Tom Ascol

Law and Gospel in Moral Reasoning

The only hope of being delivered from the tyranny of ever-changing, man-made standards of righteousness is to be clearly committed to and advocates of God’s one, unchanging standard as summarized in the Ten Commandments. Without this, Christian moral reasoning is lost and virtue and righteousness will be dictated by the most effective mob. But, understanding and embracing such biblical wisdom grants freedom and strength to withstand the mobs and refuse to kowtow to their demands of obeisance to their false gods and compliance to their false standards. 

One of great failures of modern evangelical Christians that has been undeniably made manifest over the last few years is the lack of moral reasoning that plagues so many of our number—even those regarded as leaders. I have commented on this and written about it in relation to racial tensions and abortion and politics. At the bottom of this deficiency, I have argued, is a failure to recognize and think deeply about the teaching of God’s Word on law and gospel. Many of our leaders have rightly encouraged us to keep “the gospel above all” but have done so in ways that suggest there is no place for the law.
One of the great needs of our day is to recover what was better understood by many of our forebears about the relationship between law and gospel. Specifically, we need to face up to the fact that the God who gave us His gospel has also given us His law and He cares as much about His law being obeyed as He does His gospel being believed. Such understanding is no threat to the gospel. On the contrary, it exalts the gospel and protects it from antinomianism on the one hand and legalism on the other. In fact, the gospel cannot be properly appreciated apart from a recognition and appreciation of the law. The very subsoil of Mount Calvary is Mount Sinai.
This is what I mean: Without the law, there is no sin and without the knowledge of the law there can be no recognition of sin (Romans 4:15, 5:13, 7:7-8; 1 John 3:4). Without sin, there is no need for grace—specifically, the grace of God in the gospel.
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John Dagg on Evil Surmising

As I have written elsewhere, we are living through a famine of sound moral reasoning in the evangelical world today. The multiple failures at this point reveal an unbiblical separation between theology and ethics. The idea that one can live rightly while believing wrongly is foolish, and while right belief does not guarantee right living at every point, theology does provide the basis for judging the rightness or wrongness of actions.  That is, when a person acts contrary to what he believes his theology provides a corrective if it is allowed to function in that way on the practical level. But when one’s theology is faulty then ethical failure tends to be an outworking of that wrong belief. Rather than provide a needed corrective to bad living, bad theology confirms it.
For example, if one holds to an antinomian view of grace in salvation, then living immorally is fortified by cavalier platitudes like “once saved, always saved” and “since where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, let’s continue in sin so that grace may abound.” Yet, if grace is rightly understood as working a change in the believer so that he pursues a life of holiness, then immoral attitudes and actions can be corrected by the sound theology of that understanding.
In many ways our evangelical forebears understood this relationship far better than we do today. As such, they can help provide some help to us sharpen our moral reasoning. One such helpful teacher from our Baptist heritage is John Dagg. He was the first Baptist theologian in the southern United States to write a systematic theology. Along with that he produced A Treatise on Church Order which he considered to be the Second Part of his Manual of Theology.
A lesser known volume that Dagg wrote is his Elements of Moral Science. The book is a rich resource in thinking and acting Christianly. Though some of the specifics may be dated, the principles Dagg teaches are timeless. One such principle is the wickedness of evil surmising. He addresses this issue in chapter 8, section 8 of his book, which is found on pages 195-197 of the 1860 edition. While we do not hear much about this topic in our day, Dagg demonstrates that sincere Christians should work hard to avoid falling into this pattern of immoral judgment.

Evil Surmising

Reputation is the opinion of the community; and since I am one of the community, my opinion concerning my neighbor, is a part of his reputation. If I think less of him than I ought, I so far do wrong to his reputation. Hence we do wrong to others, when we judge them too unfavorably; and the wrong is not confined to them, but rebounds on ourselves. The habit of judging unfavorably, hardens the heart against the social affections and sympathies, on which our happy intercourse with others greatly depends. It is directly opposed to the charity which “thinketh no evil;”1 and tends inevitably to cut us off from the sympathies and affections of others, and the approbation of heaven. “Judge not, that ye be not judged; for with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.”2
Love to our neighbor will incline us to admit his sincerity, and attribute to him no other motives than those from which he professes to act. We resent the wrong, if others ascribe to us motives which we disclaim; and we ought, therefore, to avoid such judgment of others. Some men earn a reputation for insincerity, to which they are justly entitled, and there is no necessity that we should be blind to their true character; but there is no merit in being the first to suspect the evil designs of others. Some persons pride themselves on their deep insight into human character; and when some unlovely feature, before unsuspected, has been disclosed, they are ready to exclaim, I told you so; but they do not inform us how many times they have suspected evil which never existed. They are perhaps deceived as often as the less suspicious; but if they are not, it is better to be deceived sometimes, than to cultivate in ourselves the habit of thinking evil; to keep the mind in perpetual disquiet, with the apprehension of suffering wrong from all who approach us; and to banish all confidence from the intercourse of human society. To deal with honest men as if they were rogues, is a maxim which savors of the wisdom from beneath, rather than of that which cometh from above. The peace and happiness of human society depend much on the cultivation of love and mutual confidence; and it is better that men should be surprised and shocked by occasional abuse of confidence, than that they should be perpetually prepared for it by sleepless suspicion.
Much of the strife which disturbs society, originates in evil surmising. An injurious suspicion once entertained, cannot be concealed without great difficulty. If not expressed in words, it produces a cautiousness in action, by which the other party is led to suspect and resent its existence. Mutual suspicion being engendered, a fire is kindled within, which refuses to be smothered. If you would avoid strife and rage, check the very beginnings of evil surmising.
Since the most virtuous have imperfections, it is unjust, because of one failure, to judge the whole character corrupt. Peter denied his Master; but he notwithstanding loved and honored him, and suffered martyrdom in his cause. We ought not to judge a man destitute of any particular virtue, because he fails to exercise it in some one instance; and if it should be proved that he is totally destitute of a particular virtue, we ought not thence to conclude, that he is destitute of all virtue. Even the truly pious may have a sin that does easily beset them;1 and those who have not renounced all for Christ, may, like the young ruler whom Jesus loved,2 possess traits of character worthy to be loved and admired.
We should be careful not to suffer our estimate of others to be determined by their regard for us. “Sinners love those that love them;”3 but righteous judgment is not founded on considerations so selfish. If a man. has treated me unkindly, it does not follow that he is a bad man. Unkindness to me is not worse than unkindness to any other person; and if we strike from our list of friends all who have ever treated any one amiss, we shall have few names remaining. If we detect with keen perception, and decry with bold vociferation, the faults of our enemies or opponents, while we are blind to the faults of our friends, and those of our party; we do not judge according to righteousness. We should school ourselves to estimate every man, not by his bearing toward us, but by his true character.[1]

