O’Brien said younger leaders in the SBC felt they needed to acknowledge past wrongs and acceptance of new sensibilities. “We’re in an identity crisis in an ever-changing world that’s requiring higher accountability,” O’Brien told ChurchLeaders.com. “We live in a day and age where we have to be careful of everything we say and do. No matter how far back it goes. The world is watching.”
There is another motivation for the removal—Patterson’s reputation as a “general in the battle for the Bible.”
Patterson was one of the three key people of the conservative resurgence in the 1970s. “Very few of his stature in the SBC,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said he could not deny that Patterson had a target on his back from those who lost the theological battle of almost 50 years ago over issues of biblical inerrancy and what many felt was a liberal theological drift by SBC seminaries and institutions.
But while some may have been working for Patterson’s removal because of his role in the SBC’s conservative resurgence, the SWBTS Trustees appear to have been honoring him, even in his firing, for those same views.
The SWBTS Board of Trustees appointed Patterson as President Emeritus with compensation, effective immediately. In addition, the board passed a motion to affirm the trustees’ September 2017 offer for Dr. and Mrs. Patterson to live on campus as the first theologians-in-residence at the Baptist Heritage Center, scheduled to be completed in July 2018.
In its statement, the trustees also said they could not find any wrongdoing by Patterson. “Additionally, the board affirmed a motion stating 1) evidence exists that Dr. Patterson has complied with reporting laws regarding assault and abuse, 2) the Seminary stands against all forms of abuse and 3) the board has not found evidence of misconduct in Nathan Montgomery’s employment file.”
Nathan Montgomery is a Southwestern PhD candidate who claimed Patterson fired him from his seminary job and tuition-free arrangement for criticizing Patterson on social media.
Patterson’s firing is seen as a “gracious removal” by O’Brien, but he said there will be some in the SBC who won’t be happy with his continuing role at SWBTS.
O’Brien adds, “God is shaking things that can be shaken.”
At the end of the day, Southern Baptists are all about spiritual revival and they are proving with the removal of one so admired that the first work of the SBC is winning souls to Christ. Nothing and no one should hinder that effort.