The ExComm conundrum and Baptist Botox®️


The task before the search committee charged with finding a new president for the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention must be one of the more unenviable responsibilities in modern denominational life. Amid a terribly consequential and defining moment in the last decade or more, these men and one woman are attempting the near impossible: to find a candidate whose character is unassailable, whose management style is both principled and peaceable, and whose understanding of and appreciation for the historic framework of cooperation among Southern Baptists is self-evident.

The committee — chaired by Texas pastor Steve Swofford — was assembled under the guidance of our former professor and the pastor of Florida’s Bell Shoals Baptist Church, Stephen Rummage, who also serves on the committee. Joe Knott, an attorney from North Carolina who once ran for State Attorney General and publicly opposed the SWBTS Executive Committee’s decision to terminate Paige Patterson, serves too, as does Carol Yarber, the wife of retired Texas pastor Ronnie Yarber. Two African-American ministers — EC Vice Chairman Rolland Slade and Illinois pastor Adron Robinson — round out the committee, along with the current EC Chairman, Mike Stone. Yes, that Mike Stone. 

The committee began receiving nominations on May 2.  Among those nominated were: Georgia pastor and the capable trustee chairman both of New Orleans Seminary and that school’s presidential search committee, Frank Cox; Arkansas pastor and president of the National Day of Prayer, Ronnie Floyd; and the Executive Director of the Florida Baptist State Convention, Tommy Green. All three men are in their seventh decade of life. Among those nominees, only Pastor Floyd is depicted in one of Southwestern Seminary’s stained glass windows.

There were other nominees, including Kevin Smith of the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network, though it is unclear whether the committee gave him serious consideration. Some Southern Baptists hoped Rummage might emerge as a leading contender, but that is also uncertain. Sing Oldham was regarded by many as a viable candidate; so too was current Midwestern Seminary President Jason Allen. Still others suggested to us that the current chairman of the SBC Committee on Order of Business, Adam Greenway, might have an outside shot.

If Baptists were the betting sort — which they are not — the odds are good that Ronnie Floyd will emerge as the search committee’s choice. He’s a former convention president, and he proved himself a fair and steady-handed moderator of the convention’s annual sessions — particularly during the 2016 debate on the Confederate Flag. Despite his church’s paltry contributions to the Cooperative Program going into the 2006 Greensboro convention, he had increased that giving to more than $700,000 annually in 2014 when he received 51.62 percent of the vote and became president.

Decades before, Floyd was a member of the Executive Committee search team that recommended Dr. Morris H. Chapman as president, and he later served as ExComm chairman after squeaking through a race against Virginia layman T.C. Pinkney thanks to efforts by Atlanta-area pastor James Merritt, who helped secure Floyd the vote in a late-night, last-minute push that would make Lyndon Johnson proud. Floyd later served ex-officio on the task force that recommended an overhaul of the convention structure.

Perhaps most representative of Floyd’s leadership in Southern Baptist life was his chairmanship of the 23-member Great Commission Resurgence Task Force, which passed by a 3-1 margin in 2010 and established “Great Commission Giving” as a metric of convention support alongside the Cooperative Program.

According to research by Louisiana Baptist Message editor Will Hall, a half decade after Floyd’s task force had disbanded, the convention’s reported baptisms in the United States had dropped by more than 25,000 and overseas baptisms had declined by nearly 170,000. Simultaneously, Great Commission Giving declined by $58 million and Cooperative Program giving was down more than $5 million. The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, however, ticked slightly upward.

Baptism-to-attendance ratios for new church plants held steady, though the rate of church plants did not keep pace with population growth in the United States. Funding for the Executive Committee — which Floyd could end up leading in a strange twist of irony — was slashed by $2 million as allocation for the International Mission Board increased. According to Hall, “No other national entity [had] contributed any portion of their respective CP allocation to the IMB.”

Hall concludes: “Unfortunately, despite the broad scope of recommendations by the Great Commission Task Force, as yet, these reforms have not turned around the negative trends . . . ”

Or put another way, if the 25 year-regimen of experimental medicine your doctor prescribed on three separate occasions not only failed to cure the disease, but actually intensified the severity of your symptoms, a sensible patient would seem to have at least three options: trust her doctor anyway and keep taking the medicine despite its adverse effects (something about the definition of insanity comes to mind); keep her doctor but look for a more proven remedy; or get a new doctor altogether.

Southern Baptists are notoriously stubborn about changing doctors.

Which brings us to Botox.

A few years ago we decided to try for the first time a series of subcutaneous injections of the bacterial toxin. The results were impressive. Forehead lines were softened and the harsh pinch of a congenitally furrowed brow was alleviated. We looked better, and we waited to see how long the results would last.

The first go-around, it lasted nearly 10 months.  So we went back for more.  The second time, the wrinkles and lines began to appear again within six to seven months. And the last time we had Botox treatments, the period of noticeable effect was further reduced. In the end, we’ve spent more than $1,200 and we aren’t one day younger. The outer man, it seems, is perishing despite our best efforts.

Like the Southern Baptist Convention and many of its churches, we are getting older every day. Our vision, less clear and our abilities to attempt a mid-life course correction more feeble. Which prompts a question.

Why keep spending our hard-earned money for deftly-marketed cosmetic improvements whose proven life cycle yields diminished returns with each new application?

Or to be blunt: a quarter century ago, Pastor Floyd was calling for a “fresh commitment” in the Southern Baptist Convention that would “depart” from the past and develop a “strategy for the future.” Soon thereafter, he was helping to lead a task force that changed the convention structure in an effort to prepare “the SBC to enter the 21st century better equipped and positioned than ever to take the gospel to the world.”

Baptisms went down. You might call it Bold Mission Bust.

And then in 2010, Floyd was at the helm of the Great Commission Task Force, whose recommendations the convention was told were necessary to “penetrate the lostness,” “make a real difference,” and “represent the beginning of a new spirit of Great Commission commitment and prioritization.”

The three reported frontrunners have had plenty of opportunity to lead, and lead they have on numerous fronts. But before Southern Baptists are asked to attempt a re-tread, the committee is well-advised to exercise great caution and more thorough examination than has been conducted in the history of the SBC.

Truth be told, we are not opposed to any single candidate’s potential election to lead the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. In our more cynical moments, we have great sympathy for any man whose ministerial trajectory could make him into more of a denominational pathologist than an ecclesiastic obstetrician. But whomever gets the nod in Nashville, the Southern Baptist Convention desperately needs him to succeed.

To that end we make two final observations and one promise:

First, no man should be elected to the helm of a $200 million-a-year organization with more than 15 million members serving nearly 48,000 churches without answering publicly questions about his extensive record. If Floyd or Cox or Green or any other man emerges as the search committee’s choice, he will need the unfailing support not only of the Executive Committee members but of his fellow SBC entity presidents and of the state convention leaders with whom he will work across the country.  That support can only occur — and should, in fact, be withheld in the absence of — a thoroughgoing and transparent self-assessment of past leadership opportunities, failures, and successes. Ronnie Floyd has never received more than 52 percent of the vote when he stood for contested election before the convention messengers. The next president of the Executive Committee will need more than that.

Second, if the ExComm search committee has done their due diligence, they will be scrupulously prepared for the many questions that will arise about any candidate they choose. Not only should they have demanded extensive medical records, financial records, tax returns, and background checks on the candidate, they better have made every effort to ensure that candidate’s public statements, publicly-available correspondence, Twitter posts, Instagram photos, YouTube videos, blogs, and every other shred of Google-able data has been tracked down, explained where possible, and retracted where necessary. The convention cannot abide another instance of “break her down” emails or “man is she built” sermons or comments about “mild, non-injurious spousal abuse” lurking in the shadows.

And finally, a promise: This is the last we will publish our thoughts on the present search for a president of the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention. In the end, we are cautious yet hopeful.  Though we are reminded of what Margaret Thatcher once said during a joint session of the United States Congress:

“Hope is such a precious commodity in the world today, but some attempt to buy it at too high a price.”

Dear Mr. President


November 28, 2018

Dr. J.D. Greear, Pastor
The Summit Church
2335 Presidential Drive
Durham, NC  27703

Dear Mr. President:

Congratulations on being elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention! Since I have been in the ministry, I have never felt more positive about the election of a President and what he will be able to do in our denomination than I do today. Your encouraging words to the Executive Committee were unique and a pleasant change from what has been the norm. Continue to provide that kind of leadership, and I believe we can win over any middeline Southern Baptists who believe in the Book.

While everyone else is telling you what they wish you would be able to do, I only have one suggestion. I believe it is critical in the next four or five months for you as President to call together fifteen to twenty-five of the leading conservatives of our convention for a meeting. I feel the purpose of that meeting needs to be to make a fresh commitment of departing from the past and a fresh commitment in planning a strategy for the future. It is obvious that we got ourselves into trouble in the past year by not having a specific strategy to follow. I encourage you strongly in this area because I believe it is so greatly needed.

Being President of the Southern Baptist Convention is one of the secondary things that you do. As the Pastor of one of the greatest churches in America, please know that this is where I have the deepest respect for you. Your visionary leadership continues to motivate me as much as any other person in my life toward building the church for the glory of God.

Thank you for your friendship. I promise to pray for you and your wife every day. God bless you. I look forward to seeing you again.


The Baptist Blogger

P.S. We are not known for plagiarism, but we confess our near absolute dependence on another prolific letter writer for the tone, focus, content, and wording of this unsolicited letter. Our research efforts found the original correspondence in the Presidential Papers of H. Edwin Young, located in the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville, TN. To view the original letter, click here.

Dear Cardinal McCarrick

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The Archdiocese of Washington D.C. has had a difficult year. A senior official was arrested for defrauding the church of tens of thousands of dollars. The Cardinal Archbishop, Donald Wuerl, was forced into retirement following a Pennsylvania grand jury report that raised concerns about his handling of decades-old abuse cases.  And Wuerl’s predecessor, the charismatic and media-savvy Theodore McCarrick, was ejected from his palatial retirement home in Northwest D.C., stripped of his titles and clerical garb, and sent to live the remainder of his days in “penance and prayer” at a small Franciscan friary 250 miles west of Kansas City.

For years, there were growing concerns about McCarrick’s predatory behavior. One of our closest friends returned from making confession to Cardinal McCarrick several years ago with a horrifying tale of the priest’s prurient inquiries. The concerns many developed over the years were consistently reinforced as stunning details emerged about the immensely popular bishop’s sleeping arrangements at his vacation home on the Jersey Shore, among other scandals. When the dam broke, some said aloud what had long been spoken only in hushed corners of the Vatican: McCarrick was a corrupt priest. Not only had he actively concealed clergy sexual abuse, but he was himself a serial abuser.

