FORT WORTH?Leighton Paige Patterson accepted the unanimous invitation of the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to serve as the school’s eighth president effective August 1. He follows Kenneth S. Hemphill who resigned April 8 to give direction to the Empowering Kingdom Growth initiative of Southern Baptists.
In his affirmation of the board’s decision, Hemphill said, “If you look at the excellent faculty he has assembled [as president of Southeastern Seminary] and the growth and enthusiastic student body that have been drawn to Southeastern, you will discover an eloquent testimony to his credentials to lead Southwestern.” Hemphill said Patterson’s passion for missions and “great heart for the world” will “suit him well to lead the greatest mission-training institution in the world.”
Search Committee Chairman Denny Autrey of Lindale, Texas, said the committee was united in a decision to consider one candidate at a time, finding the current president of Southeastern Seminary qualified based on the conditions set forth by faculty, staff, administration, and students. Those qualities addressed trustworthiness, leadership, oversight of the school, communication skills, and donor development.
Autrey said the committee sought a president with personal maturity and family values, a call to seminary education, proven administrative leadership in higher education, openness and acceptance of all people, and the ability to identify with the heritage of Southwestern Seminary.
In a news conference following the June 24 vote, Patterson said the transition from one seminary president to another naturally causes faculty and staff to be anxious. “The problem is exacerbated by the fact that some of us have certain kinds of reputations that may or may not be fully deserved.” He pledged, “We come to you with open arms, love in our hearts and a desire to see Southwestern Seminary be everything it ought to be for the glory of God.”
First contacted on May 15, Patterson said, “In my wildest imagination I never dreamed I would be standing here today. Nor did I have any particular interest in it,” he added. “When you are totally satisfied and happy and blessed of God beyond any possible way to assess it and someone says, ‘Are you interested in moving,” the answer is, ‘No, I am not.”
His change of heart occurred on June 10 at 35,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, Patterson said in his letter of resignation to Southeastern. “God spoke decisively to my heart,” he told the media.
Patterson described the faculty of Southwestern as “exceedingly kind and gentle” in the private meeting held that morning. “When the philosophy department went to the microphone I was temporarily stymied with fear that there would be some question about Kantian realism or something of that nature,” he quipped.
According to a source present for the meeting, topics discussed included the globalization of the seminary through the teaching of international students, student recruitment, faculty vacancies, styles of teaching, the broader evangelical community, equality of women and men and Christian education in local churches.
Other closed-door discussion with trustees addressed preparing students for smaller churches, pastoral authority, expository preaching, making evangelism and missions a priority, faculty tenure, undergraduate education, distance learning, seminary endowments, Cooperative Program funding and faculty with membership in churches that are supportive of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Baptist Standard Emeritus Editor Toby Druin quizzed Patterson on whether he would “push for faculty changes.” The president-elect said, “It was never necessary to relinquish anyone” when he took office at Southeastern. I cannot imagine any circumstance in which I would come in and, as you said, clean house. I would prefer instead to motivate on a much higher level.”
Patterson repeated for the media the hiring criteria he had outlined earlier. “The most important thing is that they be genuine men and women of God who have learned to walk with God and know what that means. They must be good husbands or wives and good fathers and mothers. I’m more concerned about modeling those kinds of things than just about anything else.” He said he expects faculty members to be “consistent witnesses for Christ” who “share their faith with people everywhere.”
Furthermore, Patterson said he will be looking for people who are “adequately credentialed with the appropriate terminal degrees,” who have “proven their ability in those areas and are willing to contribute to theological literature” through writing and teaching. He emphasized competence in classroom teaching “because I have a deep-seated conviction that it’s a sin to be boring.” And finally, prospective faculty must operate within the guidelines of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, he said.
The NBC affiliate in Fort Worth latched onto Patterson’s answer as to whether he would allow a woman to teach in the School of Theology.PAN