Politics and the Evangelical Church in 2020. A Look at the Just Gospel Conference at Del Rey Baptist From March 5 – 7, 2020

In the Washington, D.C. area this past week a sizable and impressive conference took place at Garrett Kell’s Del Rey Baptist. Called the Just Gospel it looked at the issues of politics and the church and touched on issues from poverty to immigration as well. In what will be a volatile election year with many evangelicals involved in Christian nationalism the Just Gospel looked like a healthy and solid event, and honestly one that I wish I could have attended and listened in person. 

“Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.

John F Kennedy

“A politician is a person who can make waves and then make you think he’s the only one who can save the ship.”

Ivern Ball 

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. 4 He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NLT

Del Rey Baptist in the D.C. area. 

In the Washington, D.C. area a unique conference was held this past week that was touted by The Gospel Coalition. Its subject could not be more timely. The Just Gospel Conference was held at Del Rey Baptist church which is a daughter church of Capital Hill Baptist. If memory serves me right a few years ago it was re-planted and became a 9 Marks church. The Just Gospel Conference dealt with politics and the church. 


A Brief Overview the Conference

The Just Gospel event deals with the issue of the church and politics. Here is how the Just Gospel described itself. 

No one saw the 2016 presidential election coming. No one predicted the effect the election would have on the country—and the Church. To some extent, our tribalism has been exposed and perhaps deepened. Unity has become more fragile.

In all likelihood, the Church will face the same stark choices and the same potential for misunderstanding, disunity and tribal politics. This time, however, we have an opportunity to approach politics and the election differently… like Christians… like the pilgrims and aliens we are in the world.

The goal of Just Gospel 2020 is NOT to engage in partisan debate or endorse any party’s platform. Nor is our goal to bind the consciences of attendees to a particular policy prescription the Bible does not require. We will not recommend or even comment on any candidate.

The Just Gospel 2020 conference goal is to help Christians think biblically and deeply about being Christians and taking our Christian identity and perspective into our political lives. We hope to aid each other in our discipleship. We are “strangers and exiles on the earth” who “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:13, 16). We hope to model how Christians who differ in secondary and political matters can nevertheless do so charitably and in a way that preserves both unity and freedom of conscience. We hope to make a difference—for the Church and the country.

We need and want healing conversations that serve the Church We need pilgrim politics that bear witness to Christ and Kingdom to which we are headed. Join us!


Who is Speaking at the Just Gospel Conference

This is a look at who spoke at the Just Gospel Conference. Its largely a list of Southern Baptist personalities with a number of individuals in the Neo-Calvinist movement. But then there are also some other interesting speakers as well that stand out as well. 

