We’ve been discussing the question of what makes a theologian a “must read” for students of theology. In the last post, I listed those that I thought were must-reads because of their historical significance. But, I’ve also argued that it’s perfectly legitimate to have a second list for people who fall into one of these three categories:
- People you find so personally compelling that you think any good theology student should know about them.
- People you think will eventually become historical must-reads.
- People you think are shaping contemporary theology so much that theology students should know about them even if you don’t think they fall into either of the first two categories.
So, here’s my (inadequate) attempt to provide my list of theological must-reads in this secondary sense. Since this is an inherently subjective process, your list should be different than mine. And, since this list could easily get pretty long, I decided to limit myself to five theologians in each era. That wasn’t too difficult in the early eras since their major figure were already represented on the historical must-read list. In the modern and contemporary categories, though, it got pretty tricky. And, I did cheat a little by including an “honorable mentions” category for those eras. And, I’ve appended a brief comment explaining why I chose them.
In the Early Church (up to AD 500)
- Irenaeus (I love his narrative of salvation and his polemic against gnosticism)
- Origen (amazingly creative thinker)
- Gregory of Nyssa (fascinating blend of theology and philosophy; interesting theological anthropology)
In the Early Middle Ages (500-1000)
- Pseudo-Dionysius (vital for understanding mysticism and apophatic theology, though I’m personally not that interested)
- Maximus (his cosmic Christology and theological anthropology are outstanding)
In the High and Late Middle Ages (1000-1500)
- Bernard of Clairvaux (the affective and mystical nature of his theology are a welcome change from medieval scholasticism)
- William of Ockham (brutal to read, but important for understanding nominalism and the theological/philosophical context of the Reformation)
In the Early Modern Era (1500-1800)
- Zwingli (I felt like I had to include Zwingli. Compared to the other Reformers, he always seems like the fat kid who never gets picked for kickball.)
- Melancthon (anyone who can systematize Luther’s brilliant ramblings is fine by me)
- Bucer (fascinating ecumenist in a theologically loaded era)
- Owen (how can you not like Owen? He probably should have been on the previous list)
- Spener (you don’t really understand American religiosity until you’ve understood German pietism)
In the Modern Era (1800 – 1990ish)
- B.B. Warfield (not my favorite personally, but critical for understanding American theology)
- Charles Finney (as much as it pains me to say it, he’s among the most influential American theologians ever)
- Alexander Schmemann (the 20th century was huge for Eastern Orthodox theology, and I went with Schmemann over Bulgakov because I’ve spent more time with him)
- Hans Urs von Balthasar (one of the people on this list that I really need to spend more time with)
- T.F. Torrance (I’m still torn on whether he’ll have a lasting historical significance, but his theology is challenging, rigorous, and robustly trinitarian. What more could you want?)
(Honorable mentions: C.S. Lewis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Henri de Lubac, Karl Rahner, John Howard Yoder)
Contemporary Theologians (still living)
- Robert Jenson (possibly the best truly systematic theologian writing today)
- Miroslav Volf (one of my personal favorites, his work is always interesting and challenging)
- Rowan Williams (one of those really important theologians that I just haven’t been able to get into, but still critical for understanding theology today
- John Zizioulas (his work on Trinity, ecclesiology, and anthropology, has been very influential in my own thinking)
- Stanley Hauerwas (someone that I still need to spend more time on, but his creative synthesis of theology, biblical studies, and ethics is definitely must-read worthy)
(Honorable mentions: Gustavo Gutierrez, Virgilio Elizondo, Kathryn Tanner, David Bentley Hart, John Webster, Benedict XVI)
Okay, have at it and let me know what you think. I’m particularly interested in who would you be on your Top Five lists for the modern and contemporary periods.