NOBTS Chapel and My Meeting with Dr. Kelley

Some time after Katrina (I’m not sure when. Months maybe. Those early years are a blur to me now) I arrived back to my house from a long day of helping visiting mission teams gut homes. My wife Michelle met me at the door with a big smile. It was hard to smile then and we were very busy. Well, I was very busy. Maybe too busy. But Michelle greeted me with a smile and said, “hurry in and look at what we received today.” There on the kitchen counter was probably the prettiest bouquet of flowers I’d ever seen and on the note was something like the following,

Dear Michelle and Jay, We know how busy you are during this difficult time and just wanted to let you know that we are praying for you both. Especially you, Michelle, for the sacrifice you are making while Jay is spending all this time serving with Disaster Relief. You are both appreciated.

Signed, Chuck and Rhonda Kelley

That note was then, and remains today, one of the most thoughtful things anyone ever did for us. I can’t tell you how much we needed that kind word at that time.

I have long appreciated Dr. Kelley for his encouragement to me and his heart for evangelism. I have loved him for his love for New Orleans and his service to our school. He has been gracious to my family, including to my mom and dad (Dad served for 10 years on the Board of Trustees at NOBTS). I publicly defended him from the floor of the Convention way back during the “Sole Membership” issue. Prayed for him in the aftermath of Katrina. Disagreed with him on some administrative issues at NOBTS and then this past Tuesday was disappointed and deeply frustrated with his chapel message that opened the Fall semester at NOBTS. You can find the link to that video HERE.

In the 16 years I have known Dr. Kelley I had never seen him stick out his neck like he did this past Tuesday. He rarely engages in polarizing topics. He appears never to be rattled by the goings on around the convention. He, to my knowledge, has never publicly waded into the trite debates of social media. But there was something markedly different on Tuesday.

Admittedly, he did something he had never done before and that was to publicly offer his own personal thoughts, from his private journal, during a chapel message about the state of the Southern Baptist Convention. While many of us in the blogosphere regularly comment on SBC issues without giving it a second thought, for him, it is unusual. And it was disconcerting and uncomfortable for me to see it happen in chapel.

Most everything he said during the first half of the message (much of the second half was agreeable to me) felt to me, not angry or malicious, but rather like I was watching a deeply hurt man react to frustration and pain that has been building for some time.

I basically disagreed with almost everything he said. He spoke of communicating with people who expressed great disappointment in the meeting in Dallas and on the direction of the future of the convention. I, on the other hand, have never been more encouraged and excited about the SBC and its future. He spoke of concerns for entities and decision makers that came across as frustrating and perplexing for him, and although I have had concerns about our entities from time to time I have not once been as moved to the level of disappointment that he is experiencing.

After his message Tuesday afternoon I though about contacting him, but then I thought (or hoped) maybe folks didn’t interpret the message the way I was afraid it was going to be interpreted. So I waited, but I didn’t have to wait for long. Social media lit up and it was clear that for some, his message came across even worse than I assumed it had. So, Friday afternoon I contacted his office for a meeting and he graciously received me. What follows is not a verbatim account of our two hours but is a survey of our interaction and my thoughts. It was a private conversation with privileged information but he is aware that I was going to write about our meeting.

After a kind welcome, he asked about my dad’s health. We chatted for a moment and I began my remarks by expressing my appreciation for him, retelling him of the story of those flowers after Katrina and how important I believe, just as he does, it is for brothers to speak with one another when we have differences. I expressed my concern over his comments, how I believe they have been taken in a very negative light by a great many Southern Baptists. I expressed my concern for him and for how his remarks reflected on our school as well. I told him that it was clear to me, although others may not have seen it, that I was watching a man that was hurt and that I was surprised by his message because it was not what I was used to seeing from him. I went on to state my concern for how his words could be damaging to recruiting efforts for new students and frustrating for current seminary students who might feel as if their thoughts/opinions and their hopes for the future of the SBC have been dismissed as being off course. I spoke for quite some time on a number of concerns and he listened actively and with interest. Then it was his turn to share his thoughts.

