As this series continues I want to remind our readers of the prompting that brought this about. It is based on scripture but also a life lesson found in the song of the 1978 Country Music hit by Kenny Rogers “The Gambler”.
“You got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.”
In the last post I lamented how the current leadership is not what was envisioned when I first started coming to conventions back in 1990. Of course by 1990 the entity leaders in the convention were beginning a downhill journey as SEBTS and others were now enjoying a majority of conservative trustees. I began at SEBTS in the fall of 1989. We still had many of the old moderate professors teaching at the seminary and much of the administration was abandoning ship. As a matter of fact the Admissions Director walked me personally through my interviews with the professors along with Dr. Lewis Drummond and then after telling me I was accepted into the Associate of Divinity program immediately told me he was leaving to go to Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, the moderate seminary that was just getting started. Which brings me to my next point in this series.
Second, the standards that I was taught when I was in seminary. While working on my Associate’s degree we had a new professor of preaching come to SEBTS named Dr. Wayne McDill. He was an absolute God-send to me. I was new in the faith and new to ministry. Dr. McDill joined the church where I was a member and we became great friends. He took a liking to me that, to this day, I will never understand. He was fair but he was hard also. I remember in a sermon delivery class he ripped me to shreds. I would go back for more. He taught me the inductive/deductive bible study application. It was like something I had never seen before. I thoroughly enjoyed learning the art of communication within my calling of preaching. There was another professor I got to know more toward the end of my Associate’s degree time and his name was Dr. Phil Roberts. Dr. Roberts took me to Romania with him on a mission trip and I will never forget the impact that trip made on my life. Dr. Roberts was one whose heart was broken for the world outside the borders of the US. That desire I saw in him strengthened my desire to personally take the gospel outside the US borders.
These two men plus others certainly encouraged me in my walk there at SEBTS. They were bright lights shining for me the conservative view point that I was not getting. I certainly will always be grateful for their impact in my life, especially during those early days of finding my way. I left SEBTS and entered Campbell University, a North Carolina Baptist school. It was there that I saw the more head strong moderate stance played out in the battle within the SBC.
It was in January, 1993 that I entered this level of my education. Do not get me wrong, the professors at Campbell certainly were very encouraging in trying to pour education in my hard skull. I learned the finer points of moderate theology. It was there that I learned about Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hobbes etc. etc. By the time I completed the required philosophy courses I did not know whether I was thinking or existing, or neither. It was here that I heard caustic verbiage concerning the conservative resurgence along with seeing an angry confrontation with a representative from SEBTS by the head of my Religion Department. The SEBTS representative was verbally attacked and sat there dumbfounded as he tried to find some sort of understanding as to how he should respond. I was appalled that this mild mannered professor, who I had allowed in my pulpit, would treat another Brother in Christ in this manner. It was at Campbell that I learned the moderates were very caustic and could spew vitriol better than anyone I had ever been around. I saw a female conservative humiliated and berated as ignorant simply because she took a conservative approach to the story of Deborah in the Old Testament. The day came for my graduation from Campbell and not a moment too soon. I was excited to have earned my Bachelor of Arts in Religion and Christian Ministries. I now had the required degree to enter SEBTS in search of that Masters of Divinity. I had joked earlier that I was not going to stop until I received my “union card”. Boy, has that statement ever come back to haunt me many a time.
When I came back to SEBTS it was a completely different seminary than the one I had left. It was the fall of 1995 that I matriculated into SEBTS in pursuit of my Masters and by this time an additional six hours of Greek and six hours of Hebrew had been added. SEBTS increased the standard Masters of Divinity degree of 88 semester hours to 94 semester hours. I found out later that I could get a Juris Doctor degree for the investment of 88 hours in in most law schools. I remember complaining about the increase in hours to Dr. McDill and he quickly told me; “go be a lawyer”. Dr. McDill has a way of saying the right words at the right time to me.
