Labor Day Weekend


As we head to the beach for the weekend, the Baptist Blogger will be clearing the bases of posts currently in draft as we prepare for another round of archive work next week.  Expect the following:

Saturday, Sept. 1 — “Change and/or Die: Reflections on Lifeway at a Crossroads”
Sunday, Sept. 2 DELAYED: — “Evangelism, women preachers, and the Big Easy”
Monday, Sept 3 — Labor Day: No post, travel day.
Tuesday, Sept. 4 — The Future of the Great Commission Council and the IMB

REVIEW: SWBTS Convocation Day


One week ago today we spent nearly 9 hours on the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Upon our early arrival, we circumambulated the campus proper and made our way to the Naylor Student Center for caffeine and morning victuals.  The campus was quiet. Four cars were parked in front of Pecan Manor.

And then, approximately 30 minutes before chapel began, we entered the MacGorman Center for Performing Arts for the first time. Walking past the baptismal font, we made our way upstairs to find a perch in the balcony, asking a chapel greeter if the balcony was open for seating beforehand.

Having been assured the balcony was available, we sat down on the front row and began watching.  Jeff Bingham came in for a microphone check.  Leo Day was warming up. A handful of students milled about. On the main floor below, armed security guards with flak jackets and riot gear accessories paced the aisles.

Having been told by several sources that Paige Patterson bragged about having snipers on the catwalks, we looked diligently for firsthand verification. Nothing resembling a sniper could be seen.

Side note: A former seminary official has described to me a formal “active shooter plan” that was formulated during the Patterson era following the 2007 attacks at Virginia Tech. Platform personnel and campus security’s first objective, we are told, was to protect the seminary’s president and first lady and remove them to safety.

Throughout the chapel service — including the excellent sermon preached by Interim President Bingham — armed, uniformed guards paced the floor, up and down the stairs, from doorway to doorway.  It seemed a bit excessive, and perhaps a throwback to sundry Pattersonian paranoiae.

And then the lights in the balcony went out.

Alone in the darkened upper gallery, we determined to make our way to the main floor and join the congregation for the chapel service. By the time everthing was going, there were around 750 faculty, students, staff, and guests in the 3,500 seat auditorium.

An admission: The auditorium is really magnificent in person. The acoustics are splendid. The lighting is production quality. The seats are comfortable. The question remains whether Southwestern Seminary needed a 3,500-seat auditorium and 96,000 feet of space to house fake Dead Sea Scrolls and display the Pattersons’ collection of Christmas creches or showcase idolatrous stained glass windows.  But the auditorium itself is first class.

After chapel, we met several students, enjoyed friendly banter with a few professors on the lawn, and then had lunch off-campus with a much-respected Southern Baptist scholar before returning for a series of meetings, both planned and unplanned.

Three additional words of commendation about the seminary community on convocation day:

First, the library assistants are excellent. From the circulation desk to the serials counter to the computer lab, every person we approached for assistance was courteous, efficient, and generally seemed to enjoy the chance to help a researcher in his quest for seldom-accessed materials.  But more about Southwestern’s library in a forthcoming post . . .

Second, the preaching faculty — under the leadership of Dean David Allen — has done a masterful job compiling a dedicated library full of homiletics texts, preaching guides, and sermon preparation references. In what used to be the World Missions Center, there is now a comfortable research area for students of the prophetic craft. The longtime convention parliamentarian and one of the seminary’s preaching professors sat with us for half an hour or more talking about the school, its students, and its future.

We maintain, however, that the School of Preaching should be brought back under the School of Theology, both administratively and pedagogically. Its separate existence is superfluous. Its administrative structure is redundant. Its identity apart from the School of Theology will inevitably result in secondary priority on any number of fronts.

And third, the present anvil upon which the seminary finds itself under painful hammering has served, in part, to strengthen it.  Our visits in the Development Office, the Student Services division, and the Communications Office proved telling. Random though felicitous conversations with senior administration officers across the campus gave us greater confidence that their loyalties — transfixed for so long in a toxic cult of personality — has been liberated. Some of them confessed, quite candidly, that the fear of the Pattersons has given way to fear of the Lord. They feel more free to pursue their calling, speak their hearts and minds, and associate themselves without threats of reprisal from Pecan Manor or the presidential suite.