The narrative was an about-face from the public image McCarrick had successfully curated in the earliest day of the abuse scandal. Back in 2002, Cardinal McCarrick was right at the forefront of the Conference of Catholic Bishop’s response plan. His popularity and ambition, coupled with his reputation as one of the church’s most aggressive fundraisers, ensured he would play a significant role in developing the so-called Dallas Charter that adopted a “zero-tolerance” policy for abusive priests.

But as it turned out, the policy had no teeth. In fact, the Conference of Catholic Bishops exempted themselves from its enforcement.  Now we know why.

Earlier this summer while researching at the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives in Nashville, news of McCarrick’s downfall was making the headlines. Perhaps that is why one letter, among many others that we continue to examine, caught our attention.

In the presidential papers of Atlanta-area pastor James Merritt, we found a carbon-copy of a May 24, 2002, letter from a prominent Arkansas pastor to Theodore McCarrick. The letter struck us as strange — if not grandiose — given that its author was neither an elected leader of the Southern Baptist Convention nor the president of one of its entities.

Curiously, the letter praises McCarrick for his “leadership on bringing final resolve to the Catholic Church and the issues it has been facing for a few months.”  It then directs McCarrick’s attention to the 1985 Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas, mentions W.A. Criswell, and commends to the D.C. prelate the legendary Texas expositor’s sermon from the annual pastor’s conference that same year.

We are still scratching our head over this one. Perhaps our readers can help us. Comments are welcome.

Postscript:  In June 2002, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution concerning the Catholic abuse scandal.  That resolution states, in part, the convention’s commitment to “to discipline those guilty of any sexual abuse in obedience to Matthew 18:6-17 as well as to cooperate with civil authorities in the prosecution of those cases.”

2018 Turkey of the Year


The Baptist Blogger is proud to inaugurate the first annual Turkey of the Year (Toty, rhymes with Dottie) Award to the Southern Baptist who has most exemplified the leadership failures that threaten the Southern Baptist Convention’s future.  This year, there were many worthy candidates.  So before we announce the winner, it’s probably best to give an honorable mention to those would-be leaders who have qualified for the 2018 Toty Award.

First, we could have recognized the singular contribution of Pastor Brad Jurkovich, our former seminary classmate and the Louisiana pastor who nominated Ken Hemphill for convention president this year.  Ordinarly, it’s not such a big deal to nominate a losing candidate.  Johnny Hunt did it in 2006 and went on to the convention presidency a few years later.  But this year, Jurkovich was particularly noteworthy.  Having hosted both J.D. Greear and Ken Hemphill for a seemingly unbiased interview, Jurkovich went on to nominate Hemphill at the 2018 annual meeting.  The nomination speech, stilted and polyster as it was in delivery, was as responsible for the election of J.D. Greear as anything. It sent fence-sitters to Greear in droves, resulting in an equally unpredictable and convincing mandate from the convention messengers. But we like Jurkovich, so we are hesitant to call him a turkey.

We could also have awarded the 2018 Toty to Georgia Pastor Johnny Hunt. Having gone through hundreds of pages of Hunt’s electronic correspondence in the SBC Historical Archives, we were mighty tempted to designate him the inaugural Toty recipient. And any man who posts these sorts of photos on his Instagram account is worthy of honorable turkey mention. His endless tweets in support of a former SWBTS president might also bump his chances, but we declined to name Hunt as the 2018 Toty Award winner.

Steve Swofford, the chairman of the SBC Executive Committee presidential search team also deserved consideration. The fact that the search committee has narrowed their list down to a handful of usual suspects — without any meaningful consideration of outlier candidates — might earn Swofford a Toty Award.  But there’s always 2019, and he’s certainly in the running for convention turkey depending on who ends up the final candidate for the ExComm post.

We also considered recognizing the modern day Marcionite, Atlanta-area pastor Andy Stanley. Failure to recognize the similarity between one’s hermeneutical framework and that of an early church heretic is certainly worthy of a turkey nod. But Stanley isn’t really Southern Baptist anymore, and hasn’t been for a long time.  So he gets no Toty.

Gary Loveless, the former SWBTS trustee who not only threatened to pull his financial support over the Patterson firing, but who also named a urinal on campus in his son’s honor, deserved consideration. And that doesn’t take into account his patronage of Patterson papyri. But a Toty Award demands something other than idiosyncratic denominational affinities and slightly more money than brains.

We also considered naming Dick Land our inaugural recipient, because we just love reinforcing our nickname for the Princetonian ethicist. And we considered both of the Turkish Caner brothers. And we also considered our favorite TEXAN hack, Tammi Ledbetter, alongside the Most Reverend Thomas Hatley, the ever-easy target of an IMB trustee chairman and defender of all things Patterson.

But those were all too easy.

So without further ado, The Baptist Blogger proudly announces our 2018 Turkey of the Year:

Kansas City attorney and former chairman of the SBC Committee on Nominations, James Freeman.

