The Patterson Paradigm: An Open Letter to SBC President Steve Gaines

SWBTS President Paige Patterson displays boredom during a season of prayer at a meeting of the SBC Evangelism Task Force. SWBTS Professor David Allen sorts through papers.

March 15, 2018

Rev. Steve Gaines, President
Southern Baptist Convention
2000 Appling Road
Cordova, TN  38016

Dear Rev. Gaines:

Baptist Press reported on Jan. 17 the theme you have chosen for this year’s annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, which will take place June 12-13 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, TX. “Testify! Go. Stand. Speak” captures succinctly and effectively the heart for evangelism and personal soul-winning you have sought to emphasize during your two terms as convention president. Thank you for your sincere and passionate determination to model authentic Christian witness throughout the convention, its entities and member churches.

As you noted in the announcement of the new theme, “research . . . has shown [that] baptisms are the lowest . . . in 70 years.”[1] Other reports indicate that Southern Baptist churches have lost members for 10 years in a row, and are now on a 9-year trend of fewer baptisms. Indeed, this trend has similarly vexed your predecessors, and it will certainly continue as a concern for those who will succeed you as convention president.

With overwhelming support, the messengers to the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention asked you to appoint a task force to study how Southern Baptists can be more effective in soul-winning and evangelistic preaching. In less than 24 hours from the authorization of this committee – and perhaps without access to pertinent information – you named a 17-member panel and designated a chairman.[2] The task force is charged to bring a report and recommendations to this year’s convention in Dallas.

Of the nine males[3] representing the six Southern Baptist seminaries on the task force, three are among the professors still employed at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. These are: Paige Patterson, seminary president and task force chairman; David Allen, professor of preaching; and Matthew Queen, professor of evangelism.[4] The disproportionate representation of Southwestern administrators and faculty on the committee doubtlessly owes to your ostensible belief that the Fort Worth seminary has placed a heavier emphasis on evangelism that warrants replication throughout the Southern Baptist Convention.

In fact, a heavier emphasis on evangelism is precisely what presently drives the trajectory of Southwestern Seminary, according to the school’s president and the task force chairman you appointed. The most recent convention annual includes a report from the seminary president making this commitment clear:

 “[Southwestern has] lost quite a number of Cooperative Program supported students because we have placed a much heavier emphasis on personal evangelism, and that appears not to be popular these days . . . . Until such time as our future pastors show an interest in evangelism, we are happy to continue making this contribution even though it costs the seminary more.”[5]

I am confident that the priorities and responsibilities of the convention presidency do not include careful reading of the SBC Annual. Indeed, it is unlikely that many messengers know such a document exists at all. Nevertheless, buried in the mandated report is a troubling development. Succinctly, the chairman of the evangelism task force  admits openly that a “heavier emphasis on personal evangelism” leads to a precipitous enrollment decline.[6]

The incongruity of the Patterson paradigm with the clear purposes for which the convention messengers authorized the task force is nakedly apparent. Southern Baptists, aggrieved over declining baptisms and fewer souls reached have empowered you to help them diagnose the causes for this decline and propose recommendations. In response to their desperate cry for help, Southern Baptists may have been witlessly subjected to the strange medicine presently dispensed by the proselytizing apothecaries killing off the student population at your alma mater.

Or put another way, if dogs were dying in Southern Baptist churches, why would you ask a veterinarian with a track record of killing dogs to help identify and administer the antidote? In any other world, this would be malpractice.

I have monitored developments related to the task force carefully, and I have personally visited the campus of Southwestern Seminary in recent days to witness myself the effect that that Patterson paradigm has had on the institution, its faculty, staff, and student body. This experience has intensified rather than diminished my concern.

If you desire to propagate the Patterson paradigm throughout the entities and churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, then the convention deserves to know how this model has affected the Fort Worth school. With that in mind, I hope many faithful Southern Baptists will go, stand, and speak to this matter at the convention in Dallas.

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 11.11.32 AM
Benjamin S. Cole

CC: Members of the SBC Evangelism Task Force

[1] See “SBC 2018 Dallas Theme,” accessed online at

[2] See “Personal soul-winning, evangelism task force name,” accessed online at

[3] In fact, there were no females named to the task force.

[4] Ibid, at 2 above.

[5] See Southwestern Seminary report to the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention, accessed online at

[6] In fact, Southwestern enrollment is at its lowest point in more than four decades. See also: