The Conservative Resurgence: Worth Defending Then and NOW!

Recently, some of our college students visited Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Some of them will be attending there in the fall, and others are seeking the Lord’s direction with regard to going to seminary.

As a part of their excursion, they attended classes, chapel and joined Mrs. Patterson at Pecan Manor, the president’s home.

This afforded our students the opportunity to become familiar with one of our great seminaries, and it also provided a stimulus to questions and discussions about the Conservative Resurgence.

Dr. Patterson and Judge Paul Pressler led the charge to call the SBC back to fidelity to the Scripture as the Word of God without error. Even as I write, they continue to be vilified by moderates, liberals and everyone who despises the full counsel of the inerrant Scripture.

Sadly, as in the past, there are those who personally avow their belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, all the while using one reason or another for not taking the necessary steps to actualize the restoration and continuance of biblical fidelity throughout our agencies and on the mission field. In fact, they actually attack those who do have the spiritual courage and fortitude to initiate and maintain the necessary changes.

The reality is that merely believing the Scripture to be inerrant and concomitantly being unwilling to deal with aberrant theology in our seminaries and agencies is the core of the problem both historically and to this present hour. The reason for this is that at some point, men who personally believed, or at least espoused such a belief, in the trustworthiness of Scripture, either through naiveté or intentionality, hired those who did not, and who believed and taught outside the parameters of the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM). Thus, their privatized belief, regardless how honorable and faithful to Scripture, posits them in a place of complicity albeit often unwittingly with aberrant theologians.

Moreover, naïve conservatives, even to this present hour, side with those who fought against the resurgence and the full application of Scripture. They deem themselves to be doing the noble thing, yet they are doing the very thing that will ultimately, if left to run its natural course, lead back to the days when the convention was in the hands of those who questioned and undermined the full veracity of Scripture.

I read their comments about why they oppose Dr. Patterson and other supporters of perpetuating the resurgence, and they actually use the same or eerily similar wording to their moderate predecessors and supporters; for example, one busy blogger said, “True, classical liberals need to be removed from any positions of authority in the SBC, but it should be done in a proper manner, following all protocol and procedures established for such an event.”

This sounds great to those who are sympathetic to this position or who are unaware of the facts, but for those of us that were there, it is just simply more of the same semantics and euphemisms. Let me clarify; first, the problem was never merely “classical liberalism” but rather what was far more widespread was neo-orthodoxy. Moreover, by mentioning only “classical liberalism” as worthy of removal, am I to assume that Southern Baptist professors who boasted of having signed the Baptist Faith and Message—a testimony of their agreement with its contents—but omitted that they also noted “with reservations” were not to be placed on the list of concerns.

Second, when I read statements like the aforementioned, along with his voluminous other positions that echo those of the ones who actually fought against the resurgence, and then I see his opposition to men like Dr. Patterson who fought for the resurgence, I am inclined to believe that what I and millions more believe was a mighty work of God, is something he believes should be unraveled.

One of the fundamental problems then and now—as evidenced by these who say they are conservative but their actions potentiate returning us to the time when moderates and liberals did teach in our seminaries and run our agencies— is what I call non-functional inerrancy or conservatism. By this I refer to those who personally believe in the full truthfulness of Scripture, but they do not believe it is a worthy requirement to hold professors and others to even though they are paid by Cooperative Funds.

This kind of talk is indistinguishable from politicians who say “I am personally against abortion but I respect the right of others to choose.” Of course this is like saying “I am personally against killing grandmothers, but I respect the right of others to choose.” I assure you, those who taught outside the BFM cared little that individuals believed in the full trustworthiness—inerrancy—of Scripture as long as they did not have to do the same. While we respect their choice not to believe in inerrancy, they must respect our choice not to provide them a salary and a classroom full of students to promulgate their aberrant theology.

Another quote attributed to this same young man is, “I believe there were about four or five people in leadership positions at our seminaries that needed to be dealt with. But the way to deal with them would be personal, loving confrontation, and dismissal if there were no repentance, but wholesale sweeping accusations of liberalism among conservative brothers was unnecessary.”

Just a couple of notes. First, to posit that there were only about “four or five” who needed dealt with is patently false. I served as a trustee at Midwestern Seminary, and therefore, I can speak with firsthand knowledge and experience about this—not to mention the rest of the problems throughout the convention that have been well-documented.

