Seminary exposed me to a long list of theologians who have influenced the Christian faith. People like Charles Spurgeon, Martin Luther, and John Calvin from before our time. Also thinkers of our own day like Wayne Grudem, Joel Beke, and Kevin DeYoung.
I was exposed to a wide variety of theological traditions from throughout the history of the church. The professors at my seminary aimed to have students develop a well rounded view on theological subjects. The reading lists were intentional about providing a diversity of historical contexts and theological backgrounds.
But these lists were lacking in critical areas. Most of what I studied and learned was shaped by the lens of white western men.
I was never assigned a reading list that included a female author. Apart from being assigned one sermon from Martin Luther King Jr. and a few excerpts from St. Augustine’s writings, I was never assigned reading from a non-white theologian.
A large segment of influential theological thinkers was entirely left out of my studies. (I imagine there are many institutions intentionally focusing on changing this in their efforts to assign a more diverse approach to church history and theology.)
In our effort to wrestle through matters of theology and the church, it’s important that we don’t narrow the journey to only reading the thoughts of western white men. There are a great number of men and women from all over the world who have and are making an impact on the Christian faith, we just need to be willing to listen to what they have to say.
Just because you choose to diversify your reading doesn’t mean you have to agree with the author’s views, but it gives you the opportunity to view matters of theology and faith through a different lens.
Below is a list of past and present theologians or influential Christians who you might not be familiar with, but should be.
Authors From the Past
Charles Octavius Boothe
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary recently led an initiative to reprint Boothe’s seminal work, Plain Theology for Plain People. His work was recently rediscovered and is an important contribution to the African-American theological heritage.
Boothe was born in 1845 as an enslaved person in Alabama. He went on to establish two churches after the Civil War, First Colored Baptist Church in Meridian, Mississippi, and Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Throughout his ministry, he found that most theological books during his time were written for people who had access to higher education and were inaccessible to lay people or emerging leaders within the church.
His call for Christians to strive for unity in Christ, while also being open to allow others to sharpen your theological view, is one we can all learn from today.
Teresa of Avila
In 1515, Teresa was born in central Spain. The latter half of her life was dedicated to a Spanish Convent in Avila. She was a reformer in her day, establishing 14 monasteries for women to pursue lives of dedication and prayer to the Christian faith. She faced great adversity from those who were against her ideas of reform, but she persevered.
Teresa was known for her spiritual discipline, which she practiced personally and shared with other nuns. One of her most well known works is Interior Castle. This was her last book, written just five years before she died. It’s likely why this is known as one of her most mature and greatest works. She focuses on spiritual growth through prayer and leans on the Gospels throughout her book. Though her book focuses more on the spiritual discipline of prayer, rather than theological matters, it has influenced many Christians throughout the years.
James H. Cone
Born in Arkansas in 1938, Cone is known as the Father of Black Theology and Liberation Theology. His first book was published in 1969, Black Theology and Black Power. There are many who are reluctant to read Cone’s work because they have strong opinions about Liberation Theology, but should do so anyway. Cone called for Christians to radically love their enemies because of Jesus. There is no denying the impact Cone’s work has made on Christian’s in America. It has challenged many traditions, theological frameworks, and systems within the American church.
Theology does not exist in a doctrinal vacuum. It is culled from the culture of the people and the times in which they live, as well as from Christian doctrine and the life of Christ. It does not ignore the signs of the times.
Cone spoke out against the sins of America and was an important theologian for his time. He is worth adding to your reading list as you wrestle with viewing your theological framework from a differing perspective.
Accessing the work of diverse theological thinkers is far easier today than ever before, particularly when it comes to work being translated into English.
Carlos René Padilla
Padilla has been one of the leading voices of evangelism in Latin America. Though he passed away in 2021, his work is making an impact in our present time. Born in Ecuador in 1932, Padilla’s family were some of the first evangelical ministers in Ecuador. He was no stranger to hardship, violence, and oppression. As a Christian, he longed to “understand the meaning of the Christian faith in relation to issues of justice and peace in a society deeply marked by oppression, exploitation, and abuse of power.”
He saw a great need in Latin America for theologians to rise up from within, instead of seeking answers to deep theological questions from foreign influences.
Out of this great need, Padilla published Mission Between the Times: Essays on the Kingdom. His work argued for a holistic understanding of the Christian mission and not separating the gospel from a Christian’s social responsibility. His writings were borne out of the great need to see the good news of Jesus in the context he was living in. The influence of Padilla in Latin America is a theological perspective every Christian can learn from.
Assistant Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, McCauley is making great contributions to theology today. He’s written for multiple publications, including Christianity Today, New York Times, and The Washington Post. He is author of Sharing in the Son’s Inheritance: Davidic Messianism and Paul’s Worldwide Interpretation of the Abrahamic Land Promise in Galatians, and perhaps his most popular work is Reading While Black: African American Biblical Interpretation as an Exercise in Hope.
McCauley has become an influential voice in the US for theology, culture, and Black history. McCauley is someone who thinks critically through current issues of today through the lens of his theological studies.
M. Shawn Copeland
Copeland is professor emerita of systemic theology at Boston College. Her work focuses on theological and political anthropology. She was also the first African American to serve as president of the Catholic Theology Society of America. As a trailblazer, Copeland has been recognized for her outstanding contributions to theology throughout her career.
She brings unique insights to topics regarding theological anthropology, political theology, social suffering, gender, and race. She has authored over 135 articles, reviews, and books. Reading any of her various works will challenge and grow anyone’s theological perspective.
There are many great benefits to including diversity of all kinds in your reading. This doesn’t mean you will agree with every author you read or with anything they say.
One of the greatest weaknesses of the church today is that many of us operate in information silos. We only hear from people we already agree with, and they don’t often challenge any of our own thoughts. Incorporating a wider variety of reading will grow your faith.
This Post Has One Comment
Thank you posting a list of theologians to engage with, these are not names I recognise, although I have read some non-white male theologians.
I have to admit though I had rather hoped the list would be significantly longer and would also include theologians from the Middle and Far East and native African theologians.
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