Yarnell honors legacy of ‘Gentlemen Theologian’ James Leo Garrett
Malcolm B. Yarnell III, research professor of systematic theology, honored the legacy of theologian James Leo Garrett Jr. during his chapel address at The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Feb. 11. Garrett, who died the previous week at age 94, served for a combined 28 years on the faculty of Southwestern Seminary, ultimately as distinguished professor of theology.
Calling Garrett “the last of the Gentlemen Theologians,” Yarnell, a former student of Garrett’s, said that his late mentor “modeled how one gains peace through gentle submission to the yoke of the gentle One, Jesus.” Yarnell said he personally learned to treasure gentleness through Garrett’s “exemplary theology and ethics.”
To demonstrate Garrett’s gentle approach to broader theological discussions, Yarnell specifically highlighted his views on revelation, wherein Garrett sought balance between firm conviction and a gentle spirit, particularly amidst controversies within the Southern Baptist Convention in the latter part of the 20th century. Yarnell examined Garrett’s views on several major doctrines related to revelation, including general revelation, divine self-revelation, and biblical authority, deriving his examinations largely from Garrett’s two-volume Systematic Theology.
Yarnell concluded with three points that can be “garnered” from Garrett today: the Holy Spirit’s illumination of the Bible to the church; the unity of the Scripture and the tri-unity of God; and the dependability of the Bible.
In discussing this latter point, Yarnell recalled a time when he asked Garrett why he preferred to describe his high view of Scripture using terms other than “inerrancy” during the Conservative Resurgence, despite Garrett’s clear and consistent affirmations of the Bible’s full and complete inspiration, truthfulness, and authority. Garrett responded, “Malcolm, you have to understand: people used the term politically to inflict personal harm on people whom I love. These were my friends.”
“And then he wept,” Yarnell says. “… James Leo Garrett Jr. absolutely believed the Bible was ‘truth without any mixture of error.’ But he would not countenance the misuse of that precious doctrine.”
Yarnell concluded, “Was Dr. Garrett perfect? No. Good and gentle? Oh yes.”
Regarding why, Yarnell explained, “Because he had a manifestly genuine and lifelong union of heart and mind with the source of all gentleness, Jesus Christ.”
Yarnell encouraged all believers to be “united truly” with Jesus, “the One who is gentle and humble in heart.”
“Perhaps we might learn to do better through the witness of James Leo Garrett Jr., the Gentleman Theologian,” he said.