Aim of this Series

This post kicks off a new series on the blog. The title is fairly self evident. My aim is to introduce people to the Top Ten Theologians of church history. Yes, I will rank them in order. I will start with #10 and work my way down to the #1 person I believe to be the greatest theologian. My aim is wrought with danger. I am foolish to attempt ranking the ten greatest theologians. I will leave out some people you think should be in the top ten. I will have some people lower in the list than you might think. I will proceed nonetheless because these people need to be known by the Bride of Christ.

What is a theologian?

A theologian is most simply someone who thinks about God. Is an atheist a theologian? Yes, an atheist has thoughts about God. Their thoughts lead them to the conclusion there is no God, but the Atheist is a theologian. Everyone is a theologian. Are there any Atheists on our Top Ten list? No. That leads me to the Criterion upon which led to the formulation of the Top Ten list.


First, to make the Top Ten list you need to be a Christian theologian. I should have, technically, called this Top Ten Christian Theologians, but I simply opted for a shorter title. Have there been theologians beneficial to humanity who did not have Jesus as their Savior? Yes, but this list seeks a different purpose.

Second, to make it on the Top Ten list you must be a positive influence. Friedrich Schleiermacher was an incredibly influential “Christian” theologian, yet he had a negative influence on orthodox Christianity (what everyone has believed everywhere for all time). I would refer to Schleiermacher ultimately as a heretic. I know, harsh words, but my list of Top Ten Heretics and why each person should bear that title is for another series. Overall, each one of these Top Ten Theologians positively influenced the Church.

Third, each one of these theologians must have had a broad influence in how people understand God. Faithful pastors all over the world help their congregations, through God’s Word, better understand and live for God. The Top Ten Theologians influenced not only their immediate congregations but also positively influenced people all over the world for decades and centuries to come. A man like Charles Spurgeon was a wonderful pastor and biblical teacher but he will not be on the list. I love Spurgeon dearly but these ten men on the list influenced the church at a deeper and wider level than Spurgeon. Spurgeon’s ministry stood on the shoulders of many of the men in this series.

We’ll look at each of these Ten Theologians through a consistent grid:

Their World

First, in order to appreciate each of these Ten Theologians we must have a certain understanding of their world. Our understanding of their influence in their world will help us to be benefited for the sake of our world. Each post in the series will contain enough background information to hopefully allow us to appreciate the setting within which these people lived.

Their Life

To appreciate the Top Ten Theologians we need to examine the life they lived. Many of the Top Ten Theologians experienced tremendous health problems. If you don’t care about the details of their lives you will fail to appreciate what they accomplished through their circumstances.

Their Thoughts

Ultimately, it is their thoughts we are seeking to most understand and appreciate. Many of these people wrote volumes as they meditated upon Scripture. We will spend a considerable portion of every post getting an overview of their influential thoughts.

Their Influence

What has been the influence of each theologian? If their thoughts are a rock falling into a lake, their influence looks at the ripples in the water spreading out from the impact. This is one of the key areas where these people will be set apart from many other people who could have been contenders for the Top Ten list. Why have the thoughts of these people influenced so many?

Their Foibles

A foible is defined as a minor weakness or eccentricity in someone’s character: “they have to tolerate each other’s little foibles”. Only one person who has ever lived deserves worship. Jesus Christ. Each of these ten theologians would fully agree with the previous statement. If you ask any of these people, “Are you perfect?” “Should I worship you or should I worship Jesus?” They would all plead with us to worship the living God.

Each one of the theologians had aspects of their thought and of their lives which I would not recommend you follow. Some acted in ways which would even be criminal at certain times and places. Every human being, if you dig deep enough, will have parts of their life which are not admirable. Every human being desperately needs a living Savior. We will spend time in each post discussing the foibles of every person on the Top Ten list.

Their Effect on Us

We will then spend time explicitly seeing areas where each one of the theologians should positively affect our life. By becoming friends with these theologians my hope and prayer is your thoughts about God and your life lived before God will be the better for the time you spend hanging out with a bunch of dead people.

My list is set. If you made a list right now who would be your Top Ten? Hint, do not add yourself, you will be automatically disqualified. Please post your list in the comments. Up next #10. His name is…


Get the Brand New Top Ten Theologians Book!

Get this series in book form to take notes and give to friends. This 140 page illustrated book provides the breadth of Church History knowledge you need in a format you can actually digest. You’re tired, it’s been a long day, you only have a few minutes of precious reading time. We’ve stripped away the fluff giving you the necessary people, places and events to get you learning from the greats.

