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.