In the coming days, we will post in greater detail about secondary concerns regarding both academic and development issues at Southwestern Seminary.  For now, we are pleased to report the seminary seems coming to better terms with its new future, its historic mission, and its Baptist identity now that the reign of terror has ended, even if presidential home remains conspicuously occupied by squatters.

(End note: SWBTS trustees should estimate the costs associated with housing the Pattersons in Pecan Manor — including prorated rent at market rate for an equivalent home — and deduct that amount from any severance package offered to the school’s terminated president.)

Let the church roll on . . .


Baptist Press has released an article quoting extensively from an interview with New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary President Chuck Kelley. His controversial sermon from last week’s chapel was widely criticized across the Southern Baptist Convention. In today’s response, Kelley reassures Southern Baptists that his goal was “unity” not an “attack.”

Kelley admits he “might change a thing or two” upon reflection, but he stands by the majority of what he said in the message.

Dr. Kelley may have aimed for unity, but what he got was more confusion, division, anger, and lots of hurt on all sides. The Greek word for sin, hamartia, means “to miss the mark.”

If ever a sermon missed the mark, this is it.

But like Mahalia Jackson sang, “Let the church roll on.” 

To read the whole article on Baptist Press, click here.

One home run and one strike . . .

This is quality stuff that the SWBTS constituency needs to see and hear more of:

This is the sort of thing that makes it hard to take SWBTS seriously:

It reminds us too much of this:

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And this:


And this:

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And this:

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Can you see Al Mohler allowing the media whizkids at Southern Seminary put out something like the new SWBTS slo-mo video? It looks like something that belongs at Centrifuge and not a graduate school for ministry preparation and theological education.

More of this sort of stuff and the stained-glass windows will start to look like a good idea.

Get it together, SWBTS.  There are too many people pulling for you.

It’s almost like Paige Patterson never left campus.

Oh wait . . .

ARCHIVES: Who writes letters like this?

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Today we spent several hours on the 4th floor of the SBC Executive Committee Building in Downtown Nashville, TN. Thereon can be found a tremendous research archive containing valuable primary source material for any person seeking greater understanding about the Southern Baptist Convention. The archive staff is helpful, and the materials are carefully preserved and collated.

The greater portion of our morning research was spent speed-reading through the correspondence files of the President of the Southern Baptist Convention from 1998-2000. In these four linear feet of boxed folders, we found a treasure trove of letters. Some shed new light on events already researched. Others expose new and fruitful areas of inquiry.

Still others leave us scratching our head asking, “Who writes like this?  And what Kingdom purpose does this sort of official communique serve?”

The great bulk of our research is destined to make its way — one way or the other — into a forthcoming monograph. There are, however, items which are not particularly germane to our primary research foci yet nonetheless warrant greater exposure.

Thus, we blog them.

For instance, in the aforementioned file boxes (Call Number AR 554), we discovered a curious letter dated Nov. 2, 1998, from then-pastor of the Aloma Baptist Church in Orlando, FL to then-President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Paige Patterson.

In the final paragraph of that letter, which is self-styled as a “quick note from one of your boys,” the pastor writes:

“It is with joy and expectation that I await June of 2000. Don’t forget that you are scheduled to speak for me on Convention Sunday. Jim Henry was very upset about my nabbing you before he could. He begged me to release you because he said he needed to reach out to you in a spirit of reconciliation. I said, ‘Forget it, Jim. Dr. Patterson told me that you are lacking in certain enclosed anatomical appendages which manufacture mobile chromosomal units.’ He responded, ‘I know he means well, but why does Paige always use those big words?”

On Nov. 27, 1998, Paige Patterson sent a response to the young pastor on official SBC letterhead. That response included the following:

“Yes, I bet Jim Henry is in a real tizzy about not being able to get me for the Convention Sunday in the year 2000. I can just imagine him somewhere ringing his hands now, but it probably is not about not being able to get me. It is probably about the fact that I am coming to town at all.”

Until He comes, indeed.



The Baptist Blogger got in an hour or so of reading between meetings on Southwestern’s campus today.

