A question and request for suggestions

A question and request for suggestions March 16, 2012

Fifty years from now, which contemporary (late 20th century, early 21st century) Christian (trinitarian) theologians will someone include in a book about modern/postmodern theology? Why?

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  • MatthewS

    I’m not a regular commenter here but if I could, I would vote for Vanhoozer. Is he an option? He is able to comprehend and engage the issues critically. He moves forward with creative thought while neither dumping nor clinging to past wisdom. I am thinking of his discussions about meaning in the text (author-text-reader), speech-acts (illocution, perlocution) and the drama metaphors.

    • rogereolson

      I totally agree that he is the outstanding evangelical theologian today. I wonder why he is so overlooked by most people? This is what is so tricky about trying to decide whom to write about. Back in the 1960s a theologian named William Hordern wrote a book entitled The Layman’s Guide to Protestant Theology (bad title for a good book). It was as survey of major 20th century theologians from Barth to Bultmann and Bonhoeffer. The last chapter was Hordern’s predictions about theologians of the 1950s and 1960s who would emerge as deserving of full chapters in a future edition of the book (say fifty years hence). When I look back at that chapter now I see names like David Jenkins. Who has heard of David Jenkins? And yet Hordern had good reason to think he would turn out to be a great theologian in terms of influence. Almost all his predictions were wrong! That’s what makes my task especially risky. I’m haunted by Hordern’s failure (which I don’t blame on him–who can really predict the future?). Yes, I agree that Vanhoozer is deserving of a chapter in such a book. But who else thinks so besides the few of us who have actually read him? His books are very daunting.

      • David Rogers

        Is there an equivalent resource today? I remember this book from my college days and it was my first exposure to academic theology and non-conservative theology and theologians.

        • rogereolson

          Well, let’s see….I seem to remember a book entitled something like 20th Century Theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age (IVP, 1992). It’s still in print and used in mostly seminary-level courses on modern theology around the world. But now it’s somewhat dated. Then there are similar books, but I won’t name them for obvious reasons. 🙂 You can find them at amazon.com by using key words like “modern theology” and “contemporary theology.”

      • C.J.W

        I agree Dr. Olson. Vanhoozer seems long winded and it takes him a while to make a good point. I wholeheartedly support Stan Grenz as the one who will be mentioned. He is much more clear than Vanhoozer and what saying many of the same things Vanhoozer did and still does without all the pages.

        • Andy

          What book by Grenz is the one to get? Is it the one coauthored with Roger Olson? That would be a bonus since my goal is to read all of Roger’s books.

          • rogereolson

            I would suggest you start with Grenz’s Revisioning Evangelical Theology. It was the book that really announced his turn toward pietism and postfoundationalism.

  • Brian McLaren, because even though he may not be a full-fledged “theologian” he somewhat “led the way” for popular postmodern theology.

    • rogereolson

      But even Brian, I think, would point to theologians who influenced him. I think he knows he’s a popularizer rather than a theologian. However, if you think he would be the subject of a chapter on theologians fifty years from now, I’m open to that.

      • Yes, he was definitely influenced by some more standard theologians, and is probably not an “original thinker.” But when it comes to name recognition and popularist theologians, he might be remembered in 50 years.

        On the other hand, I rarely hear about him anymore, so maybe his popularity is already waning.

    • Greg D


      You beat me to it. Brian McLaren was my first pick.

  • Eluros Aabye

    What’s the difference between a Christian theologian and a Christian preacher or non-fiction author? Does John Piper count as a theologian? William Lane Craig? Plantinga?

    If you can help define Theologian, that would be immensely helpful.

    • rogereolson

      Augustine said “If you don’t ask me what time is, I know very well. But as soon as you ask me, I don’t know.” I’d say the same about “theologian.” I know one when I see one, but giving a definition is impossible. So, all I’m asking is, imagine someone writing a book about influential Christian theologians of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries fifty years from now. Who will be in such a book and why?

  • John Inglis

    I think that Torrance will be included, even if only because of his work on the Trinity. I don’t think anyone would consider him to be a postmodern theologian, yet he does seem to be more sensitive to viewpoint and context than someone who is unselfreflectively “modern”.

