that I appreciate Garrett’s honesty. Its not easy to write about mistakes, and in that sense I do want to say kudos for having the courage to write about those events in your life. While I will be critical on Neo-Calvinist theology I also believe in being fair and singling our praise if its deserved.
Redemptive Road Trip
As we drove with windows down and music blaring, we talked about life and school and girls—and about what I’d been reading in the Bible. I told Adam I was seeing things in a new light and felt God was showing himself to me everywhere I went. Adam was a good friend and he listened, but I’m sure he thought I was crazy.
As we neared Panama City Beach I noticed a plane flying overhead pulling a banner behind it. As it drew closer, I read: “Jesus Loves You—John 3:16.”
I pointed my arm out the window and told Adam, “Look, God is following me around.”
Once we arrived at the hotel, we dropped off our bags and headed to the beach. We anchored our chairs in the sand and cracked open a pair of cold ones. After a while I noticed a small herd of students talking to people and handing out little booklets. A couple guys gave me a pamphlet and told me God had a wonderful plan for my life. After they made their way down the beach, I turned to Adam and said, “See, God is following me around.”
Garrett says that he noticed a small herd of students passing out little booklets. He also says a couple of guys gave him a pamphlet. What isn’t said is that these people are most likely from Campus Crusade. Campus Crusade as I understand it has a very active Spring Break evangelism conference which you can read about right here. I knew someone who likely went on that trip years ago. This would have been in the 1998 to 2000 timeframe in Panama City Beach. It is indeed a small world and reading stories like this remind me as to how small it really is. I will let you read the rest of Garrett’s article and then I will comment and get into the issues below.
We laughed it off and headed back to the room. That evening we went to a club. When we made our way out to the curb to call a cab, three vans pulled up with holy roller graffiti on the side that read “God loves you! Believe the gospel! Jesus saves!” The drivers got out, offering free rides for anybody who needed one. We declined, but as we walked away I said, “Adam, I’m not making this stuff up.”
The next day was rainy, so we decided to lay low. I found some weed and smoked myself hungry. So I found Adam and we made our way to the Waffle House across the street. I told him I felt God was making me feel bad for the way I was living, and I didn’t know what to do. As we scarfed down our waffles he looked at me and said, “Bro, think you need to stop doing drugs. They’re messing with your mind.”
Within minutes, the doors flung open and a flood of 30 loud and laughing people carrying Bibles walked in and took seats all around us. One guy walked straight up to us and said, “Hey, my name is Shelby. Do you go to Virginia Tech?” After we said yes, he asked me, “Have I ever seen you at a church in Blacksburg?” I told him I’d visited a few and that it was possible.
Shelby explained he was with a group called Campus Crusade for Christ and that he’d like to meet with me when we got back to school to talk about God and the Bible. We exchanged information and he headed off.
After Shelby left, Adam stared at me and said, “Dude, God really is following you around!”
Line in the Sand
The next day I took a walk on the beach before dusk and saw a girl sitting by herself staring at the ocean. I wasn’t sure why, but I felt I needed to talk to her. I said hello and asked if she’d been in the water. The water was a little too cold for her, she said.
I said something stupid like, “Yeah, I’d have to have a case of beer before I got in there.” She looked at me and replied, “I don’t know about that, but God has taught me Jesus is all I need to be happy.” It was a pretty serious Jesus Juke, but it didn’t surprise me. I told her I’d been thinking a lot about God and asked her to pray for me.
As I walked toward the hotel, a lady in a beach wheelchair and another guy my age signaled for me to come over. I figured this was another divine setup, but I felt it would be bad to run from a woman in a wheelchair, so I made my way over.
The lady’s name was Stacy James, and after a few get-to-know-you questions she said, “Garrett, what do you know about Jesus?” I don’t remember much else she said except that God wanted me to know I had to choose to be for him or against him. I couldn’t be both (Matt. 12:30).
That beach trip proved to be a true line in the sand for me.
When I returned to school, I began meeting with Shelby. He helped me understand the basics of walking with Jesus. And since that trip, I have been. Not because of something wise or wonderful in me, but because the King of glory set his affection on me and never stopped pursuing.
I tried to run, to hide, and to explain away his pursuit, but in the end his grace prevailed.
Why God Pursues
Why does God run after those who want nothing to do with him? Here are two thoughts.
1. God follows you because he loves you.
If you’re reading this and know God’s been following you around, stop running. He’s chasing you in order to rescue you, not to harm you.
The prophet Isaiah describes our running like this: “We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isa. 53:6). Following our own way seems like it leads to life, but it doesn’t. As Scripture elsewhere observes, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (Prov. 14:12). Running from God leads only to judgment (Rev. 20:11–15).
Yet because God loves running rebels, he sent his Son on a rescue mission to seek and save the lost. He is the good shepherd who gives his life for the sheep (John 10:10–11).
That means Jesus came to earth to die on a cross, absorbing the judgment we deserve, and then to get up from the grave. And he now calls all people—including you—to turn from sin and receive forgiveness (Acts 2:38, 17:30–31). God follows you because he loves you. So stop running and surrender to the One who watches over your soul (1 Pet. 2:25).
2. God uses you to follow those he loves.
Don’t underestimate the significance of scattering gospel seed wherever you go. Whether you’re on a plane, on a beach, in a Waffle House, driving drunks home, or doing normal life, God is working to call his lost sheep to himself—and he’s using you to do it.
