JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–A Georgia pastor, citing a historic
Baptist tradition dating to 1921, will nominate Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention.
James Merritt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Snellville, Ga., and chairman of the SBC Executive Committee, said he will nominate Patterson at the SBC annual meeting June 9-11 in Salt Lake City.
During the years from 1936 to 1942, three seminary presidents were consecutively elected to serve as president of the convention. John R. Sampey, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky., served as SBC president from 1936 to 1938.
L.R. Scarborough succeeded Sampey as president while serving as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, Texas, from 1939 to 1940.
W.W. Hamilton, president of Baptist Bible Institute, (now called New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) served as SBC president from 1941-42.
The first seminary president to serve as SBC president was E.Y. Mullins of Southern Seminary. He served as convention president from 1921 to 1923.
Merritt announced Feb. 3 his intention to nominate Patterson, 55, for the SBC presidency during “The 12th Pastors’ School and Bible Conference” held at First Baptist Church, Jacksonville, Fla. Patterson becomes the only announced candidate to succeed Tom Elliff, Oklahoma
pastor, who will conclude two one-year terms as president at the Salt Lake City annual meeting.
“In this era, Southern Baptist confidence in the six seminaries is at an all-time high. In a moving expression of their commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible, the presidents of all six seminaries entered into a voluntary covenant with the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention. It is time to say to the world that we believe in our seminaries and do not hesitate to select as president a man who has put his life and ministry on the line because of his commitment to the fidelity of the Word of God,” Merritt told Baptist Press.
Responding to Merritt’s announcement, Patterson said: “Should messengers to the churches see fit to choose me to be president of the SBC, my objectives will be twofold. First, I want to give myself to work with our churches and the North American Mission Board to baptize
500,000 people during the year 2000. Second, I want to do all I can to assist the International Mission Board in getting our arms around the globe with a comprehensive program of evangelism and discipleship.”
Patterson said before allowing Merritt to nominate him for the SBC presidency, he had to first determine whether his possible election would create any conflicts of interest with his position as a seminary president.
The convention constitution allows the president of the Southern Baptist Convention during his tenure to be a member of the “several boards and the Executive Committee” of the SBC. Patterson said, however, “If elected SBC president, I would not be casting a vote or speaking to
issues in board meetings except at the invitation of the president of that agency and the chairman of its board.”
Patterson also noted because of the “wise foresight of the SBC fathers,” the convention president does not have direct input in determining who serves on the agency and institutional boards.
Under convention by-laws, the president of the convention appoints the Committee on Committees, which in turn recommends to the convention for approval the Committee on Nominations. The Committee on Nominations
then recommends potential appointees to serve on the agency and institutional boards. The convention elects Southern Baptists to the various boards and trustee positions.
Patterson, although admitting he still has theological concerns, believes the Southern Baptist Convention has achieved a “rather remarkable theological consensus.”
“While theological slumber is never appropriate for believers, we must intensify our efforts in prayer, witnessing and giving to reach our world,” Patterson said. “I rejoice in our convention’s theological
consensus, but it will mean little if it fails to motivate us to lead men and women to the Savior. The remaining years of my life and ministry, whether I’m president of the Southern Baptist Convention or not, will be devoted to evangelism.”
Patterson is regarded as an architect of the “conservative resurgence” in the SBC which began in 1979.
Merritt told Baptist Press “I am excited about the privilege of nominating Patterson. Along with many other Southern Baptists, I am indebted to him for helping guide this denomination back to its biblical roots and evangelical heritage.”
“(Patterson) has a tremendous love for this denomination and a passionate heart to see Southern Baptists take the gospel to a lost world,” Merritt said. Calling Patterson a dear friend, Merritt said Patterson is a “Christian gentleman with a burning devotion to the Lord
Jesus Christ and the truth of his Word. His character is impeccable, and his integrity is unquestionable. For all of those reasons and more, I have asked for and have been granted the privilege of placing his name in nomination at Salt Lake City.”
A nationally renowned theologian, apologist, pulpiteer and author, Patterson began preaching at age 14. He earned a bachelor of arts degree at Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene, Texas, in 1965. Patterson earned both a master’s and doctorate in theology from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Throughout his ministry, Patterson has visited more than 60 countries spreading the gospel through revival crusades, missionary assignments and study tours. He has extensive editorial experience and served as the managing editor of The Believer’s Study Bible.
Patterson is married to the former Dorothy Jean Kelley of Beaumont, Texas. The Pattersons have two adult children: a son, Armour Paige, and a daughter, Carmen Leigh. The couple has one grandchild, Abigail Leigh.
Before coming to Southeastern, Patterson, a native Texan, served as president of The Criswell College and associate pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas for 17 years. Before going to Dallas, Patterson served churches in Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas.
Compelled by a burden to reach the East Coast and the world with the gospel, Patterson has led Southeastern Seminary to pioneer two church planting programs not previously attempted by a Southern Baptist seminary.
In February 1997, Patterson announced the forging of a partnership between the seminary and the New Hampshire Baptist Association aimed at establishing 50 Southern Baptist churches in that northeastern state over the next 10 years.
Seminary students, faculty and staff helped establish a Southern Baptist church in Claremont, N.H., where a Southeastern graduate now serves as pastor. The partnership calls for five graduating seminary students to go to New Hampshire each year as church planters and pastors.
Motivated by the biblical mandate to reach the world for Christ, Patterson, in concert with the International Mission Board, led Southeastern to pioneer the first church planting program on foreign soil. The seminary’s first class of international church planting students returned last summer from two years of mission service in East
Africa where they saw thousands of Kenyans accept Christ as their Savior.
Since becoming president of SEBTS, Patterson has led in the revitalization of a seminary once encumbered by declining enrollment, accreditation problems and mounting debt.
Over the past five years, Southeastern has become one of the fastest growing seminaries in the world. The school’s annual student enrollment has increased by more than 117 percent. The total “non-duplicating enrollment” has grown from 748 students in the 1992-93 academic year to 1,629 students for the 1996-97 academic year. Patterson arrived in 1992 on the campus of Southeastern to find the school on probation with both of its accrediting bodies. In less than two years, the seminary was returned to full status with both the regional and professional accrediting bodies. New degree programs started during his presidency include the Ph.D., M.Div. and M.A. in counseling, M.Div. in church planting, M.A. in intercultural studies, and an upper level baccalaureate program. A seminary faculty which included only about a dozen professors when Patterson arrived, currently
Under Patterson’s leadership, the seminary has established a financial development program aimed at securing the financial resources necessary for the growing school. The success of the program to date includes $1 million donated to fund the Bailey Smith Chair of
Evangelism. An additional $500,000 has been contributed to three other academic chairs, one of which has already been identified as the Johnny Hunt Chair of Church Growth.
During the Patterson presidency, Southeastern has initiated a renovation and expansion program to meet the seminary’s growing physical needs. Several buildings have been renovated including a facility to accommodate prospective students, an efficiency apartment for married
students and worship center renovations of the Binkley Chapel.
In an effort to keep pace with the school’s flourishing enrollment during the Patterson era, the seminary has increased its student housing base by 300 units through new construction and purchasing or leasing
Plans are also underway for a $3.1 million construction and renovation project which includes the construction of a center for missions and evangelism training and the renovation of an existing campus building for faculty offices.
Compiled by Herb Hollinger, Art Toalston and SEBTS staff.