Friday, November 26, 2010

Gratitude for James Leo Garrett, Jr.

Yesterday my Facebook home page reminded me that November 25 was James Leo Garrett, Jr.’s 84th birthday. The coincidence of Dr. Garrett’s birthday with Thanksgiving Day reminded me how thankful I am for the life, ministry, and influence of my doctoral dissertation supervisor.

In November 2005 I had the privilege of presenting a Festschrift issue of the journal Perspectives in Religious Studies published in honor of Dr. Garrett’s 80th birthday at a meeting of the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Below are the remarks I prepared for that occasion:

On behalf of the editors of the NABPR Festschriften Series, it’s my pleasure to announce that the 2006 Festschrift honors James Leo Garrett, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Systematic Theology, Emeritus at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Edited by Bill Brackney, who was unable to be here today, the theme of this Festschrift is “Theology in Conversation.” This is a most appropriate theme, for Leo Garrett’s theological work and ecclesial and ecumenical endeavors have always been carried out in conversation with others. If you’ve utilized Dr. Garrett’s two-volume Systematic Theology, you have some sense of the historical depth, the ecumenical breadth, and the sheer quantity of his theological conversation partners.

Seven contributors explore various dimensions of theology done in conversation: Steve Harmon on Karl Barth’s conversation with the fathers as a paradigm for patristic retrieval in Baptist and evangelical theology; Bob Patterson on James Leo Garrett and the doctrine of revelation; Derek Davis on Baptists and the American tradition of religious liberty; Charles Deweese on the Lordship of Christ, biblical authority, and religious liberty in Baptist World Congresses, 1905-1955; Paul Sands on the wider ecumenism of Hans Küng; Bill Brackney revisiting the question debated by Leo Garrett and Glenn Hinson, “Are Baptists Evangelicals?”; and finally a bibliography of the scholarship of James Leo Garrett prepared by Ben Phillips. A softcover version will appear as the Spring 2006 issue of
Perspectives in Religious Studies, and there will also be a hardcover edition, which we hope you’ll encourage your libraries to purchase.

This is the year of Leo Garrett’s 80th birthday, but his contributions to Baptist theological scholarship continue. He’s currently working on a major monograph on Baptist theology, forthcoming [now available] from Mercer University Press. As Bill Brackney writes in the introduction to the
Festschrift, “During a period of upsetting organizational and institutional change in the Southern Baptist family, James Leo Garrett has been a solid bulwark of consistent Baptist belief and interpretation, a model of integrity in relationships….We are all indebted to [him] for his personal and professional contributions to our lives.” Although he’s not here, let’s honor James Leo Garrett, Jr. with our applause.

My contribution to the Festschrift—a revision of which appears as chapter 7 of my book Towards Baptist Catholicity—included this note:

I am pleased to offer this contribution in honor of my dissertation supervisor James Leo Garrett, Jr., whose own work has served as a worthy model of Baptist theology done in conversation with the church in its catholicity.

I doubt that I'd be on my current trajectory as a Baptist ecumenical theologian apart from Dr. Garrett's formative influence. I am grateful.

“Almighty God, you gave to your servant James Leo Garrett, Jr. special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus: Grant that by this teaching we may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” (Collect for the Common of Saints, “Of a Theologian and Teacher,” from the Book of Common Prayer)

1 comment:

  1. Steve,

    I share your appreciation for Dr. Garrett and have just sent him late birthday wishes. Thanks for posting this! The time I spent studying under Dr. Garrett at SWBTS will forever remain meaningful to me.