As my wife regularly reminds me, “Every brief encounter is from the Lord.” It may be a full gospel conversation on a mission trip or simply asking that cashier how you can pray for them. God uses all sorts of “brief encounters” to awaken gospel interest in the hearts of his elect.
Are you actively seeking ways to help others hear the good news of the Savior?
One Great Evangelist
The year after my trip to Panama City Beach, I went back—but this time it wasn’t to party. In fact, I went with the group God had used to reach me the year before. He sure loves to use the unlikeliest of people for his purposes.
So if you feel inadequate to share the gospel with others, don’t let that stop you. Remember, God is the great evangelist; he’s simply allowing you to share in the joy of helping others come to love him.
9 Marks is The Elephant in the Room in Garrett’s Story
Here is the problem with Garrett’s story. Its a large, glaring and major problem. It is the elephant in the room standing in the corner. Up above you read about the role that Campus Crusade for Christ played in Garrett’s conversion. You read about how people on Spring Break interacted and influenced him. And yet Garrett is affiliated with a movement – 9 Marks – that if fully implemented would not even have organizations like Cru exist. Due to 9 Marks theology on para-church organizations, ministries like Cru, the Navigators, IVCF, and more really would have no right to exist. Let me explain…
In March of 2011 Jonathan Leeman published this article at 9 Marks called “How Church Discipline Will Save the Parachurch.” I find it deeply interesting that Jonathan Leeman starts out the article by saying all authority is vested by Jesus in the local church. I wrote about some of this already in this article called, “SEBTS Church Discipline Conference, 9 Marks, Jonathan Leeman and Eric Cartman say “Respect my Authoritah!” I want you to pay attention to what Jonathan Leeman says about para-church ministries submitting to the local church.
Third, we who work for parachurch ministries should be willing to heed—somehow—acts of local church discipline. Now, I’m a congregationalist, which means that I don’t think one church’s act of excommunication formally binds another church or a parachurch ministry, the way I would if I were Roman Catholic. But I do believe that prudence recommends some measure of deference in the face of this kind of action by the Jesus-established local church.
No doubt, prudence-guided deference will look different from case to case. When a parachurch ministry (or another church) has the luxury of carefully investigating the circumstances of such an action, it might choose either to affirm or to contravene the original church’s decision. When it does not have the luxury to investigate, time being scarce, I would encourage the parachurch ministry, in most circumstances, to defer to the local church. Yes, that might mean reconsidering someone’s employment status or publishing future.
I expect this might sound radical to people, but let me point again to two biblical principles. First, a Christian ministry’s primary concern must be with the reputation of Jesus Christ in the world. Second, Jesus authorized the local church to exercise the keys. Every other ministry must understand, therefore, that it plays a subordinate role.
So basically if a para-church ministry is not going to submit to the local church does it have a right to exist? Should it exist? According to what Jonathan Leeman is advocating then no it should not. So having read a part of Garrett’s story above let me ask the million dollar question. Since Campus Crusade played a key role in bringing Garrett to the Christian faith, would that have happened, or would he have come to faith if Jonathan Leeman’s 9 Marks were implemented in the purist form? It begs the following question…would Garrett be a Christian today? Would he be the Senior Pastor of Del Ray Baptist? I am not going to speculate, but its a serious question that needs to be asked especially if Garrett Kell is going to align himself with a movement like 9 Marks. Garrett by supporting 9 Marks is actually working against the organization that played a key role in his conversion. I know that some will not like me asking this question but its something that needs to be pointed out as its the glaring inconsistency that stands out. You can’t express the role of Campus Crusade and then support an organization that believes that para-church ministries like Campus Crusade, or technically Cru have no right to exist. It is my hope that para-church organizations realize the systematic and systemic problems that 9 Marks poses and steer clear from this troubled ministry.
Yes God Pursues…
I didn’t want to comment too much on Garrett’s testimony because I also don’t want him to think I am criticizing it. I am not. I think its a unique story and its one that should be told. That said, the one concern I have about dramatic testimonies is that they can make some in the church feel guilty. For some people finding Jesus is a small, quiet affair. There is not alter call, nothing sensational, or more. Some people find faith in a quiet way. I think that needs to be acknowledged more so that some people don’t feel guilted. I want to re-emphasize every brief encounter to Garrett, and when he is reading this in his office or smartphone I want him to view this post as brief encounter to point out that he is still being pursued. Even still, I believe that his story is not yet finished. Yes God pursues.
In my own life I have to realize how much I have been pursued. I have learned that you can’t run from the Lord. In the course of time he pursues and follows. When I attended the largest atheist rally in United States history to participate and listen, even there I was pursued by God. Today when I reflect back on it I consider the 139th Psalm in so many ways. No matter where you go, or what you do the Lord pursues you. It doesn’t exonerate a person from criminal activity and nor is it a get out of jail card either. But the Lord pursues us always. I think this can be the greatest tragedy in this situation…if Jonathan Leeman’s 9 Marks were implemented like he desires, then in the end it would have interfered with what happened in the end. Comments? Feedback? Thoughts? As always I love you guys. Garrett holler if you want to talk about this in person, I snagged the photo above on the way home from work.