The reality is that there was more than five at Midwestern. At best, these kinds of statements are made out of naivety, credulity, or ignorance, or they are made by those who simply do not care about the truth; or worse still, maybe they are even trying to obfuscate the truth.

I do not make a judgment on motive; however, the end result is the same. It is a dangerous misrepresentation of the depth, breadth, complexity and gravity of the situation. I assure you that we had far better things to do than spend untold hours and dollars, as well as suffer significant risk, pain, and loss of reputation, for a handful of aberrant Southern Baptists; moreover, one should not position himself as pursuer and protector of truth and simultaneously ignore it to make a point.

Second, in all of the twenty five years of the resurgence, I am only aware of a handful of firings. Most often we were criticized by the people in the pew for being far too patient and generous. The protocol of truth, mercy and steadfastness were extended to most, whether that was granting them generous severance pay, a teaching position until retirement, or ample time to find another place of employment. This also included handling trustees who either intentionally helped to create the problem or sat idly by while faithfulness to Scripture was undermined; moreover, we were concerned with demonstrating compassion toward students who went to our seminaries in good faith, and assumed that what they were being taught was biblical since the Southern Baptist back home were paying for it. Compassion for only those who knowingly taught outside the parameters of inerrancy is a misdirected and deficient compassion.

I have personally seen professors, who taught outside the BFM; exemplify a fiery demeanor, insubordination and level of rancor that made it impossible to continue their employment. He seems to ignore their countless breaches of Christian decorum and heresy, and yes I said heresy, or at least minimize it. Wars, be they spiritual or physical are fought in a context of war and the actions can only be understood in that context. I—as well as countless others—can speak firsthand about their meanness, deception, insubordination, and aberrant theology.

It has been said that “war is hell”. This is true whether it is a physical or spiritual war. War is not always a pretty picture, nor does everything go well and every single person behave regardless what side they are on. It is undeniable that things were handled, said, and done incorrectly on both sides. That is the nature of war. I am not excusing it, nor seeking to rationalize it, but I am pleading for some sanctified common sense and for others to stop practicing demagoguery and yellow journalism akin to the secular media.

Anyone can take a twenty-five year struggle and piece a couple of things together to seek to undermine or cast it as something that it was in fact not. This is true, whether one is speaking of the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon, the Reformation, Restitution by the Anabaptists, Pilgrims, or Puritans, and yes the Conservative Resurgence. But I am thankful that God, in spite of our frailties, moved mightily in each of these to spread the truth.

Moreover, I am grateful beyond measure for those who paid the extraordinary price to lead whether it was Luther or Patterson.

Additionally, I was a student at Criswell College (1982-1985) when Dr. Patterson was the president. Of course this was during some of the most heated days of the Resurgence. I watched this man be maligned and relentlessly and sardonically attacked in the most public way. His response was always gracious and Christian. We were amazed that he never downgraded his attackers as they had so wantonly disparaged him, nor did he retaliate with similar mordant and scathing accusations.

Surely, words were spoken on both sides that the speakers now regret, but that is the nature of life much less war. However, it is the cowardly way for one to use mistakes and incidentals in order to exempt himself from battle, but nothing is right about standing by while others subvert the Scripture in spirit or truth. Again, he seems to forget that liberals, neo-orthodox, moderates, and non-functional inerrantist unleashed some devastating verbal smart bombs as well.

For those who want to know what actually happened, what was at stake, what glorious thing God did, please do not read merely those who fail to deal with the facts in context, or those who may have a personal axe to grind with one of the leaders of the Resurgence.

I recommend the following books to help young people understand the great and mighty work that God wrought through frail, sinful and inadequate men and women. This work is known as the Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. Or ask me, I would love to tell you about the mighty works of God that birthed, sustained and gave victory to the Resurgence of biblical fidelity in the SBC.

The Truth in Crisis, Volumes 1-6, especially Volume 5, The Controversy in the Southern Baptist Convention, James C. Hefley, PhD, (Hannibal, MO: Hannibal Books, 1990).

The Baptist Reformation: The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, Jerry Sutton, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000).

A Hill on Which to Die: One Southern Baptist’s Journey, Paul Pressler, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999).

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Ronnie W. Rogers