Search this blog

Who are the most important, most influential theologians in Christian history?

If you had to narrow down your list to five, who would you choose?

After having discussed this question with several seminary students, professors and theologians, I have chosen five theologians who have left the most lasting influence on Christian theology and practice.


Dates Lived: 298-373

Most important works:

  • On the Incarnation (317)
  • The Nicene Creed (325)

Biggest Contributions:

  • Untiring advocate for Trinitarian theology against Arianism. In fact, much of the way we think about the Trinity goes back to his efforts.
  • A biography of Anthony the Great that inspired the monastic movement
  • First to identify the 27 books currently in our New Testament
  • Main author of the Nicene Creed, unarguably the most important creed in Christian history.

Favorite Quotes

“The Jesus whom I know as my Redeemer cannot be less than God.”

“The Son of God became man so that men might become sons of God.”

“You cannot put straight in others what is warped in yourself.”

“[We believe] in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is, from the essence of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father, through Whom all things came into being, things in heaven and things on earth, Who because of us men and because of our salvation came down and became incarnate, becoming man, suffered and rose again on the third day, ascended to the heavens, and will come again to judge the living and the dead…” - from the 325 version of The Nicene Creed

250px-Saint_Augustine_Portrait2. AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO

Dates Lived: 354-430

Most important works:

  • Confessions (398)
  • On the Trinity (416)
  • On Christian Doctrine (426)
  • The City of God (426)

Biggest Contributions:

  • Articulated the doctrine of original sin and God’s grace through divine predestination over against Pelagius’ emphasis on free will and innate human goodness
  • Proposed a distinction between the “church visible” and the “church invisible”
  • Popularized the amillennial view of the End Times, which has become the most dominant throughout church history
  • Wrote about the relationship between church and state; he was the first to advocate the idea of a “just war”
  • Developed a sacramental theology that would form the foundation of the practices of the Roman Catholic Church

Favorite Quotes

“You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” (Confessions I, i, 1)

“Give what You command, and command what You will.” (Confessions X, xxix, 40)

“Man’s maker was made man, that He, Ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother’s breast; that the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on its journey; that the Truth might be accused of false witness, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded; that Life might die.” – (Sermons 191.1)

“Excess is the enemy of God.”

“If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.”

“To sing once is to pray twice.”

“Love God, and do whatever you please.” Sermon on 1 John 7, 8

“Works not rooted in God are splendid sins.”

330_1_span33. THOMAS AQUINAS

Dates Lived: 1225-1274

Most important works:

  • Summa Theologica (1274)
  • Summa Contra Gentiles (1264)

Biggest Contributions:

  • Believed that a combination of Faith and Reason led to true knowledge of God
  • Sought rational proofs for the existence of God
  • Greatly influenced the Catholic notions of mortal and venial sins
  • Popularized the rising view of the Lord’s Supper known as “transubstantiation”
  • Apologist for Christianity in a time in which Islam was increasing rapidly

Favorite Quotes

“All the efforts of the human mind cannot exhaust the essence of a single fly.”

“The sole way to overcome an adversary of divine truth is from the authority of Scripture.”

“Reason contains certain likenesses of what belongs to faith, and certain preambles to it, as nature is a preamble to grace.”

“In God there is pure truth, with which no falsity or deception can be mingled.”

“If the only way open to us for the knowledge of God were solely that of reason, the human race would remain in the blackest shadows of ignorance.”

“Knowledge must be through faith.”

“All the good that is in a man is due to God.”

01v/11/arve/G2582/0204. JOHN CALVIN

Dates Lived: 1509-1564

Most important work:

  • Institutes of the Christian Religion(1560)

Biggest Contributions:

  • Emphasized the penal substitutionary view of the atonement
  • Overarching commitment to the Augustinian notion of the sovereignty of God in salvation
  • Taught that Scripture must interpret Scripture
  • Used the concept of the Covenant as the organizing principle for Christian theology

Favorite Quotes

Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.

