Saturday, July 28, 2012

How to face the death of an infant

A few days ago I was grieved to hear of the death of Ezra Blaize Kline, the 7 week old son of Justin and Rebekah and grandson of my dear friend, Ted Christman and his wife Diane. Ted is the founding pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Owensboro, Kentucky. Ezra's death has been attributed to that mysterious tragedy known as SIDS--Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Two days ago over 400 people from the community of Owensboro gathered to commemorate the brief life and unexpected death of Ezra. The funeral service was also live streamed. Rebekah's brother, Jonathan, who is also a pastor at Heritage, joined Ezra's parents in speaking before Ted preached. The whole service is one of the most God-honoring celebrations of the power of the gospel that I have ever observed.

Justin and Rebekah display the grace of God as they testify to His goodness and their resolve to keep trusting and worshiping Him, even as they commend the Lord Jesus to others. This is how Christians who are steeped in the gospel of the crucified Savior grieve. It is how believers in the risen Lord live in hope. These sad events, and the response of the humble, broken-hearted, hope-filled family who have lost this little child are a call for all of us to hold this life lightly and to build our lives on the Lord Jesus. I encourage everyone to watch the video.

Edit: Justin's and Rebekah's testimony begins around the 55 minute mark.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Tabletalk Magazine Interview

I love Tabletalk magazine and the work of Ligonier Ministries. RC Sproul has served me in multiple ways through his writing and teaching. I have read Tabletalk since its early days when it was a 2 color 8.5 x 11 publication. Editor Burk Parsons has become treasured friend and is one of the most encouraging men I know. He and his staff produce an excellent monthly magazine full of Bible studies and engaging articles. I encourage you to subscribe.

This month's issue of Tabletalk includes the following interview with me about Founders Ministries and pastoral ministry.

Faith of Our Founders: An Interview with Tom Ascol

TT: How did you first hear the call to ministry, and how long have you been a pastor?
TA: I was sixteen years old when I first sensed God calling me to pastoral ministry. It was through the preaching of a guest preacher during a “youth revival” at my home church, South Park Baptist in Beaumont, Texas. Though I had grown up in the church, I had a very jaded view of pastors, so I thought God was playing a cruel joke on me. After several months of prayer, reflection, and counsel, our pastor asked me to preach for the church. Afterward, on November 7, 1973, the church licensed me to the gospel ministry.
I accepted a call to pastor Rock Prairie Baptist Church in College Station, Texas, on October 31, 1978. I have served two churches since, including Grace Baptist in Cape Coral, Florida, where I have been ministering since 1986. (continue reading the rest of the interview here)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

"Traditional" Southern Baptist Statement on Soteriology Signatory list shut down

Randall Cofield, in a comment left on yesterday's post, informed me that the editors SBCToday have removed the signatory list from their "Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation." The statement has been available on their website for signatures since it was released June 1, 2012. Certain SBC institutions and individuals also promoted it during the annual meeting of the convention in New Orleans last month.

In their announcement today the editors of SBCToday state,
There was never a “magic number” of signers in anyone’s mind and there was never any organized campaign to enlist signatories. It seems to us that to leave the list open further unnecessarily shifts attention to who has or has not signed the document, which is not the point. We never assumed we were speaking for all Southern Baptists.
The statement itself does claim to represent the "majority" of Southern Baptists, however. The last report I heard indicated that the document had garnered around 800 signatures. If 1000 people signed the statement that number would represent .0000625 of all Southern Baptists.

Though the release and promotion of the statement has resulted in some occasional rancorous dialog among its defenders and detractors, it has called attention to the great need for serious theological education and conversation within the SBC. Pray that this will take place without distraction from the shrill voices giving apocalyptic warnings and the sound of banging war drums, both of which can be found in various theological camps within and beyond the SBC.

You can read the complete statement about the closing of the signature list here.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Andrew Fuller on seeing Baptists prosper

Andrew Fuller
Andrew Fuller is (1754-1815) one of my Baptist heroes. His personal life, theological convictions and missionary zeal have challenged and instructed me since I first learned about him over 30 years ago. Recently, my friend, Michael Haykin, Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality and Director of The Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted the following quote and brief commentary on Facebook. It is such timely wisdom, especially for those who live and serve in churches affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, that I gladly repost it here.

If we wish to see the Baptist denomination prosper, we must not expend our zeal so much in endeavouring to make men Baptists, as in labouring to make Baptists and others Christians.
-Andrew Fuller

Dr. Michael Haykin
Then Haykin offers the following observation:

And the same goes for being Reformed etc! I have increasingly little time for the debates about who or what is or is not truly Reformed. Much of it is activated by little more than what Fuller aptly called "a party spirit."

Fuller wrote the above words in a fugitive piece entitled "The Necessity of Seeking Those Things First Which Are of the First Importance". I am Baptist and Calvinistic: not ashamed of either. But first things first.

