The best of times and worst of times: Pt. 2

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Despite the upheaval of 2018 has brought to the Southern Baptist Convention, there have been a number of positive developments and praiseworthy initiatives. Here’s our list of the SBC’s top ten best moments in 2018, again in no particular order:

  1. Southwestern scholar admits the seminary was duped by Patterson antiquities dealer, fake Dead Sea Scrolls still under analysis — Paige and Dorothy Patterson spent millions of seminary dollars to purchase fragments of purported Dead Sea Scrolls from a Palestinian antiquities dealer. The purchases are detailed in a book commissioned by the seminary and written by the Patterson’s son, entitled “Much Clean Paper for Little Dirty Paper.”  The seminary spent millions more dollars advertising for the fragments’ public release, and lost even more millions when ticket sales didn’t come through.

    Bottom line: The Pattersons were either played for fools or were in on the fraud. There are no other options. Every seminary publication was filled with ink touting the now-admittedly bogus acquisitions, and while the Pattersons have left Southwestern Seminary, the stain of shoddy scholarship lingers on the professors who were compelled to boost the fragment’s credibility.  But Southwestern wasn’t the only one duped.

    Two months ago, scholars at The Museum of the Bible admitted they had purchased bogus Dead Sea Scroll fragments. In a CNN report, Southwestern Professor Steven Ortiz said the seminary suspected “that maybe three” of their 10 fragments are forgeries. Test results for the remaining fragments were still inconclusive at the time the story broke.

    We’re thankful that honest scholarship is beginning to reappear at Southwestern Seminary, and we await further revelations from the seminary about the status of this multi-million dollar boodoggle.

  2. Paul Pressler lawsuit dismissed — That’s right, while the jury is still out on how much money was mishandled at Southwestern Seminary (SBC Annual Reports indicate that the seminary has borrowed deeply from its own endowment, as much as three times its annual Cooperative Program receipts by some estimates), there will be no trial for Pressler. We’ve maintained scrupulously that our own close friendship with Judge Pressler never included any interactions that resembled the claims made against him by a convicted felon with prolonged substance abuse issues. In fact, while visiting the archives at Southeastern Seminary, we found numerous pieces of exculpatory correspondence that supports Pressler’s denials, including letters from his accusers and the accuser’s father.

    There are many people who do not like the judge, and whisper campaigns against him have circulated for decades. But we are unafraid to call him our friend and to state publicly, in every context of our interaction, he has been a consistently kind, courteous, and honorable Christian gentleman.

    It is a good day when unproven and unprovable accusations are rejected. We pray for many more years of health and strength for Paul Pressler and his family.

  3. SBTS releases report on racism — The flagship seminary of the Southern Baptist Convention continues to prove why its reputation is well deserved. Mohler took some heat this year for not joining John MacArthur’s hysteria concerning social justice; with the release of this report, it becomes evident again that the president of Southern Seminary plays his cards close to his chest and makes deliberate, determined steps rather than set his hair on fire every time somebody’s Reformed feathers get ruffled.

    The report itself is probably the most transparent self-assessment ever to come from any Southern Baptist institution. It both lays bare the seminary’s conflicted past, while providing a convincing rationale for why the seminary doesn’t start chiseling names off granite and toppling campus statuary. And despite the suggestion by some that Mohler’s name should be carved into the seminary chapel’s facade, it is moves like this which ensure his legacy will be written into the soul of the seminary if not its bricks and mortar.

  4. Midwestern Seminary president shows he’s unafraid of critique, responsive to concerns — Earlier this year, we became aware of an ongoing accreditation review of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. For more than a year, the seminary has been responding to questions from the Higher Learning Commission — one of the school’s regional accreditors — about numerous matters concerning governance, administration, curriculum, discrimination, and professional certification standards. We wrote Midwestern’s president a fairly pointed letter expressing our concern that the seminary had not fully apprised either the Executive Committee of the SBC or the convention messengers of this serious accreditation matter.  Within days, we had a phone conversation with the seminary’s president. Within weeks, we met face-to-face to discuss this and other areas of mutual interest. A written response to our letter was sent, with a request that we publish it online.

    It is a good day when Southern Baptist institutions are transparent with their constituencies; it is an even better day when those institution’s administrators respond with candor, transparency, and humility. This is definitely a sign that a new generation of SBC leaders is emerging, with a different ethic of governance and more than lip-service to institutional integrity and accountability.

