The Pen

Patterson’s Apology and the Theological Roots of Methodological Failure


If you listen to the above clip, you’ll hear that Dr. Patterson begins by apologizing to the convention, family, and trustees. Apparently, he’s in hot water – and he knows it. Patterson then defends the Muslim man who he enrolled as being “remarkable” (I don’t recall that being the issue) and gave some background, reporting that the young man approached Southwestern personnel and said “there’s something special about you, but I don’t know what” and begged to study at the seminary. As I’ve previously reported, that is not how this went down. The student happened to be working on an archeological project that interested the archeology department and they approached him. Furthermore, I’ve also reported from pulpiteers that are this man’s neighbors and friends, that he is not “open to the Gospel.” He listens (how could he not – he’s surrounded by 1400 Baptists and there by special permission), but he is not what you would call receptive.

The, Patterson says “I made an exception to the rule.”  We call that “rule-breaking,” to be clear, but that’s not the term Patterson chose to use. He then says that he made an exception to that rule that he assumed the president could make, assumed it “probably wrongly.”

Why “probably?” Does he still not know whether or not that was within his authority? Is it still unclear whether or not he can break the rules? Where did this “probably” come from?

And then saying, “Now that I’ve made that apology” he proceeded to defend all the other times he broke the rules and it worked out. Oddly, Dr. Patterson narrates a scenario where he stands before God and is judged for breaking the rules and is vindicated by his good works.

Finally, Patterson quotes Isaiah 62 and in a tear-filled performance, says that at least he won’t have any blood on his hands on judgment day.

When you stand back and look at the whole thing, it’s quite astounding. The man gave clear and simple apologies, then justified his behavior and past behavior in a non-apologetic tone and ends with an scenario in which God vindicates him for what he apologized for just a few minutes before. And the people…applause.

What does not having blood on his hands have to do with anything? I mean, can we please think about this rationally? If he has bloodless hands for admitting a Muslim, then how much blood is on his hands for not enrolling countless more? Furthermore, in this illustration the Watchman would have let hordes into Jerusalem, making an exception to his charge. The watchman isn’t supposed to let the opposing team inside the walls.

But I don’t think Patterson just chose a Bible illustration at random. I think he truly believes that enrolling this Muslim man in seminary training is his only hope for salvation. I think Patterson’s tears are real. I think his conviction is real.

What we have in Patterson’s defiant apology is a good example to demonstrate the link between Baxterian theology and Downgrade methodology. If God is not completely and totally sovereign over this man’s salvation, and if Patterson’s convinced that enrolling him in seminary will lead him to Christ, it would be eternally cruel not to break the rules in order to lead this man to eternal salvation. And you’ll find the Baxterians in the Patterson camp defend the old war horse for precisely that reason – if God is not sovereign over salvation and seminary is his best hope, do what you have to do to win him to Christ.

Patterson’s theology leads to Downgrade methodology. Every single aspect of compromise within evangelicalism is done under the notion that these foolish things are necessary if we’re going to win souls. Everything from baptismal confetti canons to Caner’s Game of Thrones youth retreat, foolish and often-times sinful methodology is done under the banner of ‘reaching people for Jesus.’

Let’s be clear; what Patterson did was sinful. He broke the rules, refusing to submit to his governing authorities, and did so secretly – and has only apologized after having been caught by a blogger. And people at the SBC have applauded his sin in order to win the man to Christ.

This is not a dilemma that Calvinists have, quite frankly. We believe that God can save people without our sin assisting Him. We believe that God’s sovereignty over salvation is more powerful than fudging on the sufficiency of Scripture when it comes to selling Heaven is for Real in the hopes that false doctrine might bring someone to faith.

At the end of the day, Patterson’s methodology is not the problem. It’s his theology and, more precise, his soteriology that is the problem. Perhaps we should all remember this to keep us humble; God doesn’t need you and he certainly doesn’t need your sin, compromise, or Downgrade to give him a hand.