About the Reader…

Once you get to know these great theologians from Church History you’ll want to read them in their own words. The reader contains 10-15 page excerpts from the best writings of each theologian. The reader actually allows you to get a feel for the depth and style of each theologian without getting buried by their volumes of works. This is a great place to start before embarking on in-depth reading from these theologians.

Click Here or on the image below to save $5 by getting the Theologians Book and the Reader together.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    50 replies to "Top Ten Theologians: An Introduction"

    • Kevin Davis

      1. Karl Barth
      2. John Calvin
      3. Martin Luther
      4. Augustine
      5. Thomas Aquinas
      6. Augustine
      7. Hans Urs von Balthasar
      8. Anselm of Canterbury
      9. Athanasius
      10. Herman Bavinck

    • Kevin Davis

      Oops, I put Augustine twice. Let’s put Irenaeus of Lyons on the list.

    • Ben Thorp

      I’m not going to post a list, but I wanted to say how excited I am about this series. (Actually, I wanted to say *squee* but thought that might be misunderstood 😉 )

    • Bernard A. Rosario

      In no particular order: D. A. Carson, Augustine, Martin Luther, John calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Athanasius, J. I. Packer, Wayne Grudem, John Owen, Thomas Oden.

      Naming theologians is somehow easy but choosing the top ten is challenging. I am actually unsure of my list.

    • J Kanz

      I agree with Ben, I am very excited about this series. (I’m not Lutheran, but) If Luther isn’t number 1, I think you will be wrong. 🙂

    • jim

      Looking forward to this: Though I must admit I’m not too familar with a few of them.
      My list of top 5 would be:
      1. Luther
      2. Aquinas
      3. Augustine
      4. Edwards
      5. Barth

      I left Calvin out on purpose……for purely human emotional reasons nothing logical or practical….I am a flawed human being.

    • Rick

      I will take:
      Basil (or any one of the Cap. gang)
      J. Wesley

      (also receiving votes: Anselm, Gregory the Great, Edwards, Barth, Wright)

    • Phil McCheddar

      Hi Tim . . . I think you may have given us a hint about your choice of 10 from the logo at the top of this thread. I think I can spot John Calvin, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and Karl Barth.

    • Rick

      Phil #8-

      It will be interesting to see how many come from Tim’s specific, Reformation and post-Reformation, theological branch of the tree.

      If he includes those 4, that means he only has 6 spots left for the other 1,500 years of church history.

    • Brian Gronewoller

      I hope that Gregory Nazianzus and/or Cyril of Alexandria make the list. We often ignore them in the West, but they are extremely important figures in the development of Trinitarianism and Christology, respectively. Gregory and the other Cappadocians were a major influence upon Augustine’s understanding of the Trinity. In 451 he Gregory was also given the title “Theologian”, a title only given to two others (John the Apostle and Symeon the New Theologian).

    • Brian Gronewoller

      @Rick: I love all of the patristics that you have on your list, but I would argue against Ambrose and Irenaeus. Neither were particularly innovative or original in their theology. Ambrose was an impeccable rhetorician, but not nearly as theologically sophisticated as Origen or Augustine. Irenaeus specialized in heresiology, but I haven’t read much of his work that is constructive.

    • Aaron Walton

      It slightly surprises me that several people have mentioned Karl Barth. Most people I know cringe at his name… yet again most people I know are fundamentalists.

      I myself have found good benefit in reading him and would be happy to see him make it to the list.

    • Rick

      Brian #11-

      I included those two because of their overall influence, not necessarily based on their original thought(s).

    • William W. Birch

      10. Augustine
      9. Barth
      8. Arminius
      7. Irenaeus
      6. Wesley
      5. Luther
      4. Calvin
      3. Anselm
      2. Athanasius
      1. Aquinas

      (No cracks from the Arminian Peanut Gallery about me, of all people, placing Arminius behind Calvin and Luther, lol. I was trying to be objective in light of the criteria mentioned in the post. Augustine comes last because, IMO, he had some rather negative theological and orthopraxical — did I just coin a word? — effects on the Church.)

    • Rick

      William #14-

      “Augustine comes last because, IMO, he had some rather negative theological and orthopraxical — did I just coin a word? — effects on the Church.)”

      Interesting thought. A negative to one person may be a positive to another, and impact the lists of both.
      However, Tim seems to be limiting his “negatives” to more heretical issues.