1 1 Cor. 13:5.
2 Matt. 7:1, 2.
1 Heb. 12:1.
2 Mark 10:21.
3 Luke 6:32.

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Law and Gospel in Moral Reasoning

One of great failures of modern evangelical Christians that has been undeniably made manifest over the last few years is the lack of moral reasoning that plagues so many of our number—even those regarded as leaders. I have commented on this and written about it in relation to racial tensions and abortion and politics. At the bottom of this deficiency, I have argued, is a failure to recognize and think deeply about the teaching of God’s Word on law and gospel. Many of our leaders have rightly encouraged us to keep “the gospel above all” but have done so in ways that suggest there is no place for the law.
One of the great needs of our day is to recover what was better understood by many of our forebears about the relationship between law and gospel. Specifically, we need to face up to the fact that the God who gave us His gospel has also given us His law and He cares as much about His law being obeyed as He does His gospel being believed. Such understanding is no threat to the gospel. On the contrary, it exalts the gospel and protects it from antinomianism on the one hand and legalism on the other. In fact, the gospel cannot be properly appreciated apart from a recognition and appreciation of the law. The very subsoil of Mount Calvary is Mount Sinai.
God loves His law by which He rules us as much as He loves His gospel by which He saves us.
This is what I mean: Without the law, there is no sin and without the knowledge of the law there can be no recognition of sin (Romans 4:15, 5:13, 7:7-8; 1 John 3:4). Without sin, there is no need for grace—specifically, the grace of God in the gospel. The gospel—the person and work of Jesus—is for sinners (Luke 5:32). What Jesus did to accomplish our salvation—living a righteous life and dying a sacrificial, atoning death—was necessary because of our violation of God’s law. When a sinner turns from sin and trusts Christ for salvation, he is credited both with the righteousness that Christ earned by His life and the payment that He made by His death.
Such a saved sinner now loves Jesus and wants to please the God who freely saved Him at such a great cost. What does that look like? As Jesus put it, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). In other words, true discipleship under the lordship of Jesus looks like a life of faith in Christ that is committed to keeping His commandments. Anything less is not biblical Christianity. It is false faith. Jesus makes this plain when He asks, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46; cf. Matthew 7:21-23; 1 John 2:3-6).
God loves His law by which He rules us as much as He loves His gospel by which He saves us.
If a Christian fails to grasp this and order his life accordingly, he will not be able to see his way out of the moral morass that afflicts so many sectors of evangelicalism in our day. What J. Gresham Machen wrote about the law a century ago is as true today as it was then.

A new and more powerful proclamation of [the] law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour; men would have little difficulty with the gospel if they had only learned the lesson of the law….So it always is; a low view of law always brings legalism in religion; a high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace. Pray God that the high view may again prevail (What is Faith, 141-42).

The only hope of being delivered from the tyranny of ever-changing, man-made standards of righteousness is to be clearly committed to and advocates of God’s one, unchanging standard as summarized in the Ten Commandments. Without this, Christian moral reasoning is lost and virtue and righteousness will be dictated by the most effective mob. But, understanding and embracing such biblical wisdom grants freedom and strength to withstand the mobs and refuse to kowtow to their demands of obeisance to their false gods and compliance to their false standards. Christians who are committed to trust God’s gospel and obey His commandments will, with joy in their hearts, pursue the path of true righteousness regardless of cost or consequence.

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Why We Rejoice Over the Supreme Court’s Dobbs Decision

We praise God for ordaining government and for providentially establishing the government of the United States as a constitutional republic. We further praise Him that the highest court in the judicial branch of our government properly exercised their authority in making a righteous ruling by overturning the wicked ruling of Roe v. Wade. While this does not mean that unborn babies will now be afforded equal protection under the law, it is a step in the right direction.