    • rogereolson


  • Rowan Williams. Stanley Hauerwas. John Milbank. Robert Jenson.

    As for why these, I don’t necessarily agree with this criterion but I tend to think it will be the actual selection criterion: They have been the most prominent in the public eye (i.e., beyond both academia and the Christian subculture of the world).

    Theologians that I wish/hope would be more emphasized than those above (I know, not all strictly theologians) : Kevin Vanhoozer, David Bentley Hart, D.A. Carson, Bruce McCormack, Richard Bauckham, N.T. Wright, Alister McGrath.

    • rogereolson

      Good choices and good reasons. Thank you.

  • For my money, Robert Jenson would top that list simply because of his focus on the Triune God.

    • rogereolson

      I agree that Jenson is one of the best and most overlooked theologians today. I have known him personally (not as a friend but as a professional acquaintance). His book God after God was one of the books that launched my interest in Barth and the doctrine of the Trinity.

  • Jason R

    I’m no expert on late 20th and early 21st century theologians, but I would love for one to be Daniel Migliore one of my professors from Princeton Seminary. The reason being I think his “Faith Seeking Understanding”, text while considered introductory, has had a profound impact on many theological students across a diverse spectrum. He is a good representative “Trinitarian” theologian and also a wonderful professor and person (of course these qualities don’t always get you in a book). I wish I could have taken more courses with him during my seminary training.

    • rogereolson

      Thank you.

  • Bev Mitchell

    I’ve been impressed by Thomas Oord’s work, though it is still developing. He skates on the edge of process theology, without falling in the ditch, and presents an openess theology that makes a real attempt at taking the “God is Love” confession to its good and necessary conclusions. He also understands that it is long past the time when Creed confessing Christians must take very seriously the solid findings of modern science and allow for serious re-evaluation of how we approach Scripture and do theology. These two emphases (open theology of love, and a real place for extra-biblical sources of truth) have to be allowed much more influence if we are to have a life-changing understanding of Scripture to pass on to future generations. And what other understanding of Scripture is worth the bother?

    Suggestions for further reading: two edited by Oord and two written by him.
    Oord, Thomas Jay. 2004. The Science of Love
    Oord, Thomas Jay 2010. The Nature of Love: A Theology
    Oord, Thomas Jay and Richard P. Thompson eds. 2011. The Bible Tells Me So
    Polkinghorne, John with Thomas Jay Oord ed. The Polkinghorne Reader: Science, Faith and the Search for Meaning.

    As a general prediction, theologians who manage to combine the life-changing message of God-revealed Scripture with a serious role for extra-biblical truth (largely flowing from widely recognized, peer-evaluated scientific investigations) will be (are now) absolutely necessary, and the best ones will be talked about 100 years from now. We really are in a watershed moment for “evangelical” theology and ministry.

    • rogereolson

      Good thoughts and suggestions. Thanks.

  • Ryan S

    James Wm. McClendon. Particularly his Systematic Theology Trilogy. Vol. 1 Ethics, Vol. 2 Doctrine and Vol. 3 Witness. It is a remarkable body of work that takes seriously the nature of being “placed.” It also approaches theological questions, if not in a new way, in a way that takes seriously the problems and vexing issues that post-modern people have with Jesus. It also includes a healthy dose of narrative theology, which underpins his theology.

    The part I love is that although it explores theology from this perspective, it refuses to make too much of narrative, and other postmodern concerns. Rather it admits and explores the limitations of modernity without falling into postmodern “traps” such as post-structuralism or relativity.

    Worth reading. Worth reading many times. He looks both to conservative and liberal Christian theologians and integrates them into a worthy theology of (b)aptistic Christians.

    But I’m sure you’ve heard of him Roger, as he come from a baptist background.

    • rogereolson

      Yes. In fact, his teacher was mine (John Newport). Way, way back during my doctoral studies at Rice U. Newport had us reading the student he was most proud of–McClendon. Since then I’ve kept up with him some, but not enough. I have especially enjoyed and benefited from his work with his wife Nancey Murphy who is a really good thinker (mainly philosophy of science) in her own right.

