The top 10 Greatest Christian Thinkers of all Time

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March 3, 2022

All throughout the history of the Church God has raised up brilliant thinkers. In this post I intend to share who I think are the very best Christian thinkers of all time. Let me know who you think are the greatest Christian thinkers in the comment section.

Number 1: Thomas Aquinas 

Overview: 

It would be pretty difficult to top Aquinas. Not only has he had an enormous impact on Christian theology and doctrine, but his contributions to philosophy, specifically his metaphysic and philosophical arguments for the existence of God (The Five Ways), are still hotly debated today. 

Aquinas may be known best for his wonderful understanding of faith and reason. For Aquinas their are two different types of revelation. Divine Revelation, i.e. what God has revealed to humanity in the Scriptures and what reason alone cannot deduce (e.g. the incarnation, the virgin birth, the Trinity) and Natural Revelation, i.e. what God has revealed to humanity in nature and what reason can deduce (e.g. that their is a God, that their is a physical world, that we do really posses existence). 

Well Aquinas' intellect was second to none, we shouldn't overlook the wonderful man of faith he was. Aquinas had a rich and deep prayer life and used his genius to reach the unsaved, especially through his writings. 

There is no doubt that Aquinas will continue to go down as an intellectual giant of the Church. 

Quotes: 

"The things that we love tell us what we are."

"Good can exist without evil, whereas evil cannot exist without good." 

"Grant me, O Lord my God, a mind to know you, a heart to seek you, wisdom to find you, conduct pleasing to you, faithful perseverance in waiting for you, and a hope of finally embracing you. Amen." 

"The Study of philosophy is not that we may know what men have thought, but what the truth of things is." 

"To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible."

"If you are looking for the way by which you should go, take Christ, because he himself is the way." 

"The soul is like an uninhabited world that comes to life only when God lays his head against it." 

Best Works:

Summa Theologica  

Summa Contra Gentiles

Number 2: Augustine of Hippo

Overview: 

Augustine's contributions to the Church as an intellectual are nothing short of amazing. Perhaps no figure, outside of the apostles and Jesus of course, has had a greater influence upon Christian theology than Augustine. His work on the Trinity, original sin, predestination, divine grace, etc., though still debated, have had tremendous impact on the Church. Philosophically, he is also renowned for his work with Platonic thought. 

As a bishop of the Church one of Augustine felt that one of his chief duties was to protect the Church from threats both external and internal. Augustine brilliantly did this through his polemics and writings but also through oration and debate. Augustine was trained in the art of rhetoric and was a professor of rhetoric before his conversion. Perhaps his use of rhetoric to fend off heresies and false teaching from the church is best epitomized in his public debate with Fortunatus, a leader in the heretical movement Manichaeism (of which Augustine was formerly a member). His skillful use of words and speech dealt a deathblow to the movement. He would again eruditely use rhetoric to crush yet another heretical movement, Donatism, in a public debate.  

Perhaps, the theological controversy Augustine will most be remembered for was his duel with Pelagius. Pelagius denied original sin and argued that human perfectibility was achievable; something Augustine could not go for. Though a long and hard fought battle, both creeds and history clearly reflect that Augustine came out the winner. 

One should not overlook how committed and faithful a Christian Augustine was. Augustine had a rich and deep relationship with God and was keenly aware of his sin and need for a savior. 

Augustines contributions to the Church are immense and will continue to have tremendous influence. 

Quotes: 

"To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement.

"Take care of your body as if you were going to live forever; and take care of your soul as if you were going to die tomorrow."

"What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.

“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”

Best Works: 

The City of God 

Confessions 

On the Trinity

Number 3: Jonathan Edwards 

Overview: 

Well Edwards may not be a favorite of the politically correct culture we live in, his gifted mind, evangelistic heart, and burning desire to give the Gospel to the lost should not be overlooked. Edwards has been hailed by some as the greatest mind ever produced on American soil. Edwards was also one of the key figures in the first American Great Awakening. His sermons (especially Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, the most famous sermon ever preached) and books are still widely read today and he will continue to have a lasting impact upon American Protestantism. 