If Dr. Kelley is anything, he is a walking encyclopedia of Southern Baptist life and history. He recounted some aspects of the history of the SBC of which I was unaware. He spoke of the histories of entities, of stories of convention work and cooperation through the years and his deeply held conviction about what is happening in the SBC.

Although he did not “double down” on his remarks from Tuesday, his conviction regarding his concerns remain steadfast. He did not say this to me but I honestly do not think he expected the kind of response his message engendered. It is clear to me he feels strongly that he is expressing the sentiments of a significant portion of people in the SBC and as evidenced by the number of people that have corresponded with him before and after his message, he appears to feel validated in most, if not all of the ideas he shared on Tuesday.

I believe he painted an unfortunate, dark and foreboding picture of the SBC on Tuesday and I could not disagree with him more. I see great hope in the future of our convention. I am very happy about the election of our new president (of whom, by the way, Dr. Kelley spoke very highly and shared his confidence in Dr. Greear’s work in evangelism and passion for the gospel). I am encouraged by the overall direction of the entities (but will continue to offer critique when I feel it is appropriate) and I am down-right excited with this current generation of pastors and young people who have a great passion for the lost and a heart for discipleship. I have argued in the past that convention entity heads ought to be allowed to speak their mind about issues in SBC life, just like the rest of us (albeit not in the area of entity servers being used for electioneering 🙂 ) … and, well… he did just that. He shared his concerns. I just wish he hadn’t done it in chapel.

It is most evident to me that his greatest concern is with the change in dialogue we have witnessed which favors spending time on secondary and tertiary issues in place of focusing on the “heart matter” of evangelism. To me, it appears that his particular critiques weren’t as much about the specific concerns he shared as it is that those things, in his mind, are the evidences that our focus is not where it should be. He offered me a helpful analogy in the form of “conversations at a party.” He noted that the tone and tenor of a party is often loud with many different conversations going on at the same time. He suggested that the reason for or theme of our party (the SBC) is for the work of evangelism. However, he notes, when the purpose of the party has been lost, people begin to hear and pay more attention to the private side conversations taking place at the party and we become distracted by the peripheral dialogues. He believes the reason for the problems, which he has pointed out, is due to our lack of focus on evangelism. I heard him loud and clear on that. In fact, I’m now rehashing his sermon through that lens. All in all, it is even more clear for me that a sort of perfect storm happened for Dr. Kelley on Tuesday with (1) his personal convictions, (2) validation from an agreeing segment of Southern Baptists, and (3) his own hurts and concerns culminated in privately-journaled thoughts that were (unfortunately, in my opinion) unveiled in a chapel message.

Dr. Kelley does not need me to defend him, nor would he want me to, and certainly, in this case, I would not do so. We not only have disagreements about the content of his message but also about some of the mode and tone of the message. However, what we ALL need is to realize that each of us are more often misunderstood than completely understood by others. I know I have been. I believe Dr. Kelley to be wrong about most of his concerns, although I now understand his concerns better than I did. I believe him to be wrong about the state of the SBC, but I now understand what he is seeing that moves him in that way, even if I disagree with his interpretation. What is NOT wrong is his heart for the lost, his love for the SBC and his willingness to stand up and say what he feels is right even if he is in the minority. I think the most important thing I took from our meeting is that we all do well to remember in these days, however you feel about the state of the SBC, there are considerable numbers of Southern Baptists who feel differently about the health of the SBC.

On a side note, I was reminded today why it is so important to interact with those with whom we disagree. Sitting down with one another does not mean, nor should it mean, that we rise in unanimous agreement. But it does mean that we are giving ourselves and the other an opportunity to listen and to be heard. I have been reminded anew that to sit on the other side of a computer screen and lob ad hominems to and fro is sinful action. It is unchristlike. I needed to remember that. We need to be better at communicating. We need to engage one another. We need to be people who will “talk with” one another rather than just “talk about” one another.

