Tuesday, 15 January 2008

The world's best theologian?

Who is the world’s best living theologian? Cast your vote in the new poll.

Update: The winner was Rowan Williams (23%), followed by Robert Jenson (20%).

56 Comments:

Bruce Hamill said...

I think I'm the first voter, but my browser doesn't show the words which I can just guess are 'total votes 1'. My guess is that I'm ahead so far

Ben Myers said...

Oops, sorry about that Bruce — I must have made the box too small. I'll make it bigger so that the text displays properly.

Paul said...

I don't see my name up there.

michael jensen said...

No ladies?

Steven Harris said...

No Moltmann?!

I'm heavily biased towards him as he's my favourite theologian but in his absence I'll have to go for Pannenberg.

Anonymous said...

Hauerwas popped his clogs? I mean I know he's not a fan of these sorts of categories, but still....

Matt

Douglas Knight said...

Without a doubt, Oliver O'Donovan is the world's best living theologian.

Ben Myers said...

Yeah, sorry: there are only 7 places in the poll. Otherwise, I could have included other popular candidates like Hauerwas, Zizioulas, Ruether, McFague, Tracy, Küng, Gutiérrez....

And to be honest, I just forgot all about Moltmann — so perhaps all the Moltmann voters will back Pannenberg instead (an infinitely better theologian, after all).

steph said...

I don't like that map - if that's me, its got me pinned in Auckland and that just ain't true.

Sam Norton said...

I can understand that you can't list all the possibilities - but if you had an option 'none of the above' it would serve just as well. And would get my vote...

scott said...

I understand the poll (and I know you, Ben, are aware about the ambiguities of how such judgments could possibly be made), but I agree with Steve Holmes's basic insight (see his blog), and had to mention that I've heard Hauerwas say that when he was notified by Time Magazine in 2001 that he had been nominated "Best Theologian in America" (not "America's Best Theologian" - "the possessive matters"), his response was: "Best is not a theological category."

But I am glad my top-picks are winning so far.

michael jensen said...

Yes, this brings up that old debate: can a bad (I mean unrepentantly, proudly bad) person be a good theologian?

Michael O'Neill Burns said...

i'm surprised, as are others, that Hauerwas didn't make the list; yet David B. Hart (who's written one full length book?) did make it. America needs better representation than that!

Lumière et Possibilité said...

i just finished milbank's theology and social theory. i've spent the last few months dealing with the potential problems with it. he's phenomenal but not the best. i had to cast it to someone in a pastoral position.
it was fifty-fifty between williams and benedict. they both are magnificent scholars and carry forward theology in a way that matters; they make it accessible to practicality.
i went with williams as he somehow has represented to me, as a man standing abreast a serious crisis, lived theology. he's good stuff.
peace.

kim fabricius said...

Best living woman theologian? Kathryn Tanner, without doubt.

Milbank and Hart shouldn't be in the running because they've only been around since yesterday. Insofar as there is any merit to the poll (Hauerwas' quip is a good one, echoing Barth's view on the matter), we should be thinking marathon, not sprint.

Exiled Preacher said...

No traditional Evangelical & Reformed theologian? Ah well.

Kerry said...

Kallistos Ware, perchance. Not the most influential, granted. But maybe the best.

Nick Norelli said...

If the Moltmann voters are to back Pannenberg, then the Pannenberg voters should back Jenson, since that's what Pannenberg would do. ;-)

MM said...

If Hauerwas were here, he would ask why the sainted Bruce Marshall is not up for a vote-

Macrina said...

No Schillebeeckx?????? I probably wouldn't have voted for him myself but am rather surprised that Ben didn't include him.

Andrew said...

Let's remember, Hauerwas is not a theologian, in the strictest sense of the term. He's an ethicist. Those are often two very different things.

And while were arguing over who should be up there, where are the American process theologians like Cobb or Suchocki? What about African-American liberation theologians like Cone? And more feminist (and even womanist) theologians?

Frankly, this selection is a bit slanted toward the traditional male, Eurocentric theological arena. We could do much better than this. (I mean, Pope Benedict? Please. That's just a repetition of centuries-old Catholic dogma. If that's still considered groundbreaking theology, then there's a problem.)

Michael O'Neill Burns said...

Kim,
Hart has been around since 'yesterday' but it's not really fair to put him in the same category as Milbank.

Milbank has written a good amount of impressive works, helped forge a new school of theological thought (RO), and has produced an extremely impressive roster of grad students (pickstock, cunningham, hart, goodchild, creston davis, tony baker, etc).

Hart has written one major work, a smaller one, and has yet to advise a single phd student. Thus, you can't compare him to Milbank.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

I will click on Pannenberg, but I'm really voting for Moltmann!

Forgetting Moltmann, how could you!

And no women?

One of Freedom said...

Molty! Molty! Wherefore art thou blessed Molty?

Well, Panny another Molty vote coming your way.

kim fabricius said...

