FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The announcement that Paige Patterson, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and conservative resurgence architect, was being considered for the presidency of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary drew reactions from both seminaries June 24.
During a closed meeting on the Fort Worth campus with Southwestern Seminary faculty members and staff, Patterson fielded questions on leadership style, criterion for professors and effective theological education.
Terri Stovall, Southwestern Seminary’s women’s program director and assistant professor of adult education, said the nearly three-hour meeting was marked by a positive tone.
“There was a freedom for the faculty and staff to ask whatever they wanted. I don’t think anybody felt like they couldn’t ask something,” she said. “Dr. Patterson seemed to respond very openly and honestly even on some issues that may be considered a little touchy. I think the faculty and staff appreciated that.”
After listening to Patterson and trustees at the meeting, Stovall said her initial reaction to the announcement that the east coast president was being considered for the presidency included a respect for the decision of the presidential search committee.
“My initial reaction was that the trustees had truly prayed about this and consulted the Lord, and that the trustees wanted the man that God had [for Southwestern Seminary],” she said. “Obviously the committee feels like it is Dr. Patterson — that’s the message I got.”
As developer of the women’s program at Southwestern Seminary, Stovall said she looks forward to working with Patterson’s wife, Dorothy, to further opportunities for women at Southwestern if Patterson was elected later that day.
“I really look forward to working with Mrs. Patterson. To me, she has been a trail blazer in theological education for women,” Stovall said. “She has been somebody I’ve looked to often times as a role model for women in theological education.”
While some speculate about Patterson’s compatibility with Southwestern Seminary’s faculty, David Allen, Southwestern’s chairman of the board of trustees said he has high hopes that “our excellent faculty will work well with Dr. Patterson.”
“He leads by example and doesn’t expect people to do what he himself is unwilling to do,” Allen said, in an interview with the Southern Baptist Texan. “I think the faculty will respond very well to Dr. Patterson as they get to know his heart.”
Southern Baptist Convention President Jack Graham said Patterson’s strategy of leading by example has resulted in “hot-hearted preachers” leading Southern Baptist churches.
“In the first year of preaching in chapel [at Southeastern Seminary] when there was still a great deal of tension in the air, changes were evident,” Graham said. “Go back two or three years after that, and you’ll see revival — the spiritual transformation of that campus. One of the things he does is to lead by example and to ask faculty and administrators to lead by example, being present, accounted for in chapel — it has worked powerfully and beautifully at Southeastern.”
During the meeting with Southwestern Seminary faculty members, Malcolm McDow, professor of evangelism at Southwestern, said Patterson outlined his philosophy for effective theological education. In an information packet distributed to faculty members, the philosophy was defined as “the exposure of the student to great men and women of God, to their lives, to their walk with the Master, to their homes, to their approaches to study, and to their methods of ministry.”
As an outgrowth of his philosophy of ministry, Patterson outlined his commitments to the faculty, noting he would “emphasize evangelism and missions.” Professors and staff also learned that Patterson would expect the faculty to remain “loyal to Christ, Southern Baptists and to Southwestern.” Patterson also noted an expectation of faculty’s involvement in missions.
The expectation to adhere to Southern Baptist causes and a commitment to missions and evangelism is nothing new to Southeastern Seminary professors serving with Patterson.
According to Southeastern Seminary’s professor of evangelism, Alvin Reid, Patterson has created a sense of collegiality around the principles of missions and evangelism.
“What’s great about the faculty here at Southeastern is that it is a brotherhood and sisterhood,” Reid said. “Paige has built that by example. There are those who have said for 20 years now, ‘Let’s not fight over doctrine; let’s just do missions and evangelism.’ He has demonstrated you can’t separate the two. Paige Patterson has done the great experiment, avoiding what virtually every seminary in the history of man has had — extreme division between academic or theological scholarly pursuits and more practical issues like evangelism.
“He embodies the blend between a theologian and an evangelist. I’m excited for Southwestern — especially for my professors that taught me evangelism,” said Reid, a Southwestern Seminary alum. “Because what you will see is a renewed passion for missions and evangelism and perhaps Southwestern’s greatest days ever.”
Keith Eitel, Southeastern Seminary’s director of the Center for Great Commission Studies, said he believes Patterson would do an “outstanding job” leading the seminary just as he succeeded in bringing new vision to Southeastern Seminary and Criswell College in Dallas.