Also, let me reiterate something for current and any possible future students of NOBTS. I am very proud of our seminary on a couple of fronts. As Dr. Kelley mentioned in the later part of his message, NOBTS has always been a balanced school. In my words, we have had both 5 point reformed profs and 4 point remonstrant profs. 😉 Speaking as a Pastor who holds to a reformed soteriological position, I can say that I have only and ever been appreciative of the good balance of professors at NOBTS. We are not a “reformed” seminary and we are not an “anti-Reformed” seminary. We are a Baptist Seminary holding to the tradition of “both rails” and I want to assure anyone who might view Dr. Kelly’s chapel message in contrary terms to rest assured, that will not change. His hiring philosophy has kept our school balanced and for that I am very thankful.

We left one another still in disagreement about the particulars but I hope we left with a little more respect and appreciation for one another having sat down to talk as brothers should. This is how Jesus taught us it ought to be. For the sake of our school I believe we can move past this issue and on to a mutually shared excitement for the future of the cooperative work of the SBC.

P.S. I have asked Dr. Kelley if he would be willing to consider writing something for us here at Voices that might offer more insight or help to clarify his position and he received that offer with a smile and suggested he would consider that opportunity. I hope he does.

The Truths that Dr. MacArthur’s Social Justice Series Won’t Change (by Terrance Jones)

This article was originally posted at Terrance Jones’ blog, Live for Him or Die Trying.

I’m far from perfect. I have made many mistakes in my life, both before and after Christ. If perfection is the requirement to sound an alarm then you should stop reading now. I have not met that standard. I stand only because of the grace of God and the perfect record of the spotless lamb, Jesus Christ, who died for my sins (past, present and future).

I also want to affirm that I will never forget my time at The Master’s Seminary. The things I’m about to say, do not negate the reality that I was shaped and molded for four years of my life in this environment. I cherish many memories and the example of many individuals. By God’s grace, the dividends are numerous and the impact will have lasting effects for the years to come. I’m grateful for Dr. MacArthur, the staff of the seminary and college, the local churches my wife and I were a part of, and the multitude of friendships that were forged through the ups and downs of that season of life.

However, the presence of true and real blessings does not mean the absence of some alarming realities. Unfortunately, people who can’t wrap their mind around the previous statement will struggle with the criticisms I levy in this post. They will only see the “heads” side of the coin, unable to comprehend that “tails” even exists. They will use phrases like “how dare you speak negatively of our great president” because of all the “good” that TMUS, Grace To You, and Dr. MacArthur have done over the years.  Life should and must be examined from multiple angles from which we can appreciate elements that are helpful and reject the things that are not. We should be able to affirm both Peter’s miraculous preaching in Acts chapter 2, and his need for correction in Galatians 2 for being out of step with the gospel. As the saying goes, we have to be able to “eat the meat, but spit out the bones.” People who live among minority cultures understand this reality because much of life around us is facilitated by majority culture systems and individuals. Being a minority operating in majority culture can be like trying to build a house using the Imperial system of measurement (i.e. feet, inches, and pounds) when you have been trained your whole life with the Metric system of measurement (i.e. meters, grams).

For 11 years (4 as a student/staff at TMUS & 7 as an alumnus/church planter) I have kept my concerns mainly to myself, daring to share them with only a small group of people who’ve encouraged me to keep moving forward or whom I felt could actually bring about change. For many years I have “bitten my bottom lip” publicly, so to speak. In an attempt to honor those who have impacted my life, I have applied such force and pressure to that lip as to cause the shedding of blood. Yet quietly over the last few years, it has become increasingly difficult to keep biting that lip and wiping away the blood, and tears.

