Friday, August 20, 2010

Top 10 Theologians List

I thought an interesting exercise might be to list my favorite theologians. After about the first 5, I don't think I could put an order to them according to degrees of favorability. Also, bear in mind that saying that I like them does not mean I agree with everything they say.

1. Martin Luther
2. Johann Gerhard
3. Martin Chemnitz
4. Franz Pieper
5. Philipp Melanchthon
6. Oswald Bayer
7. C. F. W. Walther
8. Herman Sasse
9. Gustaf Wingren
10. Gerhard Forde

Yes, you got it, Gehard does trumph Chemnitz. But not by much. Overall, I really, really like both Examination of the Council of Trent (particularly Part 1) and The Two Natures in Christ as pretty much as I do the Loci Communes Theologici of Gerhard. Confessio Catholica (to the extent I have read it) is not as good as Chemnitz on Trent. Nevertheless, Gerhard's typological reading of Scripture is very appealing to me and that puts him over the top.

I might also point out that I really do like and have been strongly influenced by both Charles Potterfield Krauth and also (for all his major flaws) Werner Elert. But I wouldn't raise them to the level of the top 10.

Perhaps some of you might like to add your own lists?

Update: Some people have asked me if this about Lutheran theologians or do non-Lutheran theologians count as well?  Couple of things.  First, it's anyone you like, it doesn't matter whether or not they're Lutheran.  Secondly, it's who you enjoy most, not who you consider the most significant historically.  Obviously, within the wider context of the history of Christian thought Cyril or Athanasius is a much greater theologian that C. F. W. Walther (dare I say it!).

Among non-Lutheran theologians I like and have found very influential I list the following in no particular order:

1. Hans Urs von Balthasar 
2. Irenaeus of Lyons
3. Cyril of Alexandria 
4. Peter Leithart
5. N. T. Wright
6. Athanasius of Alexandria
7. Augustine of Hippo
8. Anselm of Canterbury
9. John of Damascus
10. The Cappadocian Fathers (yes, I know, there's three of them.)


  1. ummm... did you intend to mean Lutheran (in the strict sense) theologians?

    Otherwise, I would think that some older men might qualify -- like Irenaeus, Cyril of Alexandria, Augustine, Athanasius, etc.

    just wondering.

  2. It can be anyone within the Christian tradition.

  3. My list (just people who would self-identify as Lutheran or some kind):
    1. Johann Gerhard
    2. Martin Chemnitz
    3. Martin Luther (is this heresy for a Lutheran?)
    4. Herman Sasse
    5. Oswald Bayer
    6. David Scaer
    7. David Chytraeus
    8. Gerhard Forde
    9. Robert Preus
    10. John Kleinig
    (Not a big fan of Walther, haven't read Krauth, and Pieper would probably be #11, but he's a little boring in my opinion)

  4. Great exercise, Jack. I think I'd concur with many of yours, although achieving a Top-Ten list might be difficult, since at some point they seem to trail off into interesting but not "essential." Amongst the Lutherans I'd certainly include Luther, Melanchthon, and (with the same allowance you give yourself for the Cappadocians) the Confessors/Formulators (16th Cent.), along with the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Fathers. I'm a huge fan of Gerhard, and in seminary I had the privilege of "meeting" Caspar (Jasper) Brochmand, a Danish orthodox theologian (it being the ELS and all, the rare books collection represented both the German and the Dano-Norse traditions). I think a case could be made for some of the "poetic/lyric" theologians, like Paul Gerhardt, whose theological output, as we know it, at any rate, is hymnic and not prosaically propositional. Amongst the "proto-Lutherans" I think I might also include St. Bernard of Clairvaux; amongst the erstwhile Lutherans, I actually do like R.J. Neuhaus an awful lot.

    Another way to come up with a list would be this: in a solid Lutheran college curriculum whom would a student have to read--not for a theology major, mind you, but, say, within a Great-Books curriculum? The Lutheran Reformers, for example, take their energy from the Fathers; the Lutheran Repristinators from the Lutheran Fathers, etc. So in a sense, part of the reading purposes in a Great-Books system is not so much "getting the final product," e.g., having it all in the authoritative form of Pieper, but ENABLING students to start to THINK LIKE PIEPER by giving the fontes. Would the list thus be different from a list a "favorites"? I might think so. For example, we might not like Thomas, but you can't really gain a sense of the Western theological tradition apart from Thomas and his method.

    Interesting post, as always. Thanks.

  5. Jon- I think that's an interesting exercise as well. Let's say your idea of a Lutheran liberal arts school works out- what would the reading list look like?

    First, I don't think the idea of getting student to learn how to think like Pieper is such a bad idea. I learned Mueller actually, and then moved off into other things. So, learning Walther and some of the classical theologians of the LCMS isn't a bad idea. I mean, just memorizing the basic theological categories they present is a great idea.

    Secondly, I think teaching theology through Church history is a good idea. I had Dr. Mark Swanson do this for me by teaching me the theology of John of Damascus and getting me to memorize first seven ecumenical councils. I learned the basic structure of Trinitarian and Christological thought which made studying medieval and Protestant scholasticism a lot easier.

  6. I would like to second Jon's proposal of a Great Books list for a Lutheran liberal arts undergraduate(pre-sem?)program. As a geographer, my appreciation for the current research agendas was helped along mightily by becoming familiar with the grand sweep of thought in the discipline from people as diverse as ancient Greeks to the scientific dialogues of the medieval Christian, Jewish and Islamic thinkers, and on towards the early modern era and then to modern scholars such as Carl Sauer (I'm part of the Sauer/Berkeley School academic lineage myself).

    I think encouraging students to learn the basics about their theological forebears would not only enrich their lives, but for those that do go on to seminary, their future parishioners as well.

  7. Barth? Rahner? Tilllich? Moltmann?