Tom Ascol – More than a Conservative
In seminary, students are exposed to a wide variety of professors, covering a broad range of subjects. One of the best parts about attending Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary (CBTS) is the knowledge that each one of those professors is also a pastor, and is deeply concerned with how their students will apply the principles that they teach in the context of ministry within the local church. Even among such a warm, caring faculty, Tom Ascol has stood out.
Throughout his lectures on preaching, Dr. Ascol proved time and time again his love for the local church, and his commitment to biblical preaching as a primary and excellent means of grace to the people of God. Each and every lecture was filled with practical tools and principles for preaching, of course, but also with examples of how those principles have helped him to address issues of concern within his congregation.
The politics of the SBC are of very little interest to me. I am not one to dive deeply into controversies and needless drama. Anyone who knows me personally will, I believe, tell you that I am not quick to cast stones and I desire unity and charity among Christian brothers. I even questioned whether or not to publish this article (and where to publish it). But I believe there are many within the SBC that share this opinion, and I believe that it needs to be heard.
The conversation around Critical Theory has framed what many people think of when they hear Dr. Ascol’s name. While it was and remains a crucial issue in many regards, Tom Ascol is certainly more than an “anti-woke” warrior. His pastoral heart, commitment to Baptist distinctives, and his faithfulness to both his mid-sized local congregation and to the SBC at large should be taken into account as Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) messengers begin to consider their vote.
Before his leadership of Founders Ministries, the Institute of Public Theology (IOPT), or even a potential SBC presidency, Tom Ascol is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida. His primary charge is to the sheep in that local body, and he shepherds them well. Anyone who has spoken to Dr. Ascol will know that his flock is of first importance to him. He cares deeply about them, and guides them with wisdom.
It is exactly this pastoral heart that colors every other ministry that he participates in. As a professor at CBTS and IOPT, his greatest desire seems to be developing men who will shepherd their own local congregations with conviction and wisdom that comes only from God. In leading Founders Ministries (and through the organization’s podcast, The Sword and the Trowel), Dr. Ascol takes the same conviction he has to protect his own flock and extends it out to the church at large, highlighting his concerns and detailing how he believes the church-at-large should respond to them. In whatever capacity he serves in, it seems his desire is for churches and individuals to respond to events around them with biblical fidelity and holiness.
While the SBC is not a church, in and of itself, it is made up of churches, and should be led by someone with the same kind of pastoral heart that the messengers share. It is clear that Dr. Ascol has the best interests of the universal church at heart, whether you agree with his positions or not, and that’s no small thing.
Over the course of the last several years, it has become more apparent that many Southern Baptists seem to have little understanding of what makes our denomination distinct. This is evidenced by leaders and popular figures in the SBC leaving the denomination for Presbyterianism, Anglicanism, and more. Beyond that, many functions in the SBC, such as the Executive Committee, have arguably begun to work in a distinctly non-Baptist manner.
Dr. Ascol, however, is dedicated to Baptist principles regarding ecclesiology (what a church consists of), polity (how a church is governed), and confessional unity. In an era where regenerate church membership has fallen by the wayside, and where women are serving as pastors in SBC churches despite a clear prohibition within its confessional document, a president is needed who understands the history of these doctrines and their development, and who can clearly identify threats to them.
It may seem difficult for some to believe in this age of hyper-individualism, but Southern Baptists are and have always been a confessional people. Our binding document, the Baptist Faith and Message, contains the doctrine that we commonly hold to. While there is room for debate on several issues, there must remain a vigilance for doctrines and practices that may subtly erode the values that our confession espouses. Dr. Ascol has repeatedly shown that this is of first importance to him, and even if one were to disagree with his analysis about a given issue, it is impossible to deny that he cares deeply about preserving what Baptists believe to be true teachings of the Word of God.
A Faithful Leader
The SBC is made up of over 47,000 churches. Most of these churches are small to mid-sized, with the average membership being somewhere around 150, while the median is closer to 70. And yet, when we look at recent leadership, it seems to be predominately made up of large and megachurch pastors. This has given many the impression that the leadership is “out of touch” with the concerns of the large majority of SBC churches. Many prior SBC presidents have moved into corporate roles as heads of Baptist entities like the North American Missions Board or the Executive Committee. While this is not a bad thing in and of itself, it certainly is not representative of 99% of the denomination.
Tom Ascol has been the pastor of Grace Baptist Church since 1986. Throughout that time, his church has sent out missionaries and planted churches across the globe, all while supporting Founders Ministries’ mission of “the recovery of the Gospel and the reformation of churches.” The length of this tenure (not to mention the accomplishments therein) is unheard of in an age where pastors rarely last more than a decade in one church.
The overall picture of Dr. Ascol’s ministry is one of faithfulness to the local church and world missions–an image that should be replicated by Southern Baptist pastors across the nation. More importantly, it is the kind of ministry that is actually attainable. A rural church pastor quite literally cannot amass the kinds of resources and membership numbers that megachurch pastors (who are currently representing us) can. They can, however, maintain a faithful ministry that supports missions and church planting while leading their flocks into all Christlikeness.
A Course Correction…
Tom Ascol is dedicated to preserving the explicitly complementarian doctrine of the Baptist Faith and Message.
The current SBC president often preached alongside his wife.
Tom Ascol believes that the sexual revolution is doing irreparable damage to the church and our modern culture.
The current SBC president stated that the Bible “whispers” about sexual sin.
Tom Ascol has faithfully exposited the Word to his mid-sized church for over 35 years.
The current SBC president, a megachurch pastor with a massive amount of resources at his disposal, was embroiled in a controversy around is apparent plagiarism of others’ sermons.
The average messenger, even if they may be considered “less conservative” (as far as that is possible within the SBC), is tired of hearing about these controversies, and being represented by those who are starting them.
The SBC needs a man like Tom Ascol today. Someone who is more than a conservative, more than an effective businessman, and more than an ambitious leader. It needs a pastor. I pray you will consider voting for him in Anaheim.