Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Contest: The Top Living Theologians

In 2001 Time magazine named Stanley Hauerwas as “America’s Best Theologian.” Hauerwas famously replied that “best” is not a theological category. He’s right–not just being modest–but maybe we can take “best” as a short-hand for “faithful, creative, and extraordinarily helpful in providing insight for the church’s teaching and living.” And we in the churches should honor those who are that kind of “great teacher,”–and not just when they are dead, even though the test of time is hugely important.

So, how about it theo-bloggers and biblio-bloggers and interested others? Without necessarily ranking them exactly, who would make the cut among “top living theologians?” We can define “theologian” broadly to include biblical scholars and ethicists and theologically-interested philosophers and church historians. Pastor-theologians and bishops are fair game if they have written materials that are influential, not just restricting ourselves to tenured academics. One major rule: You have to have actually read (or heard sermons or papers by) the person(s) you nominate. That way we might try this again in a year or two and see if people’s selections change based on new reading.

Let’s make two categories for entries: Global (list up to 10 living theologians from around the world that you consider the most important), and National (list up to 5 “best” living theologians in one’s home nation). You can give reasons for your choices, but keep them brief–two sentences at most. (That’s a hard restriction for me!) The results won’t settle anything, but may get us all reading people we aren’t reading now and thereby increase the parameters of our theological conversations. At any rate, I thought it might prove fun. My entries are below–and I won’t attempt to rank them beyond having made the top 10 and top 5 categories.

Global: Top Living Theologians From Around the World

  • Jürgen Moltmann (German Reformed ) If “best” WERE a theological category, Moltmann would have my vote for best living theologian, period.
  • Hans Küng (German Catholic).
  • Wolfhart Pannenberg (German Lutheran).
  • Desmond Tutu, Archbishop of Capetown (Church of the Province of Southern Africa–Anglican), retired.
  • Mercy Amba Odoyuye (Ghana, Protestant [Methodist?] feminist theologian and ecumenical leader)
  • Leonardo Boff (Brazilian Catholic), one of the most brilliant and compassionate of liberation theologians. Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) silenced him in 1985 for his book, The Church: Charism and Power, showing that THIS pope needs theology lessons from Boff. He left the Franciscan order and the priesthood in 1992 when Rome threatened to silence him a second time in order to prevent him from attending the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
  • Jon Sobrino, S.J. (Spanish-born Jesuit liberation theologian in El Salvador)–the voice of El Salvador’s Christian poor.
  • José Miguéz Bonino (Methodist liberation theologian from Argentina).
  • Paul Fiddes (English Baptist), Principal of Regent’s Park College, Oxford University.
  • Nicholas Lash (English Catholic), a laicized former priest who is now married; former Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. Creative, brilliant, post-liberal.

United States: Top Living U. S. Theologians.

  • Stanley Hauerwas (Methodist–or is he now Episcopalian?). Time is hardly the best judge of these things, but this time they got lucky and definitely picked one of, if not “the” most important current theologians. Hauerwas, by his own admission, writes sloppily and with much hyperbole–and deliberately seeks to provoke. So, I find him annoying, frustrating, and irritating–and also wonderful with some of the best theological instincts I’ve seen anywhere.
  • Miroslav Volf (Croatian born Pentecostal turned Presbyterian).
  • James H. Cone (Methodist–Pioneer in Black Liberation Theology).
  • J. Deotis Roberts( Baptist–The other great pioneer in Black Liberation Theology).
  • George Hunsinger (Presbyterian–Barthian pacifist and political radical).

Well, those are my picks, although I am leaving out MANY “runner ups.” I look forward to reading your picks–and critiques of mine.

December 9, 2006 Posted by | theology | 26 Comments