“…But let him who glories, glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:24). Throughout church history there have been hundreds of great scholars who have devoted their lives to teach and preserve the theology of the Christian faith. It is no easy task to refine such an important and extensive list down to just ten. But in attempt to narrow the great catalog, I’ve decided it is less about the most popular and even inspirational candidates, and more about scholarly discipline, honest pursuit of truth, and about remaining indispensably relevant and standing firm even after years of scrutiny and debate. I started with the fifth century and worked my way to modern day, so the numbers are not a ranking. Admittedly, this list is influenced by and limited to my own experience and may not make everyone’s “top 10”, but I am sure we can at least agree that these biblical scholars deserve very special commendation.
Top 10 Theologians of All Time – Top Theologians Whose Doctrine have Stood the Test of Time
1. St Augustine of Hippo (354-430)
It became quiet clear early on that Augustine was a bright child so his parents did all they could to get him the best education. His father was a pagan but his mother a true follower of Jesus Christ. While in school, Augustine leapt from one worldview to another, seeking answers to the questions plaguing his soul. He could not reconcile the problem of sin and existence of evil with the righteous God of whom his mother spoke. After some tragic turns in his life, and when many of his intellectually based “isms” failed, he turned to God wholeheartedly. His first writings were to refute the teachings that earlier influenced him during his lost years. Perhaps his most important works were those refuting the erroneous teachings of Pelagius, who contended that man has inherent goodness and could accomplish his own salvation apart from the grace of God. John Calvin would later be heavily influenced by the works of Augustine.
2. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
Thomas Aquinas was not only a great theologian but a philosopher of the highest degree. Among his most notable works are Summa Theologica and Summa contra Gentiles. The Summa contra Gentiles is his complete summary of Christian doctrine in which he takes an apologetic approach to intelligently answering various philosophies of the day. The Summa Theologica is a summary on God and man’s relationship to Him and consists of tracts, questions and articles all dealing with hundreds of different topics. There are areas in his teaching where conflict is evident or certain biblical teachings are ignored but his influence today, in both philosophy and theology is considerable.
3. John Calvin (1509-1564)
In conference with other great theologians of the day, he was referred to as “The Theologian”. Even if he lived a contradiction in his teaching on unconditional election and his agreement with the concept of a state church that required belief from all, whether elected or not (and all you staunch “Calvinists” don’t condemn me to the same fate as Michael Servetus for saying that), John Calvin’s influence cannot be ignored. He is responsible for volumes of works in theology and contributed a great deal in the area of soteriology that are worthy of debate and intellectual commitment. And whether or not the proper exegesis confirms the entire TULIP of his soteriological platform, as a student of the Word you would do well to be familiar with his work and the work of those who most influenced him.
4. Matthew Henry (1662-1714)
Matthew Henry was an English Presbyterian minister. His most notable work is the Matthew Henry commentary on the Whole Bible. It is definitely a must have commentary, if only for a reference, as it provides an exhaustive look at every single verse. I have read numerous testimonies of many who have read through the entire series and found it life changing. His work is insightful, practical in application and overall thought provoking.
5. John Wesley (1703-1791)
Here’s one for those of you who are more in the Arminian camp, doctrinally speaking. John Wesley along with his brother and a handful of other college students were responsible for founding the Methodist movement. Along with being an evangelist, organizer, and social reformer, he was a practical theologian. Because of his lack of systematic approach there are many who regard his work as doctrinally deficient, however, it is not until you realize his theological positions and active practice were inseparable, that you can fully appreciate his contribution. His beliefs may have been shaped more by his own experience than I am comfortable with, but I appreciate his motivation –a deep abiding love for Christ. And perhaps his greatest contributions are the beautiful hymns he penned, so rich in theological content. His attempt to balance the two soteriological extremes of “Calvinism” and “Arminianism” is at least provoking. George Whitfield (a staunch Calvinist) and John Wesley maintained a close lifelong friendship despite their opposing beliefs.
6. C.I. Scofield (1843-1921)
Following a broken past of drunkenness, corruption, and divorce, Dr. Cyrus Ingerson Scofield dedicated much of the second half of his life to study and to the ministry. He is most well-known for his Scofield Reference Bible, the basis of which came out of his bible correspondence course. And although well-known, and often typecast, for his promotion of premillennial dispensationalism, he had a clear and systematic approach to the study of God’s Word that is worth referencing no matter what your doctrinal position.
7. Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892)
Known as the “Prince of Preachers” Charles Haddon Spurgeon contributed thousands of sermons and various writing, several of which were translated into many languages even within his own lifetime. His weekly sermons, packaged together into 63 volumes, remain one of the best selling series in history. There is very little dispute that his “Treasury of David” is one of the most complete and useful commentaries ever written on the book of Psalms.
8. Carl Friedrich Keil (1807-1888) | 9. Franz Delitzsch (1819-1890)
I put these two gentlemen together because their partnership in scholarship yielded one of the most comprehensive and engaging set of commentaries on the Old Testament. In my own grappling with the origin of sin combined with the “free” will of man there was not one other resource that helped my understanding as much as these two scholars. There are great theological riches to mine in their scholarly work.
10. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981)
Martyn Lloyd-Jones started out as a medical doctor, but believed he could do more as a minister of the gospel. Well known for his expository preaching style and famous commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, his contributions are invaluable. His son-in-law, Sir Fred Catherwood, said of him in a tribute, “His expository preaching aimed both to let God speak as directly as possible to the man in the pew with the full weight of divine authority and also to minimize the intervention of the preacher and the watering-down of the direct and authoritative message by human intrusion and diversion.”
There are many many other notables, but these are among my favorites and preferred also by a great number of other students and scholars. Let us know who YOU think should make the list in the comments. In closing, I quote another great theologian:
“He that has doctrinal knowledge and speculation only, without affection, never is engaged in the business of religion.”
― Jonathan Edwards