EDITOR’S NOTE: Below, Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, discusses the role inerrancy played in the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, with Defending Inerrancy contributing editor William Roach.
Roach: Recently Baptist Press claimed that inerrancy provided the necessary bedrock to revive the denomination from aberrant theological views. Can you elaborate upon the role inerrancy played in the Conservative Resurgence?
Patterson: The theological slippage in the Southern Baptist Convention was widespread and target rich. However, it occurred to those of us in leadership that there was a certain sense in which the whole of it could be reduced to one issue. We believed that the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists believed in the inerrancy of God’s Word. Furthermore, we felt that this was an issue that easily could be explained to the vast majority of people. In addition, the same people who were propagating other forms of heresy invariably had a problem with the truthfulness of God’s Word. Consequently, we made our decision to pursue one subject and basically to refuse to be sidetracked onto others. By making the epistemological issue of inerrancy of the Word of God primary, we were able to secure the following of the vast majority of the people in the Southern Baptist Convention. When we then voted on the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 with the major changes to strengthen the doctrine of Holy Scripture, 98% vote of the Convention messengers voted in support of that revised confession. Consequently, clearly the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture was the primary focus of the Conservative Resurgence; and, as we had expected, the other doctrines of the church fell quickly in line once that was accepted by the Convention.
Roach: Some people who opposed the Conservative Resurgence claimed that inerrancy has not always been the historic Baptist view. How well do you think inerrancy represents the historic Baptist view of the Bible?
Patterson: Some during the Conservative Resurgence argued that inerrancy was not always the historic view of the Bible among Baptist people. However, in the ‘80s Dr. Russ Bush and Dr. Tom Nettles, then both on the faculty of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, published a book entitled Baptists and the Bible. Basically, they simply demonstrated in the book that while not all Baptists in history held to the inerrancy of God’s Word, the overwhelming majority of Baptists did hold to the inerrancy of the Bible. From the time of the publication of that book until now, no one has again dared to challenge the view that most Baptists—and just about all of Baptist leadership—in the history of Baptists and the Anabaptist people, held diligently to the inerrancy of God’s Word.
Roach: How do you think the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy has influenced the Southern Baptist Convention’s view of the inerrancy of Scripture?
Patterson: The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy had no effect at all on Southern Baptists’ commitment to the inerrancy of God’s Word. Such a commitment had a long history prior to the Council on Biblical Inerrancy’s founding. However, the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy and the subsequent Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy did have a profound effect in strengthening many Southern Baptists. My contention would be that what was going on in the Southern Baptist Convention at the same time that the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy was doing its work provided mutual help for the two entities. On the one hand, the Southern Baptists provided the people power in support of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy while, on the other hand, the large number of tremendously helpful books and articles that came from the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy provided Southern Baptist people with the ammunition they needed to fight their battle. Consequently, even though I served on the Council on Biblical Inerrancy, I can also say that as a Southern Baptist, I am grateful to God for the monumental contribution that was made by the International Council.
Roach: What’s the importance of inerrancy for a pastor to maintain a thriving pulpit ministry?
Patterson: The simple truth is that if a man does not believe that God has spoken a sure and certain word, then when he enters the pulpit and gives a sermon, the very best that he has to offer is a moral platitude of some variety, calling on human beings to a more noble existence; but even then he cannot be sure that what he says is true. The only way to have a thriving pulpit ministry and a growing church that is uniquely blessed of God is to have a pastor opening God’s Word as the final adjudication of all matters of human life and eternity. With charisma, one can build a large congregation if it’s located in the right place, but it is impossible to build saintly lives without the highest conceivable view of God’s Word.
Roach: How has the inerrancy of Scripture encouraged missions to thrive in the Southern Baptist Convention?
Patterson: Well, today Southern Baptists maintain almost 5,000 missionaries ministering for Christ in 132 countries of the world. Actually, there is ministry considerably beyond that, but these are the ones who are publically identifiable. It is conceivable that Southern Baptists could have yielded that many missionaries just based on the amount of money that was available, but they certainly would not under any circumstances be as effective as they are now. The result of taking the seminaries back to Christ and to the highest commitment to the Scriptures has resulted in the deluge of godly missionaries who believe that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. Consequently, these are given courage to go to the most forbidding places on the earth and risk everything for the cause of Christ. Any lesser view of Scripture and confidence in the inerrancy of God’s Word would never produce such a missionary.
Roach: As a seminary president, how does the doctrine of inerrancy shape your view of evangelical theological education?
Patterson: The greatest miracle of God in the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention is that when we began the movement in 1979, I could identify only sixteen inerrantists teaching on the faculties of our six seminaries. Most of these did not take an open stand. There are a few to whom I’ve never talked; so possibly there were a very few more than sixteen, but those are the ones I know and can count. Today, thirty-five years later, the incredible and unbelievable has happened under the leadership of our Lord. We have six seminaries boasting a total, fulltime faculty of more than 200; and to my knowledge, there is not a single one who is not a biblical inerrantist. On top of that, all six seminary presidents are inerrantists. In addition to that, all six are outspoken inerrantists who make it crystal clear that biblical inerrancy is the epistemological position of the particular seminary they serve. The full impact of this, and even the recognition of it, has been slow to come, but in fact, that is what has happened. Among the first questions I ask any candidate for our faculty is for his view of the Bible. If he does not state a clear view of the inerrancy of God’s Word, then there is no chance that he will have a position at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Consequently, I would have to say that the doctrine of the inerrancy of God’s Word has had a profound impact on all of our seminaries.