It has been more than 40 years since the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) “Conservative Resurgence” took root, embracing biblical authority and distancing its entities and seminaries from what had been called a growing presence of liberal ideology.
The libraries and archives of Adrian Rogers, the first SBC president of that era, and James C. Hefley Jr., the primary journalist of that movement, will be preserved as part of the new Baptist Heritage Library at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) in Fort Worth, along with the collections of Jerry Vines and Paige Patterson.
The new library is slated for completion in the fall of 2018, but seminary leaders hope messengers attending the SBC annual meeting in Dallas will be able to view the sprawling two-story facility designed to house the collections along with living quarters for researchers and security staff.
Patterson, SWBTS president, also has gifted his own 35,000-book library to the center, which will serve as the repository for his personal papers, mission gifts and realia.
Rogers’ family donated the books, papers and personal artifacts of the three-time president of the SBC to the seminary following his death in 2005. His election as SBC president in 1979 was said by many to mark the beginning of the Conservative Resurgence.
Hefley’s archives were transferred in 2016 from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. to SWBTS. Hefley, author of the first history of the Conservative Resurgence with his “Truth in Crisis” series, died in 2004.
Craig Kubic, dean of libraries at SWBTS, said the center will be the largest of its type covering the Conservative Resurgence, and among a few special research places in the world that focuses specifically on Baptists.
“The Baptist Heritage Center will be an exceptional opportunity for students, scholars and Baptists with an interest in history,” Kubic said. “This information represents the seminal knowledge of these outstanding communicators and theologians.”
Charles Patrick, SWBTS vice-president for strategic initiatives and communications, said trustees approved construction of the $2.5 million center a year ago and that the entire building, as well as an endowment for maintenance and operations, is “entirely funded” by gifts from 10 individuals or foundations.
Chairman of the board of trustees at SWBTS, Kevin Uekert, pastor of First Baptist Church in Georgetown, said the library is being built to house and preserve libraries significant to Baptist heritage.
“We are grateful for the donors who have supported the preservation of Baptist heritage as well as providing a way for many to access to these libraries,” Uekert said.
The Baptist Heritage Center houses offices and workrooms designed to archive, maintain and use the collections for research – apart from about a dozen other libraries maintained by Southwestern Seminary, according to its website.
Retirement, other topics
Patterson, in a wide-ranging interview in late January, spoke candidly about the Baptist Heritage Center and other issues.
In answering questions related to when he might retire, Patterson, a native-born Texan, said he “had it in his heart” to build a Baptist Research Center to house not only collections of the “Conservative Renaissance,” but to serve as a home to three-four missionaries and researchers.
Patterson said that he would live in one of the one-bedroom apartments in the center, along with his wife after his retirement and until they could no longer take care of themselves.
In that way it “would give me access to my own library to write,” Patterson said, explaining the trustees “kindly said, ‘Yes.’”
This vision was planted a long while back by an idea from a trustee, then at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS) where Patterson was president, he said. Phillip Mercer and his wife wanted to build the Pattersons a retirement home – anywhere.
At that point, Patterson said he and his wife were overwhelmed by the generosity, especially since they had never owned their own home, and initially declined. After review of a plan at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary which uses its J.D. Grey House to preserve a pastor’s library and apartments, Patterson said he met with the Mercers to ask if they would agree to build the home on the SEBTS campus.
The Mercers agreed, and another donor made an offer as well, but before those plans went forward, Patterson said he was called to SWBTS.
More than a decade went by before the idea was finally fleshed out and, with the blessing of the trustees at SWBTS, the original donations were used as seed money to begin building.
The SWBTS model is similar to one at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where there is a president’s Leavell Apartment of the Carey Dormitory as well as the J.D. Grey home – which houses a significant library and two individual apartments. The president’s apartment in Carey Hall is available to the president and first lady through their lifetimes, at which time it will pass to the next president for his use throughout his lifetime.
All of the Pattersons’ library and antiquarian collections, as well as their archives on the conservative renaissance, will belong to SWBTS through this arrangement.
“We wanted these treasures to be available for research and encouragement to Southern Baptists. There will be living space for housing theologians doing research or missionary families in transit,” Patterson said. “The president’s apartment would be used by us as a writing retreat and then later as a retirement apartment, according to the expressed desires of the donors. It would continue then to pass to the next SWBTS president for his lifetime.”
In September, 2017, the SWBTS trustee executive committee extended an official invitation for the Pattersons to reside in the Baptist Heritage Center as its first theologians-in-residence.
Patterson has said he has no plans to retire as of yet.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Joni B. Hannigan is a writer living in Jacksonville, Fla.)