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Christian Theologians: 21 Important Thinkers Leading the Way

Christian Theologians: 21 Important Thinkers Leading the Way
Christian theologians write about the God of the Bible, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and teach us about His essence, character and more.

THEOLOGY is the way we think about God.

Christian theologians write about the God of the Bible, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost and teach us about His essence, character, revelation, and commandments. All this informs our understanding so that we can approach and worship Him in the right way.

Obviously, there were no Christian Theologians before Jesus. It was only when His ministry was affirmed by His Resurrection, and He was seated at the right hand of the Father that His divinity became the subject of study.

This study began in the 1st century and continues to the present day. Some centuries were filled with Christian theologians, others have few or none. The ones presented here are orthodox/evangelical theologians.

These have been the vast majority until the 20th century when the statistics are reversed; most who now identify themselves as Christian theologians can do so only by putting quotation marks around the word “Christian.”

Christian theologians: 21 important thinkers anointed to shed light and understanding on Jesus and the Bible. One for each century. (Those marked with an * have short bios in SPIRITUAL LIVES)

Christian Theologians up to 500 ADS: within the Roman Empire.

Apostle Paul of Tarsus* (died c. 60–65) was the first and greatest Christian theologian. His theology came from revelation and has become a part of the New Testament.

His most important contribution is the revelation of who the Lord Jesus Christ is:

Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:
And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.
And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. Colossians 1:15-18
Irenaeus* (130-202) was the first to identify and fight heresies and carefully designated the Lord Jesus as the starting point in the history of salvation:
“For inasmuch as He had a pre-existence as a saving Being, it was necessary that what might be saved should also be called into existence, in order that the Being who saves should not exist in vain. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, III.22.3.

Origen* of Alexandria (c. 184 – 254) was the first great Bible teacher. He saw both the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and wrote 6,000 books giving him enormous influence.

He insisted on the plainly stated doctrines of the Bible, such as the Virgin Birth, the atonement of Jesus on the Cross and His bodily Resurrection.

John Chrysostom (347–407) was archbishop of Constantinople and a gifted speaker (“Chrysostom” means “golden-mouthed” in Greek). He gave hundreds of homilies and wrote many prayers, still used today. Notable is his TEACHING ON HOMOSEXUALITY:

All these affections then were vile, but chiefly the mad lust after males; for the soul is more the sufferer in sins, and more dishonored, than the body in diseases. … [The men] have done an insult to nature itself.
And a yet more disgraceful thing than these is it, when even the women seek after these intercourses, who ought to have more sense of shame than men.

Christian Theologians 501 to 1000: from the fall of Rome to the end of the first millennium.

This span of 500 years began with a large group of educated people which steadily decreased until the 10th century, an age of violence, ignorance, and fear. There was wide expectation that the world would end in the year 1000.

Boethius* (c. 477–525) “the last Roman,” translated the works of Aristotle and Plato into Latin with a commentary of his own.

He used this learning to write on the doctrine of the Trinity and the nature of Christ.
It is from Boethius that we get the terms used in explaining the human and divine nature of Christ, namely “substance,” “nature,” and “person.”

He adapted the idea of the Great Chain of Being to Christianity, where it became universally accepted as a reality during the Middle Ages. Boethius’ contribution was introducing God and the Christian concepts of authority into the structure.

It positioned man in the chain as an important link and provided a rationale for understanding the human condition:

“Indeed, the condition of human nature is just this; man towers above the rest of creation so long as he realizes his own nature, and when he forgets it, he sinks lower than the beasts. For other living things to be ignorant of themselves, is natural; but for man it is a defect.” –― BOETHIUS, THE CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY

Gregory the Great (540–604) strengthened the Papacy and used his office to encourage missionary efforts in northern Europe.

The pagan Anglo-Saxons in Britain were converted, and the church of England was revitalized.

He made LITURGICAL REFORMS AND STANDARDIZED WORSHIP throughout the West. At the same time, he asserted papal authority over France and Spain, firmly establishing Rome as the most important city in the western world.

He saw the dangers of temporal power corrupting spirituality and wrote

“Whoever calls himself universal bishop, or desires this title, is, by his pride, the precursor to the Antichrist.”

John Calvin called him “the last good Pope.”

Bede* (672/673–735) is “the father of English history.” His great work, a history of the church in England, begins with the introduction of Christianity into England by the Romans and is the first book to use A.D. dating.

The most learned man of his time, Bede spent his life in constant prayer, obedience to the monastic discipline, and the study of the Bible. He wrote his first book when he was 30 and completed 60 throughout his life. Most of these were on the Bible, which he translated into the Anglo-Saxon language.

Bede became a pioneer in the long stream of faithful men whose lives were dedicated to putting God’s Word into language of the common people.

Paschasius Radbertus (785–865) wrote the first long work on the Lord’s Supper, De Corpore et Sanguine Domini (written between 831 and 833). Here he asserts that Jesus’ words “this is My body” are to be taken literally and that the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, contains the actual body and blood of Christ.