Though many consider Edwards a cold hearted, fire and brim-stone preacher, he was in reality a man deeply aware of the depraved state of humanity and desperately wanted to warn people of their impending doom should they continue to reject Christ. 

Edwards posterity testifies of his intimate relationship with God and his commitment to his family. 

Quotes: 

"A true and faithful Christian does not make holy living an accidental thing. It is his great concern. As the business of the soldier is to fight, so the business of the Christian is to be like Christ."

"Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.

"When God is about to do a mighty new thing He always sets His people praying.

"Almost every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it."

"True salvation always produces an abiding change of nature in a true convert. Therefore, whenever holiness of life does not accompany a confession of conversion, it must be understood that this individual is not a Christian."

Best Works: 

The Freedom of the Will

The End for Which God Created the World 

The Works of Jonathan Edwards

Number 4: John Calvin 

Overview: 

When must people hear the name Calvin they immediately think of some ice-cold, antiquated theologian who invented the concept of predestination. In actuality, most of Calvin's work was pastoral and most of his theological treatises were about matters other than predestination. Calvin was the father of the Reformed movement and his theological ideas have had far reaching impact. 

Calvin put Scripture before tradition and as a result, helped Christians rediscover true Biblical doctrines that had been overlooked or denied by the Roman Catholic Church. Calvin's right understanding of the atonement as both penal and substitutionary was imperative in the formation of Protestant theology and is the view held by Orthodox Christians today. 

Calvin's views on salvation, known as Calvinism, are heavily debated today. While I personally think some of his views were erroneous, nonetheless his ideas were an important stepping stone in understanding the depravity of mankind and the truth that faith alone can save, not works (contra the Roman Catholic Church of his time). 

Quotes: 

"When God wants to judge a nation, He gives them wicked rulers.

"Faith is like an empty, open hand stretched out towards God, with nothing to offer and everything to receive." 

"A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God's truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.

"For the fetus, though enclosed in the womb of its mother, is already a human being, and it is a monstrous crime to rob it of the life which it has not yet begun to enjoy. If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man's house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a fetus in the womb before it has come to light."

"It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone.

"I gave up all for Christ, and what have I found? Everything in Christ."

Best Works: 

Institutes of the Christian Religion 

Calvins Commentaries 

Number 6: Anselm 

Overview: 

Anselm is by far one of the most under-appreciated Christian thinkers. His contributions to both philosophy and theology, though not as colossal as Augustine or Aquinas, are immense. Anselm was an intellectual, so his appointment to archbishop of Canterbury, a very political and social position, was difficult for him. Nonetheless, he managed to produce an impressive amount of writings which have had great influence. 

Perhaps Anselm's most major theological contribution was his work on the atonement. In a very logical and cogent way Anselm made the case for a Penal Substitutionary Atonement. Although an idea not original to him, both the Old and New Testament scream out the doctrine, his work brought attention to the doctrine and would have influence upon the Reformers. 

Anselm's most significant philosophical contribution was his Ontological argument. Essentially, Anselm argued that because their is a possibility of a Being which no great can be conceived (God) existing, therefore that Being exists. My simple summary of his argument does not do it justice and it has arguably been perfected by philosopher Alvin Plantinga. 

Anselm, though not as well known, had an intellect that God greatly used to bless the Church and should not be overlooked. 

Quotes: 

"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.

"God is that, the greater than which cannot be conceived.

"I do not try, Lord, to attain Your lofty heights, because my understanding is in no way equal to it. But I do desire to understand Your truth a little, that truth that my heart believes and loves."

"Remove grace, and you have nothing whereby to be saved. Remove free will and you have nothing that could be saved."

Best Works: 

Cur Deus Homo (Why the God-Man) 

Proslogion 

Monologion 

Number 7: Athanasius  

Overview:

Athanasius has gone down in Church history as the "Champion of Orthodoxy", and rightfully so. The great bishop and Church father fought against heretical ideas on the Trinity and Incarnation till the day he died, and has had incredible influence upon Christianity. 

