“There should be an essential interrelatedness among these three-believing, teaching, and confessing. But one should notice, it is the church and not merely individual Christians, that is involved in the theological task.” (4) In true Baptist fashion, James Leo Garrett Jr. opens his Systematic Theology with a statement that connects the task of theology to the local church, though he does much more than that. He brings together the disciplines of Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical theology in two masterfully crafted volumes.
I have to be honest, I wasn’t expecting anything new and mind-blowing in these two volumes from Wipf and Stock. What I found though, was in direct opposition to my thought pattern. I found a succinct writing style that was clear enough for guys like me to understand but deep enough so that I was not left alone in the shallow end. It is written in a very scholarly manner and yet has a flavor about it that would appeal to the entire range of church membership.
A look at the table of contents will reveal a layout like many other contemporary volumes on systematic theology (ST). The contents and layout though, make these two tomes stand apart from the rest. Garrett Jr. breaks up his research and writing into bite-sized chunks of what I would call tweetable sections. His formatting allows readers to take in weighty subjects in smaller chunks that way the processing can happen easier instead of trying to consume the attributes of God with pages of unbroken text.
The formatting may seem like it leaves much information out, on the contrary, Garret Jr. interacts with varying worldviews and philosophies in such a way as to allow enough information to adequately present the truth of God’s word over conflicting viewpoints. The text does not get bogged down in the endless detail that could be written about each specific point of doctrine.
Apart from the format and aesthetics of these books, Garret Jr. does a great job of engaging the reader by causing him/her to think outside of the Christian bubble. He is constantly comparing and contrasting the biblical text with the various interpretations that have been attached to it throughout history. He engages with modernist and postmodernist theology as well as the new atheism, which I’ve not seen in an ST volume previously. He places the text of the Bible and orthodox translation in antithesis to liberal and post-liberal views.
One thing that I enjoy doing is comparing the Names Index at the end of each volume to find out where the author garners much of his or her information. When comparing this volume with that of Michael Horton’s ST, I can see some similarities but also find some stark contrasts. For example, you will find in Garrett Jr.’s volume names like John Dagg and Millard Erickson, the former being completely left out of Horton’s volume, while the latter is only mentioned in passing. On the flip side of the coin it can be said that Horton utilizes the minds of Bavinck and Turretin while Garrett Jr. mentions them only a small number of pages. It’s not shocking then, given the denominational differences, that these men would choose to maximize those in their heritage than those outside of it.
It’s a joy to study volumes like this when the author makes an effort to allow the church to grab hold with vigor. He has brought an immense capacity for truth to be understood and taught by those whose pews are filled with people desiring the Word in all it’s applications. It is important, especially in a culture like ours, to have a systematic theology that not only is useful for teaching but for reproof and rebuke as well. James Leo Garret has brought the church a systematic theology that is both useful and balanced. A great volume which I hope to use again and again in the future as I seek to bring the truth of God’s word to the hearts of His people.
Garrett, Jr., James Leo. Systematic Theology, Volume 1, Fourth Edition Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical. 4th ed. Vol. 1. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 1990. 768.
Garrett, Jr., James Leo. Systematic Theology, Volume 2, Second Edition Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical. 2nd ed. Vol. 2. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock, 1990. 982.