    • William W. Birch


      Yes, I thought about the heresy aspect of “negativity,” but I thought so even of Augustine, whom some refer to as the father of Roman Catholicism.

    • Aaron Walton


      I actually thought of the negative things I picked up from Augustine (and since then, have discarded): extreme asceticism (which has rejection of enjoying anything including food, music etc.), low view of marriage/women, et cetera.

      Despite these bad things, I did recover quite well. Now I do not fear to enjoy food (lest I enjoy it for itself), but can enjoy food knowing that God enjoys its quality and can enjoy it the same way he does, etc.. (I like to think other people enjoy food on this basis too, but have come to find it generally untrue. 🙁 ).

      As for women quoting Chrysostom is worth while: “The gift of God… is insulted. …I am desirous of having marriage purified, so to bring it back again to its proper nobleness, so as to stop the mouth of heretics…”

    • Jay

      Unfortunately I do not have enough knowledge about church history to make a list. This should be good for me.

    • Lagniappe

      10. James P. Boyce
      9. Wm. Ames
      8. Francis Schaeffer
      7. J.I. Packer
      6. R.C Sproul
      5. Wayne Grudem
      4. John Owens
      3. Jonathan Edwards
      2. Augustine of Hippo
      1. John Calvin

    • Melody Hanson

      I appreciate this quite a lot. I am wondering, if you can possibly suggest even three of your top female theologians? Or do you not read them?

    • Jeff Ayers

      No surprises here about the list of primarly Reformed theologians. As if they are the epitome of exegesis, systematic theology and doctrine. Has anyone actually READ Arminius?

      I found a comment I heard from Zane Hodges most insightful, when speaking of a prominent (un-named) theologian of the 20th century, who said “my biggest regret after writing dozens of books, and spending 50 years in academia, is that I spent so much time studying what other theologians had to say about the Bible, rather than studying the Bible itself”. He went on to say, that the majority of Theologians are guilty of this travesty.

      Also, I am very interested to hear from Melody about this list of women theologians. I have never heard of any except in liberal denominations and their associated colleges. All the women who speak on theological topics are (seemingly) invariably devotional and applicational, Joni Erickson Tada, Kay Arthur etc.

      I have heard it jokingly said a female theologian is an…

    • Aaron Walton

      To Jeff Ayers:

      A comment on Zane Hodges. Zane Hodges ignored all of church history and came to interpretations never seen before by anyone who has ever lived. For example, he says you need to interpret James 2 by starting with verse 26. (It is a shame James did not start there!) The end result has been bad theology. The idea that he does not read other theologians is cute, but the end result is that he ignored the illegitimacy of his positions. I think he is right in that one should read the Bible, but it is proud to ignore all those who went before us. As Karl Barth said, we are to honor our mother and our father, this includes our theological fathers and mothers.

      Also, the idea that we only read the Bible ignores the fact that talking to people (which is what we do when we read, basically) influences our theology in the same way.

    • Jeff Ayers

      @aaron walton

      Touched a nerve did we?

      You missed the point of the post entirely.

      Also, provide proof of your slander: you falsely said “Zane Hodges ignored all of church history.” prove it or retract it.

      you erroneously said: “The idea that he does not read other theologians is cute,” what lunacy. If you have ever read any of his books, his quotes of theologians and church fathers are extensive. Prove your vitreolic rant or publicly apologise.

      If you dont like his hermeneutical approach of James 2, wonderful. who cares.

      My post was to point out the fact that MANY if not MOST theologians will have 100 footnotes of what other theologians say to 1 exgesis of the actual text.

      my, my, my, how the Lordship, calvinistic and anti dispensational crowd hate poor Zane.

    • Kevin Fitzgibbon

      Dear Tim,

      You are such a tease.



    • Aaron Walton

      To Jeff:
      I do ask for pardon that I had no intention to offend.
      In reply to your post, one it is possible to read or quote someone and ignore them. Second, it was a bit hyperbola to say “all church history”. Please excuse the hyperbola.

      I do not wish to argue the issue regarding Zane Hodges, so I will leave it there. However, I will make the comment though that I think his gospel was not the gospel of Jesus Christ–making him a dangerous heretic. That is why we do not like Zane. (People who agree with him also call my position a false gospel). Point is, the issue is the gospel. It is worth arguing.

      Regarding the point of your post, in my experience it is also illegitimate. However, this may be on the basis of who we read. Either the theologians I read stick well to the text, or if they quote other authors the quotes quite worth while to understand the text. So perhaps that is just in your experience.

