Patterson is Spooked

May 09, 2008

After a lot of commentary about the Southern Baptist Convention's decline in membership (see earlier post here), Paige Patterson wrote a long and sometimes rambling column trying to defend the movement he helped lead to take control of the SBC nearly thiry years ago. He is clearly on the defensive since the steady drop in baptisms and now a drop in membership has brought a lot of people to question if Patterson's movement is to blame. His piece is entitled "Of grinches, goblins, gremlins and ghosts" (which is not a reference to those who helped him take over the SBC). He claims that the attacks are just ghost stories that have no truth but are just trying to fear people. Yet, the truth is that the SBC is not healthy and anyone not concerned that fewer people are being reached with the gospel is ignoring the obvious. Although there are many problems with his column, here are two big ones.

First, he calls his movement the "Conservative Renaissance" instead of "conservative resurgence" (the phrase more commonly used by his group) or "fundamentalist takeover" (the phrase more commonly used by critics). The big problem with his use of "renaissance" instead of "resurgence" is that the definition of "renaissance" is "rebirth or revival." But several years of dropping baptisms means that this is clearly the opposite of "rebirth or revival." His argument, thus, becomes invalid on its face because of his over-the-top phrase he uses to describe his movement.

Second, Patterson returns to his old tactic of attacking others with false claims. He makes the claim, without any evidence, that although the SBC numbers are bad it would be worse if his movement had not taken over. He wrote:

Thrashing the Conservative Renaissance as though it were somehow responsible for this decline is irresponsible. One need only ask for the evangelistic and missionary statistics for the moderate churches whose leaders provided the opposition to conservatives in order to debunk this allegation. The present state cannot please our Lord, but it is a safe bet that He is more pleased about what we are attempting globally than about the social and environmentally based programs of moderate and liberal churches. If the Conservative Renaissance had not happened, our evangelism would look exactly like moderate churches, which are in decline.
In addition to claiming that God likes him more than those driven out of the SBC, Patterson claims that moderate churches are declining because they do not focus on evangelism. He does not offer any evidence to support this because it is simply not true. This is similar to claims the SBC's Richard Land made just a few months ago about the Baptist groups involved with the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant. Land claimed that all of the groups were plateaued or declining because they did not focus on evangelism. As I documented in an article for Ethics Daily, Land was dead wrong as one-third of the groups were growing--and at much higher rates than the SBC--and that the overall number for all of the groups was growing. Maybe it would do Patterson and Land some good to not only get their facts straight but start emulating those growing Baptist groups that they instead attack.

Patterson is rightly spooked and defensive because the success and need of his movement is being doubted by many. But his column will not help. Continuing the old attacks with no evidence will likely just drive even more away. Patterson attacked the Baptist World Alliance and those that are part of it for being liberals who do not believe the gospel. But as the BWA Baptists grow and the SBC declines, I think the biblical writer James would offer some thoughts about faith and deeds.

4 comments

  1. Great analysis again! So glad I've found your site.

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  2. Hey big guy,

    I saw your related article regarding growth among the moderate baptist groups. It seems that it is talking about the number of churches, not individuals. Is that true? What are the actual numbers of members? My understanding is that all denominations are in decline, except for the Assemblies of God. What I mean is, they are the only ones growing thru salvations.

    Are there any stats concerning the number of adult baptisms/conversions in the moderate baptist fellowships/denoms? Are there any stats of conversions, at all for the groups here in the US?

    I agree, Patterson etal shouldn't bash us (moderates) to make themselves feel better. That is stereotypical bullying. However, I want us to be honest concerning salvations as well.

    Thanks,

    Tim

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  3. Thanks for the comments!

    Howie: Glad you've stopped by; I enjoy reading your site.

    Tim: No, I was dealing with individuals and not churches. I took the numbers that were reported to the NABF/BWA. Only one-third of the NABF groups reported growth, but that was still a good sign (and their combined growth was larger than the combined decline of the other groups). However, I do not know if those growths are due to membership changes or salvations.

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  4. Matthew Rathel12:13 PM

    I find the argument for moderate churches that centers upon church membership to be weak on several levels. If the SBC is in decline and the moderate churches are gaining members, that is very interesting. But if these moderate churches don’t focus on the message of God, then they are not achieving the same purpose and don’t function the same as the more conservative churches.

    What I would like to know, (which I doubt you can tell me,) is whether these moderate churches are requiring professions of faith as a term of membership and whether or not the gospels are being preached from the pulpits. I have been to many moderate churches where the sermons are focused on using the Bible to push vague value systems that operate independently of Christianity. It is Christian to love one’s neighbor as ones self, but if outreach programs don’t provide evangelistic principles at any point, then we are not talking about a religious entity so much as a charitable one. I have no problem with Christian programs that don’t push religion upon those seeking financial or emotional support, but if the system in place never approaches the issue of religion, then you are comparing the SBC with alternate versions of the Red Cross.

    What I fear is that the “moderate” churches will continue to play to the “I’m ok, you’re ok” mentality of the public and move further and further away from what one traditionally thinks of as being the Christian church. God’s word speaks to all people and he loves all people, but it is not the role of the church to make sure that no one in a congregation takes offense to the Word of God. I think that having Bill Clinton stand up in front of a congregation of Baptists probably paints the moderate Baptists in an unpleasant light, and as one who has heard Jimmy Carter teach Sunday school, I can attest to his inability to approach key issues in the Bible out of fear of offending members of his audience.

    If success is measured in salvations and the moderates are beating the SBC, then I would say it is time for the Southern Baptists to sit back and reevaluate their positions. But I am somewhat skeptical of what the moderate churches consider to be a success.

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