Amen. In a denomination where 60-70% of our members cannot be found, this is a good and timely reminder. Let's make it a matter of first priority to "make Baptists and others Christians."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Killing Calvinism

When I first heard the title of the book, Killing Calvinism, I assumed it was another attempt to repudiate the doctrines of grace. Then I read the subtitle: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside. Fortunately, withing a few days the author, Greg Dutcher, offered to send me a copy. Within 15 minutes I knew it was a book that I would be recommending for a long time. It is a book that is desperately needed, full of biblical wisdom and easily accessible.

Dutcher is a gifted writer. As my late friend, Ernie Reisinger, loved to say, he puts the cookies on the lower shelf. That doesn't mean that the book is simplistic or insignificant. On the contrary, it is profound in its insights and applications. Furthermore, it could not be more timely.

It is indisputable that we are in the midst of a reformation and recovery of the doctrines of grace, or what has historically been called, "Calvinism." Both statistical and anecdotal evidence of this fact continues to mount. I believe that this is a movement of God and that it is even more widespread than recent studies indicate. As is true with any of work of God, the devil always keeps pace and seeks to steal, kill and destroy. If he cannot keep us from truth then he will do what he can to cause us to hold the truth in imbalanced and ungodly ways.

Dutcher rightly understands this and writes with the conviction that one of the greatest (if not the greatest) threats to Calvinism is ungodly Calvinists. "That is," as he puts it, "if we don't live our Calvinism we might just kill it" (10). "We." Dutcher writes as an insider. It is this perspective that gives the book much of its appeal. He uses plenty of personal examples of his own failures in mishandling the truth of God's grace. As I am sure will be the case with others, most of them sadly resonated with my own testimony.

It has been rightly noted that when the good goes bad it becomes the worst. That is certainly true with those doctrinal truths that are nicknamed Calvinism. The sovereignty of God's grace in salvation is one of the most breathtaking, soul-enrapturing, mind-expanding, faith-building truths revealed in Scripture. Yet, when held arrogantly or used as an excuse to ignore other biblical truths or to justify blatant sin, it becomes distorted and misrepresented as one of the most wicked lies imaginable. As I type this I received the following comment on twitter: "I am repulsed by Calvinism because of Calvinists. I would rather be wrong than think I had to be like so many I have encountered." Such comments ought to make those of us who believe and love the doctrines of grace weep. We are called to adorn the doctrine of God by the way that we live. It is bad enough when we fail to do this. But when our lives actually make our doctrine repulsive to those who know us, we should be full of shame and sorrow.

In eight brief chapters Dutcher shows how Calvinists can kill Calvinism:
  1. By Loving Calvinism as an End in Itself
  2. By Becoming a Theologian Instead of a Disciple
  3. By Loving God's Sovereignty More than God Himself
  4. By Losing an Urgency in Evangelism
  5. By Learning Only From Other Calvinists
  6. By Tidying Up the Bible's "Loose Ends"
  7. By Being an Arrogant Know-It-All
  8. By Scoffing at the Hang-ups Others Have with Calvinism
The book is 100 pages of text with 55 footnotes and a one page Appendix on the acrostic, TULIP. It is filled with pithy statements that illuminate key points ("My three-year-old daughter knows things about me that my cardiologist does not, but I don't think I will cancel my annual heart checkup anytime soon" [85]) as well as great quotes from esteemed reformed leaders, past and present (Calvin, Spurgeon, Edwards, Whitefield, Packer, Sproul, Piper, et al). The writing is engaging and easy to follow. It is the kind of book that can be put into the hands of anyone who wants to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.

I have recommended that this book become required reading for all of our church's leaders. I wish I could somehow require that it be read before a person leaves a comment on my blog or Facebook wall. I encourage all of my Calvinist friends to read it and pass it around. We who claim to understand much of God's grace ought then to be the most gracious of all people. A proud, belligerent, unloving, thoughtless Calvinist is a spiritual freak who denies by his actions and attitudes what he professes in his creed. None of us is immune to such sins, but by the grace of God we need not be satisfied to let them live, unmolested, in our lives.

Greg Dutcher reminds us of this and writes so as to help us access the means by which God grants the very grace that we extol. I highly recommend this book.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Pilgrim Radio Interview on my analysis of the SBC Family

Tuesday, July 10, 2012, an interview that I had with Bill Feltner of Pilgrim Radio will be broadcast. Based in Carson City, Nevada, Pilgrim Radio has provided biblical teaching and spiritual encouragement to listeners since 1962. Their programs are available over the internet via livestream.

Bill and I talked about my take on the recent Statement on the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation. The interview will air on the program, "His People," at 2:30AM, 12:30PM & 9:30PM PACIFIC TIME (5:30AM, 3:30PM & 12:30AM [July 11] EASTERN TIME).