In two earlier posts (see here and here), I discussed what it means to say that a theologian is a “must read.” And, I argued that we should primarily reserve such a label for people who are historical must-reads, those whose theology decisively influenced particular streams or eras. But, I also argued that we can legitimately use the label to describe people whose theology we find personally compelling or inherently valuable as well.
In the next two posts, I’m going to start a list of theologians that I think are must-reads. I’m not going to set these up as exhaustive or definitive lists, but more as works in progress. Today’s list will offer the (hopefully) less debated list of historical must-reads, and tomorrow’s will enter the fuzzy world of personal must-reads.
First, here are the principles that I will use to set up my list.
- I’m not including the Bible or anyone in the Bible. Those are must-reads for everyone, not just students of theology.
- A must-read must have decisively shaped a theological tradition, not just a particular era.
- The theological tradition they shaped must be one of the major traditions. (It’s hard to call someone a theological must-read for everyone if the tradition that they decisively shaped has not been terribly influential itself.)
- I will focus exclusively on “theological” must reads, rather than those important for other fields of study (Bible, philosophy, etc.).
- And, since I live and teach in America, my primary focus will be on what qualifies as a must-read for theology students in America. I’m open to the possibility that, particularly in the modern era, even the historical must-reads might begin to vary depending on one’s context. (Tomorrow’s list of must-reads will be much more obviously contextual.)
Second, even though this list should be less debatable than tomorrow’s list, I know there will still be some disagreement on people I’ve included (e.g. Barth) and probably people I’ve excluded. Again, this is a work in progress, so feel free to comment and let me know where I’ve gone wrong with the criteria or the particular individuals.
Historical Must-Reads in Theology
In the Early Church (up to AD 500)
- Basil the Great
- Gregory Nazianzus
In the Early Middle Ages (500-1000)
- Gregory the Great
- John of Damascus
In the High and Late Middle Ages (up to AD 1000-1500)
- Gregory Palamas
In the Early Modern Era (AD 1500-1800)
- Ignatius of Loyola
In the Modern Era (1800-present)
Okay, let me know what you think.