October 5, 2011
Dr. James Leo Garrett Jr., distinguished professor emeritus of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, presented the Gaskin Lecture at OBU Monday, Oct. 3, speaking on the thought and work of Dr. Herschel H. Hobbs.
Garrett’s first lecture, at 10 a.m. in the Geiger Center, was titled “Herschel Harold Hobbs: Pastoral and Denominational Expositor-Theologian.” Garrett identified basic characteristics of Hobbs based on an examination of Hobbs’ writings and of his Southern Baptist context.
First, Hobbs was a bridge-building theologian who sought to connect the Baptist grassroots with academia and academia with the Baptist grassroots. Methodologically, Garrett said, the bridge-building role was probably best demonstrated in Hobbs’ mediatorial role between Ralph H. Elliott and the trustees of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
“By his own testimony, Hobbs recalled that he attempted to persuade Elliott that, for a ‘bridge’ to be built over ‘the chasm,’ ‘it must rest on both banks,’ and ‘hence you must give us something to rest it on your side,’” Garrett said. “Of course, that bridge was not fully constructed.”
Second, Garrett contended, Hobbs took the mantle of a middle-of-the-road conservative expositor-theologian. Garrett noted, “‘middle of the road’ for Hobbs did not mean equidistant between liberalism and conservatism but in the middle of conservatism.” In his 1962 Southern Baptist Convention presidential address, Hobbs declared that, despite detours, Southern Baptists had been a “middle of the road people.”
“Hobbs was confident that the middle represented the overwhelming majority of Southern Baptists and that he represented that middle,” Garrett said.
Third, Garrett said, “Hobbs was an exegetical theologian following the lexical-grammatical-historical hermeneutic, with its focus on the Greek New Testament, practiced by Archibald Thomas Robertson and William Hersey Davis at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1890 to 1945. … This method emphasized word meanings, grammar, syntax, historical background and comparable biblical texts.”
Fourth, Hobbs was theologically committed to the theology of Edgar Y. Mullins, the fourth president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a leading Southern Baptist theologian during the 20th century. Although Hobbs never studied under Mullins, he said, “I have lived with his books to the point that I feel that I did know him.”
“The influence of Mullins on Hobbs was especially manifested in his appropriation of Mullins’ concept of soul competency, which was Mullins’ concept for identifying ‘the historical significance’ of the Baptists,” Garrett said. “For Mullins, soul competency was an alternative to Landmark successionism and a countervailing to the Roman Catholic incompetency of the soul, shared to an extent by pedobaptist Protestantism.’”
Garrett then took the four characteristics he defined in Hobbs’ thoughts and discussed specific ways the characteristics were manifested in the expositional and theological writings and actions of Hobbs.
Garrett’s second lecture, presented at 7 p.m. in the Geiger Center, was titled “From Denominational Statesman/Spokesman to Rejected Leader; From Neglected Author/Leader to Recovered Author/Leader?”
“By any criterion -– president, author, preacher or pastor -– Herschel H. Hobbs was one of the most influential leaders among Southern Baptists during the 20th century,” Garrett said. “Five years after Hobbs’ death, James T. Draper Jr. declared that ‘there is no one today in the SBC that compares with Herschel H. Hobbs.’ Even so, with the changing tides of denominational life, Hobbs later in life experienced rejection by fellow Southern Baptists that stood in contrast to the acceptance that he had received when he was at the pinnacle of his leadership.”
Garrett said the pinnacle of Hobbs’ leadership came during his two-year presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1961-63.
“Hobbs understood his role to be that of a unifier among Southern Baptists, holding forth ‘unity in diversity’ with more stress on the unity than on the diversity, but with a unity that was not conformity or uniformity,” Garrett said, noting Hobbs preferred to be called “an old-time Southern Baptist” rather than wear another label such as “conservative” or “moderate.”
Less than a decade later, Garrett said, “Hobbs faced at the SBC podium raucous and hostile rejection by some of the messengers” during a heated debate. Similar instances occurred in the following years. Garrett noted Southern Baptists’ citations of Hobbs’ work have diminished since his death.
“Is there a basis for advocating a renewal of interest today in the writings and leadership of Herschel Hobbs?” Garrett asked. “I would argue in the affirmative. … Hobbs’ textual, expository and topical sermons make him a preacher for all seasons. His passion for evangelism and missions could help pastors and churches to get serious about church planting and about people groups. In a time when parachurch movements have attracted many and denominational loyalty is waning among many, Hobbs looms large as an exemplary denominational servant-leader.”
Hobbs was a prolific author, preacher and radio program host in Southern Baptist life. He was pastor of the First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City from 1949-72. He died in 1995.
Garrett earned a bachelor’s degree from Baylor University in 1945, a bachelor’s degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1948, a master’s degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1949, a doctorate from Southwestern Seminary in 1954 and a doctorate from Harvard University in 1966. In his long academic career, he has taught at Southwestern Seminary, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Baylor. A widely published author, he is best known for his two-volume “Systematic Theology: Biblical, Historical, and Evangelical.”
Friends of Dr. J.M. Gaskin and advocates of the preservation of Oklahoma Baptist history and heritage established the J.M. Gaskin Lectureship. The objectives of the lectureship are to provide and sustain a series of lectures which will preserve and promote the study of Oklahoma Baptist history and heritage. In addition to students, faculty and staff, others interested in Oklahoma Baptist history and heritage are invited to attend the lectures.
Gaskin served as the BGCO’s first historical director. Known as “Mr. Oklahoma Baptist History,” he led in forming the Oklahoma Baptist Historical Commission in 1952 and was elected as the organization's first historical secretary in 1953. He also was founding president of the Oklahoma Baptist Historical Society in 1956 and was the editor of the Oklahoma Baptist Chronicle, which was begun in 1958, until spring 1998.
Gaskin has written 15 books about Oklahoma Baptists. He provided the major impetus for Oklahoma Baptist research and publication over the last four decades. The lectureship recognizes his contributions to the preservation and promotion of Baptist history and heritage.