At first this was a matter of theological discussion/debate with those who saw the Lord’s Supper as symbolic, but later his understanding of TRANSUBSTANTIATION became a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, and acceptance of it necessary for salvation and that anyone who denies this doctrine is to be anathema (cursed).

During the Inquisition denying Transubstantiation was a capital offence!

Johannes Scotus Eriugena (810–877), or John the Scott, saw the Eucharist as totally symbolic. But his great contribution to theology was De Divisione Naturae (The Division of Nature), which has been called the “final achievement” of ancient philosophy, a work that “synthesizes the philosophical accomplishments of fifteen centuries.”

The principal concern of DE DIVISIONE NATURAE is to unfold from ΦΎΣΙΣ (nature), which the Scot defines as “all things which are and which are not”, the entire integrated structure of reality.

Eriugena achieves this through a dialectical method elaborated through exitus (outgoing) and reditus (re-entry), that interweaves the structure of the human mind and reality as produced by the ΛΌΓΟΣ (word or text) of God.

If I understand this correctly, (and that is a big “if”), he asserts that no one can know God except through His creation which exists apart from Him but which He is evident in. All things were created via the LOGOS and when we are born again, this Logos reveals Him in our hearts.

“We do not know what God is. God, Himself does not know what He is because He is not anything. Literally, God is not, because HE TRANSCENDS BEING.

Olga of Kyiv*(890-969) was a Viking princess and a product of this pagan culture. At age 13 she married the king of Kyiv, bore him a son, and became regent when the king died.

Shortly after, Olga met the Emperor in Constantinople and became a Christian. This was not popular with the pagan people, and her son refused to convert.

Olga persisted in her faith and brought up her grandson in the faith. When he took the throne, 19 years after her death, Russia adopted Christianity as the state religion.

Olga decided to follow Jesus, even though her people remained pagans. She was faithful even when her son rejected our Lord, but she persevered, and through her testimony, the door was opened for hundreds of millions of Russians to come to Jesus! Her theology was her faithful life and testimony.

Christian Theologians 1001 to 1500: the Middle Ages

These 500 years stretched from the huddling of people of learning in monasteries through the construction of magnificent gothic cathedrals and on to the light of reawakening learning and the brilliant art of the Renaissance and faith of the Reformation.

Anselm* (1033–1109) was a brilliant scholar and approached life’s issues with this governing principle:

For I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand.
For I believe this: unless I believe, I will not understand.

Anselm approached philosophy via the works of Boethius and Augustine, who had been the principal intellectual liaisons between Aristotle, Plato, and the Greeks and Christianity. He applied reason to what he believed and is famous for his statement of the “ontological argument” for the existence of God. In essence, this says that God must exist because we can conceive of Him.

Anselm wrote many learned dialogues and was the father of “scholasticism,” the approach to learning characterized as a method of critical though, where questions and doctrines were discussed, and reasoning used to resolve difficulties and contradictions.
It became the basis for the development of the university, and Anselm’s abbey became the first great center of learning in Europe in the 11th century.

His emphasis on thought and reason minimized and/or simply bypassed Scripture and thereby established an intellectual culture that bound together all of Western Europe but at the same time created a wide divide between the clergy (at that time most educated people) and the common people.

This GREAT divide remains with us to this day, and nearly all western philosophers and theologians have elevated reason and “critical thinking” above revelation and the written Word of God.

Peter Lombard (c. 1096–1159) was a teacher, writer, and BISHOP OF PARIS. He wrote the Four Books of Sentences, which became the standard textbook of theology at the medieval universities.

All the major medieval thinkers were influenced by it. Even Martin Luther wrote glosses on the Sentences, John Calvin quoted from it over 100 times in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.

It stands out as the first major effort to bring together commentaries on the full range of theological issues, arrange the material in a systematic order, and attempt to reconcile them where they defended different viewpoints.

Thomas Aquinas* (1224–1274) was the foremost scholar and philosopher of the Middle Ages. The leading scholastic of his time, Aquinas married Christian thought with Aristotle’s and the Greeks’ and formulated what became known as Natural Law.

The volume of his work is tremendous, but the Summa theologiae, a systematic theological instruction book in the Christian faith is the one he is remembered for.
Originally intended as a starting point for his students, the Summa has become the foundational basis for Roman Catholic theology and doctrine to the present time.

Catherine of Siena (1347–1380) was a writer, MYSTIC, AND INFLUENTIAL TEACHER in the Roman Catholic Church. She had her first vision of Christ when she was 5 or 6 and shortly after vowed to live her whole life for God.

She wrote of her “mystical marriage with Christ” at age 21 and lived in silence at times eating nothing but the Eucharist in her desire to attain “incorporeal union with God.”

She had many visions of saints which encouraged her to write Her major treatise is The Dialogue of Divine Providence. It is a dialogue between a soul who “rises up” to God and God Himself. She dictated it to her secretaries while in mystic ecstasy.

She was close to the Pope and influenced him to move back to Rome from Avignon.

She was canonized and made a Doctor of the Church. She opened the door to mysticism in the church.

