SWBTS Trying to Oust Calvinist Professors?

Posted on February 5, 2009. Filed under: Theological Issues |

Thursday, February 5, 2009–There is apparently a big controversy breaking out of Southwestern Theological Seminary here in Fort Worth over the issue of whether President Paige Patterson is trying to remove certain Calvinist Professors over the doctrine of the limited atonement or particular redemption.

I am a SWBTS alum, I live in Fort Worth and attend a church that has a  few SWBTS professors as members as well as dozens of SWBTS students from the college to the MDiv program to the the PhD program. I only have  a couple of friends who might know anything about this situation and I am not close with to any of the main actors in the situation nor have I spoken with any of the main actors. I have generally positive thoughts and feelings toward Pres. Patterson and very positive thoughts and feelings towards the particular professors in my church who are of the Calvinist persuasion. I have no insider, first hand information of the controversy, but I have been reading about it on the  blogs listed below and I have spoken with a couple of  friends at the school. This posting on my blog is my personal experience, thoughts and feelings about the controversy.

According to some of the blogs and some of the second hand information I have heard which amounts to hearsay (as opposed heresy) there MAY be an effort by someone, maybe Dr. Patterson, to remove some of the Calvinist professors and to link their removal to the economic downturn.

I am optimistically skeptical of this effort being a deliberate effort by Dr. Patterson to oust the Calvinist professors. In the first blog I linked, in the comments section, is a very strongly worded denial by a seminary professor who should know what is happening because he is a 5 point Calvinist. Secondly, there were other comments made that clearly stated that Dr. Patterson has a track record of hiring professors from all points of the TULIP perspective. He hired ’em, why would he now seek to fire them?

Yet the main blogger who started the story, Wade Burleson, has stood by his story. In fact I heard of this alleged plot 2 weeks ago from one of my friends at the seminary before Burleson broke the story. Burleson maintains that his breaking of the story may now have forced Dr. Patterson to change the plan in mid stream since it got public and would be a huge embarrassment.

In situations like this there is often truth on both sides and it comes down to a matter of intent, of emphasis and even personal interpretation, when not all the facts are known.

Some professors were probably asked by Dr. Patterson about their soteriology, and possibly their views on witnessing, sharing the gospel and missions. Wade did not mention the possible questions about witnessing etc. The quote that I have seen from the transcript of a meeting Dr. Patterson had last night is,

Southwestern will not build a school in the future around anybody who could not look anybody in the world in the eyes and say, “Christ died for your sins.”

Wade Burleson made much of this quote and basically is saying that this is clearly Dr. Patterson stating that he will not allow 5 point Calvinists to continue teaching on the campus.

In my humble opinion, I believe it is possible to interpret the quote differently. Yes, strictly speaking if you draw a very tight line, he is confronting the doctrine of limited atonement. But I think something else may be going on here.

In the interviews with the professors in question, the questions asked were not merely theological, but, perhaps also about personal witnessing encounters and views of missions and evangelism. It seems to me that just maybe, Patterson asked the questions in such a way so as to elicit a response from the Calvinist professors that would confirm their individual commitment to preaching the gospel, witnessing and missions. By asking the questions in that manner, Patterson would then be able to go back to the Trustees, or whoever was putting on the pressure, and give a positive report that would basically say, “Yes I have some 5 point Calvinists as professors and they have each given me an account of how they share the gospel and I am satisfied that they fit in with our missions and evangelism emphasis.”

Now this may be pure conjecture on my part, and may be overly optimistic. But it is plausible given the evidence I have read and heard.