Every one of us is, even from his mother’s womb, a master craftsman of idols.

It is better that I should leave untouched what I cannot explain.

When the gospel is preached in the name of God, it is as if God himself spoke in person.

God tolerates even our stammering, and pardons our ignorance whenever something inadvertently escapes us – as, indeed, without this mercy there would be no freedom to pray.

Without the gospel everything is useless and vain; without the gospel we are not Christians; without the gospel all riches is poverty, all wisdom folly before God; strength is weakness, and all the justice of man is under the condemnation of God. But by the knowledge of the gospel we are made children of God, brothers of Jesus Christ, fellow townsmen with the saints, citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, heirs of God with Jesus Christ, by whom the poor are made rich, the weak strong, the fools wise, the sinner justified, the desolate comforted, the doubting sure, and slaves free. It is the power of God for the salvation of all those who believe. It follows that every good thing we could think or desire is to be found in this same Jesus Christ alone. For, he was sold, to buy us back; captive, to deliver us; condemned, to absolve us; he was made a curse for our blessing, [a] sin offering for our righteousness; marred that we may be made fair; he died for our life; so that by him fury is made gentle, wrath appeased, darkness turned into light, fear reassured, despisal despised, debt canceled, labor lightened, sadness made merry, misfortune made fortunate, difficulty easy, disorder ordered, division united, ignominy ennobled, rebellion subjected, intimidation intimidated, ambush uncovered, assaults assailed, force forced back, combat combated, war warred against, vengeance avenged, torment tormented, damnation damned, the abyss sunk into the abyss, hell transfixed, death dead, mortality made immortal.

Wikipedia-karlbarth015. KARL BARTH

Dates Lived: 1886-1968

Most important works:

  • The Epistle to the Romans (1922)
  • Church Dogmatics (1968)

Biggest Contributions:

  • Sought to recover the doctrine of the Trinity, which had been practically abandoned by radical liberalism
  • Believed the Bible was a witness to the Word of God (Jesus)
  • Viewed doctrine of election and predestination as centered upon Christ
  • Stressed the paradoxical nature of divine truth

Favorite Quotes

“God is not an abstract category by which even the Christian understanding of the word can be measured, but he who is called God is the one God, the single God, the sole God.”

“To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world.”

“Belief cannot argue with unbelief, it can only preach to it.”

“The best theology would need no advocates: it would prove itself.”

“No one can be saved – in virtue of what he can do. Everyone can be saved – in virtue of what God can do.”

“Jesus does not give recipes that show the way to God as other teachers of religion do. He is Himself the way.

Once a young student asked Barth if he could sum up what was most important about his life’s work and theology in just a few words. Barth just thought for a moment and then smiled,

“Yes, in the words of a song my mother used to sing me, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.'”

“If I have done anything in this life of mine, I have done it as a relative of hte donkey that went its way carrying an important burden. The disciples had said to its owner: ‘The Lord has need of it.’ And so it seems to have pleased God to have used me at this time… I was permitted to be the donkey that carried this better theology for part of the way, or tried to carry it as best I could.”

Honorable Mentions

What follows is a list of honorable mentions: theologians who impacted Christian theology in important ways, but who (usually for a few good reasons) do not make my Top 5 List.

Irenaeus - for his apologetic defense of historic Christianity in the face of Gnosticism. He also popularized the recapitulation theory of the atonement

Anselm of Canterbury - founder of scholasticism. Formulated the ontological argument for God’s existence.

Martin Luther - for his instrumental role in the Reformation. He was definitely a theologian in his own right, although I see him more as a revolutionary than a theologian. Calvin is the one who took the Reformation insights and systematized them and therefore becomes more influential as a theologian.

Friedrich Schleiermacher & Adolf von Harnack - Schleiermacher made the subjective experience of the believer (specifically the feeling of total dependency) the center of theology and thus became the “Father of Liberalism.” Together with the later work of Adolph von Harnack, these two packed quite a punch. The reverberations continue to echo throughout Christian theology.

