Patterson participates in ‘historic’ lecture series in Spain

Alex Sibley


Founded in 1293, the University of Alcalá de Henares, located northeast of Madrid in Spain, is recognized as one of the oldest universities in Europe. It was there that the 16th century theologian Erasmus taught the doctrines of humanism, which served as a seed bed for the Protestant Reformation. It was also there that some of the most distinguished Spanish Reformers, including Constantino Ponce de la Fuente and Juan de Valdez, studied the biblical languages and gained a profound respect for the Bible. Additionally, Alcalá de Henares is the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, regarded as the first modern novel.

Given the rich heritage of this location, the visit of Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Seminary, to Alcalá for the purpose of participating in a lecture series on the Spanish Reformation during the first week of June was a significant event. Daniel Sanchez, professor of missions at Southwestern, who also visited the university with Patterson and First Lady Dorothy Patterson, says the lecture series itself was a “historical event” because “it was the first time that an evangelical had been given the privilege of holding a meeting on the university campus and addressing the topic of the Spanish Reformation.”

“Reading a paper at one of the oldest universities in the world, Alcalá, where Erasmus taught and Cervantes was born, was an incredible experience,” Patterson says. “Imagine an evangelical reading a paper on the theology of the Reformers with a full house of interested auditors in a land that I first visited in 1959 when all but one of our churches were closed by order of the president. The Lord, He is God!”

Patterson presented a paper on the theology of the Reformers, focusing on the biblical foundations of the Protestant Reformation and stressing not only the key doctrines of the Reformation but also highlighting the role that the Spanish Reformers played in striving to return the church to its biblical roots. In expressing his appreciation for Patterson’s lecture, Julio Díaz, president of the Baptist Theological Seminary in Spain, noted that it was especially meaningful to them that Patterson made a concerted effort to acknowledge the contribution that the Spanish Reformers made under life-threatening circumstances.

As an expression of gratitude, Patterson was presented with a Bible translated into Spanish in 1569 by Casiodoro de Reina and Cipriano de Valera, two monks who served in the San Isidro del Campo monastery in Seville, Spain. This Bible, it was noted, has been used for centuries in the Spanish-speaking world.

David Dixon, academic dean of the Spanish seminary and a Southwestern graduate (Master of Divinity, 1981; Doctor of Philosophy, 1988), said he was pleased that the roughly 100 attendees at the lecture series included not only seminary students but also university professors and key pastors from a number of evangelical denominations. Also present was Javier Rodriguez Palacios, mayor of Alcalá de Henares.

“One of the striking features of this lecture series was the speech given by the honorable Mayor Palacios,” Sanchez says. “He expressed profound appreciation for the life and ministry of the evangelicals in Spain. He stressed that Spain needs persons and groups who are willing to share their beliefs and stand for their religious convictions. The mayor invited this group of evangelicals to visit the city again and have conferences as meaningful as this one.”

This was Patterson’s second time lecturing at a secular university in Spain, which is a largely Roman Catholic country. In 2010, Patterson presented a paper on the connection between Spanish Reformers and Anabaptists regarding issues of religious freedom at a similar lecture series co-sponsored by Southwestern Seminary and the University of Seville. As Patterson said in regard to that experience, “For a major secular university to co-sponsor with Southwestern Seminary a conference on the Reformation in the city that in many ways spawned the Inquisition is a remarkable development.” (Read more about this experience here).

In addition to the lecture series, the Pattersons and Sanchez also engaged in discussions with Julio Díaz and other seminary leaders regarding the partnership between Southwestern Seminary’s Global Theological Innovation (GTI) and the Spanish seminary. Díaz expressed that this partnership has enabled them to continue to grow and be more effective in preparing future ministers.

“The role that Southwestern Seminary played in enlisting the Metropolitan Baptist Association of New York to become a Champion Association for the Spanish seminary has already been a blessing to them,” Sanchez says. He explains that the scholarships provided by the association are enabling students to remain at the seminary, which allows the seminary to maintain the enrollment numbers required by the accrediting agency in order for the seminary to retain its accreditation status.

As a further help to the seminary, Dorothy Patterson informed Calvin Wittman, pastor of Applewood Baptist Church in Denver, Colo., of its need for a Champion Church that can partner with the seminary in order to meet the institution’s practical needs. Because Wittman, who is both a Southwestern graduate (M.Div., 1989) and trustee, has strong ties to Spain (having served there as an International Mission Board missionary for several years), he has already led his church to begin prayerfully considering such a partnership.

“For GTI and Dr. Patterson to give leadership to connect with international seminaries and help give direction to these seminaries around the world is extremely important,” Wittman says, “because the way that we train our preachers is the way that our churches are going to go. So for Southwestern to have that kind of influence globally … it says a great deal about the kind of leadership Dr. and Mrs. Patterson are giving not only to Southwestern but to global Christianity.”

“I am convinced that this seminary has the leadership and the commitment to impact theological education in a significant way in this country and throughout Europe in the years to come,” Sanchez says. “This seminary has been instrumental in enrolling nine students in our Master of Theological Studies program and is exploring the possibility of some of its professors enrolling in some of our Ph.D. programs. This type of partnership is mutually enriching and contributes toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission by preparing students of many different cultures and languages for the work of the ministry.”

(Photo credit: “000095 – Alcalá de Henares” by M. Peinado. Licensed under CC BY 2.0)