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Dorothy Patterson women’s studies chair inaugurated

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) — Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary inaugurated the Dorothy Kelley Patterson Chair of Women’s Studies during a Sept. 16 chapel service and installed assistant professor Candi Finch in the position.

The academic endowment was established to honor Dorothy Patterson, wife of Southwestern’s president, Paige Patterson, and professor of theology in women’s studies at the seminary.

Southwestern Executive Vice President and Provost Craig Blaising described Dorothy Patterson’s most cherished roles as wife, mother and grandmother before recounting the contributions she has made toward recovering a biblical understanding of womanhood.

“As she was a supporting wife to Dr. Patterson and all he has done in theology, it became very apparent to her over the years that this issue of women’s studies, this issue of femininity and masculinity in our culture and society, is a critical issue in the churches and must be addressed. And the Lord put it upon her heart to do that,” Blaising said.

Patterson, along with her husband, were instrumental in establishing women’s studies programs at Southwestern and at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where Paige Patterson was president until his election at Southwestern in 2003.

Dorothy Patterson was the only woman in the founding of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and has authored, coauthored and/or edited more than a dozen books, including “The Study Bible for Women,” which received Christian Retailing’s top award in 2015 for devotional/study Bibles; the Old and New Testament volumes of the “Women’s Evangelical Commentary”; and “The Christian Homemaker’s Handbook.”

She holds a doctor of ministry degree from Luther Rice Seminary; doctor of theology from the University of South Africa; and master of theology degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Paige Patterson preached a sermon from 1 Corinthians 11 during the chapel service, explaining that the biblical model of womanhood is not demeaning to women, as some have suggested. Just as Jesus is one in essence with the Father yet has a different assignment within the Godhead, Patterson said, women are equal in essence with men yet have been given different roles.

“The Bible is the very first book ever written to openly and fully declare the full equality of women with men,” Patterson said. “Don’t you believe what the press says, that ‘You evangelical Christians believe that women are subordinate to men in essence and that they simply ought to sit still, be quiet and say nothing.’

“… You read the history of evangelical Christianity, and wherever you find the Gospel preached, you’ll find great women serving the Lord magnificently” though their “assignment is not the same,” Patterson said. He praised his wife for her desire to fulfill “the highest calling of wife and mother” while also strengthening her academic skills to counter the impact of secular feminism on churches.

Patterson said this academic chair “is unheard of — a chair in the school of theology devoted to women’s studies, teaching women so that we meet one of the greatest needs in the church today, [which is] to stop the fluff being taught out there with virtually no scriptural content. And that’s exactly what we’re doing: We’re rearing up a generation of women here who can handle the Word of God and become teachers of women.”

Two of the chair’s benefactors, James E. and Dorothy M. Merritt, were present at the inauguration. James Merritt is a retired vice president of the Steel Heddle Manufacturing Company, and Dorothy is a retired vice president of operations at BB&T Bank. The Merritts became friends of the Pattersons during their service at Southeastern Seminary in North Carolina. The Merritts also have endowed a women’s studies scholarship at Southwestern and established a fund at Southeastern for a student in women’s studies.

Funding for the endowed chair also was provided through the estate of Charles and Doris Kelley, parents of Dorothy Patterson. Doris, who died in 2013, played a key role in teaching Patterson the significance of hospitality as a ministry.

Candi Finch studied under Dorothy Patterson during her time at Southeastern and then completed both her master of divinity and Ph.D. in systematic theology at Southwestern. As assistant professor of theology in women’s studies at Southwestern, she teaches courses such as Biblical Theology of Womanhood, Feminist Theology, Intro to Women’s Studies, Communication for Women, Women in Church History and Girls Ministry. Finch also has contributed to several books, including the Old and New Testament volumes of the “Women’s Evangelical Commentary” and “Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of the Pioneer American Missionary.”

During a luncheon following the chapel service, Finch shared about her Ph.D. dissertation, which refuted the hermeneutic of feminist theologian Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza. Finch also expressed her excitement to serve alongside other women on faculty who “believe it’s important to equip women to have a biblical foundation for whatever sphere of ministry God has called them, to know how to not only handle the Bible correctly and apply it, but [also] help women to understand how to engage the culture for the things that we’re facing today.”

Janice Crouse, executive director of World Congress of Families and a friend of the Pattersons for nearly two decades, attended the inauguration.

“I’ve been so impressed with the way the vision for this women’s studies program has developed,” Crouse said, adding that she is thankful to link “arm-in-arm in this battle for women to have a clear vision of all the potential they have.”

Barbara O’Chester, who has led a retreat ministry for women for more than 45 years, was also in attendance.

“I’m so thankful for this chair and for what it’s going to mean for women’s ministry,” O’Chester said.

“I agree with [Dorothy] totally with regard to submission to authority and the whole nine yards — I’ve lived it; I’ve taught it — but I also know God uses women in a miraculous way,” she said. “To have a place where women can come and learn the biblical principles and see how God can work those out in their lives and their ministries is very exciting.”

    About the Author

  • Southern Baptist TEXAN & Southwestern Seminary Staff

    Compiled by Baptist Press editor Art Toalston from reporting by Keith Collier, managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, and Alex Sibley, senior staff writer and copy editor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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