John Wesley - an important leader of a renewal movement within Anglicanism which eventually became Methodism and the Holiness churches. While probably deserving a place in the Top Ten or Fifteen, I don’t believe Wesley’s theological contributions earn him a Top 5 ranking.

Jonathan Edwards - If I were making a list of the Top 5 Most Important American Theologians, then Edwards would probably be #1. A fine preacher and interpreter of Puritan theology, Edwards’ legacy cast a long shadow over American evangelicalism.

C.S. Lewis - I don’t consider him to be primarily a theologian. He was a terrific apologist, and he ably articulated the essentials of the Christian faith. But one can hardly speak of a “Lewisian” school of theology that has grown up because of his contributions.

Who else do you think of? Did I get these right or wrong?


Originally posted as a series in August 2008.

View Comments


57 thoughts on “Christianity’s 5 Most Important Theologians”

  1. Dan says:

    N.T. Wright?

  2. Seumas says:

    Important as Athanasius is, I don’t think there is solid historical evidence to attribute the Nicene Creed to him.

  3. dr. james willingham says:

    Jonathan Edwards far outstrips Karl Barth as the theologian of pre-eminence. He provided the theological justification for the Great Awakenings and the theological motivation for the launching of the Great Century of Missions or the Modern Missionary Movements as we know it. Plus, he never sets the written word aside by defining it in terms of the radiclib view as containing the word of God.

    1. Andres says:

      Definitively so… Great omission. N.T. Wrigth too, even if we don’t agree in everything with him, has been extremely influential in rescuing the importance of the historical Jesus from the subjectivity into which Schleiermacher & Adolf von Harnack placed him while Karl Barth was just an attempt to give a conservative alternative with the same frame of mind.

  4. Frank says:

    Have really appreciated the daily “Worth a Look” Kindle offers, and have missed them this past week!

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Frank, Trevin is away from the blog and social media for the rest of the month. I (Aaron) am monitoring and moderating comments for him until he gets back, at which point he will start doing his “Worth a Look” posts again.

  5. Steve Walton says:

    Let’s not forget the Eastern theologians. St. Gregory; St Symeon or Maximus the Confessor.

  6. First, I think you misunderstand Barth and Schleiermacher. The two were doing essentially the same thing, though in stages. First Schleiermacher told the Rationalists that “Yes, Christianity has meaning. it is subjective” then Barth said further that “Yes, history has meaning” but maintained the subjective character that Schleiermacher promoted. They both made the mistake of confronting Rationalism from a defensive posture and it has proven ineffective.
    Let’s also not forget Chafer and his influence on the fundamentalist movement in the early and mid 20th c., giving an exegetical foundation to dispensationalism *before* the establishment of the nation Israel and helping boom the late 20th century missions movement. While not a “great” theologian in terms of popularity his impact has been ongoing as he brought exegetical systematic theology back into vogue.

  7. Todd Hawk says:

    I must disagree with your inclusion of Barth over Luther or even Wesley. But I’m sure you would disagree with my list as well. Interesting article…thanks for the post.

  8. Adi says:

    Saul of Tarsus, John the beloved, all the others are intepreters

  9. Dave says:

    Athanasius is brilliant though not one of the writers of Nicene Creed. I think we’ll have Edwards as a British theologian!

  10. Curt Day says:

    The more I read Martin Luther King Jr., the more moved I am to rank him in the top 5 Christian Theologians.

  11. dr. james willingham says:

    Funny! Edwards a British theologian? He has been listed as an American for as long as I can remember, and, having taught American History in College, I see no need to change that listing. Biblically, I prefer theologians who hold, like our Lord, that the Bible is the word of God written. People like Saul of Tarsus and John the Beloved have one indispensable factor which other writers on the subject do not have, namely, the presence of the Holy Spirit to guarantee a verbal inspired, inerrant, and infallible word. Anyone otherwise is simple reflecting upon the profound depths of the written revelation. The closer they hew to that record, the better theologians they are. This is not to say that others might not do well, but simply that their work will be wanting that one indispensable element without which depth cannot be depth cannot be discerned.

