By Julie Owens and Alex Sibley
Fort Worth, Texas — James Leo Garrett Jr., distinguished professor of theology emeritus at The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), died Feb. 5 in Nacogdoches, Texas. He was 94.
Garrett found widespread acceptance not only in Baptist circles, but also in the wider community of Christian scholars. He had held emeritus status at Southwestern Seminary since his retirement in 1997. His career included a combined 28 years at Southwestern Seminary over two stints.
“James Leo Garrett Jr. is a distinguished Southwesterner whose teaching ministry on Seminary Hill impacted thousands of students,” said Southwestern president Adam W. Greenway. “And through those students, unknown multitudes of believers across the globe. I am fortunate to have been one of those students and count it a unique privilege to have been taught by such a scholar and minister of the Gospel. I encourage the entire Southwestern Seminary family to lift up the Garrett family during this time of grief.”
Garrett was born Nov. 25, 1925, in Waco, the only child of James Leo Garrett Sr., an accounting professor at Baylor University, and his wife, Grace Hasseltine Jenkins Garrett, a teacher. In 1935, he was baptized into membership at the Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco.
In 1950, Garrett attended his first Baptist World Alliance meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, beginning a 50-year association with the world’s largest organization of Baptist churches. In 1962, as part of a faculty panel that invited Martin Luther King Jr. to lecture at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., Garrett and his colleagues rejected intense pressure to withdraw the invitation.
In 1965, Garrett attended the fourth and final session of the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome, Italy, as a guest of the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity. One year later, he was awarded a doctorate from Harvard University, where he wrote his dissertation on American Protestants’ writings on Roman Catholicism between the two Vatican councils.
Garrett authored, co-authored, edited, and co-edited more than 130 published works. He is best known for his two-volume Systematic Theology: Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical. He contributed articles to more than 20 other books and authored hundreds of journal articles, encyclopedia articles, and book reviews.
Malcolm Yarnell, research professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Seminary, notes that Garrett has been called “the last of the Gentlemen Theologians” and “the Dean of Southern Baptist Theologians.” But he says he knew Garrett “as so much more.”
David S. Dockery, distinguished professor of theology at Southwestern Seminary, said “it was certainly a great privilege for me to study with James Leo Garrett Jr., the premier Southern Baptist theologian of the second half of the 20th century.”
Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church near Memphis, called Garrett a “great teacher. Great theologian. Great human being. Man of God.”
Garrett was preceded in death by his wife, Myrta, in 2015. He is survived by three sons, James Leo Garrett III, Robert T. Garrett, and Paul L. Garrett; four grandsons; and three great-grandchildren. B&R