Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Top 14 Christian thinkers?

Have your say...
Who are the top fourteen most influential Christian thinkers* of all time? Excluding Old Testament figures, yet including Jesus (who I'm assuming will go in #1 position) and Paul and co., who would make the cut?

Why fourteen? Why not? Actually, a friend asked me my opinion for a project she's currently working on. I won't include her list, but off the top of my head I suggested (roughly in order of importance, rather than chronological order):
1. Jesus the Christ
2. Paul/Saul of Tarsus
3. John the evangelist
4. Augustine of Hippo
5. Thomas Aquinas
6. Martin Luther
7. Karl Barth
8. John Calvin
9. G. W. F. Hegel
10. Friedrich Schleiermacher
11. Immanuel Kant
12. Athanasius of Alexandria
13. Jonathan Edwards
14. John Wesley
*UPDATE: A clarification: the larger project is to select the 50 most influential religious figures in history, and 14 spaces have been allocated to the Christian movement. Thus, this is not just about thinkers (despite my title and opening), nor does it exclude Jesus, who was not (by definition) a Christian. Apologies for any confusion. Ten points for the location of the picture. Bonus points for knowing/guessing how you have to be positioned to see it.


byron said...

Of course, the moment I put it up, there were so many other names that crowded for attention:
Ignatius of Loyola
Basil the Great or one of the eastern Gregory's (Nazianzus and Nyssa)
Gustavo Gutierrez
JP II (not being Catholic, which other Popes might have made the list? Leo X? Gregory the Great?)
Luke the evangelist (whose combined canonical output exceeds Paul's)

Perhaps I was thinking too much of philosophy when I included both Kant and Hegel (in which case, I probably should have added Kierkegaard, amongst others), though their respective philosophies have deeply influenced much subsequent theology and belief.

And perhaps there is one elephant in the room I omitted: Constantine (depending on what kind of influence we're thinking about here...).

Influence is a difficult category. Over whom? Church? Society? Over belief? Practice? Now or over all history? In the West? Anglosphere? World? If my friend offers any clarification, I'll be sure to pass it on.

And yes, I realise there are no women on this list (Mary?). Sad, but true.

byron said...

Oh, I just posted too soon. Here is an update from my friend: "influence over thought in the discipline, influence over people being convinced".

Erin said...

hey, I know that 14 is rather random, but when you've got to fill a book with 50 religious thinkers, Christianity is getting pretty good representation...much of the rest of the contents is rather haphazardly put together however...

cyberpastor said...

All kinds of interesting questions arise in my mind regarding apostolic and or canonical authority, not to mention the role of the Spirit as the perfecter of knowledge in the economy of salvation.

John P. said...

I would probably throw in a vote for Origen...though some strands of his thinking were rejected, he undoubtedly remains at the roots of the christian theological tradition.

Anonymous said...

Hegel and Kant???

joshua said...

1. Jesus
2. Paul
3. Augustine (the Father of the West, Protestant and R.C.)
4. John (or whoever wrote those)
4. St. Thomas (for integrating Ethics and Theology)
5. Martin Luther (He is not a better thinker than those who follow, but he set the tone for 500 and counting years)
6. Karl Barth (for changing the conversation)
7. Calvin (the first Protestant systematic)
8. Irenaeus (for clarifying the canon and recapitulation)
9. Athanasius (Christology)
10. Schleirmacher (the essence of liberal Protestant)
11. Rahner (Vatican II without him?)
12. Anselm (faith and reason, satisfaction theory)
13. von Balthasar (JP II or Ratz without him?)
14. Pelagius (he did define the terms to come)

if you include Hegel and Kant, for better or worse Kant has to come first. I chose not to, because if you include them then Aristotle and Plato somehow have to be involved even if they lived before the time limited. I don't know the East enough to include anyone. Sorry to Women and Liberation Theology, I needed a few more spots.

Christopher said...

Martin Heidegger
William Booth

Not Necessarily "thinkers" but have had an impact:
B. Graham

Should Paul come before Jesus?

andrewE said...

At risk of revealing too much:

Oliver O'Donovan.

Perhaps only time will tell. It's hard to have perspective when you're a fan.

Ben Myers said...

Well, I certainly wouldn't include Jesus of Nazareth in a list of "Christian thinkers", since he was neither a "Christian" nor a "thinker"! (But don't worry: he would definitely be at the top of my list of influential Jewish prophets!)

So, for me, the list would begin something like this:

1. Paul
2. Augustine
3. John (i.e. the Johannine texts)
4. Irenaeus
5. Origen
6. Luther
7. Calvin
8. Wesley

Still, if we're really interested in influence, I reckon there's a good case for including both Arius and Pelagius within the top 10 as well....

byron said...

AndrewE: I don't think there's any risk of you being mistaken for an Oliver O'Donovan fan. It would not be a mistake. :-)
Though as for including him on the list, I don't think he has a chance. It may be that his influence continues to grow, but I take it we're putting together today's list, not that of 500 years' time when there is an 'O'Donovite' church.

byron said...

Ben: I'm surprised - no Barth!

Though your point about Arius is a good one. I'm less convinced about Pelagius - wasn't he putting forward ideas that had already been around for a long time? So I would include 'Pelagianism' on a list of Christian influences, but not Pelagius himself. I think we only remember his name so clearly because he scored Augustine for an opponent. Without him, he would be another minor early writer, about as well known as, say, Athenagorus.

As for Jesus - point taken about his not being a Christian. That was a mistake in how I phrase the issue. I think the project is about picking 50 influential religious figures, and Christianity has been assigned 14.
That said, I disagree that Jesus was not a thinker (even though again, my title and intro didn't help here, since I don't think it is meant to be limited to intellectual influence). His conception of Messiahship, his reading of Israel, his hermeneutic of the Scriptures, his practices of fellowship and forgiveness, remain the bedrock on which all others on the list build. I think there are good historical reasons for taking him as the most significant intellectual contribution to the Christian movement.

Irenaeus and Origen would make my top 20, but I didn't want to overload the early years in my line-up, even though they are so so critical

byron said...

Having noted that clarification (now included an update), I think Constantine should shoot up the list to somewhere in the top 5.

And if we're including heretics, then surely Karl Marx is in with a fighting chance too?

andrewE said...

Yes, my tongue was firmly in cheek. But I've posting quotes from him in so many comments you'd think he was all I read:)

byron said...

AndrewE - would that be a mistaken impression?

Any other suggestions to add/delete?

michael jensen said...

No ladies I notice...? Not any?

What about Priscilla? ;-)

The middle ages are underrepresented I note; as is the Eastern Church. Maximus the Confessor? John of Damascus?

If we have philosophers, then what about John Locke? As influential in his way as the others...


Michael Canaris said...

1. Jesus the Christ
2. Paul/Saul of Tarsus
3. Luke the evangelist
4. Augustine of Hippo
5. Athanasius of Alexandria
6. Martin Luther
7. Thomas Cranmer
8. Thomas Aquinas
9. John Calvin
10. Friedrich Schleiermacher
11. Richard Hooker
12. John Knox
13. John Wesley
14. Pseudo-Dionysius

byron said...

MPJ: but who would you lose?

Michael C: I'd considered pDionysius...
Hooker and Cranmer - I'm guessing you're an Anglican... :-) What about Henry VIII or Elizabeth I? No Barth? Indeed no 20thC at all?

Oh and Cyberpastor - I realise there might be theological issues, but it's a somewhat artificial exercise for the sake of a project.

Michael Canaris said...

What about Henry VIII or Elizabeth I? No Barth? Indeed no 20thC at all?

Assertio Septem Sacramentorum strikes me as having been more influential on the other side of the Tiber. Alas, I've yet to read much of Elizabeth I.

As for the 20thC, I'll disclose my thoughts on that when Zhou Enlai discloses his on the French Revolution.

Chase said...

What of Lewis? I know he is a resent, but his impact during and after world war two was and is still great.

Now maybe he was a better expresser than a thinker and here I might find a nitch for his exclusion from this list

Matthew said...

I was about to throw in Henry VIII and CS Lewis and was beaten to it. CH Dodd maybe for anther from the 20th century?

CI Schofield has to be one of the biggest direct influencers of the church today (sadly IMO).

byron said...

Matthew: Schofield - yes, unfortunately, he would be up there somewhere...

Michael: Henry VIII's attack on Luther (Assertio Septem Sacramentorum)) might have earned him the title 'Defender of the Faith' from the Pope (a title which has continued to be claimed by English monarchs until the next one), but I was referring to his actions (and those of Elizabeth I) rather than their theological writings.

Chase: Lewis has certainly touched the lives of many - he was a first-rate communicator and struck just the right note at the right time for so many readers. But I get your point about his being an 'expresser' - he was conscious of trying not to say anything new. The influence of Augustine (and George MacDonald) is very clear. Nonetheless, as I mentioned above, this list isn't meant to be limited to thinkers (despite the title).

matheson said...

Perhaps too localised, perhaps not original enough as a thinker, but I think a case could be made in a book like this to include someone like Martin Luther King Jr.

Michael Canaris said...

---Michael: Henry VIII's attack on Luther (Assertio Septem Sacramentorum)) might have earned him the title 'Defender of the Faith' from the Pope (a title which has continued to be claimed by English monarchs until the next one), but I was referring to his actions (and those of Elizabeth I) rather than their theological writings---
Ah. In that case, it depends on which actions you have in mind (while I approve of Henry VIII having gone to the Field of Cloth of Gold, I reckon he was a tad unwise to wrestle Francis I.)

As for Good Queen Bess, I reckon she did rather well considering the circumstances she was faced with.

Speaking of influential monarchs, though, surely James VI/I warrants a place on this thread's list for having set his imprimatur on the Authorized Version.

Christian A said...

I love this kind of activity and appreciate people's suggestions, but perhaps there's an ominous side to the "most influential" question.

History by its very nature loves to record the influential. But the easiest way I can be influential is to succeed in getting people to move away from what the last most influential figure (or an earlier unchallenged one) taught.

The coming of the Christ and the testimony of the apostles leaves so much room for Spirit-inspired Christian thinking and influence, but I reckon it leaves even more room for deficient thinking and harmful influence….and surely it’s deficient thinking and harmful influence that stands out in the pages of history and attracts the attention of church historians, rather than the faithful Christian thinkers who thought of new ways to make the same truths more coherent and more relevant to the struggles of their contemporaries.

Often we look at a list like the ones people have written and think “I admire these people” when in fact we should be thinking “I’ve ended up thinking like these people….is that good or bad?”

What do people think? Am I being too cynical ;-)

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I'm not sure I could rank 14, but I would want to include Menno Simons somewhere.

John of Damascus plays a role in the East almost as strong as Augustine in the West.

You asked about popes: I'd include Paul VI as the great pope who built on Vatican II before JP II started the dismantling process.

Hauerwas predicted at John Howard Yoder's funeral that he and James Wm. McClendon would be seen as harbingers of renewed Anabaptist influences on theology in the 21st C., but, if so, I haven't seen it yet. The very unsystematic Hauerwas is still MUCH more well known than his late friend McClendon and Yoder is read through Hauerwasian eyes. Hauerwas is becoming a huge influence.

Women: Hildegard of Bingen; St. Catherine of Siena. Too early to see if any of the major feminist theologians and biblical scholars will be of lasting influence: Elizabeth Schuessler Fiorenza, Rosemary Radford Reuther, Letty Russell, etc.

byron said...

Christian A: a provocative suggestion: 'influence' as the scars left upon the health of doctrine by the novelty-peddlers.

Often we look at a list like the ones people have written and think “I admire these people” when in fact we should be thinking “I’ve ended up thinking like these people….is that good or bad?”
This is a very good point. I never intended this to be 14 people you most wish were influential, but it can quickly become so. Part of its purpose is to look beyond our own local situation at the church universal, over space and time and to ask about its shape and history - both the glorious and the shameful. Thus, the suggestions to include Arius (or mine to include Hegel and Kant - amongst others) indicate a desire to acknowledge the problematic innovations/renovations of the tradition, in order to become conscious of them. Indeed, it has very often been the faithful Christian thinkers who thought of new ways to make the same truths more coherent and more relevant to the struggles of their contemporaries who have, in hindsight, also exhibited deficient thinking and harmful influence. Arius was trying to be biblical! The task, privilege, burden of handing on tradition, of gospel ministry (for the two are one), is utterly dangerous, utterly necessary.

Anonymous said...

Where's Dan Brown !?!?

peter j said...

The painting is Tommaso Laureti's 'Triumph of The Cross' and it's painted on the ceiling of the Sala di Costantino ("Hall of Constantine") in the Vatican Palace. Thus the position you'd view it from would be looking up.

byron said...

Pete - ten points for correct location, five for knowing that it is on a ceiling and you have to look up, and why not another five for throwing in the title too. A total of twenty!