Posted by: chuckbumgardner | January 29, 2010

Garrett, Systematic Theology, part 13: Evaluation

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

Garrett, a moderately conservative Baptist theologian, published his intermediate-level theology in two volumes in 1990/1995, a revision of the two volumes in 2000/2001, and a third revision of volume one in 2007.  His magnum opus is well-organized and well-documented.  Vocabulary is accessible, yet not simplistic.  Writing style is generally clear, though not particularly engaging.  Chapters are a bite-sized fifteen pages on average, helpfully organized with outline in the text and chapter summary at the close.  Indices (subject, author, Scripture) are good overall.1 Greek and Hebrew words are always transliterated. In the first reference to a particular theologian, Garrett usually and usefully provides birth and death dates, along with the complete name (e.g., Millard John Erickson). A bibliography would be a welcome addition, though admittedly a lengthy one.

Garrett describes his work as “biblical, historical, and evangelical.” In dealing with topics directly addressed in Scripture, Garrett does typically move self-consciously from biblical data to historical theology to contemporary formulation(s) that fall within the spectrum of evangelical beliefs. This is a proper methodology because it begins with the divine, not the human, while balancing the twentieth-century’s perspective with that of the church through the centuries. Garrett does recognize the impact of cultural context and presuppositions upon theological work (1:24, 26, 207), and is very conscious of his method of treatment. He consciously surveys various approaches to a topic and justifies his particular approach. He is at home in the works of major theologians throughout church history2 but majors in the works of Baptist theologians.3

Much of Garrett’s work is merely descriptive, leaving the reader to infer which position Garrett himself supports of those he presents. Often, after presenting biblical data and historical formulations, he eliminates one or several views and tacitly affirms the potential validity of the rest without supporting any one view. If one is looking for a thesis-and-argument approach with clearly stated conclusions, Garrett’s work will be a disappointment. His approach is that of a historical theologian, not a dogmatician, and the value of the work is in its comprehensive survey of options, not in proposed solutions to theological problems.


1The quality of the subject indices does seem uneven. That in volume 1 was obviously (and admittedly) hurriedly put together, as evidenced by the inconsistent formatting and typographical errors. Further, while the index in volume one references over 400 subjects, that in volume two references only slightly more than 300 subjects in spite of the second volume having 200 more pages.

2 He refers most often to Augustine (94), Brunner (91), Calvin (89), Barth (72), Luther (53), Aquinas (41), and Origen (38) (parenthetical references are the number of references in the author indices of both volumes combined).

3 He refers most often to Millard Erickson (109), W. T. Conner (97), Dale Moody (83), E. Y. Mullins (50), A. H. Strong (47), John Leadley Dagg (23), and James Petigru Boyce (21). Unusually for a major Baptist theologian, Carl F. H. Henry (13) seems quite underrepresented.


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