Until I am confronted with overwhelming evidence, I cannot agree with Wade Burleson’s accusations. That being said, I do not impugn his motives at all. I quite simply believe that there are times we can look at the same evidence, and interpret it differently. Wade may be proved right; but I hope not. I DO believe that there are SOME, not neccessarily Dr. Patterson, who do want to oust the Calvinists from SWBTS

Here are the links to the spat:

Here is the first story that broke the news and caused all sorts of charges and counter charges:


Here is the second story:


And here is the third story:



And today’s story:


And here is a very good piece from Founder’s Ministries about the whole mess:


Over 33 years ago, when I was just getting ready to graduate from High School, Paige Patterson, Judge Paul Pressler, Dr. Adrian Rogers and others were formulating a plan to rescue the Southern Baptist Convention from the clutches of liberalism. The liberals of the old SBC controlled virtually every seminary and agency within the convention and most of the state conventions’ colleges. Just about every other large denomination had either succumbed to liberalism or divided along liberal/fundamentalist lines. To my knowledge and according to a long lost Christianity Today article from several years back, the SBC is the only major denomination in America to approach the abyss of liberalism, stop, pull back and recover without a major split. I fully supported the Conservative Resurgence and genuinely thank Pres. Patterson for his hard work in that effort.

Yes, many of the moderates have left the SBC and formed their own convention, but overall, the losses were fairly small.Yes, there were some ungodly things said and done during the whole process by both sides. Everyone involved was a sinner and so sin enters in inevitably. I think the moderates were extrememly disengenuous about calling it a Fundamentalist Takeover, which name automatically implies someone else (the moderates) was already in charge. It was a fight that we won fair and square. It was a fight well worth the risks and efforts. There are casualties in any fight. But some things are worth fighting over.

When I was a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1985-89, the school was fairly liberal in my mind, and the course work was on par with what I had at OU for my Bachelor’s degree in history. During that time I had Dr. Doyle Young for a couple of Church history classes including Baptist History. During class one day I remember him saying that after the current fight with the moderates and the fight over women’s roles in the church and seminary, the next big fight 20 years from 1986, would be a fight over Calvinism. In two classes with Dr. Young he asked the Calvinists to raise their hands. In one class of about 30 folks, I was the only Calvinist. In another class of about 50 I was one of three Calvinists.Today on campus the percentage of students who are Calvinists is much larger, perhaps up close to 20%.

Dr. Young was spot on with his prediction. In the last two years the fight has seriously begun over Calvinism, in particular the doctrine of particular redemption or Limited Atonement. This fight has been aggravated by the John 3:16 conferences among others.


At the very least we should pray for SWBTS during this time, pray for Dr. Patterson and the professors involved, and refrain from some of the anger and vitriol that is in evidence on some of the blogs.




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2 Responses to “SWBTS Trying to Oust Calvinist Professors?”

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“Southwestern will not build a school in the future around anybody who could not look anybody in the world in the eyes and say, “Christ died for your sins.” Paige Patterson, SWBTS President, as tape recorded by SBC Today at their “Baptist Identity” blog on February 5, 2009“A consistent five-point Calvinist cannot look a congregation in the eyes or even a single sinner in the eye and say: “Christ died for you.” What they have to say to be consistent with their own theology is “Christ died for sinners.” Since Christ did not die for the non-elect, and since the five-point Calvinist does not know who the elect are, it is simply not possible in a preaching or witnessing situation to say to them directly “Christ died for you.”Dr. David Allen, Dean, SWBTS School of Theology at BaptistTheology.org / SWBTS Center for Theological Research, November 2008

Dear Calvin,
While I certainly agree with your theology here, I am a 5 pt Calvinist, I think that in a witnessing or preaching encounter, I can approach the subject optimistically and say, “Christ died for you”. I believe that in a general way Christ’s death was representative for all men and would certainly be sufficient for all men if they repent and believe. You and I both know that not all will repent and believe, therefore, the atoning death of Christ is limited to the elect, practically speaking, and even by intent of the Father.What I see in the preaching of Jesus, Peter, Paul and even Spurgeon is a very open invitation because we do not know whom God has chosen.
Call me confused if you want to but that’s the way I see it.
Thanks for your good comment!

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