Oxford Baptist Underground

Originating From a Secret Bunker Dug By William Hosea Holcombe and J.B. Gambrell Somewhere Off the Square in Oxford, Mississippi

Tag Archives: Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

Why SBC Seminary Enrollment Alarms Hankinists

In 1986, the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, was the largest seminary in the world with over 4,000 students. At the time, the inerrancy of Scripture was the hot-button issue in the Southern Baptist Convention. Southwestern benefited in no small measure because it was viewed as the most conservative of the six SBC seminaries. Consequently, many students went to Southwestern because of its perceived commitment to inerrancy, at least in a relative sense.

Fast forward 32 years, and all six SBC seminaries are now considered conservative – they all have an extremely high view of Scripture. So the hot-button issue today is no longer inerrancy, but rather a bubbling conflict between two doctrinal statements with two markedly different soteriological positions. The first statement is the historic Abstract of Principles, which is the confessional statement at both the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. The second statement is Dr. Eric Hankins’ Traditional Statement (TS). Although it has no official status, the TS has been signed by both Paige Patterson*, president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary mentioned above and Chuck Kelley, president of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana. The issue in this controversy is the soteriological direction of our denomination. Shall we return to our roots (the Abstract) or shall we progress in a new direction (TS)? Dr. Hankins, in his 2017 speech at the Connect 316 Banquet made his position clear. He said unequivocally, “I believe that we need to call for the removal of the Abstract of Principles as the confessional statement of Southern and Southeastern.”

But why the concern? In 1986, Southwestern was perceived as the best seminary and students flocked to it because it was the inerrancy school. Today, however, both Southwestern and New Orleans are viewed differently. They are now seen as the TS friendly schools while Southern and Southeastern are seen as the Abstract seminaries. So what do the 2017-18 enrollment figures tell us. Well, according to the Association of Theological Schools’ most recent statistical report, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, is now the largest seminary in the world with 3,157 students. That’s a 36.3% increase from 1986. Southeastern’s enrollment has also climbed an impressive 99.4% in the same period. But Southwestern’s enrollment, while still large, is considerably smaller than it was 32 years ago. It’s enrollment has dropped 36.8% since 1986; New Orleans’ has fallen 17.2%.

So then why are students now flocking to Southern and Southeastern? It’s definitely not because it’s cheaper. In 2017, the estimated price for a married student to attend Southern was actually the highest of all SBC seminaries (74% higher than Southwestern).  So what is the attraction? 32 years ago students went to Southwestern because of inerrancy, and inerrancy won the day. Could it be that students today want a school where historic Southern Baptist doctrines (the Abstract) are actually believed and taught? If so, then the Abstract could possibly win the day. No doubt about it, if Southwestern and New Orleans were growing like Southern and Southeastern, the Hankinists would not be nearly as alarmed.

*It’s interesting to note that Paige Patterson also signed the Abstract of Principles when he was president at Southeastern. What mental gymnastics he used to affirm two irreconcilable statements is anyone’s guess.

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Testing the Waters?

Back in November of 2016, Rick Patrick, executive director of a group called Connect 316, was allowed to speak in chapel at the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. Connect 316 is a group that has been promoting Eric Hankins’ Traditional Statement (hereafter called TS) within the Southern Baptist Convention since 2012. It is also important to note that Paige Patterson, the president of Southwestern, is one of less than .01% of all Southern Baptists who have actually signed on to the TS.

During Patrick’s talk, as you would expect, he promoted Connect 316 and by extension the TS (watch/listen here). He also attacked Calvinism, calling it a “Trojan horse.” Well okay. Southwestern is an institution of higher learning. In fairness, we would expect to hear from the other side, right?  No.  Instead, Dr. Patterson piled on with this:

“I know there are fair number of you who think you are a Calvinist, but understand there is a denomination which represents that view. It’s called Presbyterian.

“I have great respect for them. Many of them, the vast majority of them, are brothers in Christ, and I honor their position, but if I held that position I would become a Presbyterian. I would not remain a Baptist, because the Baptist position from the time of the Anabaptists, really from the time of the New Testament, is very different.”

After a firestorm ensued, Dr. Patterson kind of walked back his statement the next day. But this raises some serious questions. Here we have a man, Dr. Patterson, who was one of the main players, if not the main player, in the Conservative Resurgence back in the 1980s. This man knows how to play the political game (and yes it is definitely a political game) within the convention. Are we now supposed to believe that he naively invited Rick Patrick to Southwestern unaware of what was going to be said? Remember Dr. Patterson signed the TS. What was the motive for this chapel service?

A few years back, reputable people in the leadership of Louisiana College claimed that the TS was being pushed as the school’s doctrinal statement by none other than David Hankins, the Executive Director of the Louisiana Baptist Convention and Eric Hankins’ father. And Hankins might have been successful had it not been for all the other shenanigans going on at Louisiana College.  So for the moment, despite Hankins’ best efforts, the Baptist Faith and Message remains as Louisiana College’s official doctrinal statement.

But it makes one wonder, was this chapel service at Southwestern another testing of the waters to see if there is finally a climate to push something akin to the TS, but this time in Texas?  If so, I would guess the Connect 316ers are a little disappointed with the feedback.

P.S.  As an aside, for those who think they descend theologically from the Anabaptists, please understand there is a denomination which represents that view as well. It’s called the Mennonites.