Paige Patterson was born to Thomas Armour and Roberta Patterson on October 19, 1942, in Fort Worth, Texas, while his father was completing doctoral studies at Southwestern Seminary under esteemed professor W. T. Connor. At the age of 4, Patterson’s family moved to Beaumont, Texas, when his father became the pastor of the First Baptist Church.
As a boy in Beaumont, Patterson knew how to be saved but feared God would call him to preach if he confessed Christ. During a revival meeting in 1951, he resisted no longer. Broken and weeping, he rushed down the aisle into his father’s arms. Too emotional to speak, Patterson nodded as his father asked him if he wanted to receive Christ and be baptized. Providentially, a young girl named Dorothy Kelley, Patterson’s childhood sweetheart and future bride, accepted Christ during the same service. The following Wednesday, he notified his father that he had also committed his life to ministry.
T. A. Patterson influenced his son greatly, encouraging him to read books such as L. R. Scarborough’s With Christ After the Lost and B. H. Carroll’s Interpretation of the English Bible. Patterson frequently took his son on home visits instilling in him a habit of personal evangelism. In addition, Paige Patterson accompanied his parents on a world preaching tour visiting 13 countries when he was just 16.
Patterson did not begin as the typical seminary president. He initially gave his life to the ministry as an evangelist. During his college days at Hardin-Simmons University, he served as pastor of a country church, Sardis Baptist Church in Rotan, Texas, and then later as pastor of Second Baptist Church in Abilene. During his master’s studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, he began a coffee house ministry to reach outcasts, prostitutes, and drug addicts while pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in New Orleans. From there he became pastor of the First Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where in less than five years he baptized 239 people, planted seven churches, and saw 50 youth commit their lives to ministry. His service as an evangelist, in a worldwide preaching ministry, in country churches, in city churches, and in mega-churches uniquely prepared him for equipping ministers as the president of a seminary.
Moments after Patterson received his doctoral hood at New Orleans Seminary in 1973, his mother and father met him, hugged him, and said, “Now son, take all that God has given you and give it away to all who cross your path in need of a better way.” They could not have realized the implications of this prophetic charge.
W. A. Criswell called Patterson in 1975 to serve as president of the Criswell Bible Institute (now Criswell College) and as associate pastor at the First Baptist Church of Dallas. Beginning with eight full-time students, over his 17 years of ministry, Patterson turned the meager institution into a prominent theologically conservative training ground for ministers.
While at Criswell, Patterson served on the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy. This council included a gamut of highly respected scholars who produced the historic Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. In addition to encouraging the acceptance of biblical inerrancy in the evangelical community, Patterson also fought for biblical inerrancy within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
During this time, a decade-old dream, percolated over coffee with Paul Pressler at the historic Café Du Monde in New Orleans, would become a reality. As the architects of what would become known as the “Conservative Resurgence” in the SBC, Pressler and Patterson agreed to stand in front, taking the heat from certain attack, to allow a grassroots movement to return the Convention to fidelity in the inerrant Scriptures. Only a few believed this Herculean task could be accomplished; however, a miracle of God occurred. For over ten years, messengers elected conservative SBC presidents who appointed conservative trustees to govern SBC agencies.
The “Conservative Resurgence” began in 1979 with the election of Adrian Rogers and continued into the 1990s as moderates began leaving the convention. As the premier statesman, theological leader, and architect of the only successful movement of a major denomination to return to conservative beliefs, Patterson firmly established himself as one of history’s most influential Southern Baptists.
In 1992, Patterson left Criswell College to serve as president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. One trustee said, “We are thrilled to have Paige and Dorothy Patterson at Southeastern. And I believe we have in Paige one of the greatest scholars in the SBC, and he will install an outstanding academic program at Southeastern.” The semester before Patterson arrived, enrollment was 555. Few believed in Patterson’s ambitious plan of reaching 2,000 students by the year 2000. Between 1992 and 1996 the enrollment increased by 115 percent and 2,088 students enrolled in classes the spring of 2000. In addition to increasing enrollment, Patterson revitalized student life, renovated campus facilities, created a significant endowment, and assembled one of the finest groups of theological professors ever. Most significantly, the East Coast now housed a world renowned school for the training of ministers.
During his time at Southeastern, Patterson was elected at the 1998 annual meeting to serve as president of the SBC. He was the sixth seminary president to hold the office but only the third to do both simultaneously. In 1999, the convention voted for Patterson to appoint a committee to review the Baptist Faith and Message. His diverse committee included four ethnic groups, lay people, denominational leaders, pastors, women, student ministry leaders, and theologians. Patterson presided over the committee’s proposal known as the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. This confession capped the Conservative Resurgence in the SBC.
Although many thought Patterson would finish his formal ministerial career at Southeastern Seminary, God called him to a new challenge. This calling, confirmed on a plane ride reminiscent of the confirmation B. H. Carroll experienced on a train ride, brought Paige Patterson to Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary as its eighth president. With this move in 2003, Patterson returned to the place of his birth and became only the second person in Baptist history to serve as president of two SBC seminaries.
Patterson personified Southwestern’s founders. He combined B. H. Carroll’s biblical fidelity evidenced in The Inspiration of the Scriptures with Scarborough’s passion for evangelism demonstrated in With Christ After the Lost. Patterson became the first president since E. D. Head to sit in Scarborough’s “Chair of Fire,” restoring this tradition at Southwestern.
