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Pastor’s letter challenges seminary’s proposed stance

REVISED: New paragraphs 14 and 15 added Oct. 26.

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–In a five-page letter Oct. 16, Texas pastor Dwight McKissic set forth his opposition to a planned vote by trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to disassociate the institution from Pentecostal/charismatic doctrines and practices such as a private prayer language.

“My conscience and biblical convictions necessitate that I vote against our president’s recommendation,” McKissic, a new trustee, wrote in reference to SWBTS President Paige Patterson.

When trustees voted Oct. 17, McKissic registered the lone opposing vote to the SWBTS stance.

McKissic stated in the letter that he intends to maintain his friendship with Patterson, expressing ongoing appreciation for the Southern Baptist Convention’s conservative resurgence of which Patterson was a part.

But, he asserted, the stance recommended by Patterson and the trustees’ executive committee will tell “potential faculty, administrators, students, donors, and the entire Southern Baptist family … that Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is not a place where a diversity of views about the work of the Holy Spirit within the history and theology of Baptists is tolerated.”

McKissic asserted that the stance will shift “the historic position of Southwestern Seminary from a place of open and diverse theological discussion within the parameters of the Baptist Faith & Message to a de facto cessationist school” that believes some of the spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit have not been operative since the New Testament church.

Citing the proposed stance’s description of such practices as a private prayer language, which McKissic said he experiences, as “unnecessarily divisive,” McKissic asserted, “The source of division in Southern Baptist life is not from those of us who want more of God’s empowering presence in our lives, and are willing to seek his power earnestly. The source of division seems to come from those who wish to silence and deny us the freedom to serve in a convention that has never in its history spoken definitively on this matter.”

McKissic noted, “… I do not understand the agenda of those who wish to drive into the shadows those of us who are open to this area of the Spirit’s work, as clearly attested in Scripture.”

McKissic referenced controversy at the International Mission Board where the president, Jerry Rankin, has acknowledged his practice of a private prayer language and where trustees have adopted a policy against appointing missionaries who engage in the practice.

“I now know what God-called Southern Baptist missionaries must feel when they are told that they are unqualified to serve because of a work of the Spirit in their private devotional life,” McKissic wrote. “I know what it must feel like to serve as a leader in our convention, like IMB President Jerry Rankin, when the institution you serve passes policies that would keep you from serving had they been in effect when you began serving.”

McKissic, a former Southwestern student and now pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, sparked the controversy in an Aug. 29 chapel message at Southwestern stating that speaking in tongues “is a valid [spiritual] gift for today” that has been embraced or accepted by a number of Baptist leaders and theologians. The seminary issued a statement that afternoon disagreeing with McKissic’s view, and his message was removed from the seminary’s website.

In his Oct. 16 letter, McKissic referenced “other differences that threaten to divide us as a family,” such as Calvinism, the end times and the question of whether “a woman should teach a man in any context.”

On the latter question, McKissic asserted that some members of Southwestern’s trustees “sat under the teaching” of the late Betty Criswell, who led a Sunday School class for many years as the wife of W.A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas. And McKissic asserted that Patterson’s wife, Dorothy, a Southwestern faculty member, “has spoken at Concord Missionary Baptist Church in Dallas, formerly pastored by my friend and mentor, the late Dr. E.K. Bailey, during the Sunday morning worship hour as the principal speaker.”

In remarks to Baptist Press, Dorothy Patterson disputed McKissic’s statement as a mischaracterization about her giving testimony targeted to the women in the congregation at Bailey’s request, details she said she shared with McKissic in a conversation — that preceded McKissic’s controversy with SWBTS — meant to clarify differences she had with his belief about roles for women.

Patterson said she accepted Bailey’s invitation to articulate the scriptural role of women and to help the women in his flock celebrate the many ways they served in complementary roles to men. She also said she took the extra step to verbalize boundaries for herself when she spoke, telling the assembly she was there “to honor the women in the congregation and to share my own personal testimony concerning the joy of serving the Lord as a woman,” and that she was not there to teach men.

In his letter, McKissic reiterated his call for the the Southern Baptist Convention “as a whole to address this matter.

“It is time for Southern Baptists to recognize our diversity on these matters,” he wrote.

McKissic’s Oct. 16 letter followed a 10-page letter he wrote Oct. 13 to the trustee chairman, Van McClain of New York, and to two other trustees, with copies sent to the entire trustee board, answering various questions they had raised.

“I have been told that because the majority of Southern Baptists hold to the cessasionist or semi-cessasionist viewpoint, my [chapel] message was out of line with the majority of Southern Baptists,” McKissic wrote in the Oct. 13 letter. “Since when did majority opinion dictate theological interpretation in SBC life beyond the Baptist Faith and Message?”

McKissic noted that a majority of Southern Baptists once upheld slavery and segregation and that the SBC was on record as affirming the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade abortion decision during the 1970s. “To put it simply, popular opinion doesn’t always validate a theological position,” McKissic wrote.
For earlier Baptist Press stories on this issue, go to: