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500 Years of Famous American Theologians

Famous American Theologians: 500 year Epic of Amazing Grace, Love & Truth

The United States has the largest Christian population in the world with 230 to 250 million Christians.

How did that happen? Surely, it was the work of God, but He used to Holy Spirit to inspire men and women, just as He did to create the Bible.

There have been thousands of such holy preachers of the Gospel, but here are twenty-one of the most famous.

American Theologians of the 17th Century

1. William Brewster (1566–1644) came to America on the Mayflower in 1620. He was the only one of Puritan colonists with a university education and was the leader of the community and church until a pastor arrived nine years later.

He continued to preach from time to time until his death.

“He was tenderhearted and compassionate of such as were in misery, but especially of such as had been of good estate and rank and fallen unto want and poverty.” – Governor Bradford of Plymouth Bay Colony

2. Richard Mather( 1596 – 22 April 1669) was a minister in colonial Boston and father to Increase and grandfather to Cotton Mather, also famous American theologians.

A leader of New England Congregationalism, he drafted its documents on governance and was an author of the Bay Psalm Book (the first book printed in the English colonies) and Treatise on Justification (1652).

3. John Eliot (c. 1604 – 21 May 1690) was known as “the apostle to the Indians.” He failed at his first missionary effort but succeeded later when he worked with a young Massachusett Indian to learn their language and translated the Lord’s Prayer, Ten Commandments, and other scriptures and prayers into their language.

The Eliot Indian Bible is the first Bible printed in America, translated into the Massachusett language by John Eliot.

4. Increase Mather (1639 – 1723) was a Puritan clergyman in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and president of Harvard for twenty years (1681–1701).

A steadfast Puritan, he taught a strict and godly life to the ministerial students at Harvard whose motto then was “Christi Gloriam,” translated as “for the glory of Christ.”

American Theologians of the 18th Century

5. Jonathan Edwards* (1703-1758) was the first American intellectual and greatest American theologian. Unlike other thought leaders of the Enlightenment who saw science as a challenge to faith, He saw in nature and its laws the hand of God and His glorious design of the universe.

He is most famous for his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” and for sparking the first Great Awakening.

He believed that man, the world, and everything that exists was created for one purpose:
the work of Jesus Christ to bring salvation to the world.

*indicates that person is in my book SPIRITUAL LIVES.

6. Thomas Coke (1747 – 1814) was a close assistant to John Wesley, became the first Methodist bishop, and established the Methodist Episcopal Church on Christmas Day, 1784. He succeeded Wesley in leadership and initiated Methodist missions around the world.

He consecrated Francis Asbury as Superintendent of the Methodist Church in America. Asbury described him as

“a gentleman, a scholar, a bishop to us; and as a minister of Christ, in zeal, in labors, in services, the greatest man in the last century.”

American Theologians of the 19th Century

7. Alexander Campbell (1788 – 1866) joined his father Thomas in a reform effort known as the Restoration Movement in forming churches based solely on the unity of the Bible. “A Restoration of the Ancient Order of Things” was the title of Campbell’s essay and sought to unite all Christians in a simple, church.

Since denominations and creeds divide, his principle was/is:

“Where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where the Scriptures are silent, we are silent.”

8. Charles Grandison Finney (1792 – 1875) was a Presbyterian minister and leader of the Second Great Awakening. He led revival meetings where people were called upon to change their minds and life by submitting to the will of God and choosing to be saved. He introduced the “altar call” and prayed with those coming forward to seek salvation.

Revival is a renewed conviction of sin and repentance, followed by an intense desire to live in obedience to God. It is giving up one’s will to God in deep humility. ―Charles Finney

American Theologians of the 19th Century

9. Charles Hodge (1797 – 1878) was a Presbyterian theologian and principal of Princeton Theological Seminary between 1851 and 1878. He was a leading exponent of an orthodox Calvinist theological tradition in America during the 19th century.

He argued strongly for the authority of the Bible as the Word of God. Many of his ideas were adopted in the 20th century by Fundamentalists and Evangelicals.

10. Albert Barnes (1798 – 1870) was a theologian, minister, and author best known for his extensive Bible commentary and notes on Bible, published in fourteen volumes in the 1830s, now in the public domain and available free on E-Sword.

11. Ellen White (1827 – 1915) was a famous American theologian, author, and co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Her theology is evangelical, and her theme the ongoing Great Controversy between God and Satan.

She was a vegetarian, and an important figure in American history.

The Smithsonian magazine named her among the “100 Most Significant Americans of All Time.”

12. Cyrus Ingerson Scofield (1843 – 1921) was an American theologian and minister best known for his annotated Reference Bible. His notes teach dispensationalism, a theology advanced in the early nineteenth century by John Nelson Darby.

It was largely through the influence of Scofield’s notes that dispensational premillennialism became influential among fundamentalist Christians and was a source for popular writers like Hal Lindsey.

American Theologians of the 20th Century

13. J. Gresham Machen* (1881-1937) was a Presbyterian scholar and Professor of New Testament at Princeton Seminary 1906-1929. He faced the growing influence of modernism and stood against it.

Whole denominations were appointing ministers whose desire was to make accommodations for Darwinism by substituting the teaching of the Bible with a social gospel focused on the ideas of man, turning away from God.