  12. dr. james willingham says:

    Pardon for the repetition in the last line above “depth cannot be discerned.”

  13. Kevin says:

    Rob Bell

  14. Simon says:

    I’d look to pre-Reformation theologians when compiling such a list otherwise it becomes a little parochial. Gregory of Nazianzus should be there. As should John of Damascus, the Father of the 7th Ecumenical Council – the Triumph of Orthodoxy. John Chrysostom and Cyril of Jerusalem are theological giants of the Church also.

    1. Hugh McCann says:

      I’d be curious to see a TGC poll on such.

      I imagine it’d be Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin & Edwards.

      I personally would want greater knowledge of the likes of Athanasius, Basil, Chrysostom, & Irenaeus in the Eastern church and Augustine, Anselm, & Aquinas in the Western church.

      My knowledge of Neo-Orthodox and Liberal theologians is lacking, too. Same for Charismatic/ Pentecostal, Lutheran & Wesleyan divines.

      So, being ignorant with decreasing time on my hands, I must rely on the likes of TGC to make and take such polls.

    2. Hugh McCann says:

      Indeed, Simon.

      We of the Western tradition[s] don’t appreciate the Eastern Orthodox mind, its approach to theology, or its liturgy, all vital elements thereon.

  15. John Owen. I’m not sure he should crack the top five, but he deserves a spot among the honorable mentions.

  16. Simon says:

    Dr James, the Great Awakenings were not praiseworthy developments! This would discount Edwards totally from any list of great theologians – even among Protestants. Furthermore, puritanical theology is not completely orthodox.

  17. Simon says:

    Of the Protestant theologians of modern times, NT Wright stands above all else. He, like Lewis, resonates with Catholic and Orthodox Christians – particularly his work on justification, which was branded by many evangelicals as novel, but actually captures the much of the essence of the Church’s teaching on justification. Admittedly not the Reformation teaching, but the teaching of the Church up until then.

  18. dr. james willingham says:

    The Great Awakenings were not praiseworthy developments? Seriously? The first apparently provided a common spiritual experience for the masses of the thirteen colonies, a basis for the colonists to come together in uniting to deal with Great Britain’s violations of rights. In any case, the result was freedom of religion/liberty of conscience. I take it, Simon, that you do not consider that a good thing, but, rather, would prefer the persecution which both the Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Orthodox Churches have dished out to folks who did not toe the mark as they defined it? Your freedom to dissent was assured by my predecessors in the Baptist ministry (the first case of religious being put into law and practice was in Rhode Island in the 1600s under the leadership of Roger Williams and Dr. John Clarke. The 13 colonies were pretty clear that they were imitating Rhode Island on this issue. O yes, and while I mention my predecessors perhaps it would be as well, if I added some of my ancestors, quite of few of them in fact.

    Sorry friend, but I don’t quite buy your view and, as far as the theologians are concerned, the work by Edwards, “Humble Attempt, is the one which inspired William Carey and others to begin praying for the spread of the Gospel in foreign lands and then to attempt to carry it out.

  19. dr. james willingham says:

    Line 9 above, “religious liberty” being put into law and practice.

  20. Richard Worden Wilson says:

    I’m altogether with Adi in saying “Saul of Tarsus, John the beloved, all the others are intepreters”, except I’d include Matthew and Luke as well. Why not Moses? David? Isaiah? Ezekiel? Etc.? One doesn’t have to be an interpreter in order to be a great theologian. Dismissing the primary theologians of God’s Word and presupposing that only post-biblical thinkers are significant theologians exposes the extraordinary biases of those who value tradition over scripture. OSISTM

  21. JohnM says:

    Just to be clear: By “most important, most influential” we mean merely those who had the most impact, good or bad?