    • jim

      Are there any female theologians of note!

      If not, I beg to ask Why Not!

      Or does this fall under the the woman role in the church extending into only men have that authority or the mind equipped to discuss or write about important matters. Just asking?

    • Ed Kratz

      I’m a bit scared to have this much debate after just writing my introduction! Let’s please remember Satan is the enemy, not each other, and be kind/considerate to each other. We’re all made in the Lord’s image. We can discuss things but not at the expense of each others dignity.

      Regarding women. I will not have any women on my top ten list. I don’t believe this is derogatory, there are many great female thinkers in the history of the church. Wonderful modern examples would be Dorothy Sayers, Nancy Pearcey, and Joni Eareckson Tada to name just a few. Biblical and Church History are filled with amazing women. There have simply, unfortunately, not been any women who have influenced the church at such theological levels as the top ten theologians. They may have thought just as deeply (or deeper) and been just as orthodox (or orthodoxer if that’s a word) as the top ten but have just not been as influential at the same level.

    • Victor

      My top ten Theologians:
      1 Aquinas
      2 Bonaventure
      3 Augustine
      4 Scotus
      5 Ockham
      6 Anselm
      7 Clement of Alexandria
      8 Barth
      9 Zizioulas
      10 Rahner

    • John W. Loftus

      What about the top ten atheologians? 😉

    • Bill

      Tim Kimberly: A bold idea to post a list of the top 10. I like it! My ideas — well, if we’re talking about theologians as per your explain given, my question is: would this list exclude Biblical writers? Jesus, ouf ocurse, had no foibles; but the other “greats” of the Bible, where do these fit in? Afterwards and in no order of priority I’d suggest: Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, CS Lewis; Calvin, Pope John Paul II, Anselm, René Descartes, Tyndale, Thomas More.

    • Steve Martin

      Lot’s of terrific theologians mentioned here.

      My favorite is one that I do not think was mentioned;

      Gerhard Forde.

      Really great Christ centered stuff. Google him and try a book or two.

    • Jeff Ayers

      1. Jesus Christ (as the revelator of the mysteries)
      2. Paul the Apostle
      3. Simon Peter
      4. John the beloved
      5. Jude
      6. James the brother of John (who wrote the epistle of James- not Jesus’ half brother)
      7. Matthew
      8. Moses
      9. Solomon
      10. Isaiah

      What men knew God better, wrote of Him more succinctly and elaborated on the essence of who God is IN THE ORIGINAL languages more than these men?

      The lists of men above are second rate commentators at best (most of them are Catholic, Supralapsarians, baptismal regenerationalists, lose your salvation (conditional soteriologists), amillennial, Bible correcting, baby sprinkling works salvationists) and may have been a shining light in their day, but were really 2.5 watt bulbs when it came to true exegesis and esposition of the texts of the 10 men in my list.

    • Aaron Walton

      I was reading a book today and thought of you… The author writes:
      “I am amazed that a man like you would go to these conventions,” said a man to his pastor once. “What new thing can these convention speakers tell you? It’s all in the New Testament.” “Yes,” he replied, “that’s the trouble; and we have left these things in the New Testament; now we want to get them out of the New Testament; and into our hearts and lives.”

      I appreciate your desire for the importance of the Scriptures. I really do. However, the scriptures themselves do not change men. All the work is done by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit used Paul to be a medium of his work. He used all these men as mediums of his work. Please do not object to us respecting other men whom he has used–even if their doctrine is not perfect. These men have been used by the Holy Spirit to get the Scriptures into our heart. I thank God that he sends men to us when we are too dull to hear him through his word!

    • Bud S.

      1. Augustine
      2. Martin Luther
      3. Martin Chemnitz
      4. CFW Walther
      5. Franz Pieper

    • My list:

      1. Augustine
      2. Athanasius
      3. Jerome
      4. John Chrysostom
      5. Gregory the Great
      6. Gregory of Nanzianzus
      7. Anselm
      8. Aquinas
      9. Basil the Great
      10. Ambrose

      I purposefully left off the anyone past the 11th century or so, because of the multiple schisms of Christendom. As an Anglo-Lutheran Evangelical Catholic, I was tempted to add Luther, Melanchthon, Cranmer etc…, but I like Thomas Oden’s take that the Reformers were in their way trying to reflect the classical Christian consensus, which is reflected on my list. Because I am a Western Christian, I have added Aquinas and Anselm. If Eastern, they would probably be replaced by John of Damascus and Gregory Palamas.