“In the course of his report to the alumni, Dilday gave his assessment of the financial condition of the institution. He particularly noted a $250,000 revenue decline for the seminary and then pointed out, ‘Donors, reluctant to invest in the seminary during these tense days, are changing their wills, placing revocable clauses in their trusts, shifting donations to non-convention institutions, etc.” One wonders, looking back, if Dilday had any influence on the decline of Southwestern’s donor base.”


“On October 25, 1993, Russell Dilday preached to the Baptist General Convention of Texas a message entitled ‘The Family of Faith.’ In his message, he stated: ‘Let’s give up some of our grandiose schemes and repent of unlovely denominational triumphalism and get back to a plain and simple concentration on missions and evangelism. Let’s get back to basics, saying with Paul, ‘This one thing I do.’  Then our critics will have no ammunition with which to ridicule us except to say, ‘They are one-sided in their desire to win the world to Christ.’”

(All quotes taken from The Baptist Reformation by Jerry Sutton, pg 377.)

SWBTS Reform Part 5: Campus Sprawl


The campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is truly a beautiful place. But as a native, often homesick Texan, the Baptist Blogger is possessed of an innate appreciation for almost every plot of Lone Star soil.

There is a sense, however, of architectural and stylistic dissonance.  There are hints of Greek revival here and there, American neoclassical, Spanish colonial, Brutalist, Georgian, and modern nondescript blobs. There is a “performing arts center” with a minaret tower and lots of brick walkways and a giant goldfish pond and bronze statuary and stone friezes and iron gates and Texas Stars and terra cotta and the list goes on.

Standing in the center of the campus and taking it all in panorama can feel, at times, like the campus Master Plan over the last fifteen years was drawn up by someone with very little sense of style.  Like someone who is accustomed to getting dressed in a darkened closet — a boudoir noir, if you will.

Or like an haphazardly constructed Christmas creche incorporating figures from wildly diverse cultures into a single nativity.  As a whole, the campus architecture is athematic and inconsistent.

It’s like an ill-fitting suit with matching tie and printed silk pocket square. Or a fat foot squeezed into an acrylic slipper. It’s simultaneously intriguing and sad.  Even the signage around campus can seem a little superfluous with notices everywhere alerting visitors to the constant patrol of gun-toting sentinels.

Yes, if aliens or archaeologists were to find Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary three millennia hence, they would almost surely render an Ozymandian verdict: Paige and Dorothy Patterson once lived here. Behold their works, and despair.

But what’s done is done, and the Baptist Blogger in no wise suggests the trustees commence a programme of demolition. Enough of the school has been wrecked already.

But there are some things that need to change forthwith.

For starters, the stained glass windows have to come down. In fact, the very next chapel speaker whose likeness — or near likeness — is found on one of those damned windows should muster the courage to call for their removal immediately. They were a dumb idea manifest in appalling and grotesque art, if you can call them art. Not even the Anabaptists would have tolerated their commissioning.

They simply have to go. Take them down, one-by-one, and use the East Dining Room of Pecan Manor to store them until the presidential home is vacated. Or somewhere else, but get them out.

To be continued . . .

Travel day…


Today we begin a 14-day travel schedule that will take us to the campus of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, The Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville, the trustee meeting at Lifeway Christian Resources, to Southwest Florida for some rest and relaxation (and voting in our home precinct), and then to Wake Forest, NC for more research on our forthcoming monograph.

Tomorrow morning  we will publish the next part of our multi-part series on SWBTS reform, followed in coming days with reflections on the Fort Worth community as it enters a promising post-Patterson era.

We will be posting pictures of as many Steinway pianos, Dead Sea Fakes, and chapel windows as we see along the way.

We are hoping Southwestern’s interim president will scrap the  silly cowboy hat for convocation.

UPDATE: We have just made a quick visit to campus. As of this moment, all of the “prospective student” parking spaces are empty.


UPDATE TWO: We have been informed that SWBTS Provost Craig Blaising notified faculty last week that they were required to wear cowboy hats at convocation. More on this later . . .

