SBC President Candidate Q&A: Tom Ascol

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Tell me about your current ministry and church. How long have you been in this ministry?

I have been pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., since June 1, 1986. In many ways, we are a normative Southern Baptist church. I was the only pastor for many years and today we only have one assistant pastor. We are intentionally simple in our structure, focusing on being faithful stewards of the gospel. Verse-by-verse expository, Christ-centered preaching is the norm in our worship gatherings. We encourage all our members to be engaged in discipleship relationships. Several of our men are open-air preachers. Being in South Florida, we have a variety of ethnicities and cultures in our congregation and leadership. We have sent several missionaries out, mostly to Muslim people groups, and have rejoiced in seeing churches planted among them. Twenty-two percent of our budget goes to Great Commission giving.

Why are you willing to be SBC president this year? 

I am concerned that over the last several years we have begun to drift in ways that makes our commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture largely theoretical. I wrote about that a couple of years ago. Because of these concerns I believe we need to change the direction.

I am willing to be nominated for president because I love the SBC and believe that it matters. We educate a third of all seminary students in the USA across a variety of denominational affiliations. We have the largest missionary sending force in the world. Our disaster relief ministry is second to none. Southern Baptist churches—who own all our SBC entities and agencies—have a stewardship to protect and keep mobilized all of these cooperative efforts for the glory of our king, the Lord Jesus.

What do you consider to be the significant challenges Southern Baptists face as we endeavor to cooperate for worldwide missions?

Sadly, trust has been fractured at many levels of SBC life. Too often, our entities and agencies have been indifferent to or even dismissive of regular Southern Baptist churches and pastors. Trust is the connective tissue of our convention. If it is not repaired and carefully guarded, our cooperation will fall apart. 

In addition to this, we are living in a day of highly effective assaults by the powers of darkness on our civilization and churches. Worldly ideologies, like Critical Race Theory (CRT), Intersectionality (I), Queer Theory (QT), and radical feminism have come in like a flood throughout our society. We see it in our political, educational, sports, and health institutions as well as in our public discourse. Tragically, these ideologies and the new pagan religion that they have spawned do not respect the borders of Christian organizations and churches. This became undeniable during the Black Lives Matter riots of 2020. Christian leaders—including some Southern Baptists—were leading marches in the streets even while (and this compounds the problem) refusing to open the churches that they lead. We had Southern Baptist seminary professors as well as North American Mission Board leaders explaining away the violence under the guise that “rioting is the voice of the unheard.” 

So, while God’s common grace has awakened a growing number of moms and housewives across the United States to demand that their local boards quit teaching CRT/I and QT in public schools, the 2019 SBC resolutions committee led the convention to adopt Resolution 9 that tells us CRT/I are useful analytical tools for churches to use. And many Southern Baptists denounced our six seminary presidents when they finally offered a mild repudiation of CRT. 

Over the last few years, we have seen the language and many of the ideas of CRT/I being promoted by some whose salaries are paid by Southern Baptist churches. We have been told that the stain of racism can never be removed from the SBC because of the tragic advocacy of chattel slavery by many Southern Baptists in the 19th century. Such attitudes betray a very low view of the gospel and the power of Jesus’ blood to make the vilest sinner clean and wash all our sins as white as snow. We have also been told that the gospel is not good news if it merely brings about spiritual reconciliation between God and sinners. For it to be good news it must also achieve economic, emotional, and social reconciliation. These distortions and misrepresentations of the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ will lead us to lose the gospel altogether if they are not identified and renounced in no uncertain terms.

For Southern Baptists to maintain a viable, robust witness for Christ in the 21st century we must recalibrate our convictions by the Word of God. We need to wake up and recognize where such dangerous ways of thinking have subtly made inroads, repent of our spiritual laxity, repair the breech, and move forward joyfully and unapologetically preaching the lordship of Christ, who is willing and able to save anyone and everyone to turns from sin and trusts Him.

Are important doctrinal issues dividing our Southern Baptist fellowship?

I think we are beginning to see cracks that reveal subterranean fault lines (to borrow Voddie Baucham’s analogy) that have gone unnoticed for a long time. One of the clearest of these is on the God-designed distinctions between men and women. The rise in defense of women preaching in our churches has been treated as an insignificant, and even laughable, matter. The language of the Baptist Faith and Message that “the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture” has been turned into a wax nose to fit almost any face. We have been told that it means only that women may not hold the office of pastor but may function as a pastor. We have also been told that a woman may be a pastor in a Southern Baptist church as long as she does not hold the title of “senior pastor.” We have been told that Paul’s clear teaching in 1 Timothy 2:12 that he does “not permit a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man” means that we should permit women to teach or exercise authority over men.

The spirit of egalitarianism (which says that everyone must get a trophy) and an anti-authority mood (which holds all authority suspect and measures it in terms of power-dynamics) are permeating everything in our culture, and God’s people are not immune. Therefore, we must, as Scripture exhorts us, be watchful and stay alert. 

Another, related doctrinal issue confronting Southern Baptists is the sufficiency of Scripture. Do we really believe the inerrant Scriptures are sufficient in the ways that Paul says they are in 2 Timothy 3:16-17? We have been told that we need worldly wisdom to help us understand how to deal with racism, misogyny, abuse, disparities, and injustices. We must reassess what Scripture claims for itself as being able to thoroughly equip the man of God for every good work.

How would you use the prominence of the SBC presidency to address the challenges you see?

I would hope to promote open, honest conversations about all these things. I would plead with Southern Baptists at every level, from local church pastors all the way down to the heads of all our entities and institutions, to be open and transparent about these matters. It may be that some of our divisions are merely verbal. But it may also be that some of them are consequential. 

Most importantly, I would encourage my fellow pastors to work for a fresh awakening to the fear of God in our churches. We must again come to grips with the fundamental reality that we are in God’s world, serving in His churches, for His purposes, according to His revealed will. We must let the words of our Savior regularly ring in our hearts and minds, that we must not fear those who can kill the body but not the soul, but rather fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.    

Why should a church affiliate or remain with Southern Baptists?

I would plead, and have pled, that Southern Baptist churches would stay within the convention for the purpose of cooperating in the good work that we have done, are doing, and have potential to do even better. Obviously, staying or leaving is a local church decision and I would never criticize a church that decides differently about these things, but I love the SBC and believe it is a matter of stewardship to work to preserve and, where necessary, recover our clear mission to take the unadulterated gospel to the world.

Any final comment? 

Thanks for the opportunity to address these matters. The SBC is diverse and will inevitably remain so. But our diversity must be guarded by genuine unity in the important matters extending from the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word. One of the most encouraging things that I have experienced since it was announced that I would be nominated is to hear from not only those Southern Baptists that agree with my soteriological views, but also from those who disagree with them. We have our differences, but we are genuinely united in Christian essentials and Baptist distinctives. If God, by His grace, enables us to stand against the prevailing winds of this evil day and recover ground that we have already lost, I will be happy to buy coffee for any of my brothers with whom I disagree and resume our fraternal, iron-sharpening-iron debates.

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