Thomas Aquinas famously referred to Aristotle as ‘The Philosopher’, throughout his writings, not because he followed him slavishly on every point, but because for the Angelic Doctor, Aristotle was the philosopher. More than any other secular thinker, Aristotle’s questions, formulations, and answers shaped and were re-shaped in Aquinas’ thought. For myself, I’ve realized that there are a number of intellectual influences that have played similar roles for me. Their thought has so penetrated the warp and woof of my own that I decided to create a Reformedish lexicon of key figures, both for fun and to encourage others to drink deeply at the wells of wisdom found here:
“The Theologian” – I’ve already documented Kevin Vanhoozer’s greatness. Though he is a theologian’s theologian, his humble, eclectic, and faithful approach to God, Scripture, and doctrine in general has deeply shaped my own and will continue to for the foreseeable future.
“The Apologist” – C.S. Lewis was one of the first Christian prose writers I ever encountered. Like most, he took me in with the clarity of thought & expression, marvelous knack for making complex doctrines seem quite reasonable, accessible, and even more, beautiful. In college, Lewis let me grapple with the big toughies like hell, sin, and evil with intellectual dignity. What’s more, he saved me from thinking apologetic philosophy had to be boring and dull, or, even worse, disconnected from the proper worship of God.
“The Thinker” – Soren Kierkegaard is a hard one to pin down. He is a philosopher, but even more than that, he is a thinker-of-life who pressed me into the depths of my own darkened heart during my angstiest college days. I can safely say that if it were not for encountering his works Fear and Trembling and The Sickness Unto Death in college, I probably would not be married to my McKenna today. Also, his epistemology hustled me along the way to embracing the proposals of…
“The Philosopher” – Alvin Plantinga is my favorite living philosopher. Working in Anglo-American Analytic tradition, it is hard to estimate the impact Plantinga’s had on modern philosophy and especially philosophy of religion. The man single-handedly refuted the logical problem of evil in the 1970s, kicked classic foundationalism in the face, and made it safe to be a Christian in a philosophy program again. Plantinga gives not only good answers, but teaches us to ask the right sort of questions in the face of aggressive skeptical attacks on the faith.
“The Preacher” – Timothy Keller falls under so many different categories (apologist, thinker, etc.), but at core, he is a Gospel-preacher. All of the other hats he puts on serve to accent his main call, which is to preach the Gospel to the Religious and the Irreligious alike. His several books and lectures on preaching have deeply shaped my own approach in various areas of ministry, but it may be hundreds of sermons exposing my idolatry and pointing me to Christ that have played the deepest formative role in my own spiritual theology. God has used Keller to shape the core of my understanding of God’s transforming grace through the Gospel.
“The Scholar” – I loved Paul before I read N.T. Wright, but I don’t think I knew Paul until I read Wright; the same goes for Jesus. While I don’t follow him everywhere he goes, more than anyone else Wright has introduced me to the vibrant, dynamic, pulsating historical reality of the Gospel in the New Testament. Whether it is Jesus facing off with the Pharisees, or Paul shepherding his flocks in the shadow of the Roman Empire, Wright simply will not allow us to imagine we are dealing with anything less than a full-orbed social-historical-political-theological-cosmological Jesus whose kingship has implications for everything.
“The Reformer” – I’ve written a good amount on John Calvin over the last few months, and given a number of reasons to dig into his commentaries. Like most of these men, Calvin wore a number of hats, including scholar, theologian, and preacher. For me, he has been The Reformer. While I do love me some Luther, standing in the Reformed tradition as I am, it has been Calvin’s programmatic vision for the reformation of preaching, theology, and the Church that captured my imagination more than any of the other Magisterial Reformers. Indeed, a number of my other influences have openly paid tribute to Calvin’s influence on their own thought.
If you find yourself having never read someone on this list, I’d encourage you to do a quick Google on one, pick a work that seems interesting and go for it.
Soli Deo Gloria