For having allowed his committee to completely miss the moment and preferring instead to recycle old white guys to the trusteeships of every SBC entity, and for having spent considerable time explaining why the committee’s record of African-American, Hispanic, and Asian-American nominees was a couple percentage points higher than a recent Pew Charitable Trust report — and for having made your entire committee look stupid in front of the 2018 Annual Meeting for attempting to force out an ERLC trustee who doesn’t drink the water from FOX News — we award you, Mr. Freeman, our inaugural Turkey of the Year. And because he has a turkey neck.

Gobble. Gobble.

PREVIEW: Turkey of the Year Award


The Baptist Blogger will announce the inaugural “Turkey of the Year” (Toty) award later tonight. The year 2018 will likely go down as one of the greater turning points in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention, and it’s been a chore to keep track of the bird-brained personalities, events, and ideas that have been offered on blogs, on the convention floor, and in trustee meetings. Nobody ever said turkey hunting was easy; nevertheless, we persisted.

Finding the most deserving honoree for the inaugural Toty (rhymes with Dottie) has proven difficult indeed. But we’ve examined the year’s events, polled our editor, and determined to announce on Thanksgiving Eve the 2018 Toty winner and two runners up.

Stay tuned . . .

Tongues tied


In recent days, we’ve visited with several former IMB trustees who supported the now-repealed policies on tongues and baptism. In those wide-ranging conversations, we’ve asked why they sensed the policies were needed in the first place. A few, oft-repeated answers came back:

“The IMB needed to prevent ‘spiritual elitism’ among missionary candidates, because the practice of ‘private prayer languages’ is an issue of “spiritual pride” for the persons claiming to speak in them.”

Another rationale: “There are real threats of charismatic-creep in the developing world and the SBC needs to hold the line against charismatic theology in the harvest fields.”

And this one: “SBC-supported church plants must be “Baptist” and not just “baptistic,” a distinction that falls apart with the gentlest of scrutiny.

A few of our interlocutors admitted that the policies would likely never have been enacted without the backchannel meddlings of Paige Patterson and his chief anti-Rankin polemicist.

But for us, the policies were never an issue of theological or spiritual concern. In fact, you could pile every “private prayer language” advocate in the SBC into a single minivan, run it off the cliff, and you’d still have a problem with spiritual pride in the convention. What concerned us more was the ongoing effort — spearheaded out of Wake Forest, NC and then Fort Worth, TX — to continually redraw the boundaries of the SBC’s confessional identity to implement an eccentric, pseudo-Anabaptist framework for cooperation and missions.

And history informs us, interesting enough, that the only way to get rid of Anabaptist radicalism requires the swift use of a short sword and about a half dozen steeple cages. But we digress.

There were numerous reasons the policies were wrong-headed then and now.

For starters, it is arguable that the most intimate vocalization a man or woman ever expresses occurs in the privacy of his or her private prayer life. There, in a believer priest’s prayer closet, can be found the Holy of Holies, the place where a sinner meets the Savior face-to-face. In fact, more intimate, sacred, and unsearchably private than the marriage bed is that place where a Christian enters into spiritual communion with the Triune God.

Put another way:  The IMB has every right to examine the stability, health, and experience of a couple’s marriage vows, just as it does their prayer life. It is completely proper to ask the couple — together and separately — how they speak to one another, serve one another, treat one another, etc. It is even appropriate to ask general questions about the frequency of the most intimate aspects of their sexual expression. But what is NOT acceptable is to suppose that the mission board, its trustees, or its leadership may examine the sounds a couple makes when engaged in private acts of marital passion. Or that certain ecstatic utterances are prohibited.

Asking a man or woman to describe the vocalizations of human sexual experience is both prurient and deviant. Even more appalling is the intrusive nature of asking a man or woman to explain every sound made, utterance vocalized, or breath taken in the context of a private prayer life. It is not only invasive, it is perverse. The height of arrogance in Southern Baptist missions is more likely to be found in a trustee who assumes he is competent to examine such matters than in the heart of a missionary candidate whose private prayer life has — at any point — involved ecstatic speech.

Even more than our concerns about the presumptuous arrogance of the policies’ chief advocates is the tremendous foolishness the board leaders demonstrated in their determination to impose such policies.  Was it worth — in the end — the disruption, disunity, and conflict that emerged in the wake of the policies? Was it worth arresting the attention and distracting the focus of 5,000 career missionaries or sending the SBC annual meeting into ongoing turmoil to satisfy only a handful of never-satisfied denominationalists whose diminishing circle of influence ended at Southwestern Seminary this past summer?


So that is why the policies were contemptible to begin with. It’s why they had to be opposed and repealed. And it’s why they have to be continually opposed lest any similar policy threaten to ignite the torches again.

Any man or woman who supported those policies — and who has not publicly acknowledged their error in judgment — deserves the opportunity to demonstrate a commitment never to walk down that path again. We all learn from our mistakes. We all grow, or at least we have the opportunity to grow.

But we also realize that the fundamentalist, narrowing impulse that drove Southwestern to the brink is not eradicated. There remain entrenched proponents of hare-brained missiological eccentricities, and because fighting is all these men have ever known or want to know, they must be fought until the last of them — in God’s good time — no longer has access to convention resources to pursue idiosyncratic, un-Baptist agendas for the SBC and its mission board.

Scorching the earth


In the winter of 1996, we found ourselves making a little more than minimum wage as one of a handful of student workers responsible for collecting garbage on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Riding in the back of an old blue pickup truck, we would make our rounds to student housing, academic buildings, and the presidential home to pick up trash and carry it to dumpsters located adjacent to campus.