Since leaving seminary and planting a multicultural church in the inner-city of Montgomery, AL, my appreciation for the gospel and how it impacts racism and justice has only grown. As I watch the perseverance of my neighbors, live among them, and see the tangible struggles of their lives, Christ in me rises up and issues a call to action. As I see believers from various cultures and economic backgrounds forge real gospel community, deferring to one another and believing the best of one another, my appreciation for the gospel in action strengthens. To hear Dr. MacArthur and Grace To You say/write narrow-minded, inconsiderate, and frankly unbiblical things about the intersection of the gospel and racism has had a profound effect on me. It has impacted me to the point of saying, “Enough is enough.” I no longer care that I’m a low level nobody challenging a giant. I no longer care if, like others before me, I’m labeled a “black sheep” by TMUS for lovingly articulating concerns. As a matter of fact, the cavalier attitude of Phil Johnson (executive director of Grace to You), and Dr. MacArthur make it perfectly clear that even if I remain silent, I’m already a “black sheep.” Their comments/writings do nothing to consider the circumstances of anyone other than upper middle class, Republican-leaning white men (I’m neither republican nor democrat), and minorities who are accustomed to that culture. So in reality, my comments today cannot make me what I already feel like, “a black sheep”. I’m just graduating from a “black sheep” to a “blacker sheep.” It’s a promotion that I’m finally willing to accept.

Therefore, no matter what Dr. MacArthur says about the gospel and social justice in his current series hosted by Grace to You, certain truths will not change. No matter how few people hear or agree with what I have to say, the reality of the difficulties many have experienced at TMUS will remain. No matter how they try to change the subject from the real elephant in the room (probation and the potential loss of accreditation by WASC for a lack of integrity mixed with a culture of fear and intimidation) to the issue of social justice, the truth doesn’t change. It is worth noting that the vast majority of the data of the WASC report was given by my white brothers and sisters who are also hurting. I’m speaking up to encourage them, and to let them know they are not alone. I leave my thoughts with you not to change your mind, but to ensure that before God I can sleep at night knowing that I didn’t shrink back from saying hard things about beloved institutions and individuals. I write and make my thoughts public to fight for many others, who have not yet been heard or who, for a host of reasons, do not believe that they can speak up. The truth is Dr. MacArthur’s own leadership and institutions show little concern for the African American community and other minority students who grew up in an African American minority context. Every time Dr. MacArthur tells his 50-year-old civil rights story about “his good friend” John Perkins and visiting the murder scene of MLK, I often wonder why those experiences have translated into very little consideration towards marginalized people. Please consider the following realities.

In the entire TMS curriculum, which is 98 credit hours and approximately between 100 – 150 required books to read, not one book is written by a person of African heritage. Additionally, very few people of African descent are even explored within the historical theology classes. We traced the history of Christianity from 100 A.D. to our present day. Of all the historical figures we studied, I only remember Athanasius being identified as someone from African origins. What majority culture Christians don’t realize is that their world is dominated by Christians of European heritage. Minorities are often looking for faces and contributions of people who share their ethnic identity. Not for the sake of being superior. We simply long to understand how people of a similar ethnicity have contributed to redemptive history. You would think that since Dr. MacArthur is such “good friends” with John Perkins we would have read at least one of Dr. Perkins books or even learned about his legacy. However, even our classes that covered the history of Christianity in the United States were void of African American contributions.

Why does this matter? It sends a not so subtle message that the only great thinkers are European thinkers. The only great thoughts are European thoughts. Thus, Christianity is inadvertently portrayed as the white man’s religion. It’s heartbreaking and hurtful. When African Americans or people of color are in fact mentioned, it’s usually in a derogatory way for having bad theology, etc.

The truth is that Christianity would have struggled to survive tremendously without Northern Africans and even African Americans. I just had to learn of them on my own time. My seminary didn’t think those contributions were worth mentioning. I was furious when I was made to write a review of my almost 700 page American Church History book. I read the book intently looking for black or brown people and their contributions. I did not find them. But I did find that Bob Jones was included in the book as a hero of the faith. Bob Jones University refused desegregation until the early 1970’s, and then only conceded at the threat of losing their tax exempt status, which occurred in 1983. They did not overturn their rule banning interracial dating until the year 2000. This was also selfishly motivated to help the then candidate (George W. Bush) win the presidency, who took heat for giving a speech at a university that had a ban on interracial dating. (I reluctantly visited Bob Jones University in April, 2018 and I was pleasantly surprised by their repentance in living out the gospel among all people).