Having to withdraw from institutions he had given his life to, the Presbyterian Church and Princeton Seminary, Machen refused to compromise and started the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and Westminster Theological Seminary.

He was a hero and warrior, a true Christian soldier, responsible for stemming the tide of modernism and reclaiming the central doctrines of the Gospel and the Bible.

14. Aimee Semple McPherson* (1890 – 1944) is the most famous American theologian, evangelist, and church founder on this list.

Through her radio broadcasts, magazine, and high media visibility, she was the most well-known person in America in the 1920s and 1930s. Millions loved her but many hated her as well.

The liberal churches hated her message and “fundamentalism,” and the conservative churches her flamboyance, speaking in tongues, and healing ministry.

Sister Aimee also established the International Foursquare Church and set up a Bible College to train ministers to share the Foursquare Gospel around the world.

As of 2016, there were 1,700 U.S. congregations and 66,000 worldwide with eight million members.

15. Francis August Schaeffer (1912 – 1984) was an evangelical American theologian, philosopher, and pastor. When the Bible was abandoned by the modernists, so were Biblical standards. While Protestant pulpits were silent, Schaeffer boldly pointed out that

“The wide-open door of abortion-on-demand leads naturally to infanticide which leads naturally to euthanasia.”

Schaeffer points out the absolute necessity for Christians to uphold the standards of the Bible, to live by the compassion of Jesus, and to value all human lives as He does. He underscores the importance of God as Creator:

“If man is not made in the image of God, nothing then stands in the way of inhumanity.”

16. Francis MacNutt (1925 – 202]) was a famous Catholic American theologian who was baptized in the Holy Ghost and devoted his life to healing ministries.

He authored a book on healing prayer and became prominent in the charismatic renewal in the 1960s.

The Episcopal Diocese of Florida invited him to Jacksonville, where he and his wife set up a healing center for prayer and teaching.

17. Richard James Foster (born 1942) is a famous American theologian with a Quaker background. He is famous for Celebration of Discipline, which has sold one million copies and was named one of the top ten books of the 20th century by Christianity Today.

It was of major help to me in learning about prayer, fasting, and study, which he calls “inward disciplines.”

18. Wayne Grudem (born 1948) is a New Testament scholar and American theologian whose Systematic Theology has become the standard for 21st-century evangelical Christians.

Although a Calvinist himself, Grudem holds charismatic beliefs and once supported the Vineyard Movement. He is an advocate for reuniting Charismatic, Calvinist, and evangelical churches.

19. Tim Keller (born 1950) is an American pastor, theologian, and Christian apologist. He came to fame by founding Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and now trains pastors to serve around the world.

He preaches cultural engagement, focuses on a young urban population, and has ignited a stream of church plantings in New York City and the surrounding areas,

American Theologians for the 21st Century

20. Paul Washer (born 1961 is a Baptist evangelist and missionary with a passion for the lost. He is best known for a “shocking youth message” suggesting that most of his “Christian” audience could end up in Hell. You can view it here.

“In modern-day evangelism, this precious doctrine [of regeneration] has been reduced to nothing more than a human decision to raise one’s hand, walk an aisle, or pray a ‘sinner’s prayer.’

As a result, most Americans believe that they have been ‘born again’ even though their thoughts, words, and deeds are a continual contradiction to the nature and will of God.”

— Paul Washer

21. Francis Chan [陳恩藩] (born August 31, 1967) is an American theologian, author, teacher, preacher and church planter. See more about him on John Piper’s website Desiring God.

His book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God was a New York Times bestseller. He explains

“The very fact that a holy, eternal, all-knowing, all-powerful, merciful, fair, and just God loves you and me is nothing short of astonishing.”

And challenges us too:

“What are you doing right now that requires faith?”

— Francis Chan in Crazy Love

What American Theologians lie ahead?

Paul Washer and Francis Chan encourage me that God has great things in store for His church – His people. We each have a role to play in carrying out Christ’s Great Commission.

Let’s live for Jesus, share His love and grace. Ask Him to fill us with the Holy Ghost and power to win the world for Him.

Jesus wants everyone to be saved, and success is assured:

All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. – Jesus in John 6:37

As a Volunteer

A call for loyal soldiers

Comes to one and all;

Soldiers for the conflict,

Will you heed the call?

Will you answer quickly,

With a ready cheer,

Will you be enlisted

As a volunteer?


A volunteer for Jesus,

A soldier true!

Others have enlisted,

Why not you?

Jesus is the Captain,

We will never fear,

Will you be enlisted

As a volunteer?

Yes, Jesus calls for soldiers

Who are filled with pow’r,

Soldiers who will serve Him

Ev’ry day and hour;

He will not forsake you,

He is ever near;

Will you be enlisted

As a volunteer? Refrain

He calls you, for He loves you

With a heart most kind,

He Whose heart was broken,

Broken for mankind;

Now, just now, He calls you,

Calls in accents clear,

Will you be enlisted

As a volunteer? Refrain

And when the war is over,

And the vict’ry won,

When the true and faithful

Gather one by one,

He will crown with glory

All who there appear;

Will you be enlisted

As a volunteer? Refrain

Words: W. S. Brown, 1907.

Thou, therefore, endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.

No man that warreth entangles himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. 2Tim 2:3-4

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