Thursday, December 25, 2014

40 Most Influential Theologians

God has chosen to protect and propagate biblical truth through very imperfect people. But this is also exactly what we see in Scripture—God doing very remarkable things through very unremarkable humans. None of these theologians have done the job perfectly, but each has done a piece of it. As a result, we have a multitude of perspectives and aspects of theology. As pure, white light is diffracted by a prism into a variety of colors, so God’s truth is diffracted through people into a myriad of traditions.—The 40 Most Influential Christians...Who Shaped What We Believe Today, page 296

<idle musing>
And so ends The 40 Most Influential Christians...Who Shaped What We Believe Today.

The book was offered free via Kindle from Bethany about a week ago, so I downloaded it; I'm a sucker for historical theology. The book consists of 40 chapters in which he examines about 42 theologians (he put the two Cappadocian Gregories in with Basil) in an overview fashion. Along the way he makes mention of many, many more.

The book is a good basic overview of orthodox theology. If you are looking for indepth coverage, then look elsewhere—this is an overview aimed at the lay Evangelical market. And that focus explains some of his choices; I certainly wouldn't have chosen some of the theologians he chooses—Machen? Henry? Not exactly giants in theology, but very influential and helpful in explaining where Evangelicalism is today.

In all fairness to the author, he is aware of the capriciousness of his choices:

Regarding the title of this book, you may be thinking, Really? THE 40 MOST Influential Christians?! Come on! Please understand that I am not under the illusion that I have nailed the definitive top 40 list of theologians. (Actually, it is the top 42; I snuck [sic] a couple of bonus Gregorys into chapter 10.) I thought a more accurate title would be 40 of the Most Influential Christians Who Shaped What We Believe Today, in the Humble Opinion of One Particular Writer, but that seemed a little unwieldy to the publisher. Good arguments can be made that some of these should not have made it while others should have. (page 13)
I would definitely agree with that, especially in the twentieth century choices! But, as I mentioned already, it is aimed at the lay Evangelical market, and it will serve that market well. It is written in very readable prose and concepts are defined and cross-referenced to facilitate refreshing your memory on what a term already introduced means. For example, in the Context section of Leo the Great, this paragraph occurs:
Jesus Christ is fully God; the Council of Nicea had declared this to be orthodoxy and Arianism heresy. [55] Jesus Christ is fully human; the Council of Constantinople had declared this to be orthodoxy and Apollinarianism heresy. [56] Jesus Christ is not two persons, but one person; the Council of Ephesus had declared this to be orthodoxy and Nestorianism heresy. [57] (page 95)
As you can see, each of the terms mentioned is footnoted, even though they each were the topic of previous chapters—very helpful for the person who is just being introduced to the concepts and disputes for the first (or even the second or third) time.

Each chapter is laid out the same way, with three subtopics: Context, Contribution, and Conclusion. The context includes both the theological and biographical, as does the contribution section. The final section, conclusion, is the author's evaluation of the positive and negative contributions that the theologian under discussion made to our understanding of God.

The conclusion section is generally quite even-handed. There are no anathemata thrown around. As he himself says, "In fact, isn’t it usually the case that we grow in our understanding of things when we are challenged by beliefs contrary to our own, as opposed to just having those who agree with us constantly assuring us that we (and they) are right?" (page 294). I can give a hearty Amen! to that.
</idle musing>

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