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.
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 reins 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.