By Allen Palmeri
ST. PETERS—Tom Ascol is an unusual Christian preacher in that he continues to assert that we have lost the Gospel.
Ascol, pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Cape Coral, Fla., and executive director of the Founders Ministries, did it again here at First Baptist Church during the 15th annual Southern Baptist Founders Conference Midwest.
“We have assumed the Gospel, and in our assumptions we’ve lost it,” Ascol said.
He likes the I Cor. 15:3-4 definition of the Gospel. Christ is identified as the One who died for our sins, was buried, and was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. Ascol said that really does help tell the story of who He is, what He’s done, and why that matters.
The whole Bible is about Christ, Ascol said. Consequently, all doctrinal preaching ought to be centered in a Person, not a system. Election, for example, is a love story. It’s not a point of debate.
Ascol blogged about these matters a little over a year ago, calling it “a matter of spiritual life and death.” He said he has been honing the message for about eight years now, with some resistance from his fellow Southern Baptists, but on Feb. 23-24 the response was kind. His three messages were received by a base audience that seemed intent to learn. His first sermon, stoked with sustainable zeal, lasted 61 minutes.
“I wonder sometime if one reason we don’t see more conversions is because we really don’t get what it means to preach Christ,” Ascol said.
“We’ve lost the power of the Gospel, and consequently we find ourselves too often encouraging our people to live in a way that they are being encouraged to pursue without the power to live it. We’re telling them to make bricks, and we’re not giving them straw. We’re telling them to fly, and we cut off their wings. We’re not telling them where the power is found. We’re preaching law, not grace.”
Marriage is a good example, he said. In Ephesians 5, the Gospel is presented as the heart of marriage, not the love of a man for a woman, or vice versa. Sadly, he has observed a lot of anemic Bible teaching in this area.
“God ordained marriage to be a billboard to the world for the Gospel,” Ascol said. “The husband is living out in the drama of marriage the role of Jesus Christ. The wife lives out in the drama of marriage the role of the bride of Christ, the church, and when the wife is not living in respectful submission to her husband, she’s declaring a lie to the world about the Gospel. When the husband is not living in sacrificial, laying-down-his-life love for his bride, he’s lying about the Gospel to the world.
“It’s not just about me and my happiness, and what we think is best—you know, she’s not meeting my needs anymore. Look, that may last you a couple of years, we’re going to love each other because you make me feel so good, or we’re really serious, or whatever. But you convince somebody that God is calling them into a public drama for a lifetime to declare the Gospel? If they get that, the first time that he acts like a jerk and she wants to walk away from him, she’ll realize there’s more at stake than him being a jerk and all the pains and headaches that brings into her life and into the marriage. It’s the Gospel!”
Christians these days can struggle to believe the spectacular supremacy and incomparable satisfaction of the Gospel, Ascol said. To illustrate his point, he read Eph. 1:3 where Paul praises the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Ascol said Christians can doubt that.
“Can you imagine somebody that’s been given every spiritual blessing by God saying, ‘If only?’” he said. “Do you see how crazy that is?”
Ascol almost left the impression that in the beginning was the Gospel, and the Gospel was with God, and the Gospel was God. He did say that Gospel treasure—the pure gold of who Christ is, what Christ has done, and why that matters—can be found on every page of the Holy Bible.
Will we dig for it? Will pastors labor? Will the Gospel be found?
“If you can articulate the Gospel, show how the Gospel relates to all of life, show people how the Gospel works and just help them apply it in your preaching, wherever you are, in doing that, in bringing it home to them, people will be trained to learn to think that way,” Ascol said.
“There’s wisdom in the Gospel—practical living in the Gospel. It’s the rest of our lives, working that out.”
The Founders organization began in 1982 for the perpetuation of historic Calvinistic doctrines within the Southern Baptist Convention. Ascol, 53, who has been Grace’s pastor since 1986, provides leadership within Founders that is oriented toward reformation and revival in local churches.
Other speakers at the conference were: Joe Braden, the host pastor; Phil Newton, pastor, South Woods Baptist Church, Memphis, Tenn.; and Ray Van Neste, director of the R.C. Ryan Center for Biblical Studies and instructor of Christian Studies at Union University, Jackson, Tenn.