In the providence of God, the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was handed down five days after I began an exposition of Romans 13:1-7. My first sermon on that passage (which came during an ongoing study of the whole letter) involved an overview of it, outlining the argument that Paul makes and the way that he makes it. I also explained the nature of authority and the jurisdictional realms in which God has delegated His authority in His world, namely the home, the church, and the state.
My sermon after that decision focused on verse 1, which states the thesis for the whole paragraph: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Because God has instituted civil governments, everyone is obligated to be submissive to them. The idea of government and governmental authorities comes from God. This is a fundamental truth that all Christians must remember as we work out our public, and especially our political, theology. We are submissive to governmental authorities because we are subject to Jesus Christ, who possesses “all authority” (Matthew 28:18).
We must remember this as we think about the Supreme Court’s recent decision (in Dobbs) to overturn the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States. Because God has even the heart of kings in His hands (Proverbs 21:1) we know that, ultimately, that decision is His work. Since it is a work that offers some legal protection to unborn children, everyone who loves mercy and justice should unashamedly rejoice. By its ruling the current justices determined that Roe v. Wade was an unjust decision—a mistake made by an earlier iteration of the court.
No one can legitimately doubt the accuracy of this ruling. In 1973 the right to abortion was invented out of thin air and attributed to the fourteenth amendment. But any honest reader will study in vain to find the right to kill unborn babies in that amendment. Certainly, those who adopted the amendment in 1868 had no thought of it being used to justify abortion.
So, praise God that on June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed an unrighteous decision by overturning Roe v. Wade.
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Why We Rejoice Over the Supreme Court’s Dobbs Decision

In the providence of God, the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization was handed down five days after I began an exposition of Romans 13:1-7. My first sermon on that passage (which came during an ongoing study of the whole letter) involved an overview of it, outlining the argument that Paul makes and the way that he makes it. I also explained the nature of authority and the jurisdictional realms in which God has delegated His authority in His world, namely the home, the church, and the state.
My sermon after that decision focused on verse 1, which states the thesis for the whole paragraph: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Because God has instituted civil governments, everyone is obligated to be submissive to them. The idea of government and governmental authorities comes from God. This is a fundamental truth that all Christians must remember as we work out our public, and especially our political, theology. We are submissive to governmental authorities because we are subject to Jesus Christ, who possesses “all authority” (Matthew 28:18).
We must remember this as we think about the Supreme Court’s recent decision (in Dobbs) to overturn the 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States. Because God has even the heart of kings in His hands (Proverbs 21:1) we know that, ultimately, that decision is His work. Since it is a work that offers some legal protection to unborn children, everyone who loves mercy and justice should unashamedly rejoice. By its ruling the current justices determined that Roe v. Wade was an unjust decision—a mistake made by an earlier iteration of the court.
No one can legitimately doubt the accuracy of this ruling. In 1973 the right to abortion was invented out of thin air and attributed to the fourteenth amendment. But any honest reader will study in vain to find the right to kill unborn babies in that amendment. Certainly, those who adopted the amendment in 1868 had no thought of it being used to justify abortion.
The idea of government and governmental authorities comes from God. This is a fundamental truth that all Christians must remember as we work out our public, and especially our political, theology.
So, praise God that on June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States reversed an unrighteous decision by overturning Roe v. Wade. It was the right decision before both the law of God—“You shall not murder”—and before the Constitution of the United States—“No State shall…deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
The United States federal government is comprised of a chief executive (the President) and representatives (Congressmen & women and Senators) who are all elected by the citizens. These elected officials are obligated to carry out their responsibilities according to the rules that are established in a written constitution.
The third branch of our federal government is the judiciary with the Supreme Court being the highest court in our land. It has the responsibility of settling questions and controversies arising under the laws of our nation. Its job is to interpret the United States Constitution and render judgments on the constitutionality of all lesser laws or actions that become the occasion of dispute.
Chiseled into the Supreme Court building in Washington DC, just above the main entrance, are the words,
EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW
That motto expresses the primary responsibility of the Supreme Court—to ensure that the citizens of the United States are granted equal justice under the laws of our land, the highest of which is the constitution itself.
By reversing Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has properly carried out its duty to at least begin the process of restoring equal protection under the law for the most vulnerable among us—unborn babies. So, lovers of justice rejoice and should thank God for His kind provision of this decision.
We who know the Lord should especially rejoice over God’s kindness in causing those justices to make the ruling that they did. Their decision brings our nation back into a closer alignment to the governing authorities that God has appointed over us in the civil arena.
What I mean is this. The God of whom Job 12:23 says, “He makes nations great, and he destroys them; he enlarges nations, and leads them away,” the God who establishes empires and casts them down, this God—the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ—in His providence established the United States of America in such a fashion that our highest governing authority is not a person or an office, but a document. And that document—the Constitution of the United States—was recognized and submitted to by the Supreme Court when they overturned Roe v. Wade and began to recognize that unborn babies deserve equal justice under law just like every other image-bearer of God.
By reversing Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has properly carried out its duty to at least begin the process of restoring equal protection under the law for the most vulnerable among us—unborn babies.
So, we praise God for ordaining government and for providentially establishing the government of the United States as a constitutional republic. We further praise Him that the highest court in the judicial branch of our government properly exercised their authority in making a righteous ruling by overturning the wicked ruling of Roe v. Wade.
While this does not mean that unborn babies will now be afforded equal protection under the law, it is a step in the right direction. Let’s continue to call on our civil authorities at every level and in every branch of government to exercise their God-given authority in ways that He has prescribed. And let us continue to be subject to them out of our greater submission to the King of all Kings and Lord of all lords, Jesus Christ.

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Are Southern Baptists Still People of the Book?

This time the fight is not as much over Scripture’s inerrancy as it is over its sufficiency. The question is whether Scripture ought to be regarded as a comprehensive guide for the Christian life, the place where our inquiry starts and ends; or is it instead a mere touchpoint to be reinterpreted and mediated through the thick lenses of contemporary sensibilities? Conservative evangelicals claim to believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. But that belief is too often held in only a theoretical way. Many Baptist leaders these days actually appear embarrassed by how the Bible applies to our modern debates.