One day, while exiting the Ledford Student Center, a white-haired man with paint-splattered clothes and a blue ball cap stopped us.

“I know who you are,” he said. “I’m watching you.”

“And will you do me the courtesy of telling who, exactly, you are?” we asked.

“You’ll know that soon enough,” he responded. And then he walked away.

Over the course of the following weeks, we learned who he was.  He was a student at Southeastern, the father of two sons, a former trustee of the Baptist Sunday School Board, and widely-known and highly respected pastor from the mountains of Virginia. At one point, he was responsible for the launch of Sanctity of Life Sunday on the denominational calendar. His wife worked in the business office at the seminary.

His name, we discovered later that week, was C.B. Scott

Almost ten years later to the day, our phone rang in Dallas, TX.  It was C.B., and he started the conversation with a question:

“Are you going to let them get away with this?”

“They” were the trustees of the International Mission Board. “This” was the adoption of exclusionary policies regarding private prayer language and baptism that made then-trustee Wade Burleson a household name in the Southern Baptist Convention.

C.B. explained what was going on, and then he put the question to us again. Would we, he asked, let Paige Patterson and his cronies on the mission board get away with narrowing the parameters of cooperation and excluding missionary candidates over some tertiary matter upon which sensible, respected Baptist scholars disagreed?

The rest of that story has been reported on any number of fronts. We fought hard, and it got ugly. Then in 2008, we walked away from denominational engagement. Until one year ago this month, when we had another phone call from C.B. Scott that convinced us to enter the fray again.

This time, our skills had been sharpened by a decade of Washington politics. Our professional failures had taught us some hard lessons, and our professional successes had freed us from concerns about ecclesiastic reprisal. Indeed, our native strategic instincts had been tempered through experience by more cautious wisdom.

In the intervening years, the International Mission Board had also reversed the policies that we found so contemptible. Paige Patterson had managed to nearly destroy Southwestern Seminary, and Dick Land had found himself a new job at Norm Geisler’s seminary in Charlotte, N.C. So beginning in November 2017, we returned to active participation in Southern Baptist life and soon thereafter re-launched The Baptist Blogger.

Readership went through the roof. At one point earlier this year, we were receiving as many as 80,000 hits a day. If not for a long-planned trip to the Inner Hebrides in June, we would have been in Dallas for this year’s annual meeting. But in a year’s time, we’ve been to four seminary campuses, twice each to Southeastern and Southwestern, the Executive Committee offices on five separate occasions, and we’ve attended Sunday morning services at a host of SBC churches. We have accepted an invitation to speak at one of them early next year. And God willing, we will be in Birmingham as a fully credentialed messenger from our home church.

Not a day passes that we are not weighing the duration, focus, and intensity of our renewed sense of belonging within and worshipping among the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. What we found upon our return was hopeful, and what we’ve experienced since that return is both spiritually edifying and personally affirming.

So when we learned several weeks ago that the International Mission Board had settled on a candidate to serve as its next president who had not only supported the policies we opposed but was their chief advocate and the chairman of the committee that articulated and enforced those policies, we had to determine if all that has been accomplished in the SBC over the last few months was the removal of one backwards seminary president and the election of his one-time ally.* Had the Southern Baptist Convention been spared the ongoing confessional and institutional assaults from an increasingly eccentric and erratic leader only to elevate another?

Thankfully, that does not seem to be the case.

It is possible that our determination to resume active participation in the Southern Baptist Convention has coincided with a need to ensure that the agenda for narrowing parameters does not raise its ugly head again. Whatever the case, we have resolved that if such an agenda should begin to appear — or even if a whisper of such an agenda could be heard — we would oppose it with all our fire and fury.  Only this time, harder and more effectively before such policies were codified and not afterwards.

We would, in absolute candor, scorch the earth to stop them.

But it does not seem that the missionary enterprise of Southern Baptists will be subjected to a similar controversy in the near future. And for the moment, it seems that the various search committees of SBC entities are being especially careful to screen candidates whose past statements and actions do not compromise the progress that has been made. Indeed, every effort must be made to ensure the convention maintains a course that rightly affirms the dignity and value of every human soul, protects women and children from evildoers, and puts the Gospel above all in both word and deed.

In a conversation we had yesterday with a Southern Baptist pastor, we stated clearly what we know to be our own strength and weakness.  We are demolition experts. We are not architects.  The past decade has taught us a great deal about the need for special care when razing a building so something better can be constructed.  Otherwise, there’s far more cleanup to be done than is necessary and too great a risk of injury to oneself and those around him.

Or like we regularly tell our clients: Do not call in the carpet bombers when a surgical drone strike can do the job more efficiently and at a lower cost. There is no need to wipe out an entire village when you only need to eliminate a single household.

Or if a biblical motif is preferred: a man should not tie the tails of 300 inflamed foxes when a shepherd’s slingshot and a few smooth stones will suffice.

This weekend, we hope to publish a perspective on the issue of missionary candidate evaluation that strikes at the heart of our past concerns.


*Frank S. Page Collection, Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee.