Again, I was furious. I noted my frustration in a blistering review of the book that could devote pages to Bob Jones’ positive contributions to Christianity and could not so much as include a couple of paragraphs on any black person with significant Christian contributions even if they were not perfect. Clearly, Bob Jones wasn’t perfect. I’m sure the professor remembers the book review because I doubt he has received many like it. You can also ask Dr. Paul Felix (the only full-time African American Professor who is now retired). I ranted in his office behind closed doors many a days with many tears. If not for him and his care for me as an African American student with a heart to one day impact the African American community, I would have surely quit. I specifically remember him telling me after ranting, “Calm down before you get kicked out of school.”

Imagine that…being in such a state of anger over how whitewashed your seminary education is that you say things that flirt with the possibility of getting you kicked out of school. I know if myself and many of my African American brothers felt this way, some of my brothers of Asian and Latino descent felt the same way or worse. I pray they will tell their stories too. Their perspectives are often left out of these conversations, but their voices are much needed.

It is hypocritical for Dr. MacArthur or anyone to say “just preach the gospel” thinking that will solve all issues. It doesn’t even work in his own church and the institutions he leads. It certainly will not work in your communities and churches. Hear me well. The true gospel is sufficient. The true gospel makes peace and destroys dividing walls of hostility. The true gospel looks racism and partiality in the face and condemns it to the pit of hell from which it came. It does not build barriers. We have a gospel that gives dignity and value and worth to all peoples. Shouldn’t our institutions that train us to take the gospel to all nations do the same? I distinctly remember when Peter, a Jew, first preached the gospel to the Gentiles in Cornelius’ home. Peter was awestruck by a divine revelation. “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34).  Then why is there so much partiality at TMUS under the leadership of Dr. MacArthur in curriculum decisions? In my next post I will continue making my argument of partiality in their preaching/worship curriculum and much more.

 


Terrence Jones is the pastor of Strong Tower at Washington Park in Montgomery, Alabama. Originally from Norman Park, GA, he attended Tuskegee University on a football scholarship and The Master’s Seminary (M.Div. 2011). Terrance is married to Thais and they are the proud parents of 6 children. 

And the Next President of SWBTS Is…

Sorry for that clickbait title. No, I have no idea who it will be.

I do hear a fair bit of scuttlebutt from time to time but the dust is still settling on the Patterson fiasco and it is too early to start naming names. I don’t think the search team has even been formed yet. The dedicated Patterson defenders are still laying down heavy fire in their efforts to undo the decision of the trustees, but their efforts will fail. The Executive Committee will be affirmed by the full board as it was by 98% majority at the convention and we will move on. The Patterson era is over and a new day is coming. There is no going back.

It is now time to begin looking forward to what kind of man the next president should be. It is good to reflect on what character qualities and competencies the new president should have, but to begin nominating individuals is premature. Let us all refrain.

Here are my thoughts about what I hope the next

1. SWBTS needs an institutional servant, not a celebrity.

It is not a good thing when the identity of the institution is too heavily wrapped up in the identity of the leader of that institution. The president serves the interests of the seminary and it should never be a personal fiefdom from which the president wields extraordinary power over convention affairs or any other personal agenda.

Paige Patterson was an icon when he ascended to the presidency at SWBTS – and we can and should always be grateful for the work he did. He wielded great power in office and behind the scenes and eventually, that became a problem. Many refused to hold him accountable or to believe he could err. Because of his personal status. many defended him no matter what he did and stood behind him even as the evidence against him piled up. For them, Dr. Patterson was bigger than the institution he served and they sought to defend him even at the cost of the interests of SWBTS.

It would be best if SWBTS avoided the celebrity, megachurch, power-broker candidate. Southwestern does not need someone who would use the president’s office at Southwestern as a throne from which to attempt to rule the SBC and guide its affairs. IT needs a president devoted to building the seminary, not controlling the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention.

2. SWBTS needs a recognized and reputable scholar.

The president of the seminary has several jobs but I believe he ought to be an academic. I think the IMB president ought to have a missions background and the president of a seminary ought to come from academia. There has been a movement in recent years to move megachurch pastors into these roles. I’m not sure it is helpful. If the declining numbers at Southwestern are to be reversed, it must be a first-class theological institution and it needs a president with the credentials to lead in that direction.