Critics are alarmed by her bypassing of Scripture, acceptance of strange doctrines, and visions of saints.

After Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon (1497–1560) was the MOST PROMINENT THEOLOGIAN of the Protestant Reformation. Melanchthon’s education was quite different from Luther’s. Luther was raised in medieval methodology, whereas Melanchthon’s early education was steeped in the new humanism.

In 1519, Melanchthon even helped Luther in his debate with Johann Eck over the issue of sola Scriptura and the authority of Scripture.
A few years later, Luther wrote: “Master Philip, he cuts with the precision of a knife. I simply swing the ax.”

He was the first systematic theologian of Protestantism, and the author of the AUGSBURG CONFESSION, the most significant document of the Reformation.

Christian Theologians 1501 to 2022

These were centuries of reformation, revolution, and sudden change. The age of faith was followed by the age of reason, then enlightenment and romanticism. Skepticism and unbelief were followed by evangelism and revival and modernism by charismatic outpourings of blessings and faith.

Francis de Sales (1567–1622) was gentle MAN OF PIETY AND LOVE. His motto was, He who preaches with love, preaches effectively.”

His numerous controversial tracts are unfailingly courteous to his opponents. Many Christians who are not at all convinced of the truth of the Romanist position by his arguments nevertheless read him with delight because of his obvious love for God and his neighbor.

His best-known and best-loved treatises were concerned with the life of prayer and were written to advise those who wish to become more aware of the presence of God in their lives. His Introduction to the Devout Life was highly praised by John Wesley, C.S. Lewis, and even Pentecostal and other evangelical Christians.

What must not be forgotten is that his “CONVERSION” was the result of his prayer to Mary to intercede for him and that he experienced an appearance of St. Francis of Assis.
He consecrated himself to the BLESSED VIRGIN MARY and wrote on the perfections of the heart of Mary as the model of love for God.

John Owen (1616-1683) “was without doubt not only the greatest theologian of the English PURITAN movement but also one of the greatest European Reformed theologians of his day, and quite possibly possessed the finest theological mind that England ever produced” (“Owen, John”, in Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals, p. 494)

His most influential work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (1647), when Owen was 31 years old, is an exhaustive treatment and defense of the doctrine of limited atonement.

The power of his theology is summed up in HIS EPITAPH:

“In polemical theology, with more than herculean strength, he strangled three poisonous serpents, the Arminian, the Socinian, and the Roman.” (Translated from the Latin by J.I. Packer)

John Wesley (1703–1791) was the greatest preacher of his time. An evangelical Anglican, he and his brother Charles ministered to the common people and encouraged others to preach the Gospel, often in fields and out of doors. He also ministered to the social needs of the people, those in poverty, in prison and about to be executed.

He opposed Calvinism and preached that “whosoever will” may come to Jesus and be saved. His scholarship and theology were as powerful and deep as Owen’s, and he too believed in sanctification and an ongoing quest for perfection.

But his greatest contribution was his evangelical teaching and doctrine that were a part of Methodism.

Today there are over 75 million Methodists but millions more in the groups inspired by him like the Holiness movement, Pentecostalism, and the Charismatic Christians of all denominations.

Albert Benjamin Simpson (1843–1919) was a great leader, organizer, writer, and theologian. Originally ordained in Canada’s Presbyterian Church, his life’s work and ministry were within the Holiness movement.

He proclaimed DIVINE HEALING as a promise of the scriptures and a gift of the Spirit active today. He himself was healed of a serious heart ailment in 1881 and overwhelmed by the presence of God. After this he determined:

First, healing was in the Word of God, and he would never doubt it.
Secondly, that he committed his physical well-being to Christ and would depend on Jesus to keep him.
Third, that he would speak about healing and minister in any way God called him to.

Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) was a Presbyterian pastor and writer described as ‘the last MODERN THEOLOGIAN‘ but opposed to modernism. He stood by the historic faith of the Reformation and the inerrancy of the Bible and its power to speak to all the problems of our modern age:

If Christianity is really true, then it involves the whole man, including his intellect and creativeness. Christianity is not just “dogmatically” true or “doctrinally” true. Rather, it is true to what is there, true in the whole area of the whole man in all of life.” – (Art and the Bible)

While speaking strongly against abortion and other social evils in What Ever Became of the Human Race? He saw comfort and strength in the church and believed that beauty and art had a vital role in the Christian life.

Wayne Grudem (born 1948) is a scholar, theologian, author, and Bible editor. (ESV) He has written a systematic theology advocating Calvinism, the inerrancy of the Bible and complementarianism.

He believes the gifts of the spirit are available and active today and advocates reuniting the Calvinist, evangelical and charismatic churches. He is the outstanding THEOLOGIAN OF THE 21ST CENTURY.

Christian theologians conclusions

Christianity to some is as simple as a John 3:16 poster at a football game, and that is it in a nutshell. But living Christianity, building its institutions, and developing its leaders is more complex. Thank God for the wise thinkers, teachers, and leaders He has given us to help us worship Him and build His church.

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