The combination of the emphasis on academics and evangelism can be seen in Southwestern’s new slogan from 2 Timothy 4:5, 13: “Do the work of an evangelist…bring the books, especially the parchments.” The slogan captures Patterson’s heart for scholarship on fire, which defines Patterson’s life and ministry. He is more than a widely published theologian with works ranging from commentaries to systematic theology; he is a gifted evangelist able to communicate the Gospel diversely from wild game banquets in rural America to unreached peoples around the world.
As one would expect, Patterson operates a seminary differently than most. He said, “Two kinds of seminaries are available for students worldwide. There are those schools essentially committed to training occupation troops. No criticism can be offered against these schools since occupation troops are always important. But any modern army must have and train its Special Operations Forces, and that is the assignment of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.”
Patterson’s brand of theological education pushes scholars to be evangelists and the evangelists to become scholars. He said, “Every student and every professor will be expected to be involved in a mission effort to plant a church somewhere in a country overseas at least once every three years…everyone on campus will be expected to be a consistent witness and a soul-winner for Christ.” He went on to say that “World missions and evangelism will be thematic for the entire seminary.” Patterson stands behind his commitment not to send any student anywhere he has not been himself, as he has ministered in over 125 countries and shared the Gospel with six heads of state in various countries.
To encourage scholarship, Patterson added an additional year of Hebrew and Greek language study. In a time when most institutions decreased academic requirements to increase numerical or financial growth, Patterson constructed the most academically challenging Master of Divinity program in theological education.
Under Patterson’s direction, Southwestern appointed Terri Stovall as the first dean of women’s programs in a Southern Baptist seminary. Dorothy Patterson also became the first president’s wife to join the seminary’s faculty as professor of theology in women's studies allowing the seminary to expand master’s and doctoral programs for women. Southwestern also instituted a homemaking concentration in its college. Mrs. Patterson’s “Wife of the Equipping Minister” course continues to be one of the largest seminary classes.
Despite her responsibilities as a professor and author, Mrs. Patterson sees her ultimate role as that of wife, mother, and now grandmother. The Pattersons' son Armour and his wife Rachel live in Arizona's Sonoran Desert, where he pursues a literary vocation. Their daughter Carmen is married to Dr. Mark Howell, pastor of the Houston NorthWest Baptist Church. The Howells have blessed the Pattersons with two granddaughters, Abigail and Rebekah. Noche, the ever-present black Labrador Retriever, completes the family circle.
Paige Patterson’s vision for the seminary included a “reaffirmation of the sanctity of marriage and the home, together with the preservation of appropriate gender relationships in home and church.” He also leads by example in his challenge to the faculty to produce Christ-exalting literature for churches and schools. Accepting the responsibility to train men and women of the highest moral character, he pledged that the seminary would produce expository preachers, faithful Christian educators, Christ-honoring worship leaders, and compassionate counselors. In every aspect, he promised, “We will never be ashamed of our Baptist heritage or our Baptist name.”
Under Patterson’s leadership, the Seminary established a Center for Expository Preaching, stressing the necessity of biblically based preaching in the life of the church, and the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement. He negotiated a multimillion dollar contract for oil drilling rights on the campus. He has reinstituted the archaeology program, made weekly chapels the heartbeat of the campus, moved dining services back on campus, resuscitated the campus clinic, and established a traveling scholar program. He expanded the reach of Southwestern by developing the Houston extension into the J. Dalton Havard School for Theological Studies, creating the William R. Marshall Center for Theological Studies in San Antonio, and by adding extension centers across Texas and overseas in Bonn, Germany.
In 2004, trustees approved the creation of the School of Evangelism and Missions. Named after the seminary’s renowned professor of evangelism, Roy Fish, the school naturally echoes Patterson’s heartbeat for missions. The College at Southwestern also began in 2004. Several chairs have been inaugurated under Patterson, including the Dick Baker Chair of Music Missions and Evangelism, the James T. Draper, Jr., Chair of Pastoral Ministry, the Bobby L. and Janis Eklund Chair of Stewardship, the Jack D. and Barbara Terry Chair of Religious Education, and the Hope for the Heart Chair of Biblical Counseling.
Patterson reversed the trending slump in enrollment and set a goal of 6,000 students. In 2007, the school reached its highest enrollment in five years creating a need for more buildings. Patterson plans to start building a new chapel during the three-year centennial celebration. Groundbreaking for additional student housing and the Horner Homemaking House will take place soon. Plans have also been approved for constructing a building for the growing College at Southwestern and the School of Evangelism and Missions.
Under Patterson’s leadership, the institution achieved the highest ever one-year gain in net worth. In one year’s time, the seminary increased its net worth by $33 million. The previous largest gain over a fiscal year was $12 million. The new funds for building projects, general endowment increases for new academic chairs and other support of the seminary, and student scholarship endowment increases have occurred without tapping student tuition or Cooperative Program dollars, demonstrating Patterson’s success at inspiring stewardship. During his presidency, total endowment assets have increased by $35.9 million, culminating with $14.0 million in the 2007 fiscal year alone.
Neither pen nor picture can completely portray the rare combination of administrator, fundraiser, evangelist, missionary, preacher, pastor, exegete, theologian, husband, and father blended in Paige Patterson. Just when one thinks he understands the Baptist statesman, Patterson is seen petting his black lab Noche or passionately shedding tears over “his children” headed to the mission field. He is a tender-hearted warrior for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, fighting Satan’s advance at every possible encounter.