It sounds as if I am anti-megachurch. That’s not it. It is just that building a megachurch is fundamentally different from building an entity – whether a seminary or one of the other SBC entities. The president of Southwestern needs more than just a doctorate, but an academic standing.

3. SWBTS needs a preacher who can inspire Baptists. 

Some academics are not great in the pulpit. The president of SWBTS doesn’t need to be the best preacher in the SBC, but he ought to be able to preach competently at pastors’ conferences and churches. This is a bigger part of the job than we sometimes realize.

4. SWBTS needs a forward-focused leader who can raise funds and set a new direction. 

Assuming that the donors fail in their efforts to bully the trustees, there might be a bit of a cash crunch at SWBTS.

The president must set a new direction for the school that convinces people that the issues that have become public can be put in the past and inspires them about the bright future of SWBTS. There are some good things going on at Southwestern and a new leader needs to be about those things. This can’t just be hype or ignoring reality, but charting a new and positive course for the school. God’s people are usually generous when they sense that something worthwhile is happening in the kingdom.

We have seen what can happen in a troubled seminary when visionary leadership takes the helm. Dr. Jason Allen’s tenure at Midwestern has led to a remarkable turnaround at that school. As an Iowan, I was well-aware of the dysfunction and difficulty that has marked that school over time. But now it is one of our fastest-growing schools and the future is bright. Southwestern needs that kind of leadership.

What IS does not have to be what WILL be.

5. SWBTS needs a president in the theological tradition of SWBTS. 

The SBC is healthier because we have 6 seminaries with a variety of theological perspectives. Each one of our schools has a personality and a theological perspective. This is not the time to seek to change the theological dynamics of SWBTS. We have Southern and there is no need to make Southwestern like Southern.

It would be much better if someone from the David Allen wing of non-Calvinism/Traditionalism took the mantle of leadership. He holds his views passionately but is kind and cooperative with those who hold Calvinistic and other positions. If a more strident anti-Calvinist who continued the unfortunate attacks we saw during the recent presidential election got the job, it would damage the convention, creating greater division.

But the next president of SWBTS needs to remain in the theological tradition of the school – the cooperative side of that stream, but the non-Calvinist side nonetheless. Let the SBC have blessed variety.

6. SWBTS needs a president of the highest moral character and humble spirit. 

We have seen enough throughout our convention of the results of pride and the downfall of hubris. We have also seen the shipwreck of moral laxity in recent days in stunning and shocking ways. Character needs to be as high on the list as competency.

7. SWBTS needs a conservative president ready for a modern world. 

I had a conversation with an elderly pastor who disdained everything about “the way things are today.” There’s much about the modern world that I disdain as well, but you have to learn and adjust. Time marches forward, not backward, no matter how much we complain.

Institutions tend to drift, especially academic institutions, and Southwestern needs a man who is unalterably and unquestionably committed to the Baptist Faith, as defined in the Baptist Faith and Message. The thorniest issue in the Baptist world recently has been the way we treat women and the roles of women in the church under complementarian views. We have come to realize that our treatment of women has often been sinful, disrespectful, and not based on scripture but on fleshly traditions. The president of Southwestern needs to hold to the truths we profess while also demonstrating a commitment to honor women as image bearers and give them that lane to run in that Jacki King spoke so eloquently of in her recent article.

Southwestern has been a traditionalist institution in more ways than theologically. Holding on to eternal truth while applying those truths in an ever-changing world is going to require wisdom and grace from a unique kind of leader.

Random Thoughts

I have a few thoughts not worthy of a separate point, but I want to mention.

  • The president of SWBTS should honor the past, but not be bound by it.
  • Southwestern is now in a largely Hispanic area of the country. I’ve often wondered what would happen if we could find a Hispanic president for SWBTS and begin to position it as THE school for theological training among Hispanics, even in Central America. Just a thought.
  • The last three presidencies of SWBTS have ended in difficulty. Pray that they find a man who will lead well and long and turn over the reigns on his terms, in peace.