Southern Baptists, like most conservative evangelicals, are distinguished by the things we say we believe about the Scriptures. We call ourselves “People of the Book.” That old-time phrase carries with it certain theological commitments, but it also describes our inclinations. When presented with pressing questions, our first instinct is, we say, to open our Bibles. To go to the Book.
This certainly proved to be the case during the major twentieth-century rift in American Protestantism. Southern Baptists emerged squarely on the conservative side of the fight between theological liberalism and orthodoxy, one that was fought primarily on the battleground of whether Scripture is inerrant. Almost entirely alone among the major denominations, Southern Baptists waged a successful campaign in the 1970s and ’80s to beat back the liberal theological incursions into their institutions. Thus, America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), with all its 180-year history, 47,000 churches, and 14 million members, remains conservative and evangelical to this day. At least in theory.
However, a new rift is developing within the SBC, as it is in other conservative evangelical denominations. This time the fight is not as much over Scripture’s inerrancy as it is over its sufficiency. The question is whether Scripture ought to be regarded as a comprehensive guide for the Christian life, the place where our inquiry starts and ends; or is it instead a mere touchpoint to be reinterpreted and mediated through the thick lenses of contemporary sensibilities? Conservative evangelicals claim to believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. But that belief is too often held in only a theoretical way. Many Baptist leaders these days actually appear embarrassed by how the Bible applies to our modern debates.
A genuine, practical commitment to sufficiency regards Scripture as providing a sufficient basis for living a godly Christian life, both for an individual and for ordering and ruling the life of the church. A corollary of this belief is that Scripture’s meaning is plain and accessible to any Christian.
The idea that Scripture is sufficient should function as an anchor for us during times of cultural convulsion. Ordinary believers should be hearing from their pastors and Christian leaders that, come what may and despite what the world says, they can be confident that we have in the Scriptures a clear word from God on how we should live. As a result, we can know what the right and good paths are, even if those paths put us significantly out of step with broader social mores.
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The SBC Must Be Shaped by the Word, Not the World

Southern Baptists Need Leaders who Aren’t Embarrassed of the Book
We Baptists are people of the Book. But when it comes to matters of great concern in our cultural context, we too often are reticent to reference the Scriptures clearly. We have allowed our sensibilities to be shaped by the world rather than the Word. By failing to put on the full armor of God, we make ourselves weak, open to attack. It is time for Southern Baptists to nail our colors to the mast.
The Baptist Faith and Message 2000—our common statement of belief—says it well when it calls Scripture “the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.” We are told in 2 Timothy 3:17 that Scripture makes the man of God “complete, equipped for every good work.” Scripture always has the final word and remains a sufficient basis for living out a faithful Christian life. Being anchored to the truths revealed in Scripture means that we can be stable and confident in moments of cultural convulsion like we are facing now.
That’s why it is so befuddling to see many Christians—even many Baptists—acting as if we didn’t have Scripture to stand upon. While we may be happy to speak boldly about parts of Scripture that synch up with modern sensibilities, we whisper about parts of Scripture that upset our modern sensibilities. I’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that many Baptists are reticent to use Scripture because we are embarrassed of it.
Consider a few recent examples:
Critical Theory:  It’s Scripture, not secular theory, that teaches us the truth about human nature. All humans are made in the image of God, possessing intrinsic worth and dignity as well as individual moral agency (Gen.1:26-27). But we are all also fallen and sinful (Rom. 3:23). The most fundamental division among humanity, then, is not between classes or races, but between those who are who are in open rebellion to God, and those who have been reconciled to Him through Christ (Rom. 5:12, 1 Cor. 5:21). Critical Theory, and other pernicious postmodern ideologies, are inconsistent with these bedrock truths. Even worse, they destroy the unity that believers already have in Christ (Eph. 2:11-22). Sadly, recent years have shown that the SBC seems unwilling to clearly condemn these corrosive teachings, even as school districts and some Christian colleges around the country find the courage to do so. Despite my best efforts, Convention leadership has generally opposed revisiting the disastrous Resolution 9 on Critical Race Theory, passed in 2019. But given the destructive capability of all critical theories, we cannot afford to equivocate. We must continue to press the issue through resolutions and motions to ensure that CRT, intersectionality, queer theory, etc., are clearly rejected by the SBC. These unbiblical worldviews must have no home in our pulpits, in our seminaries, or on the mission field.
God’s Design for Men and Women: Scripture could not be clearer about God’s design for men and women within the Church. The BFM is similarly clear: “The office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” And yet, we see some churches within our convention acting as functional egalitarians—all while still claiming to still hold to complementarianism. Rather than seeking to submit to God’s design in a comprehensive fashion, some church leaders seem more focused on how they can downplay scriptural teaching as much as possible without denying it outright. We need to push for greater clarity in the SBC regarding how the teachings of Scripture and the BFM must be practiced in the local church context.
LGBT Affirmation: We see similar trends in approaches to the LGBT related issues and the question of “same sex attraction” (SSA) in the church. Two successive SBC Presidents have preached the same sermon about how the Bible “whispers” about sexual sin when nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the Bible calls certain sexual sins “abominations” and makes clear that they are special proofs of God’s judgment on those who have rejected God (Rom. 1:18-32). We’ve seen misguided attempts to deny the fact that disordered desires are themselves sinful; all coming at a time when forces in our culture grow increasingly bold in their push for acceptance of sexual immorality of all kinds. This is not a time for flinching. Not when we see the likes of Disney pushing toxic transgender ideology on children, and even school teachers trying to influence them to make permanent, irreparable decisions. Our consciences must be formed by Scripture in these matters—both in how we speak to those in the world and those in the church. Love of our neighbors (and their children) requires that we speak out with a clear, loud, prophetic voice.
Abortion: Scripture is clear than the unborn baby is a human person. As such, we are grateful for the prospect that the unjust regime of Roe v. Wade is about to end. After its demise states will be tasked with implementing just legislation to protect the unborn, and the SBC will have a voice to help shape these new laws. Last summer, the SBC messengers spoke clearly by passing the strongest pro-life resolution in our history. In it we affirmed that biblical justice requires the equal protection of the unborn. That’s why it was so shocking to see, just last month, the ERLC put its name on a letter that helped to sink a bill in Louisiana that would have done just that. If we say that we believe an unborn baby is a human person deserving all the rights and protections of a born person, as we did as messengers in 2021, we cannot have rogue entities condemning laws that take that proposition seriously.
It’s Time for the SBC to be Culturally Uncompromising. I could go on. But those four examples are sufficient to show how the SBC, often at a leadership level, has a “biblical embarrassment” problem. We are embarrassed of the teachings of the Scripture. Brothers and sisters, it should not be this way. The word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword and will not return void. But if we muzzle ourselves out of a misplaced desire to placate the culture, how we can expect the Word to have that effect? The SBC doesn’t need the platform or entity leaders to act as PR professionals, trying to manage tough aspects of God’s word. Instead, we should all follow in the footsteps of the faithful pastors and members in the pews who aim to act in obedience as heralds of our King—boldly proclaiming His message to a dying world. And if elected as your next president, that’s exactly how I plan to lead.

