By Allen Palmeri
ST. PETERS—Though Tom Ascol carries a national title in Southern Baptist circles, he does not make himself out to be a political insider.
Ascol, executive director of Founders Ministries, sees himself as a local pastor of an independent church (Grace Baptist, Cape Coral, Fla.) that happens to be Southern Baptist. Founders has grown accustomed to functioning counter-culturally within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which means that he typically steers clear of the latest SBC political developments. In his opinion, the key SBC leader right now in the midst of the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) Task Force debate is Danny Akin, president, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Wake Forest, N.C.
“He strikes me as a man who basically doesn’t care about his reputation, who is and has been passionate about getting the Gospel to the nations,” Ascol said. “He sent his children to the nations. He himself is committed to having first-hand experience in hard places where the Gospel has not gained a foothold yet.
“Though I know he is in the institutional environment, he has been willing to take unpopular stands. He’s been willing to reach across boundaries that people have told him not to. He’s been willing to lose friendships for the sake of uniting for Gospel purposes. That’s the kind of bold integrity in leadership that we need.”
In a wide-ranging interview Feb. 24 with The Pathway at First Baptist Church, St. Peters, Ascol revealed his kingdom-mindedness when it comes to his interaction with the many young ministers who yearn for the recovery of the Gospel.
“It just jazzes me, because this has been my heart for years,” he said. “It’s been the whole impetus behind Founders Ministries. We’re not out to Calvin-ize the convention. We’re out to see the Gospel of Jesus Christ restored to the place that it deserves. Obviously, I believe Calvinism is the best understanding of how the Gospel works, but that doesn’t mean that a guy who disagrees with me on that can’t link arms and say, ‘The Gospel is central.’”
By restoring the Gospel he means preaching it in such a way where it rises above being characterized as “the plan of salvation,” or a simple formula to be memorized. Rather, he asserted, the Gospel is life.
“Our brothers and sisters in certain places of the world are dying because of this, and for us to truncate it, or to trivialize it, to me is just grievous,” he said.
What the SBC is going through right now is complicated, with many twists and turns yet to come on the road to the June 15-16 annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. Ascol sees it as a pivotal time for young people.
“They see the Gospel,” he said. “They want to know and understand the Gospel, and apply it. They want to live and die for the Gospel, and if they perceive that there are folks over here trying to protect and preserve an institution or denomination in ways that remove the Gospel from its central place, they’re done.”
Ascol said Founders would like to see Orlando turn out to be a convention where the GCR Task Force progress report, which was released Feb. 22, is strengthened by identifying areas where repentance is needed.
“A call for repentance and a call for renewal—a determination that we will do whatever it takes to get the Gospel to the nations,” Ascol said. “A vote may or may not signal that. Who knows? But we’ll know when God’s Spirit comes on us. People won’t be slapping themselves on the back anymore. We won’t be talking about we’re the greatest and the best. We’ll get honest before God and before the world and say, ‘We’re not 16-whatever million strong. We’re a sham in our numbers.’
“Our churches, in many respects, are dishonoring Christ, because we claim to be what we’re not. We’ve lost discipline. We’ve lost the priority of the Gospel, and we need to repent, and restore it. And it’s going to come at a cost. If we’re willing to pay that cost, then ‘Praise God!’ That will be evidence of revival.”