I have no idea who that man is, but neither did many people know who Al Mohler was before he was hired (at age 33, as I remember). I don’t think anyone picked Dr. Allen as the frontrunner at Midwestern. But I guess there is a man ready, willing, and able to lead SWBTS into its next era if the Trustees will pray and seek God’s wisdom. Remember that both Southern and Midwestern were in tumultuous times when these young men were hired and God sent just the right leader.

May God do that again.

NOTE: I don’t know the story of Akin’s hiring at SEBTS or Iorg at Gateway/GGBTS, or of Dr. Kelly at NOBTS. Everyone knew that Patterson was going to SWBTS when the Hemphill saga occurred. I don’t know if Akin, Kelly, or Iorg were “favorites” or “dark-horse” candidates. At this point, I am hoping for someone more in the Mohler/Allen mold (rest your hearts, Traditionalists – I am thinking of the STORY, not the theology).  I think there’s a dark horse out there.

And the Next President of SWBTS Is…

Sorry for that clickbait title. No, I have no idea who it will be.

I do hear a fair bit of scuttlebutt from time to time but the dust is still settling on the Patterson fiasco and it is too early to start naming names. I don’t think the search team has even been formed yet. The dedicated Patterson defenders are still laying down heavy fire in their efforts to undo the decision of the trustees, but their efforts will fail. The Executive Committee will be affirmed by the full board as it was by 98% majority at the convention and we will move on. The Patterson era is over and a new day is coming. There is no going back.

It is now time to begin looking forward to what kind of man the next president should be. It is good to reflect on what character qualities and competencies the new president should have, but to begin nominating individuals is premature. Let us all refrain.

Here are my thoughts about what I hope the next

1. SWBTS needs an institutional servant, not a celebrity.

It is not a good thing when the identity of the institution is too heavily wrapped up in the identity of the leader of that institution. The president serves the interests of the seminary and it should never be a personal fiefdom from which the president wields extraordinary power over convention affairs or any other personal agenda.

Paige Patterson was an icon when he ascended to the presidency at SWBTS – and we can and should always be grateful for the work he did. He wielded great power in office and behind the scenes and eventually, that became a problem. Many refused to hold him accountable or to believe he could err. Because of his personal status. many defended him no matter what he did and stood behind him even as the evidence against him piled up. For them, Dr. Patterson was bigger than the institution he served and they sought to defend him even at the cost of the interests of SWBTS.

It would be best if SWBTS avoided the celebrity, megachurch, power-broker candidate. Southwestern does not need someone who would use the president’s office at Southwestern as a throne from which to attempt to rule the SBC and guide its affairs. IT needs a president devoted to building the seminary, not controlling the direction of the Southern Baptist Convention.

2. SWBTS needs a recognized and reputable scholar.

The president of the seminary has several jobs but I believe he ought to be an academic. I think the IMB president ought to have a missions background and the president of a seminary ought to come from academia. There has been a movement in recent years to move megachurch pastors into these roles. I’m not sure it is helpful. If the declining numbers at Southwestern are to be reversed, it must be a first-class theological institution and it needs a president with the credentials to lead in that direction.

It sounds as if I am anti-megachurch. That’s not it. It is just that building a megachurch is fundamentally different from building an entity – whether a seminary or one of the other SBC entities. The president of Southwestern needs more than just a doctorate, but an academic standing.

3. SWBTS needs a preacher who can inspire Baptists. 

Some academics are not great in the pulpit. The president of SWBTS doesn’t need to be the best preacher in the SBC, but he ought to be able to preach competently at pastors’ conferences and churches. This is a bigger part of the job than we sometimes realize.

4. SWBTS needs a forward-focused leader who can raise funds and set a new direction. 

Assuming that the donors fail in their efforts to bully the trustees, there might be a bit of a cash crunch at SWBTS.