  • movers-n-shakers on the theology scene (mainline / evangelical / reformed)
    – not all are ‘formal theologians’
    – I belive their legacies will be remembered

    Donald Bloesch
    Rowan Williams
    Will Willimon
    Walter Wink
    Eugene Peterson
    (Post-liberalism that has a serious commitment to the Word (though not in an overtly conservative sense) will have a positive lasting legacy in an increasingly more complex and post-modern world)

    Roger Olson
    Greg Boyd
    (Serious evangelical voices for Arminianism & Open Theism (respectively) remembered for articulating their thought in an era of TULIP renewal)

    John Stott
    Michael Horton
    Francis Chan
    (Calvinist minded thinkers that I would like to see remembered well)

    • rogereolson

      I notice you don’t mention Hauerwas. Could you say why?

      • I debated putting Hauerwas into my list. Honestly, I left him out because my ‘mainline’ list was getting long and I wanted to highlight Willimon before Hauerwas. Both are big names in the UMC because they have published a lot and they both wrote the Methodist/Mainline classic Resident Aliens. I like Willimon a little more because his prolific writing bridges some of the gaps between post-liberals and evangelicals.

        Hauerwas seems to be all over the place (of course on any given week my thinking is all over the place) – he is currently an active Episcopalian who regularily promotes the virtues of the Anabaptist movement (minus the baptism part). I’ve read a good bit of his stuff and his thinkng has indeed challegned me in many ways, but at the end of the day he is not on my top list of mainline thinkers.

  • I’m sure Greg Boyd and the late Clark Pinnock will be included for their contributions in open theism. Benedict XVI will likely be mentioned, not just because he was pope, but for his multi-volume Jesus of Nazareth work.

    • rogereolson

      Very possibly so. But notice how Schillebeeckx has dropped off the theological radar. During the 1970s and 1980s he was considered THE Catholic theologian to wrestle with. His massive volumes Jesus and Christ were devoured by doctoral students. He was featured in an article in Time magazine on cutting-edge Catholic theologians (along with Schoonenberg). Who has ever heard of them now? That makes it so hard to predict. You may very well be right. Thanks for you suggestions.

  • gently reformed

    Donald G. Bloesch, because he sought to find a middle ground between the liberal modernist trajectory of his own tradition and the reactionary retrenchment of the traditionalist mindset.

    • rogereolson

      Good suggestion. I hope he is remembered 50 years from now.

  • Paul

    I think someone will include a chapter about John Milbank 50 years from now. In my opinion, his reputation has outlasted the interest in “radical orthodoxy” (just as Barth outlasted the dialectical theology movement). He is also clearly the best theologian of the radical orthodoxy movement.

  • Predictions like this are never accurate, but here are a few names I might expect to still see being cited in fifty years’ time. We will probably have a clearer idea then about what is meant by ‘modern/post-modern’, so some of these names mightn’t be relevant then, or they might be more relevant than we imagine:

    Peter Rollins (I don’t think this needs much justification)

    Phillip Clayton (I think Clayton and a lot of other process and/or open thinkers might qualify here. The way these movements interact with modern science and various schools of philosophy is interesting, and I suspect they’ll have a part to play in demonstrating the difference between modern and post-modern theology. To my mind Clayton seems to offer some of the more lucid and accessible accounts of the whole thing. As well as the usual suspects you might also include John Polkinghorne and Sally McFague, as much for what they don’t bring to the table as what they do.)

    Phyllis Trible (and a host of other feminist theologians). As a discipline Women’s Studies is certainly influenced by post-modern philosophy. That holds true in theology.

    Kevin van Hoozer. Some of his studies (I’m thinking of ‘Is there a meaning in this text?’) could be seen as landmark works in the area.

    Slavoj Žižek (not a theologian per se, but he seems to crop up in theological conversation a lot, and will probably be considered an important source in years to come, perhaps in the same way Nietzsche turns up in historical theology texts today.)

