Gospel is focus of SBC unity, Ascol says
The conference marked the 25th anniversary of Founders Ministries, which formed in 1982 to advance Reformed theology. Ascol, executive director of Founders and pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Fla., addressed the topic "Founders, Theology and the current Southern Baptist Convention," telling those in attendance to make Christ and His Gospel the centerpiece of their ministries.
The Gospel itself serves as the center of unity for Southern Baptists of all theological stripes, he said.
"We can never identify the circumference of our cooperation until we identify the center of our unity, and the center of our unity is the Gospel of Jesus Christ," Ascol said. "This is my great burden. We need to identify the Gospel. We are suffering spiritual death by assumption.
"Today, we are assuming too much. We assume the Gospel. We assume we know what conversion is. We assume we know what a Christian is and we assume our churches are healthy. We assume we are preaching biblical, Christ-centered sermons.
"We can no longer afford to maintain those assumptions. We have got to go back to Scripture and ask those fundamental questions and press this point. We have got to recover the preaching of Jesus Christ in our lives and in our ministries."
Ascol voiced several of his concerns about the SBC, including denominational pride, bureaucratic inertia and a subtle suspicion of theology.
Ascol said he saw encouraging signs as well. One positive development is the increased level of theological discussion currently underway among Southern Baptists, he said.
"I believe we are living in an early era of 're-theologizing' of the SBC," Ascol said. "Just listen to some of the things that are being said; theology is becoming a point of controversy, a point of dialogue. Even theological statements that are being made that are not helpful are being spoken with passion, they are being made with a real sense of concern. That is a good thing; the fact that 'they' are talking about theology is good."
Ascol underscored his belief that Reformed theology was important historically in the SBC. He shared his perspective in the form of a brief historical overview of the SBC that showed the denomination, for its first 75 years of existence, wed its view of the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture to the core doctrines of the Protestant Reformation.
The SBC drifted toward pragmatism and neo-orthodoxy, he said, beginning around 1919 -- around the time of the "75 Million Campaign," an effort to raise $75 million for education, missions and benevolence. He said that in the ensuing 50 years, the SBC gradually drifted from orthodox doctrine and a commitment to the inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture.
The SBC's Conservative Resurgence, which commenced in 1979, recovered the crucial doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture, a reality for which Ascol said "all Southern Baptists should thank the grace of God."
Ascol said with the "formal principle" of inerrancy established, Southern Baptists must now recover the "material principle."
The Gospel of Christ, and all of the doctrines such as election, effectual call, regeneration, justification by faith, substitutionary atonement and others that are central to it, sit at the heart of the "material principle," he said.
Ascol allowed that others in Southern Baptist life might disagree with his perspective on Reformed theology. However, he said, making Christ and the Gospel central to life are two areas where Calvinists and non-Calvinists can agree.
Too often, sermons are preached without any mention of Christ, Ascol said, and some messages that mention Christ do so only in an artificial way that is disconnected from the main point of the message. The whole Bible -- including both the Old and New Testaments -- is about Christ, he said.
A fully biblical Gospel, with all its related doctrines, must again be proclaimed in churches and in evangelism, Ascol said. This reassertion of the Gospel has always been the chief purpose of Founders Ministries, because the Gospel, in its fullness and purity, is the key to building healthy churches that produce genuine disciples, he said.
"We have recovered the inerrancy of Scripture, but there are major pulpits today which are preaching Christ-less sermons," he said. "We must come back to understanding that all of Scripture is about Jesus Christ. We must get back to doctrinal preaching and Gospel-driven churches. We must do evangelism that does not leave out the evangel.
"This is something that is needed by Calvinists and non-Calvinists. We all need to back up and ask ourselves, 'Are we focused on Jesus Christ? Do we understand the Gospel? Are we proclaiming that Gospel? Are we setting that Gospel before our people as the way to live?'"