SWBTS Reform: Part 4(b)


If Southwestern Seminary’s current trustees were required to give an account of the seminary’s health during the Patterson years (2003-2018) — apart from the horrific treatment of rape victims, the intentional nepiocracy in which senior administrative positions were awarded to both the immature and the inadequate, and the egregious suspension of faculty retirement and health benefits — it is likely that two categories of failure would stand out.

Mission creep and campus sprawl.

In this second part of our multi-part series, we will examine the problem of mission creep at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

In 1925, control of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary transferred from the Baptist General Convention of Texas to the Southern Baptist Convention. The two-year effort required amendments to the governing documents of the seminary and both conventions, as well as an amendment to the Texas constitution to allow for an out-of-state corporation (the SBC) to control a Texas-based corporation (SWBTS).

The new seminary charter stated clearly: “The purpose of said corporation is hereby declared to be mainly for the promotion of theological education, but to include the instruction of Women’s Training School for the special Christian service, and such other instruction as is needful to equip preachers and other Christian workers for their life work.” (See page 59, here)

At the seminary’s February trustee meeting that year, L.R. Scarborough was re-elected president of the seminary “for an indefinite period, subject, of course, to the usual conditions of good behavior and successful administration of this Convention’s trust.” (See page 61, here)

The new SWBTS trustees then reported to the convention:

“We are thus delighted to report to the Convention the successful consummation of this matter by which this Convention comes into possession and control of this great school of the prophets, with a strong, scholarly, evangelistic faculty of 40 fine teachers; a student body of around 600; a plant with buildings, lands, equipment and endowment easily worth two million dollars, with an indebtedness of only around $170,000.00. The institution is a splendid, efficient organization, a great student body, a wonderful morale and spirit, a large constituency, enthroned in the hearts of a great people, with a beautiful spirit of love and co-operation for all the other institutions in co-operation with this Convention and the conventions of the States of the south. We regard this institution as one of the greatest assets of Southern Baptists. We trust that this Convention will properly appreciate, evaluate, support, and co-operate with this great institution in helping to fulfill the purposes of its great founder and its many loyal supporters, who in its early years have sacrificed for its establishment. If properly supported this institution can be of great value in the promotion of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (See Page 62, here)

That year, the seminary was organized into four schools: Theology, Religious Education, Gospel Music, and Missionary Training. The School of Theology was, according to the trustee report, “the great central organization and unit; and around this school the other schools are organized and administered.”  Its purpose was “to train in profound scholarship and practical efficiency the gospel ministry; and in the three other schools the purpose is to train partners and helpers of the ministry in all the varied activities of the work of the churches and the kingdom of God.” (Ibid.)

There was also an Extension program with a student body of 960 doing correspondence work. The enrollment in 1925 was 597, and there were 105 graduates from all departments the same year.

Southwestern’s first full report to the Southern Baptist Convention as its newly-chartered entity also included the following details about the practical work of the faculty and students during the preceding eleven months: 610 revival meetings; 15,783 sermons preached; 7,068 Sunday School classes taught; 23,110 visits; 9,012 professions of faith; 8,317 baptism; and 101,268 tracts distributed.

(In recent days, Southwestern Seminary has issued press releases about two professors who have shared the gospel with a beer-drinking Lyft driver and a copy repairman. Strangely, the article about the Lyft driver is post-dated Aug. 10, 2018 on the SWBTS website, three days after it appeared online.)

The capital needs at the Fort Worth campus were immense, on top of the operation costs and debt service payments that were required.  The seminary needed to grow the endowment, construct an administration building, gymnasium, and a building for the School of Religious Education. The trustees stated these needs clearly, and then did the unthinkable:

“We are willing to postpone a request for building funds and endowment for another year in order that our Southern Seminary may get sufficient funds for completion of its present demands in its building program.” (Page 63, here.)

The Fort Worth school’s share of the convention’s distribution was 4 1/2 percent, an amount that would provide “the barest sort of living.”  But the trustees only request: “that we be allowed to live, meet our running expenses, and pay interest on our indebtedness until our Southern Seminary can get its building program on towards successful completion.”