  • Chase3557

    Honestly, I think history books will be changing in the future. For one, we no longer have the intellectual giants like in the years past. Sure we have famous leaders and academic celebrities, but with mass communication and widespread education, I think that history books will eventually have to start reporting trends of thought instead of jumping from one great theologian to another. Also, I think postmodern theology is a bit different than the past movements in history. I don’t believe it will ever trump modernism and stand alone as its own historical movement. If it did, then postmodernism would have failed by surrendering to modernism’s “neophilia.” Postmodern theologians and biblical critics have some very respectable things to say, yet I don’t think they should be categorized as another historical movement. Maybe it would be more fitting to call it a countermovement.

    • rogereolson

      Good thoughts. Thank you.

  • Steve Rogers

    What about Roger Olson?

    • rogereolson

      Fails every criterion! But thanks for the thought.

  • A. Rose


    Would you draw a distinction between biblical scholars and theologians? For example, I would tend to place someone like N.T. Wright in the former category (although there is overlap of course).

    Also, whilst not strictly theologians, there are some philosophers like Badiou and Zizek doing some interesting work engaging with theology, and Paul in particular. Perhaps a book on postmodern theology might include a chapter on atheist theology!

    • rogereolson

      Have you heard of Don Cupitt? He’s a very prolific and influential atheist theologian. (I don’t know that he calls himself an “atheist,” but most people read him that way. For him “God” is a cipher for human self-transcendence.)

  • E.G.

    Stan Grenz, Eugene Peterson, Greg Boyd, Scot McKnight, NT Wright, Loren Wilkinson, John Stackhouse, and you.

    Because you all push back – lovingly, strenuously, thoughtfully, effectively – against modernist, neo-fundamentalist, neo-reformed tendencies in the envalgelical world.

  • Andy

    Does Clark Pinnock count? I only saw him cited once, above.

    As an average person (maybe a hair above average), I found his writing very accessible. Not to overdo it, but some of his prose seemed to soar. If revisiting an author many times is a valid indicator, he met that for me. I suppose it wil be the ideas that stand the test of 50 years? Or do some thinker’s ideas survive in spite of their writing?

    • rogereolson

      Oh, no doubt some theologians’ ideas survive in spite of their writing. Have you read Barth lately? 🙂 This raises an interesting question. Who decides which theologians are remembered? I think it’s academics–by writing about them (dissertations, scholarly articles, etc.), by having professional societies dedicated to them, by using their books as textbooks, etc. There’s something else, too. Usually, in order to remembered much later (say 50 years after dying) a theologian needs to have had some idea(s) that was considered new (whether it really was or not) and caught on especially among academics. Personally, I hope Pinnock is remembered as a great evangelical theologian 50 years from now, but it’s very hard to predict. For on thing, he never wrote a systematic theology or really anything even approaching one. I pestered him to do it and his only response was “You do it.”

  • I have particularly enjoyed Thomas Oden’s writings. For me at least I find his writing style easy to read and yet profound in thought, grounding it on a thorough historical appreciation for church tradition.
    Another writer that captivated me is Oliver O’Donovan, although I have only read his “Resurrection and Moral Order.” Nonetheless, his thought categories are nicely balanced and not laboriously linguistic as Thiselton or Vanhoozer.
    As a request, you have mentioned Donald Bloesch as perhaps one of your favorites. Could you sometime write us a blog as to why you think so? I am intrigued as to how an Arminian thinker like yourself could enjoy such a weighty Calvinist.

    • rogereolson

      Ah, but he wasn’t a “weighty Calvinist.” Yes, he worked within a broadly Reformed tradition, but his Calvinism was softened by his Pietism. Bloesch embraced paradox which, I think, was a weakness. But I don’t think he relished sheer logical contradiction (though some of his paradoxes come close, IMHO). In one place he could emphasize God’s sovereignty and in another place human free will. I’d call him an inconsistent monergist. Besides, I have never said I don’t enjoy reading Calvinist theologians. It’s just some of them I can’t stand–the aggressive ones who seem to delight in dumping on everyone who’s not a Calvinist and who draw Calvinism out (almost) to its logical conclusions (e.g., God as the all-determining reality who “designs and governs” sin, evil and innocent suffering).

  • I’m coming from a point of “People who’ve made us think/react about Theology.”

