Sunday, May 13, 2007

Interpretation of Statistics

Figures won't lie, but liars will figure. -Charles Grosvenor
I am not saying that my good friend Ben Cole is a liar. In my opinion, he is among the more honest people involved in the debates of the past year. He is the Lady Godiva of Southern Baptist dissent—whatever his thoughts, opinions, and motives have been, we have all seen them in their unvarnished state. Personally, I like that kind of openness, even when there is disagreement. I hope to contribute to the total and unrestrained defeat of whatever shenanigans Ben has in store for this year's SBC meeting, but my desire for his defeat is not a desire for his disgrace or destruction. Ben has conceded (see here) that his comparison between SWBTS and DTS was less than completely accurate. A concession is in order from me. I will concede that enrollment at SWBTS has gone down. Ben's metanarrative, of course, is that Dr. Patterson is the cause of declining enrollment at SWBTS. Here is the point of my initial quote: although statistics are solid and unwavering in and of themselves, it is when people attempt to interpret them that statistics can make liars of us all. Thus, in the interests of the truth (and, of course, out of my love for SWBTS), I offer the following factors other than Dr. Patterson's presidency that must be considered in order to interpret Ben's statistics accurately.
  1. Ben's good friend Paul Powell (of Truett Seminary) and the fine folks at Logsdon Seminary and the B. H. Carroll Institute are hard at work every day trying to convince people to attend their schools rather than attend SWBTS. The effects of these schools are relatively new phenomena, and they would be in operation whether Dr. Patterson or even Ben Cole (insert uncontrollable shudder here) were president of SWBTS.
  2. Ben's good friends at Baylor University and their colleagues at a wide array of Baptist undergraduate institutions have all but sworn a blood oath to steer students away from SWBTS and to ban the hiring of SWBTS graduates regardless of their personal beliefs or qualifications.
  3. All of these folks and their henchmen at the BGCT have gone so far as to deny exhibit space for SWBTS at the BGCT's annual meeting—an unparalleled occurence in Southern Baptist history.
  4. What were the enrollment and graduate trends at SEBTS under Patterson? Could Bro. Ben enlighten us with those statistics? As I have already mentioned in another post, the robust growth of other seminaries in the Southern Baptist system cannot help but impact the numbers at SWBTS.
Finally, let me concede yet another point. If I were a liberal, I would not want to attend SWBTS. I do not doubt that Dr. Patterson's presence at the helm of the seminary discourages some people from attending there. I will lose no sleep over this fact. I have no desire for the SBC to subsidize the education of liberals (whatever you believe that word means, you must concede that whoever is a liberal, he would think twice about attending SWBTS right now). But I do not believe that this factor is any more determinative of the enrollment trends at SWBTS than the other factors I have already listed. Ben's statistics are (now) sound; the problem is with his metanarrative.


Winning Truth w/Tim Guthrie said...

You have once again hit the nail on the head with your breakdown of the statistics and the analysis of them.

May God bless you!


davidinflorida said...

Hi Bart,

This is a good post. Isn`t it amazing that someone can twist the truth, and it not be called a lie. Or is it a lie?

By the way, who are the henchmen?

sbc pastor said...


It is true that in recent years theological moderates and liberals have had more “preferable” options at their disposal with the formation of seminaries that share their belief system, namely Baylor’s Truett Seminary and Logsdon here in Texas. The moderate and liberal propaganda seeking to smear the SBC and theologically conservative seminaries such as SWBTS is extremely high and oftentimes vitriolic. I doubt that conservative Southern Baptists will lose any sleep over the decision of a theological moderate or liberal not to attend one of our seminaries :0).

Also, the success of other SBC seminaries has no doubt contributed to lower enrollment numbers at SWBTS. However, that is not a bad thing for the SBC or for Southern Baptist churches, no matter what certain agenda-driven individuals may say to the contrary. Few, if any, Southern Baptists actually take the meanderings of folks like Cole seriously anyhow. In my opinion, the more theologically conservative SBC seminaries there are the better.

Nevertheless, Southwestern is quickly amassing one of the finest faculties in theological education anywhere in the world. Their preaching faculty is already second to none! Dr. Patterson is God’s man for the hour, and his visionary leadership will prove to be invaluable as the school seeks to prepare the pastors and missionaries of tomorrow. Personally, I believe that the best days of SWBTS are still yet ahead.

Thanks and God bless!!!

In Christ,

Bart Barber said...

Tim and Jeremy,

Thanks, as always.

Bart Barber said...


One can err without lying (a fact that many of President Bush's critics ought to memorize). With particular reference to Ben's case, we ought to note that strongly held emotions tend to cloud the judgment.

Bro. Robin said...


Let me say Ditto to Jeremy's remark about the best days are ahead for SWBTS.

I would also be interested to see what the numbers were since Dr. Hemphill took the position of President. Just the numbers that Ben showed reveal a downward trend during Hemphill's tenure except for the upward spike in the 2002-2003 year. But even at that , the number dropped to even a lower level in 2003-2004. Of course the BEST year represents the year I graduated 2002. Does that mean because of my absense things went down hill? :-D

There is no doubt that more options are available for students. I have a friend that has gone the internet/correspondance route for his degree. It was cheaper and he learned essentially the same stuff, though he did miss out on a lot of interaction between students and professors.

To suggest that these numbers represent Patterson's leadership goes far beyond what they should be telling us.

peter lumpkins said...

Dr. Barber,

I hope your Lord's Day is refreshing. I think your concession to Mr. Cole is generous for the simple reason that, from the way I read both your post and his, what Mr. Cole conceded was not at all the point your were making in your original post, where you raised the question about his numbers. Though know I am perfectly open to correction here.

There you wrote: "...Bro. Ben is comparing DTS's once-a-year commencement number to SWBTS's Spring-semester-only commencement number...if anyone wishes to make [comparisons], he ought to give the whole story and portray the comparison accurately."

However, what Mr. Cole conceded was not his skewed figures as you pointed out. He remarks: "Point conceded, Rev. Barber. It was improper for me to compare Southwestern Seminary’s graduation totals with a non-SBC seminary in the Dallas-Fort Worth area." Apparently, the only concession he was making was not about skewed numbers--not purposely skewed numbers, of course, but skewed nonetheless. Rather it was the odd impropriety of comparing SWBTS graduation totals to a non-SBC seminary in Dallas/Ft. Worth.

I attempted to make this observation at Baptistblogger and did but it strangely disappeared. Whoever can figure out Blogdom may become a very rich (wo)man.

Grace, my Brother. With that, I am...


Nathan Finn said...


Good couple of posts. I would agree with your assessment of the metanarrative--let us not forget that Dr. Patterson was largely responsible for my own seminary becoming "the fastest growing seminary in the world" during the 1990's. And he built a solid enough seminary that we continue to grow every year.

I would add one point to the metanarrative. While I totally agree that the moderate and other alternative Baptist seminaries have drawn folks away, I think there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that more and more Baptist seminarians are choosing non-denominational and/or neo-evangelical schools as well. How many Southern Baptists are at DTS, Trinity, Gordon-Conwell, or one of the Reformed seminaries? A bunch. And I would hazzard a guess that the postdenominational preferences of many 20 and 30-somethings, coupled with specific theological convictions, has much more to do with these students opting for non-SBC (and non-moderate) seminaries than their dislike of any given seminary president.

Just a thought.


R. L. Vaughn said...

Bart, your thread and commenters are providing much better and more likely analysis of SWBTS and the interpretation of the statistics.

Peter, part of your problem may be that Ben's blog is moderated. Once you make a post it will appear on your screen at the bottom, but it is awaiting moderation. If approved it will appear permanently. Perhaps your post was not "politically correct." But maybe it was some different problem altogether.

Bart Barber said...


Very good point.

Bart Barber said...

R. L.,

Very observant.

Debbie said...

So do you expect us to believe that students and parents of students widespread do not have a mind of their own? I find that hard to believe Bart.

Bart Barber said...


I must admit, I haven't the foggiest idea what you are trying to say.

Benjamin S. Cole said...

BARTimaeus, my good friend:

How I pray that thou wouldst receive thine sight.

Every point you make could be valid. And while I cannot speak for my good friends at Baylor, Logsdon, the BGCT, or anywhere else, I can make one absolute confession:

I am not only actively and personally encouraging propective students to attend other Southern Baptist seminaries, but I am also actively and persistently encouraging current SWBTS students to hasten their graduation, or to transfer schools.

So far, I've experienced measured success. What I cannot accomplish through my small and impuissant voice, the present of Southwestern Seminary is doing with much greater effect.

And as for quotes, I have selected the following for your contemplation:

"A man may fail many times, but he isn't a failure until he begins to blame another."

J. Paul Getty

...and this one:

"I never blame myself when I'm not hitting. I just blame the bat, and if it keeps up I change bats."

Yogi Berra

Benjamin S. Cole said...


"the president..."

not "the present"


Anonymous said...

Argumentum ad hominem = if you cannot win an argument by logic and character, attack the man.

Argumentum ad nauseum = if you cannot win an argument by logic and character, attack him until it makes everybody sick and they concede the point, just so the arguer will be quiet.

Bart Barber said...

Saepe intereunt aliis meditantes necem.

Marty said...

I feel like an American Catholic at an old mass...

Anonymous said...

Indeed, Phaedrus.

Debbie said...

I'm sorry I should have been more clear. I am referring to point number one in your post. It seems that you are saying that this is one of the reasons enrollment at SWBTS is down. Did I misinterpret?

Jeff said...

Here are some numbers on FTE at SWBTS that I got from this blog:

1995-1996 3,024
1996-1997 3,052
1997-1998 3,099
1998-1999 2,784
1999-2000 2,441
2000-2001 2,371
2001-2002 2,381
2002-2003 2,209
2003-2004 2,202
2004-2005 1,991

Notice that the decline of enrollment began in 1998 under HEMPHILL. The fact of the matter is that Hemphill was a terrible president. He was an incompetent administrator. He was a very poor recruiter of new faculty - Mohler was hiring world-class scholars at Southern, while Hemphill was hiring a bunch of nobodies at SWBTS. Hemphill allowed moderate professors at SWBTS to bully conservative students and professors. In 2001, the SWBTS trustees created a new position in order to hire Craig Blaising and kicked Hemphill upstairs because Hemphill was so incompetent. Finally, by 2003 the SWBTS trustees had grown tired of Hemphill and fired him (the Baptist Standard actually got this story right).

The fact of the matter is - Hemphill is to blame for the decline of SWBTS, not Patterson.

Debbie said...
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Debbie said...

Interpreting Bart's post: "Those who plot the destruction of others often fall themselves."- Phaedrus (Thrace of Macedonia)

Bart Barber said...


You correctly understand the point of item number one. Are you suggesting that one must be devoid of one's own mind in order for anyone else to have influence upon a person? Surely not?

Bart Barber said...


In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti...


Bart Barber said...


Thanks for the translation services.

Bart Barber said...


Thanks for the research and analysis services.

I have no desire to direct sticks at Dr. Hemphill's eyes (nor am I suggesting that you desire such), but you are correct in noting the beginning of the trend. I stand by the factors that I have already mentioned as ample explanation.

Apart from Dr. Patterson (who has his own aura about him), how much does the occupant of the presidential office influence a person's choice of school? My bags were unpacked at Baylor before I knew who Herbert Reynolds was (and they were nearly packed again when I found out!). I certainly did not choose SWBTS out of any confidence in Russell Dilday (I started there in 1992).

Some are, no doubt, more sophisticated than I in making their scholastic decisions, but perhaps we overestimate how many people fall into that category?

Anonymous said...

Bart and Marty,

The Benediction is not used only in the Roman Mass. It is also used in New Testament baptism, but in Greek in the original rather than Latin.

Bart Barber said...

Dear Anonymous,

<feeble attempt at humor>
Thank you Dr. Beckwith for stopping by and posting. You are welcome any time.
</feeble attempt at humor>

Bart Barber said...


But actually, it is interesting information.

Debbie said...

Bart said:"Debbie,

You correctly understand the point of item number one. Are you suggesting that one must be devoid of one's own mind in order for anyone else to have influence upon a person? Surely not?"


Bart Barber said...

OK, Debbie, let's consider it this way:

Is John Gill an influence upon you, or do you find John Gill's words meaningless and lacking influence because you have your own mind?

Personally, I think this question poses a false dichotomy, because I believe that most people, while retaining a mind of their own, can still acknowledge certain people's opinions as influential upon them. But you seem to be denying that such a state of affairs can exist, so which is the case with the good Dr. Voluminous?

Jeff said...


You write:

"Apart from Dr. Patterson (who has his own aura about him), how much does the occupant of the presidential office influence a person's choice of school?"


(1) In addition to Patterson's "aura" at SEBTS in the 1990s, I knew a lot of young SBC guys who said that they wanted to go to Southern because Mohler was there. On the other hand, I never heard anybody say that they went to SWBTS because Hemphill was there. Mohler and Patterson had "aura"; Hemphill was dull and bland and had no aura.

(2) I do think that prospective students do look at the faculties of seminaries. When they looked at seminary faculties in the late 1990s, they would have noticed that Southern had well-published world class scholars, while SWBTS hardly had anybody who was published. This is another reason why Southern had big enrollment gains in the late 1990s and early 2000s while enrollment went straight down at SWBTS. Faculty recruitment is a big responsibility of the president, and Hemphill failed in this area.

(3) A lot of conservative students had very unpleasant experiences at SWBTS in the mid-to-late 1990s. They went to SWBTS for its conservative reputation, but when they got there, they found out that most of the faculty were moderates. When a lot of these students graduated and moved out to the field, they were very reluctant to recommend SWBTS and started recommending prospective students to go to Southern or SEBTS. So SWBTS in the late 1990s had a conservative facade over a moderate faculty - the conservative facade scared away moderates, and the moderate faculty scared away conservatives. It is no surprise that SWBTS had a big decline during that era.

Jeff said...

Southern and SEBTS both had moderate seminaries in their own backyards, but they have not experienced enrollment declines. SEBTS had Paige Patterson as its President for 11 years, but it did not have an enrollment decline. Both Southern and SEBTS encountered hostility from the state newsletters in their states and from the local Baptist colleges, but neither one experienced a decline.

Both of the two kinds of conservatives (the Burlesonites and the Pattersonites) and the moderates are missing out on the real reason for enrollment decline at SWBTS - KEN HEMPHILL. I am not that big of a fan of Paige Patterson. But I think that he is being unfairly blamed for the decline of SWBTS enrollment. Other factors that are blamed for the decline (moderate seminaries, hostile Baptist colleges) are not unique to SWBTS. The blame belongs to Hemphill.

Debbie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Debbie said...

Point taken Bart. But do you really believe Ben has the power to do this to the enrollment at SWBTS?

Bart Barber said...


Of course not. Didn't say so. Most of the factors I mentioned were in the works back when Ben was one of Dr. Patterson's trusted friends.

Bart Barber said...


You make good points about the effect of these factors upon other seminaries. Nevertheless, our starting reference points for measuring growth or decline for these institutions included lots of room for SWBTS to go down and lots of room for some of these other institutions to go up. Even now, it is not as though SWBTS is the runt of SBC seminaries.

kws said...


I can only offer my personal experience. I enrolled at SWBTS in 1999 (the year the enrollment started to decline). Dr. Hemphill was the President, but was that had no impact on my decision. I visited almost every seminary in the country with a conservative reputation. There were many factors to consider including cost. (Praise the Lord for the Cooperative Program) Ultimately, my decision was made because of a short conversation I had with a very elderly gentleman while walking through the empty halls of Southwestern during the summer of 1997. He asked if he could pray for me before I left ,and then we walked together to the parking lot. He stopped at a spot marked "president emeritus." The gentleman was Dr. Robert Naylor. It would be the only conversation we ever had, but it made an impression on me. I think that leadership does have an impact on prospective student's choices. I will tell you that when my brother in law was looking for a seminary last year, I recommended Southern because of my admiration for Dr. Mohler, although I would have been pleased if he had chosen Southwestern. Thankfully, there are now a number of very solid choices for conservatives in a number of locations throughout the country.

kws said...