Tom Ascol is the senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and President of Founders Ministries and the Institute of Public Theology. He is a candidate for president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
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Toward a Principled Pro-Life Ethic in Post-Roe America

The Supreme Court of the United States’ possible reversal of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion is reason for Christians and moral people everywhere to rejoice. Dobbs v. Jackson will go down in history as significant as Brown v. the Board of Education for overruling previous, unjust decisions by the Supreme Court. Much of the joy, however, has been drowned out by a vitriolic clash among pro-life Christians regarding how best to work for the abolition of abortion in our nation.
Many traditional “pro-life” leaders feel threatened by those who insist, in the language of the 2021 Southern Baptist resolution, on “abolishing abortion immediately without exception or compromise.” Denny Burk, who opposed that resolution, believes it to be “a repudiation of the pro-life movement” and claims that the messengers who overwhelmingly voted to adopt it were uninformed. Consequently, he is calling on Southern Baptists to attend the annual meeting in Anaheim next month to withstand any other attempts to encourage the SBC to reaffirm the views that were adopted in that 2021 resolution.
It seems to me that most of the people involved in this clash are genuinely committed to the abolition of abortion, though they may disagree on the best way to work for that. There are some elites within the pro-life establishment, however, who are taking positions that undermine our common goal. As we have seen in so many other areas of evangelical life the last several years, it is the elite class that is woefully out of step with the rank-and-file believers who are working hard to see the scourge of abortion brought to an immediate end in our nation.
Last week provided a perfect illustration what I am talking about. Those events highlight the divide that exists among sincere Christians who want to see the end of abortion in our country and also expose the pro-life elitists whose actions helped undermine what could have been a tremendous step to outlaw abortion in Louisiana.
For the first time in the history of the United States, a bill made it out of committee that had the prospect of making abortion illegal in the state of Louisiana (HB 813). Called the “Abolition of Abortion in Louisiana Act of 2022,” the bill contained language that should have caused all Christians to celebrate:
Section 2. Acknowledging the sanctity of innocent human life, created in the image of God, which should be equally protected from fertilization to natural death, the legislature hereby declares that the purpose of this Act is to:
(1) Fully recognize the human personhood of an unborn child at all stages of development prior to birth from the moment of fertilization.
(2) Ensure the right to life and equal protection of the laws to all unborn children from the moment of fertilization by protecting them by the same laws protecting other human beings.
(3) Recognize that the United States Constitution and the laws of the United States are the supreme law of the land.
Such language excites any Christian who genuinely wants to see the end of abortion, whether a self-identified “abolitionist” or not. The response from 76 pro-life groups, however, proved that such was not the case. Leaders from those groups, including the Southern Baptist Convention’s acting president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Brent Leatherwood, issued “An Open Letter to State Lawmakers from America’s Leading Pro-life Organizations.”
These leaders of the pro-life establishment express their complete opposition to a law that would treat any woman who procures an abortion as being culpable in any way. They build their argument on this stated premise:
The tragedy of abortion isn’t limited to the unborn child who loses her life. The mother who aborts her child is also Roe’s victim. She is the victim of a callous industry created to take lives; an industry that claims to provide for “women’s health,” but denies the reality that far too many American women suffered devastating physical and psychological damage following abortion.
According to that philosophy, all abortive women are victims. Because they suffer post-abortion trauma they cannot ever be held legally responsible for ending her preborn baby’s life. Strange logic that.
Shall we apply it to drunk driving, too? After all, professional marketers are paid around 6 billion dollars a year by the alcoholic beverage industry to convince people to drink booze. When a drunk driver kills a family of five, using the elitist-pro-life logic above, should we not hold the driver responsible because he also is a “victim of a callous industry”? After all, alcoholism is defined by the National Institutes of Health as “an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol”
To make sure that no one misunderstands the elitist-pro-life position Leatherwood, et al., continue:
Women are victims of abortion and require our compassion and support as well as ready access to counseling and social services in the days, weeks, months, and years following an abortion.
As national and state pro-life organizations, representing tens of millions of pro-life men, women, and children across the country, let us be clear: We state unequivocally that we do not support any measures seeking to criminalize or punish women and we stand firmly opposed to include [sic] such penalties in legislation. (emphasis in the original)
By that flawed logic, women who have abortions for any reason are never responsible in any way for the death of their babies. To hold them responsible, according to these elitist pro-life leaders, is incompatible with showing compassion and support.
In 2021 Southern Baptists adopted the most decisive anti-abortion resolution in the history of the convention. It builds on and extends the language of previous resolutions, affirming the sacredness of human life and calling for the immediate ending of abortion. Over 5,000 copies of the text of the resolution were printed and distributed to messengers before the vote. Denny Burk, who is one of the Southern Baptist theologians and ethicists who took exception to that strongest anti-abortion resolution Southern Baptists have ever adopted, provides a little better assessment of what a post-Roe Christian ethic should look like. But only a little. His arguments also lack the kind of clear, biblical thinking that is desperately needed as we move forward.
