Who Is the Most Influential American Theologian?

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Andrew K's picture

Olson's probably right. And his voice carries a lot of weight here, both for his shared history with Piper as well as his obvious theological differences.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Last quarter century, maybe so.

"Influential" is a pretty vague concept. If we say "most influential American theologian of all time," we have to do a lot more looking back, and one huge standout is Charles Finney. But it's a difficult question. Most influential on theology after him? Most influential on church and ministry practices? Most influential on popular assumptions? There are a ton of ways to look at influence.

Other notables: Augustus H. Strong. Jonathan Edwards. On the Arminian side, though, it would have to be Finney. When it comes to dominant attitudes and assumptions in the largest chunk of American Christianity, the evangelicals, that would be Arminianism ... ala Finney (and lots of imported influences, such as the Wesleys).

Jay's picture

Piper is well known and high profile, but if we're arguing most influential American theologian of the century, I think MacArthur has to be ranked above Piper simply because GTY's reach is so huge.  I was on GTY's mailing list long before I started reading Piper.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Hard to measure something as nebulous as "influence," but JMac would indeed have to be high on the list. 

Ron Bean's picture

I'm one of those guys who availed himself of JM's free materials in the 1980's and benefited greatly then and still do. I like Piper but have not read him nearly as much as JM.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

TylerR's picture

Editor

He's a very, very good bet. On SI a few months ago, many people defended Finney in a thread. It's amazing that people seek to defend the heresy he taught. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Andrew K's picture

Definitely agree about Finney, but I thought we were qualifying it with "the last quarter of a century." Finney's influence certainly extends that far, but his life doesn't, right? ...right? :O 

G. N. Barkman's picture

For myself personally, and in the circles from which I came, John Mac Arthur would surely be the most influential.  But taking Evangelicalism as a whole, my vote goes to R. C. Sproul.  I think his influence outweighs both Piper and MacArthur.  (Just my subjective observation.)

G. N. Barkman

Bert Perry's picture

Paul's comments about the Corinthian church come to mind here.  Am I baptized in the name of Apollos, or Piper, or??  Love and cherish the good work PIper has done, don't get me wrong, but sometimes these things just plain give me the creeps.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Nobody here is expressing exclusive loyalty to any of these guys.

Bert Perry's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Nobody here is expressing exclusive loyalty to any of these guys.

....because it's not like any big leaders these days have been clearly implicated in some pretty serious stuff by their own video out on YouTube or anything.  Sorry, Aaron, but fundagelicalism has a SERIOUS problem with hero worship, expressed in exactly the same kind of factions that Paul decries in 1 Corinthians.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Completely different topic, Bert.

Yes, there has been a hero worship problem. Not relevant.

(Nor is the "believe every bad thing you hear about a leader" problem, so I won't bring that up. ;-)) 

Andrew K's picture

For the record, I should add that I personally don't see Piper's influence as an unmixed blessing. I have my reservations on his "Christian hedonism," and even more serious reservations on his understanding of a "second justification by works." I also think he doesn't choose his associations very prudently, and I'm definitely more of a cessationist than he.

Nonetheless, I still think Olson is right here. I've moved in a lot of diverse denominational circles over the past decade, and Piper's influence is to be felt in all of them, to one degree or another. You won't typically meet charismatics, for example, who've read Sproul or (certainly not!) John Mac. But you will meet those who have read and appreciate Piper. Thus my agreement with Olson.

Bert Perry's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Completely different topic, Bert.

Yes, there has been a hero worship problem. Not relevant.

(Nor is the "believe every bad thing you hear about a leader" problem, so I won't bring that up. ;-)) 

Yup, taking polls on "who is the most significant American theologian" has absolutely nothing to do with hero worship.  Certainly no one would ever use a person's celebrity to make incredibly stupid decisions regarding that person's work.  

/sarcasm_off

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

M. Osborne's picture

When Time named Stanley Hauerwas "America's Best Theologian," he was bemused, saying "'Best' is not a theological category."

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA