Posted by: chuckbumgardner | January 26, 2010

Garrett, Systematic Theology, Part 10: “Becoming a Christian and the Christian Life”

James Leo Garrett, Systematic Theology: Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical, 2 vols. (North Richland Hills, TX: BIBAL Press, 2000), 239-495.

In examining human responses to God’s saving work, Garrett treats repentance as a turning from sin to God.  True repentance necessarily accompanies true faith, which involves assent, trust, and commitment.  Repentance and faith are not to be considered “works.”  Repentance and faith lead to confession (identifying openly with Christ by saying what God says about him) and conversion (a turning from sin to Christ).

Conversion is associated with justification — God’s declaration that a believer is to be considered righteous.  The basis of justification is the work of Christ, and the condition of justification is faith alone.  Regeneration is the bestowal of new life upon a person, renewing them after the likeness of God, and comes by means of hearing the gospel.  Garrett views faith and repentance as the necessary human responses to regeneration, but also states that one need not insist that they precede regeneration.  When an individual becomes a Christian, he undergoes adoption into God’s family, is forgiven of sins, and is reconciled to God.

Christians partake in a divine salvation, which involves a past event, a present process, and a future consummation.  They have been redeemed, that is, unloosed from the bondage of sin and brought into the freedom of the children of God.  Garrett critiques liberation theology, citing three major concerns: a theological method in which the contemporary scenario trumps Scripture, an inseparable association of liberation from sin with political-economic liberation, and an acceptance of violence as necessary to accomplish God’s work of liberation.

Christians have been united with Christ by faith, thus taking part in his suffering, death, burial, resurrection, and glorification.  Assurance of salvation “involves both the testimony of the Holy Spirit and the testimony of the believer’s spirit” (2:374), and one may gain it through the evidences set forth in 1 John: “a new lifestyle,” “love of fellow Christians,” “having received the Holy Spirit,” and “confession of Jesus as the Christ and as the incarnate Son of God” (2:368).  Unusual for a systematician, Garrett includes a section on discipleship.  His excellent and concise treatment sees discipleship as followship, learning, discipline, cross-bearing, and making disciples.  “Discipleship is the discipline of continuance in Christ” (2:381).  The “lordship salvaiton” controversy is briefly treated, finding Garrett in favor of the “lordship” position.

Garrett treats sanctification at some length, seeing the basic meaning of the concept as consecration.  It is God’s work, but is conditioned upon faith and obedience.  Following Dale Moody, Garrett emphasizes three stages in sanctification: initial, progressive, and eschatological.

Regarding stewardship, Garrett speaks against the “Health and Wealth Gospel,” encourages “a more responsible use of the planetary resources” (listing forty works contributing to a “Christian theology of ecology”), and (using a “how much more” argument) enjoins tithing as a minimum in Christian stewardship.  Treating prayer, Garrett sees its primary purpose as bringing believers into submission to God’s will so God can bless them and accomplish his will.

Garrett discusses perseverance under the rubric “abiding in Christ,” and follows Erickson in affirming that “‘genuine believers can fall away’ but they ‘will not‘” (2:470).  Unusually, he treats election as the last topic under soteriology, seeing it as a bridge to ecclesiology; given that placement, it is not surprising to find him emphasizing the collective nature of election alongside the individual nature.  Garrett denies the doctrine of reprobation but affirms preterition.  He fails to come to a conclusion as to whether election is conditional or unconditional.

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