In an article entitled “Why Pro-Lifers Support Laws to Punish Abortionists but Not Mothers,” Burk tries to defend the “pro-life” position that both pro-abortionists and abolitionists see as clearly inconsistent. He writes:
Pro-lifers believe that it should be illegal to perform abortions. Thus we favor policies that punish those who perform abortions, not the mothers who allow them.
He divides his defense of this position into two dimensions: moral and legal. Morally, the reason that women who hire abortionists should never be punished is because “it is not always clear what level of culpability should be assigned to the mother.” He at least acknowledges that the woman has some “moral agency and culpability,” but because it is not always clear “to what degree she is implicated,” she should not be punished for her involvement in ending a human life.
His arguments about the legal dimension can be summed up in his opinion that, if the woman who hires an abortionist is held legally liable with the abortionist for ending a human life, it will be harder to convict the abortionist. I find his argument on this point (and those of Americans United for Life, whom he quotes) completely unconvincing. To provide one simple objection, if there’s no potential charge available, how can you make a plea bargain in exchange for testimony against the abortionist? But since these legal arguments are not germane to my concerns, I won’t engage them but simply encourage you to read them for yourself.
To summarize Dr. Burk’s moral argument, he believes that women who hire someone to abort their preborn babies are morally culpable in some degree, though it is difficult to know how much. Because of that difficulty, no woman should be held legally accountable in any sense for ending the life of their babies through abortion.
Rather than alleviate women who hire abortionists of all culpability, as the pro-life open letter does, Burk acknowledges that they have some responsibility. But because it is not easy to determine exactly how much or in exactly what way, they should not be prosecuted at all. Yet recognition of different levels of culpability in homicide cases has been a part of jurisprudence at least since Old Testament times. This is the rationale for cities of refuge, where those guilty of unintentional homicide could flee for protection from the manslayer (see Deuteronomy 19:1-13). Such cities, however, were no refuge for anyone who willfully or maliciously took life because that person was fully culpable for the homicide he or she committed.
Within American jurisprudence there are various classifications related to homicide laws (and some variance from state to state): murder, manslaughter, vehicular homicide, negligent homicide, conspiracy to commit murder, etc. The distinctions are due to the different degrees of culpability of the perpetrators. The court system has the responsibility of sorting that out, and there is very well-developed case law in the American system that helps to differentiate between varying levels of culpability. This analysis is commonplace—necessary any time the judicial system responds to the unjustified taking of a human life. The challenge that Burk identifies, varying levels of culpability, can be complex but it is not unique to the case of abortion. Legal systems are accustomed to dealing with this sort of complexity.
Does it not, then, make sense to allow the legal system to do its job regarding what charges to file and what sentence to impose for a homicide that occurs in an abortion, rather than using the fact that determining the degree of culpability is hard as an excuse to withhold any legal sanctions?
In light of these disagreements and the confusion they have spawned, here are my recommendations of some basic principles that all Christians should hold as we try to develop a common-sense ethic about abortion in a post-Roe nation.

Human life begins at conception/fertilization. On this I think all pro-lifers, abolitionists, and right-thinking Christians agree.
All killing of human life by another human is homicide.
There are varying degrees of culpability for homicide resulting in varying kinds of crimes. Some homicides are justified (self-defense) and some are first-degree murders. Others fall between that spectrum.
Both biblical and United States criminal law recognize #2 and #3.
LA HB813 sought to codify that a human life begins at conception/fertilization and is to be granted equal protection under the law from that point.
The Open Letter signed by ERLC acting President helped dissuade Louisiana legislators from passing the bill.
The Open Letter contradicted the 2021 SBC Resolution on abolishing abortion that the messengers adopted. I addressed this more fully in a thread on Twitter, but compare the language of the Open Letter quoted above to what SBC messengers approved in 2021:

RESOLVED, that the messengers of the SBC meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, June 15-16, 2021, do state unequivocally that abortion is murder, and we reject any position that allows for any exceptions to the legal protection of our preborn neighbors, compromises God’s holy standard of justice, or promotes any God-hating partiality (Psa 94:6; Isa 10:1-2; Prov 24:11; Psa 82:1-4), and…
RESOLVED, that we affirm that the murder of preborn children is a crime against humanity that must be punished equally under the law, and be it further
RESOLVED, that we humbly confess and lament any complicity in recognizing exceptions that legitimize or regulate abortion, and of any apathy, in not laboring with the power and influence we have to abolish abortion, and be it further
RESOLVED, that as Southern Baptists we will engage, with God’s help, in establishing equal justice and protection for the preborn according to the authority of God’s Word as well as local and federal law, and call upon pastors and leaders to use their God-given gifts of preaching, teaching, and leading with one unified, principled, prophetic voice to abolish abortion… (emphasis added)