Legendary New Orleans pastor started fund to help SWBTS seminary profs

On May 15, 1952, the SWBTS alumni association — under the leadership of J.D. Grey, who was the longtime pastor of First Baptist Church, New Orleans — instituted a “Sabbatical Year Assistance” program to assist the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with “financial awards . . . on the basis of their need, length of absence, distance to be traveled, length of service with the Seminary, and money available for such grants.”

The day the project was adopted by the alumni at a Miami breakfast, an offering of $246.64 was collected. Adjusted for inflation, that amount would equal $2,357.00 today.

Assuming a 6 percent growth and an ongoing annual contribution of $247.00, the balance in the sabbatical year assistance fund would now be more than $211,000.00 with compounding interest. That’s assuming, of course, that no grants were made.

We are curious what became of this fund. We are also curious what became of other funds.

For now, it is a nice reminder of a day when seminary alumni meetings were about more than giving plaques to presidential favorites, but rather a time when the school’s graduates sought meaningful ways to be supportive of their professors long after their diplomas had been awarded.

This has us thinking . . .

With appreciation to the Southern Baptist Historical Library and Archives. The following document can be found in the James David Grey Papers, located in Nashville, TN.



Ya’ll come back now . . .


Dear esteemed faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary:

Tell your friends, family, secretaries and students to come back to the Baptist Blogger tonight at 6PM ET. We will be releasing copies of a most revealing document we discovered this week in Nashville, TN. The document relates directly to your calling as a scholar and the support of the institution you serve.

You won’t want to miss this.  Trust us.

Until he comes,

The Baptist Blogger

Louisville’s Ghosts: Pt. 5

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Editor’s Note: We are posting this at 35k feet somewhere over the state of West Virginia from the cabin of a CRJ700 equipped with interrupted WiFi service. Please forgive our typos and other errors. We will correct them upon safe landing.

For many years leading up to his death in 1994, Russell Kirk hosted a grand Halloween celebration at his home in Mecosta, Mich. There he would dress in his formal academic regalia and pass out candy to children dressed as ghouls and goblins and pirates and princesses. With his doctoral robe from St. Andrews draped around him and striking the image of a wizard from Middle Earth, Kirk would welcome to his home all manner of trick-or-treaters whom he invited to participate in the “dreadful joy” that the father of modern American conservatism conjured to retrieve the faithful witness of tradition.

But Halloween was not only costumes and candy corn for Russell Kirk.  He believed deeply, sincerely, and unapologetically in the existence of ghosts. According to Kirk, there are places in this world where a thin, translucent veil separates the next. Biblical exegesis might find that veil at the Mount of Transfiguration, where the dead bear witness to the Living, and the faithful petition Heaven to thereupon sanctify a tabernacle. We may, like King Saul, behold the prophet Samuel summoned from the afterlife to torment the soul of a backslidden, emotionally unstable monarch. We may witness the Real Presence on the roads to Emmaus or Damascus. But the Bible, if we are honest with each other, does not preclude the possibility that the eternal communion of saints may, at times, dip into the temporal. Put another way: the great cloud of  witnesses may be seen and heard by pilgrim travelers running the race of faith.

Quite apart from some Platonic metaphysic, Southern Baptists possess somewhat naturally an almost paranormal fixation.  One cannot talk foreign missions without summoning the spirit of Lottie Moon.  The same goes for home missions and Annie Armstrong.  Looming large over Baptist life are the ghosts, if you will, of E.Y. Mullins, George W. Truett, and B.H. Carroll. There are even the ghosts of John R. Claypool and Carlyle Marney, who ventured far afield from a Baptist confessional framework yet still speak to us clearly and prophetically. And, of course, there are women like Bertha Smith, Mrs. R.L. Mathis, and others.

There is perhaps no place on Southern Baptist soil where the ghosts speak so powerfully, if not audibly, to faculty and students in preparation for gospel ministry than the campus of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. The men and women who have studied in those classrooms — or taught in them — over the course of the seminary’s 160 years have each contributed to the institution’s DNA. Some of them were fundamentalist provocateurs like J. Frank Norris.  Some became legendary pastors like W.A. Criswell and Hershel Hobbs. There have been towering scholars like Basil Manly, Jr. and A.T. Robertson. Behind the chapel pulpit have stood evangelists like Billy Graham and Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.

Even today, the contours of evangelical theology are shaped in no small part by  theologians, philosophers, historians, and biblical interpreters like Bruce Ware, Doug Blount, Greg Wills, and Don Whitney. And for the past twenty-five years, the influence of the seminary’s ninth president, R. Albert Mohler, Jr., has defined the transformation and sustained character of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Arguably, that influence has shaped not only the trajectory of theological education in the Southern Baptist Convention, but the very essence of its churches’ public witness.

To have visited Southern’s campus during Heritage Week and the celebration of Mohler’s 25th anniversary was a crash course in higher education administration and confessional pedagogy. There is an indisputable awareness that Southern’s enrollment success, academic prestige, and cultural impact are not accidental. In truth, there is a sense that the seminary’s founding vision, once painstakingly recovered, has slowly, consistently, and methodically built this modern academy brick by brick, faculty hire by faculty hire.

