T4G Opens in Louisville, Garrett Kell on Photobombing Jesus, and how T4G Turned an EFCA Pastor Away from the Celebrity Pastor and Neo-Calvinist Movement

T4G for 2018 kicks off in Louisville, Kentucky. This article reviews T4G for 2018 and some of the panels and sessions. Plus on the eve of T4G Garrett Kell promoted an older article  that he wrote about how Jesus should not be photobombed. While I believe the pastor from Del Rey Baptist means well, the challenges from the SGM scandal have hung over T4G for some time. Plus I also write about a personal conversation I had with an EFCA pastor who attended T4G. The experience ultimately turned him off to Neo-Calvinism and the celebrity pastor movement. 

“Everybody is ignorant only on different subjects.”

Will Rogers

“I feed on conferences.”

Marilyn Ferguson 

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

1 Peter 4:17 ESV 

The usual speakers at T4G. 

T4G began in Louisville on April 11, 2018. It is being held in the KFC Yum Center which has a maximum capacity of 22,090. At this writing I do not know how many are attending. According to Tim Challies in prior T4G pastors that went received over $250. in free books and the book store had 30,000 square feet. The main sponsors of this years T4G is Lifeway and Crossway. The theme for 2018 is “Distinct from the World.” Here is how T4G described this year’s conference

Our fallen world has never been friendly to God’s way and God’s will. For some of us, this ever-present truth has become even clearer in recent years. The academy calls Christian morality bigoted. The courts choose the sexual revolution over religious liberty. Hollywood alters a nation’s moral sympathies from one season to the next. And racial animosity continues to rear its ugly head.

How should we respond?

Together for the Gospel 2018 offers this: the culture may call churches to conform, but God calls us to be Holy. Set apart. Sanctified. Distinct.

If we want to make a difference in the culture, we must be distinct. It’s definitional for Christian discipleship. It’s part of the church’s mission. Renouncing the world for the sake of the world. Rejecting sin in order to save sinners.

In other words, it’s not nostalgia that our churches need, or strategies to reclaim the culture, or more political posturing. Nor should we separate ourselves and forsake our neighbors. Instead, we encounter the world with something otherworldly. We respond to cultural chaos with a new culture—a culture of faith, hope, and love; a culture steeped in grace and truth; a culture exulting in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Amidst social change, our focus must fall first upon our churches (1 Peter 4:17). The more our culture opposes God and his people, the more the gospel distinctness of our churches should shine. Opposition sets a backdrop for the display of the glory of God in our lives.

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. (Psalm 67:1-2) 

Christians respond to ominous cultural change by actually being the church, that the nations might know the way of God. 

Speaking at T4G in 2018 are Thabiti Anyabwile, Matt Chandler, Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, Ligon Duncan, John MacArthur, H.B. Charles, Albert Mohler, David Platt, and John Piper. There are also a number of seminars and panels. For example Jonathan Leeman is speaking about “Pastors, Politics and Christian Liberty.” Al Mohler and Ligon Duncan are leading a seminar about current theological challenges, while Colin Hanson is leading a discussion called, “Still Young, Restless and Reformed? The New Calvinists at 10.” When it comes to panels there are a number that are being held. For example Sam Alberry, Matt Chandler, H.B. Charles are on a panel that is called, “What Does it Mean to “Love Thy Neighbor” in a World of Inclusiveness?” Another interesting panel is called “50 Years After MLK” and has Mark Dever, Kevin Smith, Mike Edmondson, Thabiti Anyabwile, Curits Woods and H.B. Charles. This is the seventh T4G, as the first one was held in 2006. If you want to read the history, background and themes of the previous T4G’s you can do so here