  22. Brian Watson says:

    I agree on the comments regarding Athanasius and the Nicene Creed. He was “merely” a deacon who attended the Council of Nicaea, not yet a bishop. And On the Incarnation was probably written a good twenty years later than the date given. It’s definitely worth reading. The English Translation on St. Vladimir’s Press has the famous preface written by C. S. Lewis, plus an essay written by the translator (in which he says Athanasius probably wrote the text in the 330s). Athanasius makes some wonderful points regarding the work of Christ.

  23. D.J. Moberley says:

    I think that the best way to honor these men of faith would be to not discuss who among them is most esteemed, but rather to esteem Jesus and give all glory to Him – and Him alone.

  24. Closet Heretic says:

    For as many who feel compelled to disagree with those who made your list, I for one wish to say thank you. Thank you for including important contributors to the faith.

    For what it’s worth, I was delighted to see your inclusion of Barth. I was expecting to see Edwards, but was happy that you chose Barth, instead.

  25. Jeff Martin says:

    If we go by who is quoted the most often then C.S. Lewis should definitely be in, Augustine, Chrysostom, Wesley, and Calvin

  26. Anthony says:

    Soren Kierkegaard, John Owen.

  27. Josh says:

    As much as I may not always get on well with Barth and Schleiermacher (for different reasons, not lumping them together), I do agree that they are important theologians. As I often say, like or hate Barth, you have to deal with him. I say the same thing about Yoder, too, so I’d include him. Then echo a bunch of the choices already commented one.

    In the end, it’s a subjective list. It is what it is. As a Puritan-leaning Calvinist, I’d include a lot more Calvinists and Puritans on my list.

  28. dr. james willingham says:

    How about G. C. Berkouwer? Barth cannot count for much, seeing as how he rejects the written word of God, which same our Lord so identified as such. He the Living Word and Scripture He called the word of God. (obviously written). When Liberalism and Neo Orthodoxy rode their horses off into the sunset of no sure word from God, nothing but abysmal subjectivism, one can hardly count such writers as theologians. Admittedly, some were weakened in their approach by such follies who still stuck to many of the truths, but even so they fulfilled the aims of certain folks who want an infallible living director, not a book.

  29. Doug Ponder says:


    Where did you find your cited version of, “The Son of God became man so that men might become sons of God”?

    I had always heard this as, “The Son of God became man so that men might become God/god/divine [theos].”

    Do you recall where you found the version of the quote as you have it? I’d love to know so that I can cite it for myself in future writings.

    – dp -

  30. Doug Ponder says:

    Hi, Trevin.

    I couldn’t wait, so I began the hunt myself. After searching online in several databases, including in the online version of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, I couldn’t find that exact wording in any of Athanasius’ writings.

    The closest I came was this, “The Son of God became man, so that the sons of men, that is, the sons of Adam, might become sons of God.” [Translation mine. Original: ὁ Υἱὸς τοῦ Θεοῦ υἱὸς ἀνθρώπου γέγονεν, ἵνα οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, τουτέστι τοῦ Ἀδὰμ, υἱοὶ τοῦ Θεοῦ γένωνται.]

    This is from a short tract called “De Incarnatione et contra Arianos,” which is cited in the index of NPNF, but is not included in its text. Schaff remarks, “The Athanasian authorship of this short tract is very questionable,” before citing internal and external reasons for his conlclusions.

    Other scholars claim, variously, that the short tract was written by Marcellus, one of Marcellus’ disciples, or one of Athanasius’ disciples. At any rate, this exact wording sounds like something that Athanasius would agree with, even if it’s nothing something that he actually said (in his writings).

    So, unfortunately, that leaves us with the more-difficult-to-explain version, “The Son of God became man so that we might become God/god/divine [theos],” as found in his well-known “De Incarnatione Verbi Dei.”

    – dp -

  31. Rafal says:

    N.T Wright and Timothy Keller although both use different premises they come to similar conclusions.