Some concluding observations:

  • Mohler has labored to keep the seminary community in constant conversation with its past.  He has does this both through what he has said — in chapel sermons, academic addresses, daily podcasts, and countless other speeches — and what he has done.  For instance, we learned last month that Mohler’s formal academic regalia was inherited from T. Rupert Coleman, the childhood pastor who baptized him as a boy in Florida. Coleman himself was robed by the famed New Testament scholar and longtime Southern professor, Archibald Thomas Robertson. This sophisticated nod to Southern’s past speaks volumes not only about the seminary’s confessional continuity but Mohler’s subtle determination to protect it.
  • It’s hard not to become hagiographic about Southern. As a proud Southeastern alumnus and mere tinkerer in denominational matters, our appreciation for the seminary on Crescent Hill seemed unlikely. But you cannot be a fly on the campus walls very long — either in the academic buildings or the student center — and escape without realizing students and faculty alike have a sense that they are witnesses to something consequential in Southern Baptist life. And yet, participation in these recent chapters of Southern’s 160-year metanarrative does not seem to nurture haughtiness. Despite what we’d been told on numerous occasions by those more closely associated with the idiosyncratic Anabaptist/Sandy Creek apologetic, Southern Seminary stands not in some exclusive, highbrow Charlestonian tradition but welcomes meaningful engagement and discerning appropriation of the diversity reflected in the grand mosaic of Southern Baptist traditions.
  • The sight of 19 year olds in bow ties curls a benign grin across our face. There was a time in Wake Forest when we wore suits and ties to every class, even on the hottest days of unairconditioned, post-hurricane existence.
  • A century ago when Southwestern was just getting off the ground, the Fort Worth seminary postponed its request for convention support to allow Southern to complete a building campaign. Today, the funding formula that allocates Cooperative Program dollars to the six Southern Baptist seminaries is outdated and ill-equipped to account for shifting paradigms. The result: Southern and Southeastern, which was the fasted growing SBC seminary last year, are subsidizing both New Orleans and Southwestern amid those schools’ enrollment declines. If we were Al Mohler or Danny Akin, we’d probably be a little chapped about that, particularly in light of the expansive over-construction that has occurred in Fort Worth. What’s more is that the enrollment declines at Southwestern — and thus reduced Cooperative Program support to the school– did not dissuade the institution’s former First Couple Emeriti from their multi-million dollar vanity projects. Now the school has to sustain these buildings — on top of figuring out how to remove the chapel’s atrocious stained glass windows — all while paying the Pattersons exorbitant severance. Our point: Southern and Southeastern have built schools the old-fashioned way by increasing the appeal for prospective students.  Southwestern — under the Pattersons — built a Potemkin Village.
  • Did we mention there are no stained glass windows in Southern’s chapel depicting the Mohlers or their family pets?  Or that the seminary’s chapel capacity is one third that of Southwestern while its student enrollment is nearly 3 times larger?
  • And did we mention that while Southwestern’s former president was slashing faculty retirement benefits and multiplying the number of deans and administrative officers, Southern was increasing faculty salary scales and holding the line on faculty headcount? We are convinced by visiting Southern Seminary that building a great school means investing in a great faculty and providing the resources that faculty requires to do serious scholarship. If you want ghosts of great theologians haunting your seminary halls, you probably need to prioritize faculty support ahead of expanding your own household staff.
  • And did we mention that Southern Seminary doesn’t own any Dead Sea Scrolls. Then again, in fairness, Southwestern doesn’t either.

So our bottom line is this:  For the past twenty-five years, Southern Seminary has retrieved a tradition and reinforced a reputation for evangelical excellence. During that time, there have been some hiccups and painful course corrections, but the proof is in the pudding.

Or put more simply: The ghosts of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary are surely pleased with the school’s recovery under its ninth president. As Southern’s younger sister seminary continues its quest for a new president and a better future, we pray steadfastly that the ghosts of Southwestern end up with much more than a ghost town.

Because that’s about all the Pattersons were building in the end.

R. Alma Mohler?


Editor’s Note: We interrupt our plan to publish Part Five of our series “Louisville’s Ghosts” to comment briefly on a tangential matter.

Seven years before the founding of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Greenville, S.C. and half a world away, the French novelist and poet Victor Hugo wrote these words in his 1852 History of Crime:

“On résiste à l’invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l’invasion des idées.”

Or roughly paraphrased, “Stronger than an invading army is an idea whose time has come.”

There are other ideas, it seems, that should be stopped somewhere between the cerebral cortex and the lingual frenulum.

More to the point, this is such an idea.

Dr. Mohler probably feels something like a man whose 3-year-old son makes breakfast on Father’s Day. He appreciates the gesture, but there are things he’d rather be doing on a Sunday morning than cleaning up another huge mess in the kitchen.


BREAKING: Mission Board receives full report on presidential nominee, thorough search process


Editor’s Note: The Baptist Blogger is committed to facilitating a more transparent process of trustee governance across the Southern Baptist Convention. Today, we acquired copies of closely-held, internal trustee reports regarding the search for a new president to oversee Southern Baptists’ international mission efforts. Given the immense importance of this role and the fact that more than 50 percent of Cooperative Program funds go to support work in foreign fields, we have determined to release this information. IMB Trustees will vote this Thursday, Nov. 15., to elect a new president.


For more than a year, the search committee diligently, prayerfully, and dutifully sought the most qualified candidate to become the next president of the Richmond-based mission board. According to a recently-obtained copy of a report from the search committee chairman to the entire board, more than 300 letters of nomination or support for nominees were received during the preliminary discernment process.  There were 142 letters of support, encouragement or advice not relative to a specific nominee.