  1. Jon Ward writes about politics, culture and religion. He has written for Yahoo and published in The Washington Post, The New Republic, Politico Magazine, Vanity Fair, The Huffington Post, and The Washington Times. He and his family live in Washington, D.C. Jon has also published a book about the clash between President Jimmy Carter and Senator Edward Kennedy in 1980 called, “Camelot’s End: The Democrats’ Last Great Civil War.” 
  2. Esau McCaulley is the current assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. Previously he has been the rector at All Souls Episcopal/Anglican Church in Okinawa, Japan, assistant to the rector, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Portsmouth, Virginia and spiritual life director at Norfolk Christian High School, Norfolk, Virginia. He has published, “Sharing in the Son’s Inheritance: Davidic Messianism and Paul’s Worldwide Interpretation of the Abrahamic Land Promise in Galatians (The Library of New Testament Studies)” 
  3. Nicola Menzie is a religion reporter in New York City. She writes a lot about culture, race, and Christianity and has published Faithfully Magazine
  4. Mark Vroegop leads College Park Church in Indianapolis. He is a council member of The Gospel Coalition and a trustee of Cedarville University. He wrote, “Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament ”  and “Weep with Me: How Lament Opens a Door for Racial Reconciliation.” 
  5. Jenny Yang is the Vice President of Advocacy and Policy at World Relief. She speaks a lot on media, cable news, Christianity Today, and other press. 
  6. Duke Kwon is the Lead Pastor of Grace D.C. Meridian Hill here in the Washington, D.C. area. After attending Brown University in Rhode Island Duke Kwon moved to Washington, D.C. to be an assistant pastor at the main Grace D.C. location in 2004. 
  7. Garrett Kell leads Del Rey Baptist Church which is hosting the Just Gospel Conference. Garrett from what I read grew up in Berkeley 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. This blog has written about Garrett several times over the years. 
  8. David Platt leads McLean Bible which is a Southern Baptist mega church in the Washington, D.C. Platt has published several books includingCounter Culture: Following Christ in an Anti-Christian Age“,”Radical:Taking Back your Faith in the American Dream“, “Follow Me: A Call to Die, A Call to Live“,”Because We Are Called“,”What Did Jesus Really Mean When He Said Follow MeandRisk is Right: Better to Lose Your Life then to Waste It”  David Platt served at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, plus he served as the Staff Evangelist at Edgewater Baptist Church in New Orleans. Plus he was the Senior Pastor for eight years at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. In addition he also led the SBC’s International Missions Board for a couple of years but resigned to devote his time to McLean Bible. You can read about David Platt’s newest book in, “#SomethingNeedstoChange. An Overview of David Platt’s Recent Simulcast at McLean Bible.”
  9. Daryl Williamson is the Lead Pastor of Living Faith Bible Fellowship in Tampa, Florida. Williamson addresses racial reconciliation and pursues that topic within the church. Darryl Thompson also serves on the Board and Council of The Gospel Coalition. 
  10. Vincent Bacote is an Associate Professor of Theology and the Director of the Center for Applied Christian Ethics at Wheaton College. Vincent writes a lot about culture and Christian engagement. He is a prolific author and has written, “The Spirit in Public Theology: Appropriating the Legacy of Abraham Kuyper” and “The Political Disciple: A Theology of Public Life (Ordinary Theology).” In addition he has edited, “Evangelicals & Scripture: Tradition, Authority and Hermeneutics (Wheaton Theology Conference)” and “How Many Isaiahs Were There and What Does It Matter?: Prophetic Inspiration in Recent Evangelical Scholarship (Wheaton Theology Conference Series).” Finally Bacote has contributed to , “Natural Law and Evangelical Political Thought.” , ” Building Unity in the Church of the New Millennium” and  “Keep Your Head Up: America’s New Black Christian Leaders, Social Consciousness, and the Cosby Conversation” 
  11. Thabiti Anyabwile is one of the pastors at Anacostia River Church in SE Washington, D.C. Thabiti comes from Lexington, North Carolina and Mark Dever has had a great deal of influence over him. Before coming to Washington, D.C. he was the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church in Grand Cayman. He is very much influenced by some social justice issues as well, for example he has talked about why reparations for slavery should take place. Thabiti has published a number of articles in differing organizations to include Desiring God,  9 Marks  and The Gospel Coalition where he is also a council member.  He blogs at The Front Porch. In addition to blogging he has written a number of books that include, “Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons“, “What Is a Healthy Church Member?” , “The Faithful Preacher” , “The Decline of African American Theology: From Biblical Faith to Cultural Captivity” , “Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus Death and Resurrection”  and “The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ with Confidence.”  In addition he has also contributed to, “The Gospel as Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices” , “Thinking. Loving. Doing.” , “Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God” and “For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper.” This blog has written about Thabiti Anyabwile in the context of the Sovereign Grace Ministry scandal and child sex abuse cover up by C.J. Mahaney. You can read that in, “Is CJ Mahaney the “Bill Cosby of Neo-Calvinism?” The Mahaney Conversation that Thabiti Anyabwile Needs to Have.” Then I also addressed what Anyabwile wrote when Donald Trump referred to a number of nations in Africa and Central America as “shitholes.” You can read about that in, “Thabiti Anyabwile Address the President’s Comments on Haiti, El Salvador and Africa: While Neo-Calvinism has Many Issues the Movement Addresses Racism Well.”
  12. Justin Gibony is an attorney and political strategist.He also served on co-chair of Obama for America’s Gen44-Atlanta initiative. During the elections of 2012 and 2016 Georgia’s 5th congressional district elected Gibony as a delegate for the Democratic National Convention. He has written for Christianity Today, The Hill and other publications  and addresses issues of infrastructure and life in the urban city. 
  13. Andy Naselli teaches at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis. Naselli also is on staff at Bethlehem  Baptist Church. He earned two PhD’s one in theology from Bob Jones University and another in New Testament exegesis and theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He was the research manager for D.A. Carson for nine years at Trinity. 
  14. Jonathan Leeman is the editor of 9 Marks and he is a prolific writer. He has done or co-written too many books over the years. You can see what he has written at his Amazon page here.  Jonathan’s most recent book it appears deals with the evangelical church and politics. You can look at that in, “How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age.
  15. Gracy Olmstead is a writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Christianity Today and elsewhere. She is working on a book about her community she grew up in Idaho. 
  16. Roland Warren is the CEO of Care Net. Care Net helps people who have unplanned pregnancies. Warren is active in the Pro-Life movement but takes a more holistic approach. At the Just Gospel Roland spoke about abortion and what is means to be Pro-Life. 
  17. Kelly M. Kapic is Professor of Theological Studies at Covenant College in Georgia where he has taught since 2001. Kapic is a prolific writer and you can see his full list on his Amazon page. His book called, “Embodied Hope: A Theological Meditation on Pain and Suffering” won the Christianity Today book of the year award. One of the issues that Kapic tlaks about is poverty. And that topic is being looked at by him.  
  18. Russell Moore is the final speaker at this event. Moore is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Moore has written a large number of books which you can see on his Amazon page. Two that I would like to feature are “Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel (Study Guide)” and “Until Every Child Is Home: Why the Church Can and Must Care for Orphans.” Russell Moore tackles social justice issues and is a well known Calvinist. 

