DALLAS (BP)–Paige Patterson had already delivered several commencement addresses this year, but at Criswell College May 14 he spoke to the graduates as one of them, having received an honorary doctor of divinity degree from the Dallas college where he served 17 years as president beginning in 1975.
The award cited Patterson’s “exemplary leadership in pastoral service,” his “visionary ministry at Criswell College,” his “academic contribution to theological studies” and his “leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention,” said Criswell College President Jerry A. Johnson.
“When I think of that phrase, ‘extraordinary leadership,’ I think of today’s candidate, Dr. Paige Patterson,” Johnson said of Patterson, now president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.
“We have a man who died to self over 30 years ago for the cause and heritage of his father, Dr. T.A. Patterson, and for the honor of his God and His Word. And we thank God for you today and we honor you,” Johnson said.
Patterson responded that he had worn his Criswell College ring that day “as something of a pledge to you and Criswell College that I am forever your advocate, and that would have been true whether or not you would have so honored me today.”
Johnson said Patterson had been influential in his life. After he had a bad experience as a student in a university, he went to First Baptist Church in Dallas to hear W. A. Criswell preach. Patterson was there and took Johnson into his office where he gave him a few books and prayed with him.
“And within a month, I was enrolled at Criswell College,” Johnson said. “You have been a blessing to me and a mentor to me, and I want to say personally how much I love you and appreciate you.”
Johnson called Patterson’s presidency at Criswell College “defining” with his emphasis on biblical inerrancy, missions and evangelism and the importance of learning the biblical languages and expository preaching.
“You did it by example — you taught us to do it,” Johnson said.
One of the individuals taught by Patterson’s example was among Criswell’s 2005 graduates — Bobby Joel Worthington, who received a Bachelor of Arts degree in biblical studies, having begun his studies in 1979. In 1983, he became pastor of First Baptist Church’s Inner City Chapel.
“Dr. Paige Patterson was the president at that time and all students were encouraged to preach on the city streets of Dallas on Thursday afternoons,” Worthington said. “It was during my early years at Criswell that God put on my heart the poor and the homeless of Dallas.”
Mack Dale Roller Jr. currently serves as pastor of First Baptist Church in Fairfield, Texas, and graduated with a Master of Arts degree. He was the 2005 recipient of the Paige Patterson Preaching Award for graduate students.
“I started Criswell back in 1981 when Dr. Patterson was the president and when I did my bachelor’s degree at Criswell,” Roller said. “To receive the award that bears his name is an incredible honor.”
Patterson, in his address, encouraged the graduates to be sure their names go up in history rather than down. Reading from Numbers 13, Patterson noted the 12 men who went into the Promised Land to spy it out. Ten of the 12 men said they could not take the land.
“Here are 10 men who wish their names had not been recorded in sacred Scripture,” Patterson said. “Their names are there for generations of men and women to read about their failure.”
He noted, however, that Joshua and Caleb stood out among those 12 men and have forever gone “up” in history. Patterson said three things set them apart from the other 10. First, no word of moral compromise can be found in Scripture relating to the two men.
“We live today in an epidemic of failure in the ministry,” he said, urging graduates to resolve not to bring the church of God the embarrassment and humiliation that comes from “one failed minister after another.”
Patterson said Joshua and Caleb also were courageous men, though with the kind of courage that is “born of faith, a courage that is based not on what you are able to do and what you are able to achieve and your gifts in the ministry but upon what God is able to do through a consecrated life — that is the kind of courage that is so much needed in the ministry today.”
Lastly, Patterson said that Joshua and Caleb knew God personally and he urged the graduates and their families and friends to seek to know God as well.
“You will always be part of the minority, but I pray God today you will live your life in such a commitment to Him as to go always up in history,” Patterson said.