The most famous controversy Athanasius ever found himself in was the Trinitarian debates. Arius, who has been officially deemed a heretic by the Church, espoused a theology now known as Arianism which essentially stated that Jesus was not eternal in the past with the Father, was a created being, and though of a similar substance, was not of the exact substance of the Father. Arius' view had become very popular and it was largely due to the work of Athanasius (of course through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit) that he was defeated and condemned at the Council of Nicea (where we got the Nicene Creed from). 

For his boldness and refusal to negotiate on the truth Athanasius was exiled five times and was an object of intense theological scrutiny. Though at his death, it may not have been clear how Athanasius and his ideas would go down through the centuries, it is now clear that Athanasius rose out of his theological battles the victor. 

Quotes: 

"You cannot put straight in others what is warped in yourself.

"You will not see anyone who is truly striving after his spiritual advancement who is not given to spiritual reading."

"Christians, instead of arming themselves with swords, extend their hands in prayer."

"Jesus that I know as my Redeemer cannot be less than God."

"These are fountains of salvation that they who thirst may be satisfied with the living words they contain. In these alone is proclaimed the doctrine of godliness. Let no man add to these, neither let him take out from these."

"The Holy and Inspired Scriptures are sufficient of themselves for the preaching of the Truth."

"In ancient times before the divine sojourn of the Savior took place, even to the saints death was terrible; all wept for the dead as though they perished. But now that the Savior has raised his body, death is no longer terrible; for all who believe in Christ trample on it as it were nothing and choose rather to die than deny their faith in Christ. And that devil that once maliciously exulted in death, now that its pains were loosed, remained the only one truly dead."

Best Works: 

On The Incarnation

The Life of St. Anthony  

Four Discourses Against the Arians 

Number 8: Luis de Molina 

Overview:

In my opinion, Molina is, to the loss of the Church, the most overlooked theologian in Church history. Molina, living in the post-Reformation period, noticed a huge problem with the soteriological ideas of both Calvin and Luther, namely that they eliminate free-will. Molina also observed that if one took Calvinism to it's logical conclusion, God is made the author of sin. For Molina this was unacceptable. But the question to Molina was, how can we reconcile the fact that the Bible clearly teaches that God is sovereign and predestines people to salvation, but that man is also free? 

To answer this question Molina articulated one of the greatest theological ideas ever, namely middle knowledge. Well an incredibly deep philosophical and theological concept, middle knowledge in essence is the idea that God, prior to His creative decree, had knowledge of all counterfactuals (what a free creature would do in any given circumstance) of creaturely freedom. So God accomplishes His will by bringing about the circumstances in which a creature would freely choose to do what God desires. Thus God is not made the author of sin but is still sovereign over all. Furthermore, God's predestination is not some arbitrary decision (like it is in Calvinism), but rather is based upon His knowledge of how a human would freely respond if given the Gospel message. 

In my mind, Molinism is by far the most Biblically faithful and philosophically adept soteriological system we have. Unfortunately, my rough summary of Molinism does not do it justice, I recommend William Lane Craig's excellent introductory talk on Molinism, On Behalf of a Molinist Perspective (click here). 

Quotes: 


Best Works: 

The Concordia 

 

 


The Modal Ontological Argument

Premise 1: It is possible that God (Maximally Great Being) exists. 

Premise 2: If it is possible for God (Maximally Great Being) to exist, then God exists in some possible worlds. 

Premise 3: If God (Maximally Great Being) exists in some possible worlds, then God (Maximally Great Being) exists in all possible worlds. 

Premise 4: If God (Maximally Great Being) exists in all possible worlds, then God (Maximally Great Being) exists in the actual world. 

Premise 5: If God (Maximally Great Being) exists in the actual world, then God (Maximally Great Being) exists. 

The Ontological argument is arguably the most overlooked and under-appreciated argument for God. This is due in part to its intricate and philosophical nature. But when this argument is properly understood and articulated it is impossible to refute. Thus it is one of the best arguments for the existence not only of a god but of a maximally great, theistic God. This is the first of two articles I will write on the Ontological Argument. In this article I will endeavor to explain the argument, give a defense of the premises, and answer the most common objection to the argument. In the next article I will address more intricate and less common objections (though more powerful) raised against the argument.  