We rehearse the details for several reasons:

  • To demonstrate how SWBTS at its founding had 40 faculty members serving 600 students on campus and 900 students by correspondence.
  • To demonstrate how the original charter of SWBTS made clear the priority of theological education to train preachers through the School of Theology, but also allowed for the seminary to train other Christian workers.
  • To highlight that while the seminary originally had four schools (theology, music, religious education, missions), the three latter schools were organized and administered around the School of Theology.
  • To highlight the kingdom mentality of the seminary administration and trustees who did not want to do anything that would distract from Southern Seminary’s own building campaign despite critical needs in Fort Worth. (Already SWBTS had more students than Southern).
  • To highlight that the transfer of Southwestern Seminary from the BGCT to the SBC was done cooperatively, deferentially, and efficiently as the state and the national conventions worked together to amend their respective charters, facilitate legislative action, and finalize a ministry agreement.

Now for one indictment:

There is no credible or convincing way to exegete the seminary’s original charter — or any subsequently amended charter for that matter — to allow for Southwestern Seminary’s homemaking program. The Baptist Blogger raised these concerns years ago, to no avail. In fact, we were there when the trustees originally authorized this silly little idea.

A degree concentration was built around homemaking.  Professors of home economics were recruited and hired. An entire building on campus was dedicated to homemaking.

The rationale, you ask?  According to Paige Patterson: “If we do not do something to salvage the future of the home, both our denomination and our nation will be destroyed.”

And herein lies Patterson’s primary pedagogical fallacy. As a syllogism, it goes something like this: (1) The world is, well . . . the world; (2) the church is, well . . . a family of families; (3) the world does not like the church; so (4) the world attacks the family; (5) the church must be saved from these attacks; and since (5) the seminary is the place that models the church; (7) the seminary bears the burden of modeling the family; which means that (8) the seminary needs to have courses that help the family; and (9) among these courses must be a program of homemaking.

Or to put it more succinctly: If the world is against it, then the seminary must create a degree concentration to support it.

We’ll leave aside — for the moment — questions of whether the Pattersons’ views on the family, or their particular expression of family life, is worthy of replication throughout Southern Baptist churches. We’ll also leave aside the fact that the seminary has NEVER reported to the convention messengers (and likely not the trustees) the number of students who have successfully completed the program.

Nor will we address at the present time that a professor who occupies the Dorothy Patterson Chair of Women’s Studies is both unmarried and childless.

The resources that Southwestern Seminary spent to begin, underwrite, and prop-up this failed idea are inestimable, especially given the fact that no full accounting of the Pattersons’ spending has been made public during the entire duration of their stewardship of the school.

And it’s not just the homemaking program.  There’s the Master of Arts in Archaeology (to help identify and authenticate more Dead Sea Scrolls, no doubt), there’s all the Islamic Studies programs; redundant M.Div. degrees, and so many church music degrees it is hard to count.  In fact, just last week Southwestern announced yet another church music degree, a Bachelors in Music Composition.

The proliferation of degrees while the core M.Div. enrollment declined precipitously was a way for Patterson to keep his Potemkin Village going.  By announcing a new crop of degrees every season, it appeared that the seminary was growing. In reality, things were getting so bad that the seminary resorted to issuing press releases about “historic enrollment” this past Spring.

So what was this “historic enrollment” number?

Three hundred and forty three.

In Ken Hemphill’s last full year as president, SWBTS reported 927 new students.

The year Russell Dilday was fired, there were 1,045 new students.

When Robert Naylor retired, there were more than 1,300 new students.

Readers will get the point.  While the trustees were supporting every Patterson scheme to inflate the number of degrees the school offered — and multiply the number of schools and degree concentrations far afield from the seminary’s original charter — enrollment was plummeting.

But the seminary press office was touting “historic enrollment” to the very end.

Which is something like the coroner’s office passing out pink and blue candy cigars at the county courthouse.