“I’ve worked with Dr. Patterson since 1985 and found him to have a keen intellect, clear vision, masterful leadership skills, and a desire to only please God in his life and ministry,” Eitel said. “That’s a winning combination for anyone who is to lead in any capacity.”
David Nelson, Southeastern Seminary assistant professor of systematic theology, said it is hard to “be at Southeastern long without picking up a fervor for the passionate worship of God and the passionate pursuit of lost souls.”
“Dr. Patterson has kept a focus on worship and missions at the heart of the institution,” Nelson said. “The emphasis on worship and missions creates a tremendous environment in which to pursue genuine Christian scholarship. I have never seen an educational institution where there is a better environment for this kind of scholarship.”
Peter Schemm, assistant professor of theology at Southeastern Seminary, said Patterson’s emphasis on missions revolutionized the seminary.
“Dr. Patterson’s decade at Southeastern has no doubt been one of the greatest decades of leadership any of our six seminaries have ever experienced,” Schemm said. “I say this not only because of the conservative resurgence, but also because Patterson has been uniquely used of God to inspire students with a missionary fervor and zeal that is only exceeded by the likes of William Carey and Adoniram Judson.”
After Patterson was unanimously elected to the position, reaction turned to the potential impact he might have on Texas Baptist churches.
Allen, the board of trustees chairman who also serves as pastor of MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving, said he believes “Texas Baptist churches as well as all Southern Baptist Convention churches will be proud of what they see coming out of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary under Dr. Patterson’s leadership.”
“It is from our Texas churches that Southwestern receives the strongest and sturdiest trees from their forest of future ministry leaders,” Allen said. “When the churches see the polished furniture they get from those students’ tenure at Southwestern, the relationship will be strong indeed.”
Although a Baptist newspaper recently suggested Patterson might be brought in to solidify the seminary’s ties to the conservative movement, Allen denied such allegations.
“Since the seminary is owned and operated by the SBC, she is already tied to the conservative movement as that is the heartbeat of the SBC,” he said. “The solidification of those ties will be a natural outcome of Dr. Patterson’s leadership at Southwestern, but that is not the reason he has been hired. The search committee and the board of trustees felt God’s leadership to call Dr. Patterson to this strategic task, and that is why he was hired.”
However, in light of Patterson’s staunch stance on the authority and truthfulness of the Word of God, Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Executive Director Jim Richards believes Patterson will strengthen the ties between the seminary and the new convention.
“No one has a greater missionary spirit. He has preached and practiced personal involvement in the Great Commission,” Richards said. “Denominationally, Dr. Patterson commanded the respect of his peers by being elected twice as president of the Southern Baptist Convention. His accomplishments at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary are almost of biblical proportions. I predict a strong working relationship between Southwestern and the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.”
Southwestern Seminary trustee Lollie Cogswell, a member of First Baptist Church in Sherman, Texas, said Patterson’s leadership would reap benefits for Texas churches.
“I think all the pulpits in Texas will benefit,” Cogswell said. “This man led one seminary to great heights, and we hope he will do the same thing here.”
David Galvan, Southwestern Seminary trustee and pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista Nueva Vida in Garland, Texas, sat under Patterson’s teaching at Criswell College in theology classes. Galvan said Patterson’s presence in Texas would assist local loyalty to conservative principles.
“I think it strengthens the conservative voice in Texas, not that it wasn’t strong before because his influence was always there, but his availability to local pastors and state meetings allows for [a stronger voice],” he said.
Craig Blaising, Southwestern Seminary executive provost, said Patterson would spend his first months on campus building a rapport with the faculty and the staff. Saying he looks forward to working with Patterson, Blaising said that his job description would not change.
“We’ve had a good relationship,” Blaising said of Patterson, adding that he believes he and the newly elected president will have “synergy” working together. “The administrative structure is basically that which the trustees have put forward. There’s been no indication of a change because that structure … works very well.”
Blaising noted that the team of president and provost is a typical structure for institutions.
“We believe this is a good administrative structure no matter who is in it,” he said. “And I believe we already have the foundation for a great working relationship in the future.”
O.S. Hawkins, president of the Southern Baptist Convention Annuity Board and a Southwestern Seminary graduate, praised the selection.
“There’s one person that exemplifies the theological expertise of B.H. Carroll, our founder, and the passion and evangelistic zeal of his successor, Lee Scarborough — that’s Paige Patterson,” Hawkins said. “He’s going to be the embodiment of what’s made Southwestern Seminary great.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: FIELDING THE QUESTIONS and DOROTHY PATTERSON.