In 1991, "First Things" published a brief book note by Phillip E. Johnson on a documentary volume written by Mike Bryan entitled Chapter and Verse: A Skeptic Revisits Christianity. I picked this volume up at a used bookstore a few years back and after finishing it concluded what a revealing but fascinating read it was. I subsequently sold it for a few cents. I wish now I had my copy back.
Given the latest uprising(s) against Paige Patterson, the last of the first-generation Conservative Resurgence relics running out the final round of ministry as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I might like to refresh myself once again on the sheer tenacity and undeniable risqué leadership the old warrior pursued during most of his public ministry amongst Southern Baptists.
So what would be so refreshing about Chapter and Verse: A Skeptic Revisits Christianity?
If I may...
After Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson raised the question concerning a Muslim student being enrolled in the PhD program at Southwestern seminary, the school released a statement which said in part:
Patterson said he has made similar exceptions on rare occasions during his presidencies at Southwestern, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Criswell College. He estimated having done so four or five times in his nearly 40 years of academic administration. His intention for the exceptions each time, including this one, was based on a desire to see these individuals understand the good news of Jesus Christ.
Mike Bryan, the author of the book above, is the exception Patterson mentions that he allowed and welcomed to enroll while he was president at Criswell College. If you've not read Chapter and Verse: A Skeptic Revisits Christianity may I suggest you pick up a copy and read it. Unlike so-called "whistleblower" documentaries so common today, Bryan's rehearsal of his experience as a student at the flagship of Southern Baptist "Fundamentalists" offers a positive view of the treatment he received at Criswell generally and from Paige Patterson particularly. Bryan quotes Patterson's explanation to him as to how they could receive an unbeliever like Bryan into their company. Says Patterson:
One of the things that happens to you in conversion is that there's a fundamental change in your attitude toward people when the Lord moves into your life. You don't any longer see them as the girl who sells you the hamburger or the guy who changes your tires. You see each of them as very precious people, each of whom has a fascinating personal story. You get to where it's fun to be with them, see what makes them tick.
Bryan drives home this passionate desire to connect one-on-one which Patterson exemplifies1 when he recalls Paige Patterson referring to him (Bryan) as the "school's guest atheist":
Near the end of the book, Mike examines his own mixed feelings after Paige Patterson has genially introduced him at an alumni banquet as the school's guest atheist. Mike is confident that Patterson's "unfailing kindness" is not merely the calculated cordiality that anyone might show to a visitor who is known to be writing a book about the experience. No, Patterson's "generous and undoctrinnaire attitude, shared by almost everyone else at the school," is "another mark of his irrepressible mischievousness and genuine interest in all folks and their diverse ways -- a mark of his personality, not his faith.
The reader would do well to weigh, against the backdrop of Bryan's book, the ridiculous calls by Burleson, et al for Patterson's potential removal as president based singularly upon Patterson's incurable desire to connect one-on-one evangelistically to anyone and everyone he can. Obsession with the Great Commission of our Lord is unhealthy in what way exactly?
While it surely could be opposed as does Burleson for our seminaries to lose focus of its primary mission to train Southern Baptists for ministry, just how does allowing for a secondary focus (if one can call allowing an occasional exception an actual secondary purpose) constitute abandonment of the primary purpose as Burleson naively suggests?
George Marsden helpfully addresses the revivalist tradition's contribution to Christian education when he rehearses the consequences of the First and Second Great Awakenings on the formation of institutions specifically by revivalist churches:
Most American college builders, however, were heirs to the Great Awakening as well as to classicism, Enlightenment moralism, and formal Christian practice. In the New Light tradition [of the Great Awakening] colleges were also part of a larger missionary and evangelistic enterprise. . .
...college revivals were crucial to producing and motivating educated leaders for the missionary enterprise. Conversion of young men was in fact, one of the common rationales for promoting and sustaining colleges.2
If I understand Marsden correctly, he suggests one of the purposes of newly organized Christian institutions in the post-awakening era was the conversion of young men.
Even so, while Dr. Patterson's occasional practice of allowing an unbeliever to study in Southern Baptists' most esteemed schools may very well spawn necessary questions we must carefully consider as we move forward, the dumbfounding outrage against Patterson himself for desiring to practice what God knows we all need to practice more—connecting one-on-one evangelistically—remains misguided at best and revealing of a cold heart at worst.
1Patterson would undoubtedly add connecting one-on-one evangelistically
2The Soul of the American University, pp. 29, 83