A new digital archive, “The Paige Patterson SBC Conservative Resurgence Collection,” provides insight into the role of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s president in Southern Baptists’ return to their biblical heritage.
Materials in the archive at the seminary’s library include letters, pamphlets and audio recordings of conference presentations and debates significant to this period of Southern Baptist history.
Paige Patterson and Adrian Rogers share a time of prayer in the early moments of the Conservative Resurgence movement within the Southern Baptist Convention.
Patterson, Southwestern Theological Seminary’s president since 2003, is one of the individuals most closely identified with the Conservative Resurgence.
“His impact and his directing of the process is captured in this collection,” said Craig Kubic, SWBTS’s dean of libraries. “One really cannot fathom the breadth and depth of the experience without reading his life history as it is reflected in these materials.”
The Conservative Resurgence was an effort from the 1970s to 1990s to take a strong stand for biblical inerrancy as well as ensure that it would be propagated in the Southern Baptist Convention’s (SBC) seminaries. Patterson, then president of Criswell College in Dallas, was one of the architects of the movement along with Houston Judge Paul Pressler.
Madison Grace, chair of SWBTS’s church history department, said, “Though the mechanism behind the resurgence involved understanding and utilizing the political structure of the convention, it was not a movement driven by power. Rather, the importance of the Conservative Resurgence was ultimately the future of SBC churches.”
Grace noted that, from its inception, the purpose of SBC educational life was to aid churches, which is accomplished through the seminaries’ efforts to educate and train future pastors and ministers of the churches. The particular education offered by a seminary, Grace said, eventually will affect all the churches that a pastor or minister touches.
“Though there has always been room in Baptist thought for dissenting opinions on doctrine,” Grace said, “there has also always been a strong core identity on what it means to be a Baptist. The Conservative Resurgence addressed an errant shift in the doctrine of the Bible taught at SBC seminaries and intended to correct that error by holding the seminaries accountable to the convention’s doctrinal standard on the Bible, especially in regard to inerrancy.”
The resurgence began in 1979 with the election of Adrian Rogers of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis as SBC president. In the years that followed, messengers continued to elect conservative presidents who appointed conservative trustees to govern SBC entities. By the 1990s, SWBTS and the other five Southern Baptist seminaries had returned to the conservative beliefs on which they were founded and affirmed the inerrancy of the Bible.
As such, pastors and ministers coming up through the seminaries were provided a high view of Scripture, and this, in turn, has impacted the churches. The Conservative Resurgence was significant, then, because, as Grace stated, it was necessary in order to ensure that future Southern Baptist pastors would continue to believe and preach the authority and inerrancy of God’s Word.
SWBTS’s new digital collection contains materials tracing the history of the movement. One such item is a 1976 letter from Patterson to Adrian Rogers encouraging him to accept a nomination that year as SBC president. Also significant is an audio recording of a 1980 debate between Patterson and well-known Texas Baptist Cecil Sherman on biblical inerrancy.
“The value in interacting with this collection, beyond the obvious purpose of learning about the history of the Conservative Resurgence, is that a researcher can engage with primary sources from the Conservative Resurgence,” Grace said. “This activity takes one back into the time of the resurgence and allows a glimpse of what it was like to be involved in this monumental endeavor.”
The Paige Patterson SBC Conservative Resurgence Collection may be accessed here. More materials will be added as they are collected and archived.