Evangelism: Tom Ascol and James White vs. Charles SpurgeonAre today's Calvinist Baptists evangelistic? The great 19th century pastor Charles Spurgeon certainly was. Living in London, England, one of the largest cities in the world at the time, Spurgeon won multiple thousands to Christ preaching the simple "ABC"* gospel.
Today's Reformed Calvinist Baptists all say that they are Spurgeon's heirs. "Dr." James White and Dr. Tom Ascol are two Calvinist Baptists who allege theological kinship with the prince of preachers.
Are White and Ascol's claims to Spurgeon's legacy valid? Let's find out.
First of all, White and Ascol are theologically adrift from Spurgeon's Calvinism. Both White and Ascol promote a theology that teaches a person must be regenerated or born again before he places faith in Jesus Christ. This is contrary to not only what Spurgeon believed but is also contrary to historic Baptist confessions. White and Ascol are more extreme in their views that even John Calvin himself! White and Ascol, therefore, are not confessional Calvinists but instead are best described as hybrid / hyper / extreme / neo Calvinists (choose your prefix).
Spurgeon differs with White and Ascol theologically on the new birth. But do they line up with Spurgeon on evangelism, on seeking out lost sheep?
Living in London, Charles H. Spurgeon pastored one of the largest churches in the world. The church was built on the preaching of the Word of God and on the personal evangelistic efforts of Spurgeon. Spurgeon was consistently winning people to the Lord. He loved anyone who preached the simple gospel to lost sinners, an example of which would be when he had the great evangelist, D. L. Moody, for revival meetings.
White and Ascol both say that evangelism is important and is part-and-parcel of their brand of Calvinism. Reading their writings, one discovers that they believe witnessing to the lost is an important duty for every Christian, certainly for Reformed-minded Baptists. But are they truly heirs of Spurgeon?
Since White and Ascol are leaders in Reformed circles and seek to influence Baptists through their writings on church polity and evangelism, it would be prudent to investigate their ministries and churches before swallowing their theological bait. In other words, does their walk match their talk? Let's find out.
Brother James White has lived in the Phoenix, Arizona area for many years. For at least two decades, Phoenix has been one of the fastest growing cities in the United States. Brother James is an elder at the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church at 3805 N. 12th Street.
Since James thinks so highly of Spurgeon, one would expect his church to be a growing, thriving Baptist church that is reaching Phoenix newcomers with the wonderful gospel that Spurgeon preached. After so many years, James' diligent efforts at evangelism would have gathered enough of the "elect" to have a pretty good-sized church, wouldn't you think? After reading James' writings on how Reformed Calvinists are so evangelistic, I just knew his church would be one of Phoenix's megachurches.
Since Brother James' church is not a Southern Baptist church I was unable to secure attendance and membership records. Google, however, provides something even better. With one click Google provides us with a satellite photo of the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church. Be sure and count the number of spaces in the parking lot.
I admit, I was shocked when I saw the satellite picture. I could picture a church this size in rural Alabama but in the middle of metro Phoenix with the evangelistic zeal of Elder James White? Say it isn't so! The church can't be this tiny, can it, especially with all the years James has spent in Phoenix? To provide some context, here is a picture of the area surrounding James' church. It's definitely not a rural area. Could Google have pinpointed the wrong building? Maybe, but I doubt it.
James White: An heir of Charles H. Spurgeon? Not likely.
But what of Dr. Tom Ascol? As the head of Founders Ministries (yes, they really believe what they are doing is a ministry), Tom enthusiastically claims Spurgeon as a model.
For the last twenty years, Brother Tom has pastored the Grace Baptist Church, located at 204 SW 11th Place in Cape Coral, Florida. Cape Coral is in Lee County which is the most populous county is southwest Florida. According to the US Census, in 2000, the population of Lee County was 440,888. A mere four years later, the population jumped to 514,295.
Cape Coral is the largest city in Lee County with a population of 140,010 in 2005. This is up from 74,991 in 1990. The city and county have grown like wildfire since Tom began his pastorate in 1986. For twenty years Tom Ascol has pastored a church in one of fastest growing areas of the Unites States. Many pastors dream to work in such a growing field.
Since Dr. Ascol thinks so highly of Spurgeon, one would expect his church to be a growing, thriving Baptist church that is reaching Cape Coral newcomers with the wonderful gospel that Spurgeon preached. After so many years, Tom's diligent efforts at evangelism would have gathered enough of the "elect" to have a pretty good-sized church, wouldn't you think? After reading Tom's writings on how Reformed Calvinists were so evangelistic, I just knew his church would be one of Cape Coral's megachurches.
Let's look at the data. Lee County is part of the Royal Palm Association, which is part of the Florida Baptist Convention. The FBC reports that after twenty years of pastoring by Tom Ascol, Grace Baptist Church has 212 total members and 201 resident members. In case the numbers are off, Google provides a satellite photo of Grace Baptist Church. (You may need to "move" the picture up a bit to see the church). To provide some context, click here to see a picture of the area surrounding Tom's church.
Tom Ascol: An heir of Charles H. Spurgeon? Not likely.
My opinion is that James White and Tom Ascol are nothing like Spurgeon. Not in theology. Not in evangelism. So when you hear them quoting Spurgeon and saying that their brand of Calvinism is evangelistic, just remember what you have seen today with your own eyes.
So then, why are today's Calvinist churches so small? Brother Bob Ross has the answer. The moral of this story is that if you want a growing, thriving church, don't look to the theology and practice of James White and Tom Ascol for your model.
* Below is from Brother Bob Ross, owner of Pilgrim Publications, the company that publishes all of Charles H. Spurgeon's sermons.
At a London meeting at which C. H. Spurgeon presided a young minister was asked to speak. He startedby saying that he was a poor speaker and all he knew was the A. B. C. Gospel.
He went on to say "A" stands for the text we should all learn first as it is the very beginning of the Gospel for every sinner--
"All have sinned and come short of the Glory of God."
"B" stands for --
"Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world."
"C" is --
"Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest."
At the close of the address Mr. Spurgeon, with tears streaming down his cheeks, said --
"Stick to that kind of preaching and you will be a real A. B. C."
Mr. Spurgeon meant by this, an "Able Bodied Christian."
Wednesday, June 28, 2006 12:28 PM
CORRECTION REGARDING BROTHER TOM ASCOL AND GRACE BAPTIST CHURCH:
Brother Tom Ascol said in an email to another blogger that information from the Florida Baptist Convention regarding his church is incorrect. He reports on the size of his church, "our average attendance on Sunday mornings is between 300-350. Our Sunday night attendance is about 150-175 and our Wednesday night attendance is around 200."
I'm happy to say that, if correct, this makes Brother Ascol's church somewhat larger than reported. Readers can decide for themselves if someone who has a twenty year ministry in one of America's fastest growing cities which yields a church this size can lay claim to being a spiritual and evangelistic heir of Charles Spurgeon.