    In that case, my list would include:
    Dallas Willard
    Richard Foster
    John Piper
    Rob Bell
    Brian McLaren

    Yes, these wouldn’t fall under the catagory of academic theologians. But, in the pastoral circles I run in; these guys have either been the most transformational (i.e. Foster and Willard), and/or elicited theological conversations (i.e. Bell and Piper).

    I mean, you do want people to read this book…right? 😉


    • rogereolson

      Yes, but I also have to think about reviewers. I don’t want them to trash it. 🙂

  • Though he would protest, I would list C. S. Lewis as one of the first Postmodern Christian theologians — his concept of “Chronological Snobbery” is one of the most helpful critiques of Enlightenment superiority I have found. He may not be a high end theologian, but he paved the way for me.

    • rogereolson

      Many would consider him pre-modern. Other than being against modern chronologically snobbery (which is also consistent with being premodern), what do you see as postmodern about him?

      • Greg D

        Lewis seemingly was universalist in many of his views similar to Rob Bell’s views. This would seem to place him in the post-modern spectrum to me. He was also very much a non-conformist although he did appreciate the British government at a time when patriotism was at its peak (post WWII).

        • rogereolson

          Lewis a universalist and postmodern? Definitely not.

  • Elliott Scott

    Miroslav Volf should be on the list.
    I suppose Platinga is technically a philosopher, but still….

    • rogereolson

      Now that’s an interesting suggestion. I happen to think Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace will be read 50 years from now. I’m not sure about his other books. If only he would write a systematic theology. 🙂 Of course, Volf is very much influenced by Moltmann, but his writings have gone in his own direction, too. Not contrary to Moltmann (except with regard to premillennialism) but extending many of M’s main ideas. I think you may be right and I hope so. I knew Miroslav when he was “Mickey” to his American friends. He’s a Pentecostal who hit it big in academic Christian theology.

  • Clay Knick

    I hope Don Bloesch is remembered for his middle way between the extremes of the far left and right. Tom Oden because he wanted to return theology to its roots and tried not to be original, but in doing so was original. Hauerwas for obvious reasons, but he might say Yoder. He would say Yoder. There are many that could be suggested.

    • rogereolson

      I’m intrigued by your suggestion that Hauerwas would say Yoder. I tend to agree that Hauerwas will be remembered and that he would point to Yoder (and Barth). What do you think is Yoder’s single most important contribution to Hauerwas’ theology (in terms of a book) and what do you think is Hauerwas’ single most important book for which he will be remembered in 50 years?

      • Yoder’s most important influence on Hauerwas is likely The Politics of Jesus and some of his earlier works, such as The Original Revolution.

        Hauerwas’ book that will be remembered is probably his Gifford Lectures, With the Grain of the Universe, if for no other reason than that it is the Gifford Lectures.

        • rogereolson

          But I really hated that book because I like Reinhold Niebuhr! I actually got rid of the book because of what I thought were completely unfair criticisms of Niebuhr. I may have to buy it again and give it another try.

          • You might also consider his Peaceable Kingdom, Resident Aliens, and even his memoir, Hannah’s Child. Each of these books will be important for his legacy. Many of his other books, while important, are more collections of essays and might not have the staying power of these books, along with With the Grain. But if you’re a fan of either Niebuhr, you’ll find yourself bucking against Hauerwas (and Yoder) again and again, I’m afraid.

          • rogereolson

            As I’ve posted here before, I’m a fan of Reinhold Niebuhr and John Howard Yoder and therefore (to fans of both) confused. I see real virtues in both approaches to social ethics.

      • Clay Knick

        D. C. is right on all counts here. Sorry about my delay in replying! I think “Community of Character” is one of his best. The memoir is wonderful. And yes, “The Politics of Jesus” is “Hauerwas for Dummies.” He owes a debt of gratitude to Yoder for this book.

        • rogereolson

          I’m reading Hannah’s Child right now. I don’t think I’ve ever read a famous theologian give so much credit to a contemporary as he gives to Yoder. Basically he says “If you want to understand me, read Yoder.” Of course, that’s a bit of an exaggeration because Hauerwas is much more catholic (or at least that’s more of an emphasis) than Yoder.

          • Clay Knick

            I loved, “Hannah’s Child.” For months after reading it I would find myself thinking about it.