ARCHIVES: The Hunt for Liberals

Paige Patterson participated in a film in the late 1990s that explored a number of issues related to the Southern Baptist Convention.  At one point in the film, Patterson expressed the satisfaction he would sense if some professors teaching in SBC seminaries would no longer be associated with the schools.

The video includes a brief interview with former SWBTS President Russell Dilday, and another with the late Dr. William Hendricks.  A former student of Hendricks, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, once credited Hendricks as “awakening” in him a “desire to be a theologian.”

Full disclosure: The Baptist Blogger also participated in the film, and both cringes and laughs at many of the clips that include his formerly fundamentalist 23-year-old self.


SWBTS Interim Prez overhauls chapel

26758111_10155823178635661_474924841098991787_oJeffrey Bingham has been making a series of deliberate, steady moves to prepare the seminary community for what will be a watershed semester. Today, he announced the Fall 2018 chapel schedule, which includes one major shift from the Patterson era that is sure to be welcomed by everyone except the former president’s most intractable loyalists.

(We’ve heard from several campus sources that these men — and at least one woman — are regularly referred to as “Patterphiles” by colleagues.)

Under Bingham, the seminary will now hold chapel services twice a week, down from the three-per-week demands of Paige and Dorothy Patterson.  The overhaul means less money spent on travel and accommodations for out-of-area chapel speakers, in addition to cost-savings that will be realized throughout the seminary community.  It also means fewer opportunities for campus visitors to cringe at the stained-glass windows that the Pattersons commissioned for themselves and their friends.

And of course, fewer fancy luncheons and expensive tea parties at Pecan Manor.  (Which would certainly benefit from a name change. The Nut House is in great need of a new identity in addition to new tenants.)

Honest observers have long known that chapel ceased to be a draw for the seminary. A review of nearly every available chapel video or stock photo reveals row upon row of empty seats, and a completely vacant balcony.  Bingham’s reforms could promise to fill more of those seats as chapel becomes a greater opportunity for campus worship than a platform for criticism of the International Mission Board or other SBC agencies and leaders.

We are also encouraged to see the list of chapel speakers, both those that are slated to speak and those who will not be invited into the pulpit.  There are Calvinists and non-Calvinists, pastors and evangelists, and a healthy dose of professors whose commitment to the seminary was well-established long before the reign of terror.

Only one scheduled chapel speaker is depicted in the pantheon of Patterson’s stained glass superstars.

UPDATE (4:15 PM CT) — We are reliably informed the Interim President Bingham does NOT plan to play dress up for Christmas chapel this year. Neither will there be a Pecan Manor Christmas video produced. We are yet uncertain about what will happen to all the nativity scenes and Spode china.

And this one . . .


ARCHIVES: Stalking the IMB


Paige Patterson was not alone in nearly destroying Southwestern Seminary’s reputation, student enrollment, financial solvency, and faculty morale.  He had helpers and enablers at every step along the way. Some of them have already resigned.  Some have been asked to resign and their classes appear to have been removed from the Fall 2018 course list.

A handful of others probably need to start making their way for the door.

Three years ago next month, Wade Burleson exposed the battle mentality that fueled Patterson’s missiological subterfuge at the International Mission Board. The consistent effort to undermine the leadership of IMB Presidents Jerry Rankin and David Platt was both public and private. At times, Patterson would state his opposition to Rankin and Platt clearly.  At other times, he was content to whisper rumors and raise the specter of “neo-orthodoxy,” an ominous sounding word Patterson frequently divorced from its proper theological context to use as a cudgel when bashing the IMB.

The Baptist Blogger is working on another post — likely to come later this week — that will dig deeper into the extent of Patterson’s manipulations at the mission board and the perverse ecclesiology and anthropology that inspired his actions. While preparing for that post — and a section of the book project we are presently researching — we ran across two relevant documents in our archives.

First, a paper written in 2003 by the current dean of Southwestern Seminary’s School of Evangelism and Missions and one of Patterson’s most prolific pamphleteers entitled “Vision Assessment: The International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.”  It can be read by clicking here.

Second, a response letter from former IMB President Jerry Rankin challenging the assumptions of that paper, exposing its analytical fallacies, and addressing its underhanded dissemination. It can be read by clicking here.

Stay tuned . . .