Austin the Baptist


Austin Ashcraft and his godson, Finnian Leonidas Swope

Austin Ashcraft is a dear friend, and will no doubt be unconformable with this laudatory post. Too bad, Austin.

Austin teaches theology, philosophy and coaches football at St. Paul’s all boys high school in Covington, Louisiana and is a vibrant example of what pedagogy looks like when it is overcome by these words of St. John Paul II (they also serve as his email tagline): “Man cannot find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” Austin sees relational ministry, which is all about evoking and provoking the gift of self, as the soul of authentic education. Only in the context of trust and love is a teacher capable of touching both the mind and the heart of a student. My own children, who love Austin, call him “Austin the Baptist” because of his off-beat, super-engaging style and off-balance joy. To me, his style embodies Pope Francis’ approach to the New Evangelization: young energy, heart for the poor and outcast, faith and reason in tandem, culturally savvy, lover of Jesus, funny and fun, light and deep, rooted in prayer, aware of his sinfulness but far more aware of mercy.

Austin gave a talk to high school teachers recently that I recorded. In it he speaks about how to engage high school youth with the Gospel of Jesus in a way that respects their freedom, but also challenges them to encounter the living Truth that frees. It was called “The Adventure of Truth: Redefining Freedom in Theological Education.” It’s about 30 minutes long. If you have teenage kids, will have them soon or teach teens, this will give you some good insights.

Excuse my annoying loud laughter and the sounds of my note taking during the recording. Listen here if you’re interested:

5 comments on “Austin the Baptist

  1. Mary S. from Iowa says:

    Wow! What an incredible talk! Thank you so much for sharing his wisdom & grace with us.

    • My pleasure! I can’t keep secrets, and I don’t want him to be one. 🙂

      • Mary S. from Iowa says:

        My daughters and daughter-in-laws are teachers. Since my oldest became a teacher I learned a whole new appreciation for teachers. I had no idea how much teachers give of themselves to our children! Their love, their time, their money (which they don’t have much of)… What an incredible dedication! I am sharing Austin’s talk with them.
        Tom, you touch many hearts with your blog. Especially mine! Thank you!

  2. Zepherin Swope says:

    Dr. Neal, Zeph Swope here, father of Finn! Elated to see this picture and had to give you a shout out! I haven’t gotten a chance to listen to the talk yet, but I’m looking forward to it. Thank you for writing, it’s been a joy keeping up with your posts. I have to make an anology to the incredible “duraflame log”. For me, your posts are routinely fuel for the spirit. Reading them immediately draws me in on an intellectual level (ignites the fire), and then some line or concept continues to crackle and burn in me throughout the day, while the intellectual idea sinks down into the heart. It’s just good, wholesome food for the soul, and I’m grateful to have access to it.


    • Zeph: I can see such resonances between you and Austin in these few words! Thank you for your words and, more, for being that in this world! God bless your family and I hope one day to meet you. Oh and thank you also for having such awesome names. Pax, Dr. Neal

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