      While I appreciate the contributions of modern theologians such as Packer, Timothy Ware, etc…I hesitate to add anyone in in the past 100-200 years or so because history is still out on them. Lewis might be an exception here, as he seems to be fairly well-received across all branches of orthodox Christendom, as is Chesterton in the West.

    • Amaury K. Hernández

      1.- Agustín de Hipona
      2.- Anselmo de Canterbury
      3.- Juan Calvino
      4.- Jonathan Edwards
      5.- Tomas de Aquino
      6.- R.C. Sproul
      7.- C.S. Lewis
      8.- Augustus H. Strong
      9.- Norman Geisler
      10.- Ronald Nash

    • Vicky

      Great idea!

    • Kevin Sam

      To lump the new (e.g. Barth, Edwards, etc.) with the old (Luther, Calvin, Augustine) makes it very difficult so a separate my top ten into two lists (NOT in any particular order):

      From antiquity to Reformation:

      Post-Reformation and Modern:
      Karl Barth
      Norman Geisler
      C.F.W. Walther
      J.I. Packer
      R.C. Sproul
      Jonathan Edwards
      John T. Mueller
      Helmut Thiellicke
      Wolfhart Pannenberg

    • […] at the Parchment & Pen blog, they’ve started a new interesting series called “Top Ten Theologians” […]

    • […] God and all his aspect. But that is a real generic usage but suitable for this piece. As I read, Tim Kimberley’s Top Ten Theologians, I see how these great men have not only changed the church but society as a whole. The theologian […]

    • The Idler

      Sir, a most fascinating series here – but oh! our dear St. Thomas is only at #6?! How can this be??? Regardless, for amusement and discussion’s sake, I will throw in my two pence, and give thee my picks as well (though I have not the time to put them all in order, mind):

      1. St. Thomas Aquinas
      2. St. Augustine of Hippo
      3. St. Bonaventure
      4. Origen
      5. St. Bernard of Clairvaux
      6. C.S. Lewis
      7. William Lane Craig
      8. St. Francis de Sales
      9. St. Anselm of Canterbury
      10. St. Hildegard of Bingen

    • Paige-Patric Samuels

      There is much in the way of how individuals see theologians as the who, who, in the hall-walk of fame much fuss is made that if you are not reformed you were treated as odd and with suspect So who is my top ten:

      St Augustine of Hippo
      Thomas Aquinas
      Origen of Alexandra
      J.I Packer
      John Calvin
      Karl Barth
      The Apostle Paul
      Fridedrich Schieliermacher

    • Father WJS Martin

      1. Plato
      2. Aristotle
      3. Origen
      4. Plotinus
      4. Athanasius
      5. Augustine
      6. Eriugena
      7. Anselm
      8. Thomas Aquinas
      9. Hans Urs Von Balthasar
      10. Austin Farrer

    • Erick Dieppa

      Thank you for your entire time & execute. Being a Beginner, I am frequently doing a search on the internet with regard to posts that may be of be an aid to me.

    • Ricky Rieffer

      Inventive writing capability provides influenced me, thanks !

    • Jody Zammit

      Certainly some impressive lists here but it is concerning the lack of female theologians. I could name some who interpret scripture through a feminist liberal lens. Has anyone ever read Morna Hooker I think she would make your lists (she would be on mine). How about someone like Charlotte von Kirschbaum who helped Barth with theological insight.

    • Sadly, it seems Emil Brunner has been forgotten! He would be perhaps in my top ten! But Augustine, Luther and Calvin, would be my first three.

      Btw, David Wenham’s book: Paul, Follower of Jesus or Founder of Christianity? Is just one of my so-called modern fav’s!

      Blaise Pascal’s, The Provincial Letters, of course with his Pensees are spiritual must reads!

    • Roger


    • Mootoo

      Interesting to see how ones theological views play out in ones list! Here’s mine (I’m a black and Latino inner city pastor)

      Saint Paul
      Richard Allen
      James Cone

      If I had another slot I’d put my grandparents!!!

    • sorenmad

      My list is biased toward people I see as most relevant to our time

      1) Kierkegaard

      2) Dostoevsky

      3) Pascal

      4) Bonhoeffer

      5) Ellul

      6) Rahner

      7) Nicolas of Cusa

      8) Wittgenstein (probably not a believer, but very insightful and respectful regarding Christianity)

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