Garrett Kell on Photobombing Jesus and Some Thoughts 


On the eve of T4G commencing Garett Kell promoted an article for The Gospel Coalition that is called, “Stop Photobombing Jesus.” Garett is the senior pastor of Del Rey Baptist Church, which is a sister church of Mark Dever’s Capitol Hill Baptist Church. It needs to be pointed out that this article was actually written in April of 2017. In the article Garrett speaks about his time at Denton Bible Church under Tommy Nelson. While there Garrett became involved in college ministry where he served. John Bryson had Garrett control the rope when it came to opening and closing the curtain. Garrett thought that he would be giving his testimony, believes that John Bryson needed to teach him a lesson. Garrett then addresses the issue of photobombing Jesus. Photobombing is when a person appears in the field of view and spoils the camera. In the article The senior pastor of Del Rey Baptist lists six items that he uses to make his claim. 

  1. I want to glorify Jesus, but I want glory to.” In this area Garrett speaks of how pastors sometimes desire affirmation from others while trying to exalt Jesus.
  2. Because I want affirmation, I hide my sins.”  This deals with individuals who try and hide sin. In this situation people are pretending. 
  3. I become bitter when God uses others instead of me.” In this section Garrett recalls how he wasn’t selected to preach in the chapel. Do people get bitter at God when they are not selected? Or when God chooses others? 
  4. I become more concerned about my public performance than my private devotion.” This deals with when public ministry rivals private devotion to God. Sometimes people can get priorities wrong when they fail to fats, pray or do private scripture devotions. 
  5. I fear moral failure for the wrong reasons.” This section deals with Christians who fail morally can affect the world’s view of the Lord. Here people are afraid of their moral failure being learned for the wrong reasons, and not for the fact that it grieves the Lord. 
  6. My desire to be something rivals my desire for Jesus to be everything.” The final point made by Garrett deals with the importance of humility and pure selflessness. If people never find out you serve God is that okay? 

Before I get into the issues with T4G let me says a few words to Garrett Kell who no doubt will read this in time. I think Garrett is a fine guy, respectful, loving and kind. I think he means well and I was impressed when I interacted with him  once. I read his articles and contemplate and analyze them and even though we may disagree on a number of points, I still respect him. Personally I hope he goes far in The Gospel Coalition as I never could wish malice on anyone. Plus I also need to state that I am still on the hook for attending a service at Del Rey and sitting through it. I want that to be communicated and understood before I get into the criticisms of this article in the context of T4G. 

Here is the problem with this article being promoted before T4G. Jesus has been photobombed at T4G going back to the very first event in 2006. All of what Garrett wrote about occurred with the alleged child sex abuse cover-up in Sovereign Grace or having C.J. Mahaney speak and be key to the event. Then you had at least three conferences with C.J. Mahaney speaking before SGM Wikileaks spilled forward thousands of documents about corruption and scandal inside SGM. Where was the concern about the private sin that Mahaney was allegedly covering up? Where was the concern about how that was damaging the Gospel? Where was the outrage over what allegedly transpired? Then you also consider the fact that Mahaney withdrew, not once but twice. I researched and wrote about The situation with Mahaney in, “The Run Away Pastor: The Embattled C.J. Mahaney Withdraws from T4G a Second Time.” After all what is the greatest sign of Jesus being photobombed? Consider what Mahaney says in his 2018 T4G withdrawal statement. “I want the experience of the conference to be the deep edification of pastors through preaching, singing, praying, conversation, laughter, food, and buying as many books as one’s credit card allows, all for the glory of God.” The last part of that sentence really stood out for me, its why I underlined it, It was something that turned my stomach. Plus it also revealed what T4G is about. This conference is about money. Its clever marketing if you think about it. You give free books away to get people to buy more. Any person who has studied business in college can understand the theme here. Then you can sell more through the book store. Consider that in the context of the sponsors and the discounts that are offered in bulk discounts. Maybe another way of saying it is the following. Think of T4G as the theological version of The Dollar Tree. This and more is what lead one EFCA pastor who attended T4G to walk away disillusioned in the end. 


