Rarely in a large convention gathering to you witness a man humble himself and ask for forgiveness. Too often we hid our need for grace on the platform and seek to “put the best face forward” under any and all circumstances. Dr. Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, found himself in need of grace and asked for it from his brothers and sisters in Christ.
Dr. Patterson made an executive decision to admit a practicing Muslim into the PhD program of SWBTS in the discipline of archaeology. By this own confession, Patterson has deep feeling for this young Muslim scholar who wanted to assist in some archaeological digs in the Holy Land and also study under the scholars at this Baptist seminary.
The standards for entering a Southern Baptist Seminary are quite high and rigid. Much like a military academy the students are expected to be the best of the best. To a man and the occasional woman, each student must profess faith in Christ, a calling to ministry, and adherence to the principles and values of the faith. Clearly Muslim student cannot meet any of these qualities. This is where the rub begins and ends.
Dr. Patterson confessed he opened the door to the young student for his future education and for the opportunity for him to come under the influence of Christian scholarship and faith. Much like St. Patrick of old who invited pagans into the circle of Christians long before declarations of faith, Patterson hoped and believed this young Muslim man would turn and choose to follow Jesus. So he violated the time honored rules he had fought to establish in defense against the creeping liberalism of our day to admit this man in hopes of his coming to Christ. He confessed his heart for the “lost” inspired and moved his decision.
Clearly one can stand on either side of the argument, and feel a sense of justification. However, sadly leaders don’t often have the option of standing on both sides. Decisions must be made. Prayers for guidance heeded. Courageous action dictates decisions. Patterson made a bold courageous move. I for one, affirm him in his decision. I have great confidence in the power of the light of the gospel, and I fear not the influence of a Muslim in the halls of SWBTS. By his own confession, Patterson sought to open the door to a seeker on a quest for knowledge. Does it not seem odd that a devout Muslim would choose to study openly among infidels. By this principle alone it appears we see the fingers prints of the Holy Spirit of God at work. This “wind” I believe moved Patterson to action.
Were his actions right or wrong? It appears the answer is yes. He violated the standards of admission into the seminary, and he erred on the side of the gospel and grace. The board of trustees will deal with him and I trust they will deal with him fairly. I hope the young Muslim will be allowed to continue his quest. In the end, ultimately Patterson stands before His Lord Jesus who metes justice with nail-scarred hands. For those of us in the stands, we watching from a distance, we would be wise to pray, and to be slow to judge.