  • Elliott Scott

    While I’m at it, no one has mentioned Moltmann, Gustavo Gutierrez, or Tutu. Each is massively influencial. Tutu may not meet your criteria for being a theologian, but he’s the only Christian writer I know who has Miles Davis album dedicated to him – which is pure win.

  • Joshua Penduck

    Besides the obvious ones (Hauerwas, John Milbank & Rowan Williams), I think a case could be made for figures such as Vanhoozer, James K.A. Smith, Graham Ward, David Ford, Christoph Schwobel and Kathryn Tanner, each of whom have been able to combine rigorous argument, fine scholarship, and profound insight. Each of these have the ‘it’ factor that may help them to be considered. For theologians who are simply brilliant but older – so may not be remembered so much as theologians of the 21st Century – there is Pannenberg, Moltmann, Tracy, Jenson, Jungel, Marion, & Zizioulas. Gunton & LaCugna are also brilliant 21st C. theologians who may have a lasting impact on future theology, but have tragically died. Another figure to watch out for is Mark McIntosh, whose work on spirituality and theology is quite profound. Finally, in the realm of Biblical studies, Brueggemann, NT Wright and Richard Bauckham are simply brilliant.

  • CGC

    Hi Roger,
    Some good proposals by others. Probably the guy who introduced me to postmodern philosophy and postmodern theology the earliest was Merold Westphal. The late Stan Grentz should be remembered for his contributions and theologians/popularizers have been people like James K. A. Smith, Carl Raschke, and Peter Leithart. I am not as familiar with Leithart’s more historical approach but it seems like Smith and Raschke do the same thing as modernity by pitting postmodernity against modernity. It seems a more holistic postmodern approach would be a both/and approach and not just another polarized either/or one.

  • Greg D

    Phyllis Tickle.

    I believe it was Tickle who first came up with the suggestion that every 500 years the church goes through a major shift/paradigm. And, because we are now entering into the post-modern era she was the first to suggest the church should either emerge or essentially become irrelevant. Thus, the Emerging Church movement was formed.

  • I would like to have William Lane Craig in a book. He has like no other theologian of our time brought apologetics into the spotlight, I would also think he is one of the main proponents of molinism and one of the reasons for why molinism seem to increase in popularity.

  • scotmcknight

    Miroslav Volf. His Exclusion and Embrace moved me more than any theology book I’ve read in the last 25 years. (Other than Buber’s I and Thou.)

    • rogereolson


  • Brian

    I’m going to say Amos Yong. I think he takes Pneumatology and tries to center many difficult topics around the person of the Spirit. I think he is able to use the doctrine of the Spirit to tackle interesting topics. Does he kind of take Barth’s Christomonism and replace it with the Spirit? Just a question.

    • rogereolson

      I think Amos would say he’s not trying to replace Christocentrism with Pneumatocentrism but supplement the former with the latter. He’s right that so much Protestant theology says so little about the Spirit. I think he’s trying to fill that gap. However, I grew up Pentecostal and even we didn’t have that much to say about the Holy Spirit as a person. We talked a lot about the “gifts of the Spirit,” but often referred to the Holy Spirit as “it.”

  • John C. Gardner

    I would nominate Tom Wright both as a historian and a theologian especially with his powerful work on Christ, the Resurrection and Judaism. Alister McGrath is a good scientist/theologian as is John Polkinghorne. I believe that Eastern Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware also deserves a place at the table for several of his works on Christian spirituality and his shorter works on Orthodoxy itself.

    • rogereolson

      Good suggestions. But would Ware win out over Lossky or Zizioulas?

  • Ellen Charry

  • I can’t believe it took almost 60 posts see Moltmann mentioned. Of course Moltmann. He has to be THE continental theologian of the second half of the 20th century (dare I say, taking Barth’s place?). I agree that Volf is dependent on him, but he’s probably more prominent on the American stage than Moltmann has been.

    Also Yoder and Hauerwas.

    One that I’d nominate that hasn’t been mentioned would be Lesslie Newbigin. I think of him as a constructive theologian from a missiological perspective. His biographer Geoffrey Wainwright called him a “church father.” He might not have great name recognition, and he never produced a systematic theology (or anything close to it). But he was fairly prolific and has had an enduring impact on the Western church’s engagement with its culture.