SEBTS was completely different in atmosphere and attitude than it was when I spent the time on campus for my Associate of Divinity degree. We had younger professors, many of which were not from a Baptist background but were evangelical in their beliefs. I remember my Church History professor admitted in class that he was from a Presbyterian church and changed to Baptist recently because someone challenged him on Baptism according to Scripture. Thank God that he was able to make that transition but his soteriology was evident in his class many times. It was during this time that I engaged in the various debates concerning Calvinism in the student, as Dr. Jerry Vines calls them, “bull” sessions. I remember having Dr. James Merritt on campus as chapel speaker one day and Dr. Patterson jabbing him with a humorous critique. Dr. Patterson said; “from a thorough going 5-point Calvinist you spoke about human responsibility like an Arminian.” Everyone laughed and moved on because Calvinism was not an issue but we did have some on campus that tried very hard to promote this soteriology. I remember the book Southern Baptists and the Doctrine of Election by author Robert B. Selph, made it into all of the student mail boxes on campus. This caused a stir but it was handled by explaining the book was not authorized by the administration to be placed in the students mailboxes. One must remember that Dr. Lewis Drummond, Dr. Patterson’s immediate predecessor, was an self-confessed 5-point Calvinist. Dr. Drummond balanced his Calvinism out by studying, writing, and promoting evangelism with Charles Finney being his favorite evangelist. Though Dr. Drummond made no bones about it, Charles Spurgeon was his favorite Pastor/Theologian. Thus, I went from appreciating Charles Finney to being taught under the Patterson administration, by some of the more Calvinistic professors, that Finney promoted too much emotionalism in his invitations. That Finney’s theology was too man-centered and not enough God-centered.
Also, by 1995, we were beginning to see many churches start to force out students over various issues. Dr. Patterson made the statement after coming to Wake Forest that the moderates were not as open to receiving conservatives as they were demanding that conservatives receive moderates. His position was certainly warranted as he and his wife tried to join Wake Forest Baptist church, the church that sits on the campus, and was refused membership. Much of the SBC controversy was played out in the church life at this time. Dr. Patterson saw that many of the professors he was bringing in lacked either pastoral experience in Southern Baptist churches, or pastoral experience in any type of church. Therefore, he found that Mr. Julian Motely was about to retire and invited him to teach in the pastoral department. Mr. Motely did not have a professional degree to teach but had over 3o years of pastoral experience in one church located in Durham, NC. Mr. Motely agreed and certainly added balance to a faculty that lacked the practical side of pastoral experience that was lacking at SEBTS. This move helped many students as they would spend hours in Mr. Motely’s office seeking advice on how to handle difficult situations in the church they were serving.
Through this time we saw one local church vote to remove their pastor because African Americans were baptized in the baptistery. Dr. Patterson was a member of that church and on the day of the vote he and Mrs. Patterson canceled their speaking engagements in order to be there for that vote. When the ballots were counted and the pastor was asked to leave, Mrs. Patterson sat beside that pastor’s wife and comforted her. Before they left that day, Dr. Patterson announced he would not be back as he could not support a church that would take this kind of action. We were constantly praying in seminary chapel for our fellow student pastors as many of the churches were inundated with moderate doctrine and caused pain and turmoil for stands on scripture. Were some student pastors out of the way with their stands? Certainly were, and when the occasion called for it they were confronted by the administration. I know of one case where there werer a couple of students that were part of a church and the church was not moving as quickly as the students felt they should. They confronted the pastor and was trying to pressure the pastor to step aside. When our Dean of Students was informed about this issue he called those students into his office and told them to remove themselves from that church. If the pastor was not moving as quickly as they felt, they were told, that was not their concern because they were not called by God there to be the pastor.
It was stands like that from the administration that I learned to not back up on what I believed. It was stands made concerning the Virgin Birth, the blood atonement, baptism by immersion, local church autonomy, a Baptist ecclessiology, a trinitarian Godhead, an immanent return of Jesus Christ, a scriptural view of the home, etc., etc. All of these were doctrines I was taught there was no backing up on. While some of these doctrines were not necessary for salvation, for a Southern Baptist these doctrines were never to be surrendered even for the sake of expediency. This was not only taught to us in the classroom, but it was heralded from the chapel podium. I saw many leaders in the SBC speak in our chapel. I remember attending the revivals on campus, seeing fellow students realizing their need for a Savior, seeing many in a prayer conference being broken as the Spirit of God enveloped Binkley Chapel. It was during that prayer conference that God moved on my heart about remaining quiet and allowing others to do my talking for me. I promised him that if he ever gave me a platform I would speak out for these things that he was teaching through these great men of God.