HOUSTON (SWBTS) – Evangelism took center stage at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s alumni luncheon during the SBC annual meeting, June 12. Frank Page, president of the SBC Executive Committee, and Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., were honored as distinguished alumni, and Southwestern president Paige Patterson updated alumni on the evangelistic atmosphere on campus.
“Frank Page and his wife Dale have made immeasurable contributions to the Southern Baptist Convention and to the work of the kingdom of God,” Patterson said. He applauded Page for his courage to write a book about his daughter’s suicide and for his commitment to evangelism and prayer.
“When you wrote me the letter about [the award], I wept,” Page told Patterson, “It meant a lot to me because I love Southwestern. I remember being pronounced a Southwesterner by Dr. [Robert] Naylor.”
“One of the primary things that is a deep burden to me,” Page continued, “is the denigration of evangelism across our churches and in our land. In fact, we’re seeing less personal witnessing than ever before. But there is a bright light coming out of Fort Worth where soul winning is not only encouraged but it is exampled by faculty, staff and students and also by our dear president.”
In recognizing Gaines, Patterson said he took on the unenviable task of following legendary Southern Baptist pastor Adrian Rogers and has done a remarkable job.
“You have kept the exposition of Scripture and the mandate of evangelism and leading people to Christ side-by-side,” Patterson said.
Gaines expressed gratitude for the award, saying, “God used Southwestern to change my life, and I will forever be grateful.” He said he cherished the opportunity to study under great men like evangelism professor Roy Fish.
Following the awards presentations, Patterson gave alumni an update about what God is doing in and through Southwestern. Among the many programs and events mentioned, Patterson told alumni about the ongoing evangelistic spirit on campus as seen through professors leading students in door-to-door evangelism; the seminary’s annual spring break revival program, which sends revival preachers to churches in nearly every state; and the recent report from Southwestern’s short-term mission team to the unreached Antandroy people group of Southern Madagascar, where they witnessed more than 400 professions of faith.
Patterson encouraged alumni with one of his standard evangelism axioms: “Never pass a solitary figure who seems to be all alone in the world. You see them everywhere, they just don’t register with you. You see them sitting on a park bench. Maybe they’re fine, but chances are that a lot of trouble is surrounding that person’s life. He’s sitting there on the park bench, sitting at the bus stop, sitting somewhere by himself, wondering what is next.”
Patterson challenged alumni never to pass someone like this without attempting to share the Gospel. He recounted the story of Keith Eitel, dean of the School of Evangelism and Missions at Southwestern, who several years ago took time to witness to a young Australian man in such a state on the streets of Thailand. After listening to the young man, Thai, share about his feelings of emptiness, Eitel shared the Gospel, and Thai placed his faith in Christ.
Thai subsequently moved to the United States and enrolled in the College at Southwestern, where he recently graduated. Now pursuing his Master of Divinity at Southwestern, he also serves as a chef on campus.
Patterson traveled to Australia earlier this summer, and while he was there, he visited with Thai’s family and shared the Gospel with them. Although they did not place their faith in Christ, Patterson said the seeds have been planted, and he hopes that one day Thai will have the opportunity to lead them to faith.
Patterson, who served on the advisory committee on Calvinism appointed by Page, also addressed the topic during the luncheon.
“I want to promise you something,” Patterson said to any at the luncheon who hold to Reformed theology. “If you adopt Reformed theology, you will never be persecuted at Southwestern Seminary. … I want you to know you’re welcome at Southwestern Seminary, and I’m glad to have you there.”
Patterson also clarified that Southwestern will continue to demonstrate the evangelistic and doctrinal zeal of the Swiss and South German evangelical Anabaptists, who lived during the time of the Protestant Reformation. This type of Gospel passion, Patterson said, can be felt all over campus.
“Thanks to the leadership … of our evangelism professors and literally the whole faculty,” Patterson said, “our students are winning people to Christ at unprecedented rates all around the school. When they leave, they are soul winners. They know what it means to witness and share their faith.”