  32. J. Neil Barham says:

    I would put Luther where the author places Barth, and add Van Til to the honorable mentions.

  33. Hugh McCann says:

    I am reminded of a teaching series John Gerstner did 30+ years ago on giants of the faith.

    He had Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, & Edwards.

    I imagine most of us of Western Reformed thought would lean toward these.

    Someone here mentioned the Biblical characters, but obviously, Trevin is only speaking post-apostolically.

    It’s patently unfair to compare an inspired author such as Moses or David or Peter or James with someone of later church history.

  34. Martin Moss says:

    I would replace Karl Barth with Dietrich Bonhoeffer who not only refined Barth’s views but developed his very solid Christology and its manifestation in a modern world. Also, he lived out the gospel in very real and terrifying circumstances even unto death.

  35. Byron G. Curtis says:

    At the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, Athanasius was but a 29-year old deacon, serving as his bishop’s secretary—and thus cannot be considered the author of the Creed of Nicaea. Since he died in 373 AD, he also cannot be considered the author of the revised “Nicene Creed,” produced in 381 at the Council of Constantinople.

    As for the authorship of the Creed of Nicaea (325 AD), Eusebius tells us that he put forth the creed of his own church, Caesarea (the Roman capital of Judaea), as a recommended basis for the Council’s deliberations. This suggestion (he says) was accepted, and then revised in certain crucial ways. If so, then the principal author of the Creed of Nicaea was perhaps one of Eusebius’s predecessors as bishop of Caesarea. But which one?

    As for the Nicene Creed (381 AD), the principal new material pertained to the Holy Spirit. There the influence of the three Cappadocian Fathers—Basil the Great, his brother Gregory of Nyssa, and their dear friend, Gregory of Nazianzus—is most important. The last of these three presided at the first several weeks of the Council of Constantinople before he got ousted on a technicality. But even he would not have wanted to claim authorship for the revisions. Afterwards, he said that the Nicene Creed was true but weak, because of its failure to confess the Homoousion in regard to the Holy Spirit. If the Homoousion HAD been confessed at Constantinople in 381, the resulting creed would glory in a fully consistent and fully parallel declaration of Triune deity. Alas, ’twas not to be.

    But as for Athanasius’s place on your list—yes, absolutely. “The Father of Orthodoxy,” it was his decades-long persistence, determination, exegetical skill, and theological clarity that enabled his successors, such as the Cappadocian Fathers, to persuade the non-Homosousian East, and thus to win the day

  36. daniel greeson says:

    Just a heads up -the icon here is actually an icon of St Athanasius the founder of the Great Lavra on Mt Athos (

    A wonderful ascetic of the Orthodox Church, but definitely not St Athanasius the Great.

    just a word from an Orthodox Christian….

  37. Carl Peterson says:

    Gregory of Nazianzus should be on the list. Barth should only receive an honorable mention.

    1. Hugh McCann says:

      Or, “Dishonorable mention”

  38. s michael durairaj says:

    The greatest growth in all of History is due to the pentecostal movement. Some one should reflect the pentecostal movement.

    1. byron G. Curtis says:

      Sadly, there’s not yet been a Pentecostal or Charismatic theologian of immense influence. But you might consider adding the forebear of that pair of movements: John Wesley. Wesley’s influence is now global—and even in non-Wesleyan and anti-Wesleyan (!) denominations, so that even die-hard Calvinists sing Wesleyan hymns, and attend small-group Bible Studies, Wesley-style. I don’t think much of Wesley’s attempts to revise Christian doctrine, but his contributions as pastor, pastoral theologian, pastoral psychologist, and missiologist are profound.

