Sunday, December 31, 2006

Paleoevangelical of the Year 2006

It's a cliché to talk about what a difficult decision this was, so I'm not going to dwell on how much I'm grateful to God for the influence of the two "runners up" in my life this year. If things continue as I expect, both will be named here in years to come.

This year it came down to a professor, a pastor-professor, and a pastor-blogger. And in spite of all the articles I've read over the course of the year that demean blogging, in this venue the pastor-blogger wins.

This year's recipient is probably best-known (or despised, or hated, or condemned) for his Calvinism, but his soteriological system isn't what makes Tom Ascol the 2006 Paleoevangelical of the Year. Ascol serves as the director of Founders Ministries, whose purpose is "the recovery of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ in the reformation of local churches." Founders believes that "the promotion of the Doctrines of Grace" is intrinsic to that purpose, but no doubt many Baptists would disagree.

Frankly, it matters little to me whether or not they agree and even less whether or not they consider themselves 5-point Calvinists. What matters a great deal to me is that American churches—whether they consider themselves evangelical or fundamentalist—recover the gospel. That will mean abandoning and repudiating Finneyistic theology and methodology, valuing spiritual depth over shallow breadth, and cultivating a discipleship culture in which membership and discipline actually mean something.

But many people believe all this stuff. What sets Ascol apart? Simple. I'm sick of "incrementalism." Both Southern Baptists and independent fundamentalists talk about gradual progress toward these goals. One hears from time to time about back-room conversations between influential individuals in which these concerns are acknowledged to be both widespread and serious concerns.

Yet it seems to me that for many, the status quo of incremental progress is good enough. Many evangelicals and fundamentalists are so married to the mixed multitude of their constituencies and their associational relationships that they dare not expose the elephant in the room, much less try to kick it out.

For many of these men, this course of action is no doubt wise and prudent. I thank God that Tom Ascol has charted a different course. In both his blog and his efforts at the SBC Annual Meeting, particularly that of 2006, Ascol has smacked that elephant on the rump and made it snort.

To top it all off, Ascol has done all this in a gracious, even-keeled tone—always optimistic, and always exhorting the less patient among his allies. Not surprisingly, in the midst of the leadup to and fallout from the Caner-White-Ascol debate controversy, Ascol was the only party who, to the best of my knowledge, publicly acknowledged and sought forgiveness for his own words. The irony is that it's difficult for me to imagine that any impartial observer could have identified a more Christlike voice in that controversy. (Search his blog if you really want the whole story.)

My interaction with Ascol has been quite limited. I met him in person for the first time early this year, and that was for a brief moment. I hope that will change so that one day I will be able to count him not only as as an example of faithfulness, courage, grace, and wisdom, but also as a friend.

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