  5. J.D. Greear elected overwhelming as SBC President — It is no secret we opposed J.D. Greear’s nomination in 2006 to be the convention’s 2nd Vice President. We preferred, instead, for that honorable post to go to Rev. Wiley Drake, who won on the first ballot.

    But we’ve always liked J.D., dating back to some of our earliest days in seminary when we would talk about preaching and theology and politics. When he went to Homestead Heights Baptist Church in Durham, N.C., as its senior pastor, we shared the common belief that something wonderful would happen both in his life and the life of that church.

    The election of J.D. Greear marked the end of some things that needed to end, and the renewal of some things that needed renewing. We’re hopeful that he will make a difference, and we’ll be watching his appointments closely to see if his presidency offers meaningful change within the parameters of the BFM, or if its just more of the same.

  6. The conference on MLK50 — Russ Moore took some heat for this, as did some of the other participants. But it is a conversation that needs to be had, and Southern Baptists need to embrace it with both arms. Steady progress on racial reconciliation, marked by meaningful dialogue and candid self-evaluation, are critical if the Southern Baptist Convention is going to keep gospel proclamation as its top priority. Thankfully, nobody threatened to escrow their CP giving because the ERLC was hosting a conference to honor a “serial adulterer and communist.” That the SBC can venture into these waters peaceably, honestly, and critically is a welcome development. Fifty years is a long time to wait.
  7. Paige Patterson rejoining the BGCT — We reported weeks ago that the former president of Southwestern Seminary is now a member of a church that is exclusively affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas. We are hopeful that more SBC leaders will feel welcome in BGCT churches, and that the BGCT will feel increasingly welcome on the campus of Southwestern Seminary.
  8. Beth Moore schools us all — On May 3, the prominent Southern Baptist Bible teacher and one of Lifeway’s most profit-making authors, Beth Moore, wrote an open letter to her “brothers” She wrote of the painful experience of having her views dismissed, her ideas ignored, and her contributions undervalued only because she is a woman. The letter was so very timely, and tremendously powerful. Right alongside the decision of thousands of women to speak up in the SBC against bigotry and abuse cover-up, Moore’s letter sent a shockwave of sobering truth throughout the SBC and the larger evangelical world.

    The SBC is a better place with more open hearts like Beth Moore’s . . . and fewer empty hats.

  9. Mission Dignity — We will never forget the day we met O.S. Hawkins. It was an afternoon in the Spring of 1995 in the cavernous Coleman Hall under what used to be the Truett Building at the First Baptist Church of Downtown Dallas. We visited for about 20 minutes, and then walked out of the building together onto Patterson Street headed toward the parking lot.

    Pulling into his parking space was Dr. W.A. Criswell, the legendary senior pastor emeritus of the historic church.  He had parked his Mercedes sedan astride two parking spaces and was just stepping out of his car. The sun was shining in his eyes, and he was squinting to see who was approaching.

    Dr. Criswell was also a bit disheveled. His shirt was untucked on one side, his bolo tie was crooked, shocks of white hair were spreading in all directions.  He seemed, to be honest, a bit disoriented.

    But O.S. Hawkins fell right in beside him, helped him straighten his tie and fix his shirt, and held his coat while Dr. Criswell pushed a comb through his hair.  O.S. let us stand there, till Dr. Criswell was alright, and then introduced us.

    We thanked O.S. for his time, and thanked Dr. Criswell for his ministry, then stood back and watched while the two ministers walked into the Criswell Building together.  O.S. had one arm around Dr. Criswell’s shoulders, not so much helping him walk as reassuring him he was there if needed.

    The image stuck with us, and it has been in our heart ever since. We had a profound realization at that moment that O.S. Hawkins was a man who loved old ministers, and would do what he could to make their steps a little more certain, their continued ministries a little more dignified.

    Mission Dignity is one of the great success stories of O.S. Hawkins’ tenure at Guidestone.  He’s taken the same compassion and calling we saw him show toward Dr. Criswell that afternoon in a parking lot and channeled it into Mission Dignity. This year, Mission Dignity will give out more than $7 million to more than 1,800 retired ministers living at or below the poverty line. One of the most consistent contributors to this fund is O.S. Hawkins, whose “Code” series of books has been enjoying strong sales numbers and the profits go entirely to support Mission Dignity.

    Yes, in our judgment O.S. Hawkins is one of the good things that’s happened to the SBC this year; and Mission Dignity is one of the best.

  10. The relaunch of The Baptist Blogger — Yes, we reserve the right to claim our resumption of regular postings is a good thing for the SBC. We anticipate 2019 will bring plenty of opportunities to tell the truth and have some fun along the way.