An EFCA Pastor’s Description of T4G

Here is something that happens at The Wondering Eagle that developed in the course of writing. From time to time I have had an EFCA pastor who is working on a sermon and researching it on the internet come across what I have written. Once well over a year ago, I had an EFCA pastor from out west that found this blog and asked if we could speak. He was curious about what he found. The phone conversation I had with him lasted for at least three hours and he gave me his thoughts and feelings about the EFCA and the status of modern evangelicalism. One of the things he touched on was his prior visit to T4G in Louisville. This pastor used to fall into the Neo-Calvinist camp and today he no longer associates with it.  He explained to me that T4G was what opened his eyes as to how unhealthy the Neo-Calvinist movement is. From his perspective he said that T4G is about idolatry and celebrity pastor worship.  He was also bothered by the situation with Sovereign Grace scandal and he felt like that affected T4G as an event. But what stood out for him as well, was all the books and material that was pushed. He said it was too commercialized and that, combined with the celebrity pastor worship led for him to push back. When he went back to his EFCA church he decided to not take his church in that direction and made it more in the center. It was a good perspective to listen to. From that conversation and others I have had, I have learned that there are pockets inside the EFCA that are good and healthy. Those pockets from my perspective need to grow and offset the other challenges with Neo-Calvinism. 

That is it for the day guys, if all goes well there will be another article about T4G in a couple of days. I hope this finds you well, please know that you are loved. 

3 thoughts on “T4G Opens in Louisville, Garrett Kell on Photobombing Jesus, and how T4G Turned an EFCA Pastor Away from the Celebrity Pastor and Neo-Calvinist Movement

  1. “Thabiti Anyabwile” — he’s the token black in “The usual speakers at T4G”, right?

    (I know Piper’s the really short one third from the right…)


  2. Eagle, this was one focused excellent post from start to finish.

    I agree with all six of Garrett Kell’s laments.
    I’ve also been guilty of all six of them,
    and am still repenting as best I can of them.

    It’s just super odd — or maybe super serendipitous? 😉 —
    that his 6-lament article comes out just as a
    “conference of disinformation” (as my late pastor-mentor
    used to call those things) is happening in which all six
    of Mr. Kell’s laments are shamelessly on display in spades.

    Kudos to the EFCA pastor whom you refer to.
    While part of me sincerely hoped that he would allow
    you to reveal his name, it then dawned on me that to
    do so would… make him guilty of at least a couple
    of Mr. Kell’s six laments. 😉

    “Famous Christian people” shouldn’t even be a thing.


    • Gosh, I think there is at least one SBC super-famous person I do honor, as a Catholic, and without reservation.
      She literally starved herself to death giving her food to the Chinese people she was missionary to during a famine.
      For one thing, she SERVED them.
      For another thing, she served them SELFLESSLY.
      And finally, she DIED FOR THEM out of love, giving away food that might have saved her own life.

      So this woman is honored by the whole Church for her witness to Christ as a Christian missionary.
      The Anglicans (Episcopalians) have a special day in her honor in their liturgical calendar:

      She is celebrated in the Church by the Anglicans (Episcopalians), her day being Dec. 22 and on that day, in the liturgy, the Church prays to God these words:

      ” O God, who in Christ Jesus hast brought Good News to those who are far off and to those who are near: We praise thee for awakening in thy servant Lottie Moon a zeal for thy mission and for her faithful witness among the peoples of China. Stir up in us the same desire for thy work throughout the world, and give us the grace and means to accomplish it; through the same Jesus Christ our Savior, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

      Is there a day for her in the SBC ? Not precisely. But her memory and example is used to raise money for them. So her memory is seen to be worth something to them even if there are no SBC liturgical prayers commemorating that she loved Christ above all things and lived and died in His service.

      There are others who are unselfish servants of Christ in the SBC. Maybe they are not ‘famous’;
      but in the Kingdom of Our Lord, they are well known.


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