Wheelbarrows of money

51ddxjq7tbl._sx336_bo1,204,203,200_The following quote is excerpted from pages 175-76 of Too Great A Temptation, the 1994 autobiographical account of Dr. Joel C. Gregory’s life before, during, and in the immediate aftermath of his resignation from First Baptist Dallas on Sept. 30, 1992.

“The Criswell College is a separate entity from First Baptist [Dallas] with its own charter, incorporation, trustees, and budget. For all practical purposes, however, it is an arm of First Baptist. Upon arrival I found that the college officials were simply showing up at the church financial office and asking for money to make the payroll. The college did not have the money to pay its own bills. Not only did I inherit a church that owed nine million dollars and that fell a million short the previous year, I now found that I had a college that could not pay its own professors. Sherryn Cates had simply been badgered into giving them money in order to run the school. That money was off the books; there was no line item for it in the budget. The college could just as well have been hauling it out of the church business office in wheelbarrows.

“This led to some very delicate negotiations with Paige Patterson. I had to put an immediate cap on the amount of money the church could give the college from the 1991 operating budget. We were already $750,000 in trouble the day I started work. The church could not run a slush fund for the college. Although there was some tension in the conversation, Paige and I agreed on a cap and a declining schedule of draws for the Criswell College. But that was only the beginning of troubles about Patterson and the college.”

Operation Akin


If you were on the search committee to find a new president for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and you knew your job was to find a man to succeed Paige Patterson, to whom would you want to talk first?

Our answer: Daniel Lowell Akin.

Akin is the only man who has successfully led a seminary or theological college in the wake of a Patterson departure. He alone has the unparalleled perspective that could assist the Southwestern search committee as they prepare to elect and support a new president for the beleaguered Fort Worth school. And as a Southwestern alumnus, he has the added benefit of caring personally about the school’s revitalization.

Moreover, as one of Paige Patterson’s protégés, he would bring to the role of outside advisor to the Southwestern trustees a long history of honoring and affirming the former president while at the same time knowing acutely how wrecked and unstable a Patterson administration can leave an institution.

So have the trustees bothered to call Akin? Have they even thought to ask him for his perspective? As they build a profile of the candidate they desire for the school, have they not also considered building a profile of the resources they will provide that candidate to begin the tough work of institutional triage? It behoves them to consider the value that Akin’s experience would provide. We suspect they haven’t even considered this, but we have little confidence in trustees who can’t read their own audit reports.

It’s time for Southwestern’s trustees to implement Operation Akin.

Not long after he took the reins in Wake Forest, Akin faced some harsh realities: grossly underpaid faculty, feckless inequities in pay scales, persistent operating shortfalls, oppressive institutional indebtedness, an over-bloated budget for staffing the presidential home, and a dysfunctional culture of administrative suspicion and reprisal. On top of that, he soon learned that Patterson had removed from the seminary archives numerous sensitive documents that belonged to the institution.

And it was still many more years before he learned all the facts about the potential coverup of a campus rape.

Akin had the challenge before him to build upon the positive developments at Southeastern under the Patterson regime — like the 2+2 M.Div. track for missionaries, the cherry-picked recruitment of top-tier evangelical faculty like the late Old Testament scholar John Sailhamer and the publishing-powerhouse historian Keith Harper, etc. — and to quickly mitigate the subterranean fault lines that Patterson’s administrative eccentricities and fiscal irresponsibility had nurtured.

Akin inherited a faculty that — despite some notable exceptions — had never been much up to the task of published theological engagement. He had to put a premium on real scholarship, the kind that draws serious students. He had to nurture professionalism  and implement a substantive process of performance evaluation for the faculty while dismantling a narcissistic Pattersonian system that inverted pedagogical priorities.

He also had to liberate the faculty to some extent. For years, every person working at Southeastern (and now at Southwestern) had to live with the reality that the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message was not the real confessional parameters. There has always been a secret, unwritten and much narrower confessional framework — known only in the mind of Paige Patterson — the transgression of which results in demotion and eventually termination.

Similarly, there has always been a compendium to the faculty handbook at schools where Paige Patterson was president. Simply put, there are certain predictable things that faculty are prohibited from doing: drinking alcoholic beverages, looking at porn on their computers, visiting massage parlors, etc. But there has always been a second list of prohibitions that would result in something worse than termination. We used to call it “The Attack of the Hat.”

Stated another way, faculty and staff at Southwestern (and Southeastern before that) had to be especially careful not to cross Dorothy Patterson. It could be anything as minor as your wife’s hemline, or something as unforgivable as spending Thanksgiving Day with your own family instead of cooking for hers.

On both a confessional and cultural level, working for the Pattersons was like navigating a mine field in the dark. You never know if your next step will blow things up for your career, your family, and your sense of job security.

Finally, Akin had to make some very important personnel decisions. He had to decide which vice presidents stayed, and which of them were replaced. In the midst of that, he had to slash entire budget line items and sort through years of bad accounting and the blurring of personal and institutional expenditures.

Yes, if we were responsible to find a new president for Southwestern Seminary and implement an administrative framework that would facilitate that man’s (and the school’s) future success, we’d stop interviewing candidates immediately and book a flight to North Carolina. We’d ask to spend a day with Danny Akin picking his brain about the unknown unknowns — to borrow a Rumsfeldian phrase — of leading a seminary after Paige Patterson is gone.

But we doubt Chairman Danny Roberts has thought of this. Maybe he will now.