If Southwestern Seminary is to thrive again, it will require a realignment of the school’s trajectory with the charter first presented to the Southern Baptist Convention in 1925.  The School of Theology must become again the central organizing force on campus. The ill-advised, separate School of Preaching must be structurally abolished and brought back into the School of Theology.  The School of Church Music needs to rethink the need for a concentration in jazz music, and Dean of the School of Missions and Evangelism should be demoted to “associate dean” under the supervision of the Dean of the School of Theology.

And that’s just a beginning.

Reforming Southwestern Seminary will take a full-throttled evaluation of every degree concentration and every program of study to determine proper priorities, funding requirements, effectiveness and outcomes. What is the purpose of a seminary degree in archaeology, for instance?  How many students are pursuing it? How many professors are required to offer the concentration competitively? What resources are required to promote and recruit for the program? And what are graduates with Southwestern’s archaeology degree doing 5 years after graduation? Ten years?

Simply put, Southwestern needs to do to its entire academic construct what Al Mohler led Southern to do more than 20 years ago: re-evaluate whether the schools and course offerings are consistent with the seminary’s primary mission, and shut them down if not.

These kinds of hard questions have not been asked at Southwestern in a very long time. The only justification for much that has happened over the last 15 years has been: “What do the Pattersons want?”

And whatever the Pattersons wanted, the Pattersons got. Right up to the very end.

It’s time for Southwestern to become a school of prophets again.

And not a cult of personality.

It’s unlikely the men and women who helped it become a cult of personality will be helpful in returning the seminary to its truly historic, and proper mission mandate.

Stay tuned . . .

SWBTS Reform: Part Four(a)


First, an apology.

The Baptist Blogger has been slow to publish this new blogpost on seminary reform in Fort Worth, in part because our professional commitments have been extraordinarily time-consuming for a summer in the District of Columbia. Between that and a move and a few weeks of much-anticipated beachfront relaxation on the Eastern Shore and Long Island, we have not been as consumed with Baptist happenings as we were leading up to the 2018 annual meeting and the long-overdue ouster of Southwestern’s president.

(Excursus: Our sources inform us that the Doctors Patterson remain on campus, and a quickly-scheduled yard sale/giveaway of Pecan Manor’s effects was quickly un-scheduled by seminary personnel in recent days. We also understand that a suitable North Texas residence has been secured for the erstwhile First Couple, which is no small accomplishment given the housing demands of the former First Lady Emerita. More about that later.) 

There is, however, another reason we have tarried.

The Interim President of Southwestern Seminary deserves the chance to make decisions and implement sweeping changes — or at the very least, freeze changes already underway — as the school prepares for what will surely be a difficult 2018-19 academic year. A presidential search committee still has not been named, all necessary faculty reassignments and resignations have not been made public, and the school still faces significant funding shortfalls and enrollment declines.

These are not small problems. Reforming Southwestern will be something like asbestos abatement in an historic building, but worse because there are structural deficiencies and numerous “improvements” that have been made in the last 15 years by unlicensed contractors.

Paige and Dorothy Patterson spent years making the seminary community in their own garish and corpulent image. On their watch the school built a bloated faculty, an empty chapel, and plenty of stained glass windows.

That effort nearly brought the school to ruin, aided and abetted by complicit trustees who either didn’t ask the tough questions, didn’t know to ask them, or believed that securing the Pattersons’ legacy was more important than preserving the seminary’s reputation and the convention’s assets.

The work of restoration always takes longer than the work of destruction, and so it will be for Southwestern Seminary.  Any fool — or pair of fools — can bulldoze a building. But not everyone can bring an edifice up again.

Or put another way: the mob took only a few short hours to kill Jesus.

But it took days to resurrect him, and then only after he’d descended into hell.

Southwestern Seminary will not come back in a fortnight, if she ever comes back at all. But the last thing Jeff Bingham needs is outside pressure to do this or that — to change this or that — when Pecan Manor has become a transitional care unit and too many inmates are still running the asylum.

Stay tuned . . . tonight (yes tonight) we will post Part Four(b).