Who are our BIG theologians?

When I consider some of my favorite theologians, or those who have influenced me a great deal, I can't help but notice that very few of them are United Methodist theologians. Several of them are Anglicans. Consider this very quickly thrown together list of my bigger influences (I have read at least one complete work of some kind - possibly several - from each of these):

St. Athanasius (undivided Church)
St. Augustine (undivided Church)
Martin Luther (Lutheran)
Thomas Cranmer (Anglican)
John Wesley (Anglican*)
C.S. Lewis (Anglican)
Albert Outler (Methodist)
Richard Foster (Society of Friends)
Thomas Oden (Methodist)
N.T. Wright (Anglican)

Now I might add more to that - William Abraham and Will Willimon are both United Methodist theologians that I like very much, but I don't get a strong sense that they are as widely read outside of the denomination as is the case for some of those listed above. Maybe in a few decades... St. John of Damascus of the ancient Church and Scott Hahn, a contemporary Roman Catholic, have also had some influence on me.

So what do you think: who are the really BIG theologians of the United Methodist Church who are making waves in the broader ecumenical church? Are there any? Who are your favorite theologians?

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Blogger Nance said...

Ben Witherington and Richard Hays are both Methodist, yes?

And it's hardly fair to count Thomas Oden. He's more 'undivided Church' than anything else, I would think. (Only half-joking there...)

9:09 PM, November 23, 2009  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

They are indeed both Methodist - and both are probably read widely beyond the denomination. I get the feeling that they, along with Willimon and Oden are currently the most widely-read (in ecumenical circles) of the UM theologians.

10:51 PM, November 23, 2009  
Blogger Michael James Hill said...

Reverend Father,

You are in the wrong denomination.

Of course, if one follows the catholic tradition, I am no sure what denomination you could belong to.

If you understand anything of Luther, however, being a Methodist must be difficult.


8:43 PM, November 26, 2009  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Hi Michael James Hill,

I'd love to hear a bit more. What did you mean about understanding Luther would make it difficult to be Methodist? Because he is so bad/wrong, why would I want to be any sort of Protestant? Or because he is so good/correct why be anything but Lutheran?

I like what Luther says about the relationship between the promises of God (given in Word and Sacrament) and faith and covenant on the one hand, while I am a bit skeptical of how he seems play off Law vs. Grace against one another (I agree with Calvin in seeing more continuity there). Luther's views on depravity, sin, and predestination are a bit too close to Calvin for me.

My theological convictions really put me very close to John Wesley's theology and practice, so either The United Methodist Church or some Anglican group seems to be the right place for me. My frustrations with The United Methodist Church generally have to do with our collective failure to appropriate Wesley's theology and practice - but most folks still seem to believe that we ought to, so I am cautiously hopeful about our communion and attempting to do my little part here and elsewhere.

5:53 PM, November 29, 2009  
Blogger Andrew C. Thompson said...

Daniel -

I've been away from the blogosphere a lot lately, so I missed this interesting post. Thanks for sharing it! I love this kind of stuff.

Here are some thoughts connected to certain figures -

Stanley Hauerwas - I think it's almost certain that Hauerwas is the most widely-read contemporary Methodist theologian in an ecumenical sense. Some would argue that Hauerwas isn't really Methodist anymore (he worships with an Episcopal congregation and his most significant recent work - including writing, collaborating, and co-editing the Blackwell Companion to Christian ethics - has been around themes related to worship and the Book of Common Prayer). But he remains a Methodist by denominational affiliation, and he teaches at a Methodist seminary. Perhaps most importantly, one could make the strong argument that Hauerwas' development of virtue ethics in an eclectic style that combines Aristotle, Aquinas, Barth, Wittgenstein, Yoder, MacIntyre, Lindbeck, etc., is a real demonstration of Wesley's understanding of the "Catholic Spirit." One could argue, similarly, that the strong emphasis on sanctification in the Wesleyan tradition remains in the background of much of Hauerwas' work (and I've heard him mention this personally in public lectures).

