Posted by: chuckbumgardner | January 19, 2010

Garrett, Systematic Theology, part 3: “Revelation and the Bible”

James Leo Garrett, Systematic Theology: Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical, 2 vols. (North Richland Hills, TX: BIBAL Press, 2000), 47-209.

Garrett sees general revelation as the “basis for human accountability but not assuredly the means of salvation” (1:58).  God’s salvation is exclusively available through Jesus Christ (1:78).  Garrett defines natural theology as “the human effort on the basis of reason . . . to construct a worldview” (1:82), and critiques a number of worldviews (atheism, pantheism, pragmatism, et al.).  The contradictory nature of these various worldviews serves as proof to Garrett that there is no single natural theology.  Further, after examining various theistic arguments, Garrett finds them inadequate to prove the existence of God, although admitting they may have some “confirmatory and corroborative” value (1:103).

Special revelation has been given via Israel under the Old Covenant during distinct periods, and ultimately via Christ under the New Covenant; Garrett provides an interesting contrast of the two phases (1:110-111; 1:115-117), but does not deal specifically with special revelation prior to the Old Covenant.  Garrett takes a via media between seeing special revelation as propositional or as relational, considering it to partake of both characteristics.

Garrett sees Scripture not as revelation, but as the record of revelation.  The concept of inspiration should be applied both to the biblical writers as well as to the Scripture they wrote.  As to the method of inspiration, Garrett supports a “balance between divine agency and human involvement” (1:135), but fails to specify whether he holds to a verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture.  Garrett seems to hold as canon criteria the factors of apostolicity, frequent use in Christian worship, and content (1:141).  Oddly, in discussing inspiration and canon, he treats neither 1 Timothy 5:18 nor 2 Peter 3:16.  Garrett rejects the idea of a radical discontinuity between the OT and NT.  The unity of Scripture is found in the identity and work of the three persons of the Trinity, and in “the correlatable identity of the people of God, both the people of the Old Covenant with Abram and the nation-people of Israel and the people of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ” (1:151).

Garrett’s overview of biblical criticism is instructive.  He does not wholly reject higher criticism, but cautions as to its subjective nature and prescribes a continued “criticism of criticism” (1:161).  He seems to support a historical-critical hermeneutic, and to downplay a reader-response approach in favor of a single-meaning, authorial-intent approach.

Garrett self-consciously speaks of the “dependability or truthfulness” of Scripture, rather than its inerrancy.  He fails to delineate his own position on inerrancy, although the reader will tend to agree with Basden, who considers him to be “steering a precarious route between absolute ‘errancy’ on the one hand and strict ‘inerrancy’ on the other.” 1 Regarding biblical authority, Garrett supports supreme Scriptura over a more limited and restricted sola Scriptura; Scripture is not the only channel of religious authority, but all other channels (e.g., church and tradition, the divine-human encounter) must rank below it.

1 Paul A. Basden, “James Leo Garrett” in Baptist Theology and Theologians (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 2001), 309.


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