More than 200 current and former missionaries wrote letters to the search committee about their expectations for the new president. Eighty-eight pastors, 43 laypersons, and 44 denominational employees weighed in on the process.  Twenty-seven trustees and former trustees communicated with the search committee, and 35 mission board staff wrote letters of advice, support, and counsel.

At the outset, 80 individuals were nominated, including three who nominated themselves. After their preliminary examination and ranking of candidates, the search committee identified eight “Tier 1” nominees who were under immediate and serious consideration. The primary and secondary references of these candidates were contacted and extensively interviewed. Nine nominees were ranked in Tier II, and 25 nominees were ranked in Tier III. Thirty-eight nominees did not receive any substantial consideration.

Six nominees were interviewed for the presidency. Two men were interviewed twice, one three times, and another four times.  The search commiteee evaluated Tier I nominees’ university and seminary transcripts, job evaluations, credit reports, and their health status. By the time the search committee had finally settled on a lead candidate, they had met in-person on 19 occasions and via teleconference nine times.

The Search Committee Chairman reported to the full board that the decision to recommend one man to serve as the mission board’s new president was unanimous. This decision was informed not only by the committees “deep impression of God’s spirit” in their work, but with the assistance of a leading executive diagnostic firm that interviewed and tested the candidate. This assessment was returned positive.

Additionally, both the nominee and his wife were required to complete full medical examinations. A physician who served as a trustee member reviewed the test results from the medical tests and certified the good health condition of both the nominee and his wife. Financial credit scores were pulled for the candidate, and all academic transcripts were verified.

In the end, the chairman of the committee and the board chairman offered the candidate a compensation package “well within the guidelines adopted by the board for its executive leadership.”

To read the search committee’s full report to the trustee board, click here.



BREAKING: Patterson declines separation agreement; more money demanded?

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The following email just went out to the Southwestern Community. 

Dear Friends of Southwestern,

Thank you for your continued prayers and support of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS). Because of the grace and purposes of God, the prayers and support of so many like you, and the hard work of our seminary leadership, the seminary is moving forward to continue fulfilling the core mission of training men and women for ministry service and leadership. Thankfully, God has provided our seminary with superb and timely leadership in our Interim President, Dr. Bingham. God has also enabled our board of trustees to come together in unity for the sake of supporting the continued fulfillment of SWBTS’s core mission. 

As you likely know, the full board of trustees recently ratified the actions of the executive committee taken since the May 22, 2018 full board meeting. Thirty of the thirty-four trustees voted for this ratification, and every trustee stands unified in a desire to move forward in support of the seminary and the fulfillment of its core mission. We hope and pray that you will be able to join us in that decision to continue our united support of our seminary. 

Some of you may have additional questions regarding the full board’s ratification of the actions of the executive committee. Those are important matters, particularly as it relates to Dr. Patterson’s transition from SWBTS. As much as we strive to provide the highest possible level of clarity in all of our board decisions, the challenges of recent circumstances required some degree of confidentiality. Even with the necessary confidentiality, we hope that the following general information related to the decision to ratify the actions of the executive committee might offer a better understanding of some of the steps our board has taken. 

Foremost, despite our present differences, the board of trustees is grateful for both Dr. and Mrs. Patterson’s service to SWBTS over the last fifteen years. We, as have all Southern Baptists, benefited from the Pattersons’ ministry over these many years. We are grateful for his longstanding dedication and commitment to serve the Southern Baptist Convention in its mission to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ to every person in the world and to make disciples of all the nations by leading the way for the conservative resurgence. We have no doubt that Dr. and Mrs. Patterson will move forward and find opportunities to faithfully serve the Lord and continue to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Further, we are grateful that Dr. Patterson and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary agreed to resolve their dispute over certain documents from Dr. Patterson’s tenure at that seminary.

In order to assist Dr. and Mrs. Patterson in moving forward, the executive committee acted to continue providing Dr. Patterson with housing, compensation and benefits until September 15, 2018, when they were able to move from Southwestern’s campus housing at Pecan Manor. In August, Dr. Patterson declined a separation agreement offered by the seminary, which would have provided some additional salary and benefits to assist in his transition. Even though Dr. Patterson declined the separation agreement, the executive committee pursued a resolution that it felt represented the full board’s desire to further assist Dr. and Mrs. Patterson during their transition, even beyond September 15. While we cannot disclose the details of all the efforts and actions to assist Dr. Patterson, we want you to know that we very much attempted to help them during their transition. We hope that these efforts in some way represent the hearts of grace and concern that we, and many of you, have rightly sought to display through this challenge.

The circumstances over the last several months have been trying for all involved, from sadness to pain to frustration and to discouragement. Even still, it is our sincere prayer that the steps forward for both Dr. Patterson and SWBTS, taken in the hope and grace of Jesus Christ, will provide needed comfort and encouragement for all.

At this point, the best response for us all is to trust the Lord by taking steps forward in the grace and mercy of the Lord, as we all need God’s grace and mercy, particularly in times such as these. Our prayer is that your steps forward in God’s grace and mercy will allow for your continued support of SWBTS’s fulfillment of its core mission: to train God-called men and women to fulfill their ministries and fully engage in reaching the world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 


Kevin Ueckert

Chairman, Board of Trustees, SWBTS