Orthodoxy Hall of Fame
Periodically, we've been asked to name who we believe were "the greatest theologians who ever lived."
First of all, what is a "theologian"? According to my dictionary, it is "a person well-versed in theology." According to that definition, there have been a ton of theologians since the world began. Every true preacher down through history has been a theologian. But most who ask this question are thinking of those so-called "great theologians" whose writings have been preserved down through history.
Let us think about the true church down through history, especially since the closing of the canon. Up until very modern times, when anybody can publish anything, what did it take to be "well-known," especially to be published and distributed? It took two things: (1) One had to be popular, and/or (2) One had to have a lot of money. Think about those who preached the true gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Christ, who uncompromisingly called all who confessed a false gospel and spoke peace to those who confessed a false gospel to be unregenerate, and who did not fellowship with or endorse any of these people. Question 1: Were they popular? Question 2: Did they have a lot of money? We know that the answer to #1 was, in all cases, NO. They were the ones who were marginalized by the popular "church" of the time. They were called cultic, mean-spirited, judgmental, exclusivist, etc., etc. They were not part of the mainstream. They were outside the camp of self-righteous religion. Think of a great theologian during this time -- a true preacher of the true gospel who was well-versed in theology. How would he become well-known if he were marginalized? How would he become well-known if he called the mainstream "church" a whore and a synagogue of Satan? How would anything he wrote be widely published and distributed? If he did write something and put it into print, would it get widely distributed? Of course not. The writings would die. Would his writings be reprinted over and over again like the works of the well-known writers? Of course not. Only the popular things got reprinted. Now for the answer to #2. It is possible that a true preacher had a lot of money -- certainly not through preaching but through money that was left to him, for example. Then he could use his own money (or the money of a wealthy Christian in his congregation) to publish and distribute. So I am not ruling out the possibility that a true Christian's works have been widely published. But this would have been a rarity. So my conclusion is that from the closing of the canon to the time when there was cheap printing and mass distribution, we don't know who the "great theologians" were. Each theologian was "great" to his own congregation and to any congregation near enough so he could travel to preach or so he could write them letters. So to think that we have to have a list of "great theologians" whose books are now still in print is ridiculous. In fact, if they have remained popular down through history, then it puts up a red flag for me.
Having said that, I actually do have a list of the 32 greatest theologians that I know about, in alphabetical order:
Amos, Asaph, Daniel, David, Ezekiel, Habakkuk, Haggai, Hosea, Isaiah, James, Jeremiah, Job, Joel, John, Jonah, Jude, Lemuel, Luke, Malachi, Mark, Matthew, Micah, Moses, Nahum, Nehemiah, Obadiah, Paul, Peter, Samuel, Solomon, Zechariah, Zephaniah.
This is an Orthodoxy Hall of Fame that is second to none.