  • It probably helps to look at who is writing constructive systematic theology (as differentiated from occasional writings and compendiums of theology). In that case, within in 10 – 12 years (by the end of the early 21st century) we may likely be saying Sarah Coakley and John Webster.

    • rogereolson

      I wish my book could wait for Coakley’s systematic theology. Any idea when it is supposed to be published? I’ve tried reading Webster and can’t make heads or tails of what he is trying to say. My failure, I’m sure.

  • Scott

    I think N.T. Wright will be on the list (though he is indepted to Sanders) because of the vastness of his writing on Jesus and Paul and his major contributions to what is being termed the Third Quest for the Historical Jesus. I think other contributers to this wide-ranging study will be mentioned as well: James Dunn, Larry Hurtado, Ben Witherington III, Scot McKnight…

    Hauerwas has been hugely influencial to me personally, but that won’t get him into any history books. Even though some classify him as a contrarian, I think he really brings a good, balanced voice to the questions of ecclesiology and ethics. Yoder will be on the list for the same reasons.

    Milbank and Volf and David Bentley Hart; Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II…

    I’d like to see Walter Brueggemann, Eugene Peterson, and Gordon Fee on the list.

    J. Kameron Carter has made important contributions in theology and race, Pete Enns is making waves for his work in OT, science and human origins (and some of the controversy surrounding it), J.R. Daniel Kirk is becoming one of my favorite “newer” authors for the work he is doing in NT, biblical studies and the way he is seeking to push narrative theology forward, and it seems he was influenced by Richard B. Hays.

    I wish I could list someone from my own tradition (Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ). Many men and women in my church home who have influenced me perhaps more than those of notariety. I think there are some emerging as important thinkers among us, but we shall have to wait and see if their work find its voice in the larger Christian community.

  • Eric Wright

    Alister McGrath, George Eldon Ladd, NT Wright.

  • Austin

    There’s already a very nice list going here, but if I could add anyone it would first of all be John Caputo – his book “The Weakness of God” is a major achievement in postmodern (deconstructive) Christian theology and his influence on key emerging writers like Peter Rollins is enormous.

    Because we are also emphasizing ‘postmodern’, I’m tempted to add Joerg Rieger for his work in post-colonial political theology. His “Christ and Empire” is brilliant, intending to be a post-colonial “Christ and Culture.”

    I could also add Elizabeth Johnson, for obvious reasons I think. I’ll mention Kathryn Tanner again with her post-liberal, feminist, and political theology. She has a number of impressive releases, but her recent “Christ the Key” is fantastic, revealing her as a voice of continuing relevance for the 21st century.

    Catherine Keller is also a big deal right now, increasingly so for the last decade with her unique blend of Derrida, feminism, post-colonial theory, and process thought. Her book “The Face of the Deep” is a profound work of theology on the doctrine of creation that has made her a major name amongst academics. Her “On the Mystery” has made her more popular outside of the academy, particularly with emerging and mainline Christians.

    I don’t mean this in a way to make anyone feel guilty, but if this book is going to be including the ‘post-modern’ (i.e., not just white, male, Western theologians), I think this list probably needs more women theologians like Johnson, Keller, Tanner, C. Pickstock, N. Murphy, etc. Perhaps even more, it could also use some voices from the Global South to reflect the major demographic shifts of Christianity in the post-modern age. Just a thought.

  • John C. Gardner

    Interesting question. I think perhaps you are correct about Lossky since he has had more impact upon the revivival of Eastern Orthodoxy.

  • Timothy

    Colin Gunton was very fashionable in England until his death and still as highly if not more highly regarded than McGrath. Does Gunton not travel well?
    If the inclusion of NT Wright is problematic as he is more biblical studies/historian than theologian, would Richard Bauckham be a possibility? He is less prolific than Wright (who isn’t) but more wideranging.

  • I’m amazed that no one has mentioned George Lindbeck. (I just scanned the comments, so it’s possible that someone did and I missed it). Especially given overt reverence for Barth and the frequent nomination of Hauerwas, it seems like a pretty big oversight. Why?