  39. byron G. Curtis says:

    BTW, your date for Calvin’s _Institutes_ is wrong. The fifth and final Latin edition is 1559. First edition was 1536.
    Also, your date for Barth’s _Church Dogmatics_ is misleading. That’s got to be measured in decades, and it was never finished. 1968 is the date of the man’s death, not really the date for CD.
    Also your date for Aquinas’s _Summa Theologia_ has the same problem—That’s the date of St Tom’s death. The work itself was decades long, and probably published, like Barth’s, bit by bit over the decades.

  40. Daniel says:

    I agree on the St. Athanasius choice as many great theologians built on his precedent.

    I agree on the choice of St. Thomas because (do I even need to explain?) as Western Christians you can’t not be influenced by him.

    I would like to add St. Cyril of Alexandria because he is one of the greatest “christological” theologians, dealing with the person of Jesus Christ, and he is also highly revered in the Eastern churches. He was Nestorius’ primary opponent. Right after St. Augustine he is the most highly quoted church fathers by the Lutheran theologians of the Reformation.

    I would add Tertullian because as one of the first great Latin theologians he introduced the theological vocabulary that all later Latin theologians would employ. In this sense, Tertullian helped the West avoid a lot of the controversies that the East had due to a well established theological vocabulary early on. This is not to say the West didn’t have her own issues or that Tertullian left the windows open to a lot of other issues that have come up and continue to plague Western Christianity to this day.

    And of course I would also maintain St. Augustine as one of the top five.

    In the end though, I don’t think one can get a very good understanding of the Church’s history if they only investigated the five I listed or even the five that Mr. Wax listed. However, there is a very accessible collection of books called the History of Christian Thought by a gentleman Justo Gonzalez that is pretty thorough without being to dense for someone interested in just getting a general idea of the Church’s history.

  41. I would put Luther ahead of Barth. I think that labeling him as a revolutionary misses the point of the Lutheran Reformation: Luther truly sought reform not rebellion. He wanted to fix rather than to tear down and rebuild. As to his not being so much a theologian, if you focus on dogmatics and what later became known as systematic theology, he might not be so prominent. However, if you recon exegetical theology on the same level as dogmatics, few in history can touch Luther and his abilities to understand, explain, and apply the Scriptures.

  42. Kyle says:

    Your quote from Athanasius sounds more like C S Lewis’ quote of him. Athansisus used stronger language and said, “For He was made man that we might be made God” (on the Incarnation, 54.3). Of course, he was following Ireneaus.

    Also, Hans Küng wrote a book called Great Christian Thinkers, based on this same idea. He had 7 people though (Paul was one of them).

    Origen would definitely be on this list, even though he has a troubled legacy.

    1. Hugh McCann says:


      Good point; Google tells us that Lewis said it that way in Mere Christianity.

      Not here:

  43. Rudi van der Merwe says:

    Wonder if Bavinck would make the honourable mentions?

  44. Jon Xavier says:

    Martin Luther has to be top 5 rather than Calvin. The idea that Calvin took his ideas and systemized them us Reformed myth, just like democracy and capitalism are from Calvinism, and the US government is based Presbyterian polity. All incredible distortions of history. Luther’s soteriology much more closely parallels Augustine, his emphasis on conscience, the two kingdom approach to church and state, and his unique emphasis on the sanctity of all legitimate labor were much more foundational for modern society than anything Calvin came up with. Indeed, his Geneva was a nightmare for anyone disagreeing with him. Moreover, Calvin’s doctrine if justification was not nearly as robust and developed as Luther’s, and his use of the Law, contra Luther, had a tendency towards harshness and it’s own kind if legalism. Finally, Luther’s Christology actually placed Christ at the center of theology rather than God’s sovereignty. Here, Calvin much more reflected medival excesses than Luther, Augustine, or any early theologian. Unfortunately, too few people know these things since the Reformed tradition has been the primary interpreter of the Reformation in the English speaking world rather than the sources themselves.