The president must set a new direction for the school that convinces people that the issues that have become public can be put in the past and inspires them about the bright future of SWBTS. There are some good things going on at Southwestern and a new leader needs to be about those things. This can’t just be hype or ignoring reality, but charting a new and positive course for the school. God’s people are usually generous when they sense that something worthwhile is happening in the kingdom.

We have seen what can happen in a troubled seminary when visionary leadership takes the helm. Dr. Jason Allen’s tenure at Midwestern has led to a remarkable turnaround at that school. As an Iowan, I was well-aware of the dysfunction and difficulty that has marked that school over time. But now it is one of our fastest-growing schools and the future is bright. Southwestern needs that kind of leadership.

What IS does not have to be what WILL be.

5. SWBTS needs a president in the theological tradition of SWBTS. 

The SBC is healthier because we have 6 seminaries with a variety of theological perspectives. Each one of our schools has a personality and a theological perspective. This is not the time to seek to change the theological dynamics of SWBTS. We have Southern and there is no need to make Southwestern like Southern.

It would be much better if someone from the David Allen wing of non-Calvinism/Traditionalism took the mantle of leadership. He holds his views passionately but is kind and cooperative with those who hold Calvinistic and other positions. If a more strident anti-Calvinist who continued the unfortunate attacks we saw during the recent presidential election got the job, it would damage the convention, creating greater division.

But the next president of SWBTS needs to remain in the theological tradition of the school – the cooperative side of that stream, but the non-Calvinist side nonetheless. Let the SBC have blessed variety.

6. SWBTS needs a president of the highest moral character and humble spirit. 

We have seen enough throughout our convention of the results of pride and the downfall of hubris. We have also seen the shipwreck of moral laxity in recent days in stunning and shocking ways. Character needs to be as high on the list as competency.

7. SWBTS needs a conservative president ready for a modern world. 

I had a conversation with an elderly pastor who disdained everything about “the way things are today.” There’s much about the modern world that I disdain as well, but you have to learn and adjust. Time marches forward, not backward, no matter how much we complain.

Institutions tend to drift, especially academic institutions, and Southwestern needs a man who is unalterably and unquestionably committed to the Baptist Faith, as defined in the Baptist Faith and Message. The thorniest issue in the Baptist world recently has been the way we treat women and the roles of women in the church under complementarian views. We have come to realize that our treatment of women has often been sinful, disrespectful, and not based on scripture but on fleshly traditions. The president of Southwestern needs to hold to the truths we profess while also demonstrating a commitment to honor women as image bearers and give them that lane to run in that Jacki King spoke so eloquently of in her recent article.

Southwestern has been a traditionalist institution in more ways than theologically. Holding on to eternal truth while applying those truths in an ever-changing world is going to require wisdom and grace from a unique kind of leader.

Random Thoughts

I have a few thoughts not worthy of a separate point, but I want to mention.

  • The president of SWBTS should honor the past, but not be bound by it.
  • Southwestern is now in a largely Hispanic area of the country. I’ve often wondered what would happen if we could find a Hispanic president for SWBTS and begin to position it as THE school for theological training among Hispanics, even in Central America. Just a thought.
  • The last three presidencies of SWBTS have ended in difficulty. Pray that they find a man who will lead well and long and turn over the reigns on his terms, in peace.

I have no idea who that man is, but neither did many people know who Al Mohler was before he was hired (at age 33, as I remember). I don’t think anyone picked Dr. Allen as the frontrunner at Midwestern. But I guess there is a man ready, willing, and able to lead SWBTS into its next era if the Trustees will pray and seek God’s wisdom. Remember that both Southern and Midwestern were in tumultuous times when these young men were hired and God sent just the right leader.

May God do that again.

NOTE: I don’t know the story of Akin’s hiring at SEBTS or Iorg at Gateway/GGBTS, or of Dr. Kelly at NOBTS. Everyone knew that Patterson was going to SWBTS when the Hemphill saga occurred. I don’t know if Akin, Kelly, or Iorg were “favorites” or “dark-horse” candidates. At this point, I am hoping for someone more in the Mohler/Allen mold (rest your hearts, Traditionalists – I am thinking of the STORY, not the theology).  I think there’s a dark horse out there.