Top 10 Most Influential Protestants
A prompt has been making the rounds asking people who the 10 most influential Protestants were for their lives. This seemed like a self-indulgent, fun exercise. So, with all the usual caveats (my parents & pastors, seminary professors, “What does influential even mean?”, influential as far as I notice, does influential equal most read?, influential vs. favorite, etc.), here they are in chronological order. I’ve also included written works for the different figures that have been particularly instrumental in communicating their influence.
I. Martin Bucer (1491-1551). His Ground and Reason is the best and most practical distillation of the Reformed doctrine of worship. De Regeno Christi and Concerning the True Care of Souls are fantastic applied theologies of the Reformation to pastoral ministry and care for the poor. His Strasbourg liturgies and Letters are also insightful in terms of theological method and Protestant ecumenicism.
II. John Calvin (1509-1564). Calvin is deservedly most famous for his Institutes of the Christian Religion, but I have also found his Commentaries (and sermons) to be most insightful. In fact, his brisk exegesis and approach typically has a better grasp of the biblical text than most modern commentaries. Calvin’s Dispute with Sadeleto and The Necessity of Reforming the Church are both brief and excellent defenses of the Reformation project with enduring helpfulness. His Genevan Catechism is a good example of deep theology applied to the life of the children of the church.
III. Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661). Rutherford’s Lex Rex is his most enduring legacy in the broader world, and rightfully so. However, his Letters were once considered his greatest contribution and were for a time ubiquitous in Scottish homes. I have found his Letters to be most comforting and pastorally challenging. His Due Right of Presbyteries and Divine Right of Church Government and Excommunication alongside Lex Rex serve as some of the most cogent arguments for Presbyterian worship, government, and piety, especially compared to the rising individualism of New England Congregationalism. His catechism, The Covenant of Life Opened, and Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself are good examples of scholastic theology brought to bear on the piety of the church.
IV. George Gillespie (1613-1648). Gillespie holds a special place in my heart for being the youngest delegate to the Westminster Assembly and for the no-nonsense, take-no-prisoners approach in his writing. The Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies, Assertion of the Government of the Church Scotland, CXI Propositions Concerning the Ministry and Government of the Church, and Aaron’s Rod Blossoming are the most successfully aggressive defense of a Presbyterian approach to church government and ministry out there. Anytime I find myself tempted by the cosmetic or organizational attractiveness of other church traditions, I just read these. Aaron’s Rod Blossoming is also a good look at Scottish Presbyterian piety.
V. The Westminster Divines. This one is cheating since I include several people (and exclude Scottish commissioners Rutherford and Gillespie), but I think of the following four men as a unit since I studied them together for my M.Th on the Lord’s Supper. They are Edward Reynolds (1599-1676), with his Sermons and Meditations on the Holy Sacrament; Richard Vines (1600-1655) and his Treatise on the Institution, Right Administration, and Receiving of the Lord’s Supper and Christ a Christian’s Only Gain; Anthony Burges (1600-1663), probably the most influential of the four upon me, for his CXLV Expository Sermons Upon the Whole 17th Chapter of the Gospel of John, The True Doctrine of Justification Asserted and Vindicated, A Treatise on Self-Judging, and A Vindication of the Moral Law and the Covenants; and finally Edmund Calamy, Sr. (1600-1666), for his Collection of Sermons, The Art of Divine Meditation, The Happiness of Those Who Sleep in Jesus, and Two Solemn Covenants. Together, these four represent a strand of Puritan scholasticism that is doctrinal and pastoral, and set the course of Presbyterian confessionalism for the next 350+ years.
VI. John Owen (1616-1683). Owen’s influence is incalculable. His 21-volume Works are deeply impressed upon me. More narrowly, his classics Communion with God, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, On the Dominion of Sin and Grace, and The Mortification of Sin are invaluable and have shaped the way I consider personal piety in light of my union with Christ. I also have a deep and growing appreciation for his 7-volume commentary on Hebrews, as well as his Catechisms.
VII. B. B. Warfield (1851-1921). Warfield represents the best of confessional Presbyterian theology in contact with the challenges of modernity. Unlike many others on this list, Warfield relied more on articles than books. However, his Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, Biblical and Theological Studies (a collection of articles), and Calvin and Augustine are all influential, as well as his article “The Right of Systematic Theology.”
VIII. Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949). The first Dutchman on my list! Vos’ pioneering work in biblical theology and redemptive history shaped the course of much theological studies in the 20th and 21st centuries. His Biblical Theology and Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation are effectively my overarching hermeneutic. His Reformed Dogmatics and collection of Princetonian sermons, Grace and Glory, are also excellent.
IX. G. C. Berkouwer (1903-1996). The subject of my 2020 reading project, Berkouwer is probably my favorite modern theologian. His traditional doctrinal convictions in conversation with Neo-orthodoxy and Karl Barth make for invigorating reading. His 14-volume Studies in Dogmatics is worth the read, with Faith and Justification, Faith and Sanctification, Man: The Image of God, General Revelation, and The Sacraments the best of the collection. His critique The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth is also quite good.
X. Sinclair Ferguson (1948-). Dr. Ferguson is the only person on this list that I have known in person. He taught me in two separate graduate institutions, including as a thesis supervisor, and has had more direct influence on my approach to theology than any other single Protestant. His works The Holy Spirit, The Whole Christ, Devoted to God, and collection of essays in Some Pastors and Teachers are the best representations of the best of his work.
Honorable mentions: John Williamson Nevin, Herman Bavinck, John Murray (one of the subjects of my 2019 reading project), Herman Ridderbos, and Timothy Keller.