Other suggestions in the posts and responses are, I think, correct. Outler was a top-notch historical theologian, but his primary legacy will be in what he did for Methodism in the time immediately before and after the formation of the UMC (and in particular for his role in birthing modern critical Wesley Studies).

Abraham is a fascinating figure. In the world of Methodism, perhaps his most important contribution can be seen in his pointed and consistent critiques of the so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral (itself a creation of Outler, interestingly enough). But his larger project, which he has dubbed "Canonical Theism," could provide him with a more ecumenical influence. I think the jury is still out on CT, though. It has both promise and potential weaknesses.

In the world of biblical studies, your first respondent is correct in mentioning Witherington and Hays (although they are often read by different audiences). Hays wrote one of the most important works in biblical studies of the past 50 years. And the work he has done may well help to heal the rift between biblical studies and theology caused by the Enlightenment-era division of the theological curriculum.

Speaking of Hauerwas, in the area of theological ethics, we shouldn't forget Hauerwas' older contemporary Paul Ramsey. Ramsey was hugely influential in the mid-20th century and remains an essential figure when discussing Christian ethics in Niebuhrian America.

In the Methodist world, I think we'll look back on the last 25 year of the 20th century as crucial in beginning to develop an intellectually serious aspect to the Wesleyan tradition that can contribute to the church catholic. (Part of that is owed to Outler, Frank Baker, and others, of course.) And right now I think Randy Maddox and Ken Collins are doing as much as anybody to provide us with a theological account of Wesleyan thought that will sustain ongoing work for the foreseeable future. I tend to think Maddox is the more theologically creative of the two, but then again, Maddox is one of my chief influences and a direct teacher of mine. Asbury folk might say otherwise!

To be continued...

8:29 PM, December 05, 2009  
Blogger Andrew C. Thompson said...

... I think I ran over the character limit. Here's a conclusion -

One side project I've been working on lately is a projected reading list for a course on the Anglican theological background of Wesleyan Methodism. I'd love to teach a course like that someday. I would include both people John Wesley read as well as people who were very influential in shaping the Anglican theological tradition that shaped Wesley (even if he didn't directly read them).

In that list, I would definitely include Cranmer, as you mention. Staying in the 16th century, Richard Hooker has to be included, of course. In the 17th century, I think the two most important figures are probably Jeremy Taylor (in the area of holy living) and Anthony Horneck (for the historical and theological underpinning for religious societies). An 18th century figure that would have to be included is William Law, whose early influence on Wesley remained important even if Wesley broke with him when he made his mid-1730s mystical turn. There are other significant figures, both I think those are some of the most important ones.

Part of the reason I'm interested in a project like that is the continuing need to develop a coherent Wesleyan ecclesiology. Grounding the Wesleyan movement in its larger Anglican milieu is helpful both to understanding Methodism and to placing it in an ecumenical context.


8:29 PM, December 05, 2009  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...


A couple of points. My first respondent up there is actually my brother who is studying at Duke Divinity right now - I think you two should meet sometime.

Thanks for the in-depth post - I've been introduced to a name or two that I'll have to read up on. And I agree with what you said on Abraham - the Canonical Theism project has actually involved a few of my SMU profs and I thought the proposals of the book were fascinating; I think rather similar to Tom Oden's work, though using slightly different criteria (they look for formal canons while he looked for consensus that might be formalized in a canon).

I also am excited about your Anglican background to Wesleyanism project. I've got William Law and Jeremy Taylor and some others sitting on my self right now and I think the UM Church could do alot worse than studying the Anglican divines. I've been working on a little project to render Wesley's Sunday Service Book into a contemporary language/format to make the jewel of the Anglican traditon (as edited by John Wesley) more accessible to UM Christians today, though if I can't get it published, I may just put it on here as a PDF or something.

10:03 AM, December 07, 2009  

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