SBC Controversy over Speaking in Tongues

Dwight McKissicIf you live in Texas, you have probably already heard the news coming out of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, TX. Unless you’ve been living in a hole, it’s been rather hard to miss the coverage both on television (CBS 11) and in major state newspapers (Houston Chronicle, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Dallas Morning News) and denominational press (BP, ABP).

Yesterday, the trustees of Southwestern Seminary voted 36-1 to adopt a statement containing the following lines: “Southwestern will not knowingly endorse in any way, advertise, or commend the conclusions of the contemporary charismatic movement including ‘private prayer language.’ Neither will Southwestern knowingly employ professors or administrators who promote such practices.”

This statement was drafted by seminary President Dr. Paige Patterson and is a response to the Rev. Dwight McKissic’s controversial advocacy of tongues-speaking in a recent Southwestern chapel service (read about it here, here, and here). Rev. McKissic is himself a trustee at Southwestern and was the lone dissenter voting against the statement adopted by the other trustees.

McKissic has posted on his church’s website a response the the trustee’s statement. In McKissic’s response he advocates the practice of a “private prayer language” and he argues for a more “inclusive role of women in public worship,” including the practice of allowing women to teach Christian doctrine to men. McKissic also states that he will not resign his trustee position, but will continue to serve out his term (See McKissic’s full response to Patterson’s proposal).

So what do I think about all these developments? I think all of this controversy boils down to a dispute over no less that three important ecclesiological questions:

(1) Definition and Function of the Charismatic Gifts of the Spirit

(2) The Bible’s Teaching about the Roles of Women in Ministry

(3) Baptist Identity and the Proper Basis for Cooperation among Baptist Churches

I intend to write about all three of these issues over the next several days. In the meantime, go review some of the stories I’ve linked in this post, and come back ready to talk theology.


  • Rick


    Just a breif reminder that before we rush head long into a McKissic gate a few things should be remembered. First, Dr. Criswell always gave the opening fall sermon for the college. When in his age he could no longer do so that mantel of expository preaching fell to the now late Dr. E.K. Bailey. Dr. Bailey was a man mighty in the word. When, the untimely passing of Dr. Bailey occured the mantel fell unto none other than Dwight McKissic as the appointed designee for the opening chapels. As you proceed remember this is one of our own.

  • Craig Moore

    Didn’t most of the church fight the “tongues” and prayer language battles in the 70’s? In about 30 years you all will be fighting the same battles we in mainline denominations are dealing with today.

  • dennyrburk


    Maybe “McKissic-gate” was unnecessarily inflammatory by implying that McKissic has done something scandalous. That’s not what I intended, so I’ve removed it from the title.

    Thanks for reading.


  • Debbie Wimmers

    In a lot of ways I support both McKissic and Patterson. I am for Mckissic in saying that if we have a personal prayer language (or Private) it shouldn’t stand in the way of serving missions or any SBC board. He’s also correct in the role soem women have had in our denomination.
    I’m for Pattarson in saying that the issue should probably not be disussed in a strong conservative church or seminary.

  • Scott

    We (the SBC) may be missing the forest for the trees. Maybe we should be focusing on whether or not the missionaries understand the gospel. but I’m just ranting. 🙂

  • Paul Schafer

    What does this mean for the student?
    Can they pray in the Spirit but not the faculty and the administrators?
    Why legislate that you can’t obey the bible? What do we make of Jude 20 and Ephesians 6:18 and 1 Cor. 14:5, 13-15 18?
    Are these leaders above God in saying we should not obey scripture cause it doesn’t line up with our traditions or hermenuetics like the Pharisees in Mark 7?
    If this is case, why not abandon tithing, for there is no direct commands in the New Testement to do so?
    This is dumb.

  • Debbie Wimmers

    ‘If this is case, why not abandon tithing, for there is no direct commands in the New Testement to do so?’

    I Cor 8-9 talk about giving. Hebrews 7 talks about giving.
    Jesus talked more about money and possessions more than anything else.

    There are some that shy away from tongues because some could be demonic instead of by the Holy Spirit. jesus said Do not blaspheme the Holy Spirit. I wonder if that means don’t deny the gifts of the spirit like tongues.
    Some that speak in tongues think they are more spiritual than non-speakers. this, of course, is not true.

  • Barton Ramsey

    I am still waiting on the further discussion… with much anticipation.

    I have a lot of mixed thoughts on the issue itself, so I think I will read more to see what my tiny mind can make of all this business.

    We had an interesting chat about it in the coffee shop Tuesday with Dr. Barry. Maybe we’ll get you in on it next time Dr. Burk.

  • Bryan L

    Giving and tithing aren’t strictly the same thing. So to talk about giving doesn’t necessarily include tithing.

    Also I think Jesus talked more about the kingdom of God than money and possessions. The Gospels say he went everywhere preaching the good news of the kingdom, not money and things.
    Those 2 things came up when he discussed their implications for those within the Kingdom.

    I agree that those who speak in tongues aren’t more spiritual than others and would be wrong to think it. In fact being part of a Charismatic church and involved in the Charismatic circles, one of the unfortunate things I encounter that I would like to see dropped out of usage is the self description “spirit-filled” (‘She’s spirit-filled’, ‘that church is a spirit-filled church’) as if to imply those who aren’t charismatic aren’t filled with the Sprit. That’s unbiblical. It’s an unfortunate part of much of the Charismatic movement that only serves to separate and exclude and puff up.

    I guess liberalism is in the eyes of those who use that word against others to discredit or slander them. Conservative in America is liberal in other places in the world (and even in certain places in America). It’s funny that those who consider themselves conservative today and wear it like a badge are liberals by the standards of the past.


  • Andrew

    My own understanding of the tongues issue is somewhat in the air at the moment. I am not a cessationist, but I do not speak in tongues nor do I know anyone who does.
    My problem is with the decision by SWBTS and IMB to have an ad hoc policy that affects the way Southern Baptists work together in cooperation. If Dr. Patterson and the folks at IMB want to make a policy concerning tongues, it must first be agreed by the SBC that theirs is the consensus view. I disagree with both Hatley’s and Patterson’s view of tongues. SO it frustrates me that they are using their positions to “pass down an edict” as it were on the issue. Even if I agreed with them, they shouldn’t not let a personal interpretation become policy without the express approval of the Convention.
    As Southern Baptists, we are a group of people who cooperate around a set of unifying essential doctrinal parameters. These are laid out in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. These are the parameters around which we can find cooperation and fellowship. If some people want to refine the doctrinal criterion necessary for employment by the IMB and SWBTS, both organizations of which are funded through Southern Baptist offering money, these people should make sure the churches that pay their salaries agree with their interpretation.

  • debbiewimmers

    I agree alot with what mcKissic and Burleson are saying on this issue. What you pray in private is your business. That is between you and God. If God accepts your prayer, that’s good. If he doesn’t, then you may need to redirect your priorties to seeking his will.

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