The moral law of God functions both to restrain evil and instruct in what is good and right. In the Protestant-Reformed tradition these functions have been regarded as the second and third uses of the law, respectively. Civil law that prohibits hiring an abortionist and affixes penalties for doing so would, thereby, help teach everyone, including women who might contemplate seeking an abortion, that abortion is homicide.
It is right to legally prohibit abortion by granting equal protection under the law to preborn humans. It is at this point that the stark inconsistencies of the professional pro-life position become apparent. They want to affirm the full humanity of preborn babies but do not want to afford them equal protection under the law that is afforded to humans who survive the womb because either the woman who hires an abortionist is not culpable (i.e. Brent Leatherwood and the other Open Letter signers) or the degree of her culpability is too difficult to discern (i.e. Burk). Were a preborn child granted equal protection, then her homicide would be treated like that of any other homicide that had co-conspirators or accomplices requiring the court system to sort it out legally.
Such prohibition does not mean that all women seeking abortion, doctors performing them, and helpers facilitating them would be judged equally culpable or equally guilty. As in all homicide cases, each case should be adjudicated based on the facts and any mitigating circumstances (#3 above).
This would mean that no woman who arranges to have an abortion would be judged either automatically guilty or innocent of any particular crime simply because she is a woman or simply because she had an abortion.

These 11 principles can help frame the debate going forward for Christians who take the written Word of God seriously. All but one of them (#7, which is particularly of concern to Southern Baptists) deal with issues that all evangelicals should think through carefully.
We should all want to end the holocaust of abortion. But we should work to be precise in our language and measured in our judgments. Much confusion, I believe, has resulted from a lack of appropriate nuance in our communication at this point.
While abortion is always homicide, it is not necessarily murder on the part of everyone involved (though it sometimes is). When some who want to see abortion abolished hear “abortion is murder and should be criminalized,” they might think that those talking this way are advocating murder charges for every mother, father, and all others involved in such a killing. Emphatically, this is not my position.
We must not err on either side at this point. That is, we must not treat all post-abortive mothers as victims. But neither must we treat them all as murderers. Each case must be considered on its own merits. Those forced into having abortions by abusive boyfriends or pimps are victims. Those who choose to kill their preborn children of their own volition while #ShoutingTheirAbortions are murderers, and there are numerous scenarios in between. We must care for and proclaim the gospel to all these women as we call upon civil magistrates to provide preborn children the equal protection of the law and let the legal system do its job in determining the degree of culpability in each case.
That is why I refer to elective abortion as homicide, as opposed to murder. It should be legally prohibited and preborn children at risk of being killed should receive the equal protection of the law. I cannot imagine why any Christian who believes that abortion ends the life of one of God’s image-bearers would disagree with this.
It is important for Christians to get the nature of abortion right. If, like the open letter, we treat as victims all women who pay abortionists to kill their preborn babies, then we cut them off from the grace of God in Christ Jesus. The Lord Jesus is a real Savior for real sinners. If you convince someone that they are not responsible for their sin, then you eliminate their need of a Savior for that sin and effectively shut them up to a life of trying to deal with what they have done without the forgiveness that is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Are women who seek abortions victims? Of course, in the sense that every human being is a victim of sin and its consequences. Beyond that there is no doubt that some women are coerced and manipulated into abortion due to being trafficked or otherwise abused. As the Bible requires in making any judgment, all the relevant facts must be taken into account. But these realities do not mean that as a class all women who procure abortions are victims in some special sense, or on par with the babies that are intentionally killed by the procedure. We should be compassionate toward all women who seek an abortion and especially to those who have been lied to, intimidated, or in some other way manipulated into participating in that act of homicide. But I would defy Brent Leatherwood and the pro-life leaders who signed the open letter to convince the women who “shout their abortion” that they should see themselves that way. Better yet, I would encourage them to watch these testimonies of post-abortive women.
If a person is only a victim and has done nothing wrong, then she doesn’t need forgiveness. But those who are guilty of sin do. Jesus did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Until abortionists and the women who pay for their services come to terms with their complicity in the ending of a human life that is made in the image of God, they will never seek forgiveness. Until reality is honestly assessed, genuine repentance will never be sincerely professed.
So my plea to those who think they are being compassionate to women by absolving them of any responsibility in the abortion they freely secure is to recognize that they are doing tremendous spiritual damage to the very people they desire to help. Such compassion is cruel.
There is a Savior for sinners, including those who are guilty of participating in the sin of abortion. Jesus Christ came into the world to live a righteous life and die a sacrificial death so that all who repent and look to Him in faith might be saved. His grace is enough to forgive both abortionists and those who employ them to end the life of their preborn child.
So while we work for justice to protect the lives of the preborn, let’s never forget to preach the gospel that saves even the foremost of sinners and encourage abortionists, those who employ them, pro-lifers, and abolitionists to trust the Lord Jesus Christ and find eternal life in Him.