Still, I think, too early to tell about RO, notwithstanding Milbank's output, or the number of grad students (of course: RO is fashionable). Now that the theological world has caught its breath (and deciphered the prose), more and more cracks are appearing in the project (which, I do not deny, is very impressive).

On another issue: theology without ethics is empty, ethics without theology is blind.

Drew said...

The poll is just a foil for producing these fascinating comments, yes?

Bruce Hamill said...

Since we're mentioning omissions I'm looking for Volf on the list

Ben Myers said...

"Hart has written only one major book" — ah, but what a book!

And Macrina, you're right: Schillebeeckx is absolutely the best living Catholic theologian. But I was afraid no one would vote for him (whereas Benedict has a slightly bigger fan-base).

::aaron g:: said...

What? You've left Rick Warren off the list! How could you?

Mark said...

What about John Webster? He has to be one of the most creative systematicians in contemporary theology.

Nathan said...

I'm with ::aaron g:: And seriously, where's whoever wrote "The Prayer of Jabez?"

Ben Myers said...

"where's whoever wrote The Prayer of Jabez?"

He's far away, in a place where the worm dieth not.

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

In the interest of giving the greatest living theologian his due, I've put together my own poll. If you visit and vote, you'll note that Pannenberg is the only carryover. Ah, this is dicey business.

Anonymous said...

I'm also sad (though not at all surprised) not to see Kallistos Ware on the list

Anonymous said...

Avatar Adi Da Samraj of course.
He totally outshines all of them.

Patrick McManus said...

Jüngel is by far the most sophisticated (and, in my opinion, the best) of the list, though not as influential as a Jenson or a Williams.

But, Hart & Milbank should not be on the list with omissions like D. Tracy, Wainwright, K. Tanner, O'Donovan & Webster, or even Lindbeck. I mean, Hart wrote a great book, but it's far too early to include him in a 'world's best living' anything (maybe the world's best 'I need the OED handy when reading him because he's such an arrogant writer who, page after page, has to remind me of his superior intellect'--then I'd vote for him).

The omission of Moltmann is a pity. Though I don't think he can hold a candle to Jüngel, he is a very important theologian.

Patrick McManus said...

Oh ya, I totally forgot about Avatar Adi Da Samraj, he's definitely at the top of the list. Fo sho!

joey said...

I’m disappointed that Ben forgot to include Moltmann. I bet these theologians are better than Moltmann but it does not mean they are greater. If you assessed the greatness of a theologian in terms of how much his theology influence the emerging global theologies (i.e. Asian and third world theologies, etc.), none of those listed can come close to Moltmann. Since a vote to Pannenberg is virtually a vote for JM. Pannenberg got my vote.

R.O. Flyer said...

I'd toss Milbank and Hart for Zizioulas and Moltmann, but I'm really glad you included both Williams and Ratzinger.

smittyvol said...

For Exiled Preacher and other wise readers:
Robert Peterson
Michael Horton
Al Mohler
Wayne Grudem
...and, of course, Ned Flanders (Rod & Todd will be on the list in about 20 years)

derek said...

McClendon should have gotten in, at least if you consider the trailblazing nature of his work (being the first anabaptist, or as he called himself, baptist, systematic theologian).

Let me play apologist here for one guy in particular:

Although i doubt he is held in high esteem, to me it is hard to discount Greg Boyd, who in my view is the most relevant and provocative American theologian today. As great as Jenson is, i don't think that he has near the following, and potential impact, that Body does. Boyd's work has received numerous accolades and high praise for being the most thorough, well-researched material in America, except for when his work cuts against conservative evangelical sensibilities. I have yet to see someone deal with such a vast amount of perspectives in his work (including european thinkers like Moltmann, Barth, and Bonhoeffer). His areas of proficiency go outside of strict theological lines, and into psychology, Church History, contemporary physics, apologetics, and devotional literature.

In addition, he always makes sure that his work is also released in a smaller, more accessible work for the general public; the man doesn't try to dumb down his work; instead he goes the extra mile to reach everyone. He doesn't write merely for academia, he writes for to further the good news.

Whether he is loved or hated, Boyd's work is always articulate, passionate, and comprehensive in regards to current and historical thought.

All that to say, even if you don't like the guy, it is hard to argue against the fact that he doesn't deserve consideration.

Bryan L said...

Good thoughts on Boyd, Derek. I wholeheartedly agree, especially with the comment about how Boyd tries to integrate other disciplines into his theology (as well as writing on a wide range of topics). He is definitely a theologian in service to the church (if that has any bearing on this as Steve Homes mentioned) and I also appreciate how he tries to make his works accessible to the lay reader by releasing simplified versions of his bigger books.

Blessings,
Bryan L

LukeT said...

John Zizioulas, hands down (Douglas, I can't believe you are going with O'Donovan over JZ). Unlike most of the folks mentioned, he has a genuine chance of being known in future generations as a doctor of the church. As I could not vote for him, my vote went to BXVI - by which I mean Ratzinger in his role as speculative theologian. Anyone who thinks that he has simply regurgitated what has been said before has not read this theology very deeply. He is an excellent example of the creativity and freedom that comes from accepting being bounded (cf. Barth's understanding of human freedom).

scott said...

"Hauerwas is not a theologian... He's an ethicist." No one can say that who's grasped Hauerwas's basic insight - which is that, theologically speaking, there can be no fundamental distinction between theology and ethics.
Or to say it another way: Are the true and the good not finally united in God?

Jason Goroncy said...

Ben: I am a little disappointed that at least one of your kids does not feature as an option, not least given some of the gems that you have shared with us from them. I mean, how 'essential' are publications here really? Anyway, all serious theologians have blogs now so I think that eliminates everyone from your list.

LukeT: have you learnt nothing from doing a PhD :-)

Pat said...

Now that Meredeth Kline has passed away, my vote's for Alister McGrath.

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

Since you don't have a space for Moltmann, I am including him here.

Michael O'Neill Burns said...

scott.

agreed. anyone who can claim such a silly thing has obviously not read enough hauerwas. his ethical work is only a product of his robust theological work.

Dave Belcher said...

[This is somewhat of a tirade]
Okay...James Cone, Rebecca Chopp, Sallie McFague, Gustavo Gutierrez, the Boff bros., Elizabeth Johnson (who continues to win all kinds of awards by the Catholics), Jon Sobrino, Rosemary Reuther, Tom Altizer...perhaps the popularity of Badiou and Zizek--and especially their (wrong) critiques of Levinas and "identity politics"--has made unpopular what some have become accustomed to calling "contextualizing" or "particularizing" theologians...but, like it or not, the various theologians of liberation have had a larger impact on today's theology than any of the above voices (excluding perhaps the couple of folks who belong on the list, viz., Jungel and Pannenberg...Williams is perhaps the greatest pastoral theologian of our time...and if you want to argue if this distinction is necessary or possible from simply "theologian," I think it is certainly defensible that Williams actually effects churches whereas, e.g. Milbank's ontology has no reflection or lasting effect on the praxeological existence of actual historical churches--despite Jamie Smith's best attempts).

On to some other points of quibbling:
1) Milbank is not a theologian, he is a sociologist (that comment will surely take some flack!).
2) David Bentley Hart is nothing more than a sophist (this will take perhaps even more!).
3) Hauerwas has long proclaimed the irony of his holding an "ethics" chair--since he has always said there is no such thing as ethics...

On the whole, though, I'm curious why a couple of the more brilliant--and often overlooked--theologians might not be considered alongside the above list (I don't think even any one of the above frustrated commenters has mentioned these names yet): Nicholas Lash, David Burrell, and Denys Turner.

Dave Belcher said...

My above comment, by the way, was in good spirit and mostly meant in jest...though I really do think DB Hart is a sophist...and I really like Lash and Turner A LOT.

Kevin said...

Here and elsewhere, I have read several suggestions along the following lines: "to count as 'the best' or 'great,' a theologian's work must serve the church." We can take this suggestion, I think, in both a broad and a narrow sense: on the former, theologians are "doing their jobs properly" when they write/say/think things that could possibly be helpful to the church; on the latter, theologians are "doing their jobs properly" when (& only when) they write/say/think things that are immediately helpful to the church. Am I the only one who is worried by the latter claim (in its narrow, biconditional form)? And about what exactly is meant here by "service" and "the church"?

Dave Belcher said...

I don't know, Kevin, if that was at all prompted by or directed at my last comment (and I don't think it was), but just in case, I wanted to be clear that I made no such distinction between theologians doing their jobs "properly" (with my comment about Williams and my one example Milbank). Now, when it comes to theologians who are actually "doing ecclesiology," or just talkin' 'bout the church or whatever, something else must be said; namely, one should indeed remove logs from one's own ecclesiology--especially when one's church (that is one's reflection on the church) is ahistorical--before attempting to take the speck out of your brother's--and especially when your brother's church is indeed far from ahistorical...cough, cough, Milbank w/r/t Gutierrez, et. al.

Anonymous said...

R.C.Sproul is in my humbel opinion the best and might be one of the most famous. Certintly in Reformed Theology circles he is very well known and respected. Author of over 40 books and several monumental works on Christian Apologetics , Reformed Theology and Philosophy one should not discount him and his work.

Flint Cowboy said...

I guess I'm too late and missed the poll, but the correct answer was Moltmann.

PSW said...

J. I. Packer.
Most influencial not only in seminary and scholarly community but in the church. Even a 'lay' Christian can read most of his book.

Anonymous said...

best woman theologian alive -- sarah coakley...just wait 'til she finishes her systematic theology...don't you like the fact that she doesn't really belong to a "school" too (kind of like volf -- they kind of appreciate all thinkers, even the ones they disagree with, and think for themselves)

and i would rank her right next to barth when it comes to theological creativity and pastoral relevance...(that's for theologians from 20th C and on)..that's a major plus...

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