One of the primary reasons the Ontological argument is so neglected (and disparaged) is due to its use of possible worlds. When people, unfamiliar with philosophical language, hear of possible worlds they immediately begin to think of something abstract and bizarre. But possible worlds are not at all difficult concepts to understand. A possible world is a way the world could have been but is not. A possible world is essentially a hypothetical situation. For example, there is a possible world where you perform a different job than you currently hold, and unicorns exist. Possible worlds, nevertheless, do operate according to the laws of logic. For example, a square with only three sides or a married bachelor does not exist in any possible world. Technically, the real world is just a possible world actualized. 

To effectively use and understand this argument, one must understand what is meant by a Maximally Great Being (God). In possible worlds, there are three different types of beings: impossible, contingent, and necessary. An impossible being is a logically absurd being and thus exists in no possible worlds, e.g. a square circle. A contingent being exists in some possible worlds, but not in every possible world, e.g. a human. Finally, a necessary being is a being that exists in every possible world. This is where defining God as a Maximally Great Being comes in. A Maximally Great Being is a “being that possesses all qualities that are better to have”; these are defined as “Great Making Properties”. So if this Maximally Great Being (God) possesses the best possible qualities then a Maximally Great Being (God) will possess necessity. As it is better to be necessary than contingent. Therefore a Maximally Great Being (God) exists necessarily in all possible worlds including the actual (real) world. Therefore God (the Maximally Great Being) exists. Additionally, since a Maximally Great Being (God) possesses all the best qualities, then necessarily a Maximally Great Being (God) will possess omnipotence, omni-benevolence, omnipresence, omniscience, maximum wisdom, etc. It would therefore be impossible for a Maximally Great Being (God) to possess any bad qualities, e.g. evil, imperfection, sinfulness, etc. Thus we find a Being that in every way matches up with the God of the Bible and exists necessarily. 

The only way that this argument fails is if premise 1 (it is possible that God exists) is shown to be untrue. The most common way skeptics attempt this is by employing the omnipotence paradox. The omnipotence paradox asks if God can create a stone so heavy that He cannot lift it. If God cannot the skeptic claims God is not omnipotent but if God can the skeptic once again claims that God is not omnipotent. What appears to be an inescapable dilemma  is a misunderstanding of what omnipotence is. Omnipotence is not the ability to do logically impossible actions; omnipotence means “infinite in power”. All similar paradoxes fail and premise 1 is validated. This is imperative because if premise 1 is true then by the laws of Modal logic the following premises and conclusion are necessarily true. Thus the Ontological argument for God's existence is true, and we have excellent reason to believe in the existence of God.  

Some object that the Ontological argument leads to absurdities. For example, it is possible to conceive of a maximally great pizza, therefore a maximally great pizza exists. This objection, however, is fatally flawed. For one, “there aren't any intrinsic maximal values that make pizzas great.” For example, there could always be more cheese or more grease. Additionally, taste is subjective. I like my pizza with only pepperonis, but some like their pizza with only cheese. I like thin crust, others prefer thick crust. For this reason, a maximally great pizza cannot exist due to the subjectivity of taste. The idea of a maximally great pizza is not logically possible and the objection is successfully rebutted. But what of a more serious example? What of a maximally great human? Once again, many of the same standards that applied to a maximally great pizza equally apply to a maximally great human. The famous saying, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is very apropos here. For example, some prefer humans to have blue eyes, while others prefer brown. Is the ideal human six feet three inches or five feet eleven inches? Blonde hair or brown hair? All of these questions are subjective and depend upon the individual. 

Thus, upon initial observation of the argument we can see (1) the argument is sound and logically valid, (2) any attempts to disprove the possibility of a Maximally Great Being fail, and (3) initial objections raised against the Ontological argument are spurious.  

About the author 

Braden Morrow

Braden Morrow is founder of Eternal truth. He is the host of the Eternal Truth with Braden C. Morrow podcast. Braden is an avid studier of all things having to do with the Bible, apologetics, philosophy, and cultural issues. 

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