I would like your opinion on one more factor concerning recent enrollment figures. In my age cohort, many SBC conservatives have been more influenced by Mohler, Dever, Nettles, Macarthur and Piper than by Criswell, Rogers or Patterson. Though I am a lifelong Southern Baptist, the truth is that had it not been cost prohibitive, I would have moved to LA to enroll at the Master's Seminary in the late 90's. Today, Southern is the clear choice for many "thinking conservatives" aka Calvinists:) Seriously, I think the reemphasis on Calvinism among many young Baptists will have (and may already be having) an impact on enrollment distribution among the seminaries. What think ye?

stuart said...

A decline in enrolllment was inevitable once things turned around at SBTS and SEBTS. So the numbers really do only tell half the story.

My question, then, is where was all this common sense when Hemphill was being knocked by his own board for declining enrollment? Are we to believe that the growth at the other seminaries wasn't a factor then but is now? Or that adminstration was to blame then, but isn't now?

This is ridiculous.

Bart Barber said...


You have indeed highlighted a relevant factor. I think I could probably (with some difficulty) shoehorn your point into Nathan Finn's point earlier up the line. Both of you are correct that the SBC six are not the only options, and you rightly observe that resurgent Calvinism is an important part of that phenomenon.

Bart Barber said...


Regarding the "this" that is "ridiculous," we always ought to beware unclear antecedents. Jeff is blaming Dr. Hemphill (which is his right), and by doing so seems to be setting aside (in a really kind manner) my non-presidential-factors explanation of enrollment slide. I, on the other hand, am advocating the consideration of these other factors, but have quite deliberately avoided saying anything negative about Dr. Hemphill.

So, although both views are indeed being advanced in the thread, they are not being advanced by the same people. I do not see the "ridiculous" contradiction at work in anyone's posts.

Jeff said...

Regarding Calvinism, the irony is that although SWBTS has sort of acquired the image of the being the "Anti-Calvinist Seminary", the faculty at SWBTS is actually far more Calvinistic than it was 10 years ago. Actually, New Orleans is probably more anti-Calvinist than SWBTS.

Charles Martin said...

I concur with your assessment of Ben Cole's skewing of SWBTS numbers and the reality of other area seminaries drawing prospective students. I must say, having obtained graduate degrees from the Criswell College (one under the presidency of Dr. Patterson) I don't understand the personal vendetta that Cole has with the SWBTS president. It is glaringly apparent to me that Ben Cole has no real knowledge nor personal association with Paige Patterson. Personal agendas should not color one's stastical analysis.

Anonymous said...


I know this post is old, but it's been four days or so since Charles' post. Just wondering if you were going to correct his misperception about Ben's relationship with his former idol/hero/mentor/machiavellian role model.

Bart Barber said...


Thanks. It had slipped under my radar screen. Other things going on, you know.

Charles...Anonymous is hinting at the fact that Ben Cole has a very intimate knowledge of Dr. Patterson, having been a close confidante of the Pattersons at some point in the not-too-distant-past. I do not purport to know what all happened, but the situation now is best summarized in the immortal words of Melville (Captain Ahab in Moby Dick):

"…to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee."

Bro. Matt said...

I have enjoyed reading the post and comments concerning SWBTS and the issues regarding enrollment. As a faculty member of Texas Baptist Institute & Seminary (, which is associated with American Baptist Association (ABA), I too am often concerned regarding our enrollment. As a conservative Baptist seminary, we seem to be losing students to the more moderate-liberal seminaries. This may or may not be the problem at SWBTS, but I do believe it is an overall problem within the Baptist ranks. We are in need of more preachers, and especially ones that will stick with clear biblical teaching.

(I recently have begun reading a book of Dr. Naylor's concerning deacons, and I would recommend it to anyone!)