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Conservative Resurgence archives find home in Fort Worth

SWBTS’s Baptist Heritage Library will house historical documents and provide presidential apartment.

February 6th, 2018 / By: Joni Hannigan / comments

It has been some four decades since the Southern Baptist Convention’s “Conservative Resurgence” began, embracing grassroots theological conservatism and attempting to reverse what was viewed as a liberal drift in its entities and seminaries. 

Two key voices of that movement are now gone, but the libraries and archives of Memphis pastor Adrian Rogers and journalist James C. Hefley Jr. will be preserved as a part of the new Baptist Heritage Library at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, along with the collections of SWBTS President Paige Patterson and retired Florida pastor Jerry Vines.

Patterson gifted his own 35,000-book collection to the center, which will also serve as the depository for his personal manuscripts, mission gifts, and realia, and will provide a one-bedroom apartment for him and his wife, Dorothy, who teaches at the seminary. The Pattersons will serve as scholars-in-residence upon retirement, the school’s trustees announced last year, with trustees’ plans to house them with private funds given on behalf of the Pattersons.

Rogers’ family donated the books, papers and personal artifacts of the three-time SBC president 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 theological reset that occurred over most of two decades.   

Hefley’s archives were transferred in 2016 from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., to Southwestern. Hefley, known as the key historian of the Conservative Resurgence with his “Truth in Crisis” book series, died in 2004.  

Craig Kubic, dean of libraries at Southwestern, said the center will house the largest collection of Conservative Resurgence materials, and will be one of the few research centers in the world focusing 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.” 

The new library plans to open in fall 2018, but hopes are that messengers attending the SBC annual meeting in Dallas this June will be able to view the two-story facility, designed to house the collections along with living quarters for a handful of researchers and security staff.   

Charles Patrick, Southwestern’s 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.  

Kevin Ueckert, chairman of the SWBTS trustee board and pastor of First Baptist Church in Georgetown, said the main purpose of the library is 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,” Ueckert said. 

The Baptist Heritage Center will include office space and workrooms for archiving, maintaining and researching. 

A LONG-HELD VISION

Patterson, in a wide-ranging interview in late January, spoke transparently about the Baptist Heritage Center and his future retirement role as scholar-in-residence. In answering questions related to when he might retire, Patterson, a native Texan, said he “had it in his heart” to build a Baptist research center in the form of a home able to not only house collections of the “Conservative Renaissance,” as Patterson often calls it, but to serve as a residence to several missionaries and researchers.   

Patterson plans to live in one of the one-bedroom apartments in the center, along with this wife—after his retirement—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.’”   

That Patterson might retire on a seminary campus was discussed years ago while Patterson was president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. A Southeastern trustee, Phillip Mercer, and his wife wanted to build the Pattersons a retirement home—anywhere, Patterson said.  

The Pattersons were overwhelmed by the generosity but initially declined. But after reviewing plans at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for its J.D. Grey House, which includes a pastor’s library and apartments, Patterson said he reconsidered the offer. He met with the Mercers to ask if they would agree to build the home on the Southeastern campus. They agreed, even securing another donor. But before those plans went forward, Patterson accepted the presidency at Southwestern.  

More than a decade later, the idea bore fruit with the blessing of the trustees at Southwestern. Patterson said the original donations were used as seed money to begin building the center on the Fort Worth campus.   

All of the Pattersons’ books and papers, including historical archives from SBC and their antique collections, will belong to Southwestern Seminary 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. Dorothy Patterson holds doctor of ministry and doctor of theology degrees and teaches theology in the school’s women’s studies program.  

Patterson said he has not yet decided when he will retire.