    • rogereolson

      What has he written besides The Nature of Doctrine (which I consider a seriously flawed book)? I suggest people go back to the source (of postliberalism): Hans Frei. Read The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative and The Identity of Jesus Christ.

      • Well, sure, you can argue that Frei was the better theologian. And no doubt Lindbeck’s theory of truth needs some work. But just in terms of his influence on the later post-liberal tradition, I think he deserves serious consideration. I mean Frei’s theory never really took root, did it? Not that his argument didn’t convince anybody—it did. But how did it really change the way we do theology? Outside of Leithart and the crowd doing commentaries over at Brazos, I can’t see that it has. N.T. Wright is the only serious Biblical scholar I can think of who at first glance looks like he’d been influenced by Frei, but he openly repudiates post-liberal theology. Even Hauerwas’ concentration of narrative, it seems to me, bears greater resemblance to MacIntyre than to Frei. On the other hand, to leap from Barth directly to Hauerwas, without the mediation of Linbeck’s insistence on the practices of the Church as the locus for formation and meaning, seems like a pretty big oversight. So, no, Lindbeck’s probably not the most important theologian of his time, but I think he probably is the most influential thinker in the theological movement that will (has?) become the most important of our time.

        • rogereolson

          A good word for Lindbeck. Thank you. I have never met him, although he was kind of the lead theologian at one of the ecumenical dialogue events I participated in hosted by Braaten and Jenson. Unfortunately, after the first day of the dialogue he was too ill to attend the rest.

  • John Inglis

    I think that to be a viable choice, one that has some possibility of being true in 50 years, the theologian in Question has to have written something on a theological issue that will be impossible not to reference by later theologians.

    Barth fits that, for obvious reasons. That line of thinking was also behind my suggestion of Torrance–it will not be possible to write about the trinity without interacting with his work, and in addition he has written on other topics at a consistently erudite level and in a respectful manner. That kind of written leads to respect and use by other theologians.

    I would like to add to the list: JDG Dunn. He is not, obviously, a systematic theologian but he coined the term “new perspective on Paul” and took preliminary work by Sanders and Stendahl and revolutionized Pauline studies, especially with respect to Pauline theology and issues of justification and the law. Moreover he has written on pneumatology and christology.

    Now it may well be true that subsequent writers will continue to disagree with him, but no one will ignore him or fail to give him credit and so he will stay within the field of past but still visible scholars. In this respect he will become like Barth–who now really is a Barthian as that was at one time understood? But yet who fails to still deal with and grapple with the things that Barth raised.

    I must admit, however, that when I was in Bible college, Dunn was the first real non-traditional scholar that I read and then read again and respected. He was not on the “approved” list, but he wasn’t a “godless liberal” and was someone my profs thought should be interacted with. Reading him opened my mind to the possibilities of knowledge and scholarship and ways of thinking outside of my narrow church background.

    Still, it is a testimony to his importance that articles are still written criticizing his views. And that is part of what I believe makes for longevity–others interacting over decades with ones oeuvre. Popularity with the masses is much more faddish, and when the masses move on to the next great thing, then that theologian is relegated to the dustbins. However, theologians that are not necessarily hugely popular with the masses, but are must reads for the teachers of the masses, those are the ones that survive because the teachers keep referring to them and making their students interact with them.

    Just a few thoughts. It’s interesting reading others’ suggestions.


  • John Inglis

    A great theologian also has to have a substantial impact outside of his continent.
    I just can’t see E. Peterson, or D. MacLaren, or R. Bell, etc. Their thinking is just not strong enough, and if they were left out of footnotes or discussions even today, it would not be felt to be a serious defect in the work.

  • John Inglis

    Further to Dunn, and characteristics of great theologians (which is the next Roger’s post), he is a theologian who is still writing works that people believe must be interacted with. In this light his 2003 Remembering Jesus has become (in less than a decade) the subject of a critical work: Memories of Jesus:
    A Critical Appraisal of James D. G. Dunn’s Jesus Remembered (2010).

    And yes, I’m very enamoured with him, though I do disagree with him a lot, too.

  • Michael