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Abortion and Our Lost Ability to Reason Morally

The inability or unwillingness of Christians to employ rigorous, biblical, moral reasoning to address public attacks on God and Scripture over the last few years has been as stunning as it has been revealing. From the unbiblical assessments of lawless rioting and flagrant theft to descriptions of legalized abortion the United States, many who name the Name of Christ—including those in positions of leadership—have fallen woefully short of speaking with the wisdom we desperately need.
The recent attempt by the US Senate to codify the legal murder of unborn children further highlights how anemic Christian public theology is today. Forty-nine Senators voted to legalize the murder of babies up to the point of their birth. Everyone of them is a Democrat. Yet, Christian deplorables have been lectured by our betters for at least the last seven years on how and why we must make room for voting for Democrat candidates at every level of government. We have been told that we do not understand the complexities of the issues involved; that though Christians might be personally opposed to abortion we must allow that they can, nevertheless, vote for political leaders who are committed to the slaughter of innocent children; and that since the Bible doesn’t tell us “how” to fight against abortion, we mustn’t argue in terms of national righteousness for one political candidate over another or contend that any political party is better or worse than another.
Yet, as I was reminded this morning when I reread it, the Democrat party platform includes five references to making abortion legal, tax-payer-funded, and readily available in the USA.
To know God and to fear Him means that we tremble at His Word, believe His gospel, and love His law.
 Many sincere but naive Christians have been led astray by such perverted moral reasoning and have consequently voted for the party of death in the last several political elections. They have done so with reassurances that they honored Christ with their vote. Christians who, like R.C. Sproul, out of moral conviction have argued against voting for any candidate who advocates abortion, have been labeled white supremacists, Christian nationalists, ignorant fundamentalists, and worse.
I and other Christian pastors have been accused of suddenly “becoming political” & making politics more important than theology. We have been slandered as contending that unity is now based on politics rather than devotion to Christ and His Word. We have been charged with having politics drive and shape our doctrinal convictions and of requiring certain political affinities in the churches we serve.
Such accusations are not only erroneous, they are also ignorant. They are a commentary on how poorly many Christians, including many Christian leaders reason morally. Christ is Lord over everything—including politics. His rule does not end at the voting booth. Christians must vote like Christians. Neighbor-love means that I seek the greatest good for my neighbor. My neighbors in the US will be in a far worse position spiritually, morally, and before God with every additional advocate for child-murder that is placed in public office. That is true because “righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).
The more “we the people” give political power to baby-murderers the more we increase our national sin and rebellion against God and the more we provoke Him to His face and “tempt” Him to do to America what He did to Sodom and Gomorrah and has done with nations throughout history.
God’s people in America should repent of our complacency and complicity in the forty-nine-year holocaust we are living through and call for the immediate end of legalized abortion.
 To know God and to fear Him means that we tremble at His Word, believe His gospel, and love His law. It requires that we seek His honor by advocating for His ways not only in our private lives but in every area of influence He entrusts to us, including the right to vote.
To vote for anyone who advocates policies of legalized murder is foolish and sinful. Leaders who encourage Christians to do so are doubly culpable and have forfeited their right to be followed. If the innocent blood of Abel cried out to the Lord (Genesis 4:10), what must be the deafening cry in heaven from the more than 63 million innocent babies that have been legally slaughtered in the US since 1973! And yet, we have Christian leaders and ethicists contending that it is allowable for Christians to vote for pro-abortionists. Other, more conservative leaders, have argued that the call for the immediate end of the abortion holocaust is unloving, disingenuous, or impolite. Such leaders, if they refuse to repent, should be ignored and rejected as untrustworthy by those who would be faithful to Jesus Christ and honor His lordship over all the earth.
 Praise God for the prospect of having the evil ruling of Roe v Wade overturned by SCOTUS. But whether or not that happens, God’s people in America should repent of our complacency and complicity in the forty-nine-year holocaust we are living through and call for the immediate end of legalized abortion. We must insist on equal protection under the law for the most vulnerable among us. And we must never forget nor let our reasoning lose sight of the fact that abortion is murder.
 May God have mercy on this nation.

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What I Really Said in the Baptist Press Interview (with audio)

Baptist Press recently released an interview that Jonathan Howe and Brandon Porter conducted with me in my study in Cape Coral, Florida, on April 5. Both they and I recorded the interview. They did so indicating that they would edit out the “ums,” “uhs,” and “wells,” etc. from the transcript in order to make the article flow well without losing the contextually understood meaning of my words.
In the interview that they posted, however, there appears to have been some difficulties in making those edits. In fact, my responses were largely left unedited except for the exclusion of certain things I said. Baptist Press did, thankfully, correct a misattribution of a vile word to me, after I sent a screenshot of the error to Brandon with the correction, “The word is prig.” There are other misquotes throughout the article, but I quickly decided it would be too tedious and time consuming to send the authors all of them.
Despite these editorial issues, feedback I have received indicates that many people seem to have gained some insight into my meaning. For this I am grateful. Others, however, have jumped on the poorly edited section regarding women serving on SBC committees to erroneously conclude that I am against such. I regret that. Though I did answer the question I was asked directly, that does not come out in what was printed. Here is a word-for-word transcript of that exchange:

Tom: I don’t think I would be asking any women to be chairmen of a board…
BP: …but could serve as on the board?
Tom:…board members? Yeah. I mean, yeah. Again there might be a situation I can’t envision…

There was some talking over at that point as Jonathan Howe interrupted me. But to his direct question, “But could [women] serve as [members] on the board?” I answered, “Yeah.” I went on to use the example of women serving in combat, which I believe is contrary to God’s design in distinguishing men from women. My point was that the God-designed distinctions between men and women do not end at the doors of the church. To hear that exact part of the interview, click here. You can listen to the complete exchange in the audio below (found at 00:46:26).
I do not know how the interview arrived in print with the unfortunate editorial issues it contains, but in the interest of openness and transparency, I am making available the full audio below. In it you can hear a more complete and accurate version of the how the questions were phrased as well as my exact answers.

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