Reflections on the 2014 Southern Baptist Convention

I will add my voice to others who have positively evaluated the 2014 SBC that met last week in Baltimore. The spirit of the meeting was warm and congenial. There seems to be a widespread implicit agreement that if we are going to live together productively within the network of churches that comprise the SBC then we will need to take positive steps to major on the core beliefs that we have in common even as we maintain our distinctive convictions with humility and genuine love. I was not alone in sensing a genuine desire for unity in the midst of acceptable, bordered diversity.

One of the highlights for me was the many conversations I had with fellow SBC pastors with whom I have shared private and sometimes public differences through the years. Without exception each of these conversations was cordial and many of them were very encouraging. Those conversations, when coupled with the spirit of the business deliberations in the convention hall, were very confirming of hopes that I and others have entertained over the last several years as Calvinism has become an increasingly controversial and divisive issue in the the SBC. I believe that “Cooperative Calvinists” and “Cooperative non-Calvinists” are indeed coming together to help set a proper tone for the kinds of inevitable conversations that a convention of free churches must have. With the decrease of acrimony mutual understanding and trust are given opportunity to grow. Those are essential ingredients of any cooperative effort to make disciples of all nations. What I wrote about the SBC in 2008 I believe even more strongly now: “the future belongs to the bridge-builders, not the party-builders.”

Fred Luter once again moderated the proceedings with grace and good humor. The President of the SBC may not wield much executive power when it comes to convention polity, but he is able to influence the spirit of an annual meeting. Pastor Luter once again modeled humility and good will in his deliberations and rulings and that spirit seemed to win the day throughout the two days of meetings.

For the first time Founders Ministries was allowed to have a booth in the Exhibit Hall. We exercised this option instead of hosting a breakfast as we have done for the last many years. In addition to meeting many new friends and renewing fellowship with old ones, we were able to give away nearly 2000 copies of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist Convention (which is available at a discounted price in our Founders Bookstore) to those who came by the booth. The give-away provided for many opportunities for extended conversations with brothers and sisters of various doctrinal convictions.

One scheduled session that many were anticipating before the convention and then talking about afterward was the report by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President, Paige Patterson. Dr. Patterson expressed apologies to the convention, his trustees and faculty for the awkward situation brought about by his admission of a Muslim man to the PhD program at the seminary. He then gave a lengthy, moving explanation of his reasons for doing so. In short, his evangelistic passion trumped his administrative wisdom. I got the impression that Dr. Patterson was trying to explain what motivated him to set aside seminary policy and admit a Muslim as a student. And I, for one, could not fault his motives. The potential problems that his decision has created, however, remain despite his best intentions. It was, therefore, encouraging to hear Steve James, the chairman of Southwestern’s Board of Trustees, stand at the end of Patterson’s report to assure Southern Baptists that their concerns have been heard and this matter will be dealt with when the board meets in its fall session.

The Southern Baptist Convention is an easy target for anyone with a knack for finding fault with religious institutions in this fallen world. We are certainly not without our blemishes and faults. But I am convinced that, despite the many areas that could be cited as in need of spiritual upgrade, we are moving in the right direction and are poised to become even more spiritually healthy in the years to come.

Tom Ascol has served as a Pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, FL since 1986. Prior to moving to Florida he served as pastor and associate pastor of churches in Texas. He has a BS degree in sociology from Texas A&M University (1979) and has also earned the MDiv and PhD degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas. He has served as an adjunct professor of theology for various colleges and seminaries, including Reformed Theological Seminary, the Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary, African Christian University, Copperbelt Ministerial College, and Reformed Baptist Seminary. He has also served as Visiting Professor at the Nicole Institute for Baptist Studies at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. Tom serves as the President of Founders Ministries and The Institute of Public Theology. He has edited the Founders Journal, a quarterly theological publication of Founders Ministries, and has written hundreds of articles for various journals and magazines. He has been a regular contributor to TableTalk, the monthly magazine of Ligonier Ministries. He has also edited and contributed to several books, including Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry, The Truth and Grace Memory Books for children and  Recovering the Gospel and Reformation of Churches. He is also the author of From the Protestant Reformation to the Southern Baptist ConventionTraditional Theology and the SBC and Strong and Courageous. Tom regularly preaches and lectures at various conferences throughout the United States and other countries. In addition he regularly contributes articles to the Founders website and hosts a weekly podcast called The Sword & The Trowel. He and his wife Donna have six children along with four sons-in-law and a daughter-in-law. They have sixteen grandchildren.
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