In the middle of the night, late last May, a phone rang somewhere in North Texas. The call was to convey a simple request on behalf of the seminary trustees: will you assume interim presidential leadership of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary after the trustee executive committee terminated the employment of Leighton Paige Patterson?
Dr. D. Jeffrey Bingham answered that phone call, and in answering that phone he accepted a calling to guide the Fort Worth school during the most difficult days of its 110 year history.
True enough, Southwestern had known more than its fair share of deep, dark valleys in the last quarter century. But when Russell Dilday was fired in 1994, the school had more than 3,000 full time students, a balanced budget, a growing endowment, a strong faculty, a campus of buildings and lawns well-tended, and a strong reputation among Southern Baptists and the broader evangelical world.
When Paige Patterson was fired, the seminary was a shell of its former self, hemorrhaging millions of dollars and administratively top-heavy, with a campus infrastructure suffering prolonged neglect (apart from the newly built $3 million retirement home) and fifteen straight years of enrollment declines. The faculty and staff was demoralized — at least those whose righteous souls were tormented under the Patterson regime. Indeed, the task of rebuilding seemed — and to some extent still seems — herculean if not impossible.
But Jeff Bingham knew that with God all things are possible. So he said, “yes.”
Over the past nine months, Dr. Bingham has: tightened the fiscal belt to bring seminary expenditures in line with revenues; consistently reassured the seminary alumni and donor community of the school’s core vision and values; instituted reforms to protect students from sexual harassment and assault; restructured academic programs to the benefit of students and the churches they will serve; pruned the faculty of some bad actors and accreditation threats; restored to seminary employees some of the benefits the Pattersons had stripped away; attempted to promote transparency where allowed by the trustees; and generally reminded Southern Baptists that their once-largest seminary was worth a last-ditch effort to save from ruin.
Today, Adam Greenway will be elected as the ninth president of Southwestern Seminary. He assumes that role with a daunting challenge before him. Yet the path before him has been made clearer, the steps more certain, because of the integrity, courage, and resolve of a towering theologian-administrator who has guided the school through the darkest days of her history.