  45. Richard Alan Edwards says:

    We would have to create an excel spread sheet with various categories of their writings but also of their influence. Being a Puritan leaning Calvinist and an evangelist I would have selected George Whitfield as the most influential by virtue of the gospel and it’s affects in both continents. Jonathan Edwards as the theologian in American and John Owen as the theologian in Britain. However, I do accept all of your selections. I do not know as much as should know about all these men. I love and enjoy deep Christian thinking and theology. How about Stephen Charnock’s – The attributes of God. How about the most influential pastors or something similar. The greatest men of prayer, evangelism, etc. I really enjoy all these topics. They are so encouraging. Keep it up. Thank you.

  46. Josiah says:

    I am happy to see Barth and Irenaeus on this list. I surprised that Calvin made on here and not Luther. This is the TGC so I shouldn’t be surprised since you have a clear Reformed bias. Also where are some of the other early church fathers on honorable mentions?

  47. You must be blind for putting that Antichrist Karl Barth in your list of five most influencial theologian throughout history.
    He will be put straight to the deepest black pit of hell where he will be dancing in screams and tears along with his lord Lucifer he serves.
    You cannot put a theologian who reject biblical innerancy in this list.
    No matter how “orthodox” he is, he is not of The Church.

  48. If you were shock by my comment, please consider reading The God Who is There by Francis Schaeffer, The story about the conversation between Francis and Barth, and Barth’s letter to Francis as a reply to his criticism.
    Consider whether he is a Christian or not.

  49. Now, please consider. I don’t mean that every theologian have a solid conviction about all the truth about God and firmly affirm it. Not every theologian have a “sound doctrine”. But to every good and influencial theologian beliefs all the basic doctrine of the Christian faith, or what I called it the essential, or nessecary. It is neccessay to belief about biblocal innerancy, or trinity or incarnation. Many people cannot explain it, so they fall to a misleading theology about those doctrine, like trinity works like modalism or incarnation works like 2 person in the same body. It is a misleading in the realm of high theology, one that suits your acadwmical background. If you are a graduate from Westminster Semenary, to belief that trinity works like my example, and also in the case of incarnation like I said before, then you must be sleeping at class. On the other hand, people of low theology, the commoners we can say them that, believe in their hearts the truh about “three in one” and “a fusion god and human comes to earth”. But tey can’t describe it like you high theologians do. So it is your job to teach them, like if you are a doctor, it is your responsibility to know everything about a particular disease or a physiology of kidney, but it is not a responsibility to a nurse because it is not her job to treat the patient, but to support the patient in the time of ill.

    Shortly this. You cannot trust a theologian who, not disregard, but reject a basic truth. They are imposter, and possibly an Antichrist, who reject Christ and His truth directly. He may pose a language of ortodoxy and many times win the hearts of theologian. But a clear-eyed teacher such Francis know undoubtebly that Barth is not genuine. And by his work, I come to the conclusion that he is not a Christian, and worst he is an antichrist.
    Just stay aware that antichrist will come from The Church herself, and indeed many has come like Barth, and one antichrist will come at the end.
    Please aware. This is not a hate comment or hard criticism for the blogger. It is a warning toward every teacher of the Word. You probably would not recognised a wolf in sheeps clothing. I am not talking about so-entitled “prosperity preachers” like Osteen and Joice Mayer we high theologians crown them. I am talking about the real enemies, one that lurks around us and poison the Church inside, like Barth, Erasmus, and Hippolytus of Rome.

  50. Byron G. Curtis says:

    Agreed: Barth does not belong on this list, especially if the list is to be “the most influential” theologians. In Europe, Barth’s bubble burst long ago; in the US, a bit later. The seminaries that still revel in Barth are now seriously divided over his legacy, and their church constituencies are fast shrinking. What Barth’s stature shall be, say, at his 2068 centennial, who can say? But right now it looks like Barth’s shadow wanes dim. Fair criteria for “the most influential” theologian would seem to exclude any recent figure, even of the 20th century. Perhaps they (and we) are all as brief as the morning haze.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Search this blog


Trevin Wax photo

Trevin Wax

​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

Trevin Wax's Books