The Schedule of March 5 – 7, 2020 

Below is the schedule for the three day event at Del Rey Baptist. 

March 5, 2020
March 6, 2020
March 7, 2020

Analysis of the Conference 

This blog would like to say kudos to Garrett Kell of Del Rey Baptist. I am not a Calvinist nor could I be one for a number of reasons.  Likewise I see the 9 Marks system as having problems. And yet it can’t be denied that many in the Neo-Calvinist movement are quite healthy when it comes to politics. They have divorced themselves from the topic and don’t marry their faith to a political party.  They are also able to better understand social justice issues. This by the way is one of the many reasons why this blog respects Russell Moore. You can read some of the positive aspects of Calvinism in, “What The Wondering Eagle Appreciates and Respects About Neo-Calvinism.” I saw this conference being pushed at The Gospel Coalition and over at McLean Bible. 

Garrett Kell in his ministry has been consistent on pushing back against those in the Southern Baptist Convention who embrace Christian nationalism and marry faith and politics. When the Southern Baptists had their regular meeting in Dallas, Texas in 2018 it was Garrett Kell who tried to replace Vice President Mike Pence speaking to the Convention with a time of prayer. You can read more about that in, “Mike Pence Speaks to the Southern Baptists in Dallas, While Garrett Kell Expresses His Concern, and For Some Southern Baptists Faith is Not About God, but Instead a Political Party” I wrote an open letter to Garrett Kell encouraging him on his efforts and offering some advice as well. You can read about this in, “An Open Letter to Garrett Kell (Lead Pastor of Del Ray Baptist)” 

If I had the time I would have loved to attend and sit in the back and just listen to some of the speeches and consider what was said at the Just Gospel event. No doubt some of them will be available online shortly. This conference was well balanced and covered a large number of issues form immigration, to poverty,  to politics and the church. What surprised me is that there were more outsiders than the traditional 9 Marks church circuit speakers. That made this conference well needed and necessary. This blogger has dealt with Christian nationalism and politics in past churches and ministries. It creeps in and warps churches in many ways. I actually wrote about how Christian nationalism frayed a number of relationships and friendships in the following blog post. “Recalling My Formative Years Inside Evangelicalism in Wisconsin. Plus Deeply Embarrassing and Troubling Newspaper Articles About Dairy State Evangelical Christians Worshiping Donald Trump Over Jesus.”  Hopefully Del Rey Baptist will hold more events like this conference. In this area of de-politicizing the church this blog wishes Garrett Kell the best and hopes that his ministry can continue to shine in this area.