Theologians Who Influenced Me

I think it’s important, from time to time, to think back and reflect on those Christian thinkers, teachers, authors, etc. who have significantly influenced you and shaped your own theology, life, and ministry. I have had many wonderful blessings over the course of my preparation for and involvement in ministry, and I would not be who I am today had it not been for the teachers I had and the books they placed in my hands. So I want to pause and reflect on that this morning (you’ll just have to excuse this self-indulgence).

10) John MacArthur – early in my studies I stumbled across this author that I had heard my pastor mention a time or two. I found a book of his for $1 at a used book store and figured I’d read it, and impress my pastor with what I had found. Little did I know how challenging that book would be in my life. Ashamed of the Gospel confronted me with my own doctrinal laziness, and helped me to see the weaknesses of so many churches with their entertainment based model of ministry. As I grew I would often reflect again on the lessons I learned in that book. MacArthur captured my attention for years to come. It was from him I learned how important faithful exposition of the Scriptures can be. He beat the supremacy, sufficiency, and authority of Scripture into my head through his commentaries, sermons, and lectures. I have since grown tired of MacArthur’s frequent divisiveness, but I will never forget those lessons I learned from him. And as I still often consult his commentaries I am grateful to God for the ministry he has.

9) R.C. Sproul – Growing up as a young Baptist kid I had never had many interactions with Presbyterians. In fact before I went away to college I don’t know that I had known many outside of my uncle, whom I had never talked to about theology and church life. So when I began listening to and reading Sproul I had no clue that he wasn’t a Baptist. What I knew was that he was a philosopher and he was funny. There wasn’t anything that I learned from Sproul specifically that I wasn’t, at the same time, also learning from others, but more than anything my world was opening up because of him. Suddenly Presbyterianism was on my radar and because of Sproul I found a slew of authors, a history of Christianity, that I would never have discovered on my own. Sproul spoke often of Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, and James Montgomery Boice. Names that I had never heard of nor cared to were suddenly on the forefront of my mind and I was investigating them all. It was Sproul who, unintentionally, opened my word beyond the small little Baptist enclave I had grown in. It was possible to hold a different position on baptism, church governance, and end times and still be considered a Christian brother. I can’t overstate how important a lesson that was for me to learn.

8) R. Albert Mohler Jr. – My president! Dr. Mohler had an impact on my life long before I became a student under him at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His radio program and daily blog posts helped me see that it was not only possible, but necessary, to be an intelligent and thoughtful Christian. Along with Ravi Zacharias, whose book Jesus Among Other Gods had a profound impact on me early on, I was amazed at the depth and breadth of Mohler’s knowledge. He could talk about history, culture, politics, art, theology, and philosophy and never misstep. It was here that I began to desire to be a theologian. I began to read more diversely and more intently. Having not read more than a handful of books in my entire life up to that point, I owe much of my desire for reading to what I learned from Mohler.

7) John Piper – If there is one preacher that I never grow tired of hearing from it’s John Piper. The preaching pastor from Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN has an almost unparalleled ability to communicate dynamically from the pulpit. It was piper who connected for me the intellect and the passion. Piper is all about passion, in fact his entire theology stems from the belief that the enjoyment of God is part and parcel of the worship of God. I had never thought of joy in God as a duty, and while I might now sometimes consider Piper’s point a bit overstated I nonetheless appreciate it greatly. Joy in God is not just icing on the cake. Delight and passion aren’t secondary to obedience, they are part of obedience. Piper was important for me because as I was growing in my theological understanding I was often becoming cold and academic. Piper saw me how theology must affect my heart too, and he (along with my wife, a far better theologian then than I was) was not afraid to criticise the cold academic exercise of theology. It was also Piper who introduced me, through his writings to Jonathan Edwards. Edwards’ work The End For Which God Created The World had a profound impact on me, and still does to this day. It is clear where Piper got his theological formulations from, and so I owe much thanks to God for both of those men.

6) Timothy Keller – When it comes to practitioners there are many names that I could celebrate and express appreciation for. Mark Dever certainly helped me to think critically about the church. Ed Stetzer helped me to rethink the entire missional movement. Rob Bell gave me a model of engaging communication (though what he communicated was often questionable at best). I might also express thanks for Matt Chandler, Jonathan Dodson, Matt Carter, Darrin Patrick, Bob Lupton, Dan Kimball, and even Andy Stanley. But at the top of this list would have to be Tim Keller, pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan. Keller has modeled both good preaching and great theological vision for me. His new book on philosophy of ministry will probably be unparalleled in my universe. It was his little volume on social justice, however, that has most immediately affected me. I, like many other pastors, had always seen social justice as an arm of liberal anti-gospel ministry. But Keller rooted this ministry practice in the Scriptures, gave me a deep theological framework for considering it, defended it against common criticisms, and gave some helpful advice on practical implementation. I had been doing ministry like this for some time, and others had directed me to it, but Keller gave me the best footing for standing firm on it. Our church interacts daily with those in desperate need, whether it is alcoholics, addicts, or the homeless. Our ministry could not function simply on a preaching ministry, we must get our hands dirty. Keller gave me a model and a theology for doing this in an effective way. Practically few men have been as important to my present ministry Tim Keller has.

5) Mark Driscoll – Perhaps even more influential than Keller for my present ministry has been pastor Mark Driscoll. Now I have plenty of frustrations with the shock-preacher, and I have expressed those elsewhere, but early on in my first ministry Driscoll was profoundly important to my development. He opened up to me the importance of contextualization in a way that I had never before heard discussed. For quite some time I had been blind to the ways in which my own cultural adaptations of Christianity had made it inaccessible to others, and Driscoll helped me to see how to engage my culture, evaluate it, and contextualize the gospel in it. It isn’t about compromise, as I had often assumed (and as so many often do), rather it was about communicating the unchanging truth to a changing culture. This lesson has shaped my entire philosophy of ministry in very profound ways. Keller’s new book gives some better articulation to it than Driscoll did in his small volume Radical Reformission, but it was Driscoll who first turned me on to missional living and for that I am deeply indebted to God. He demonstrated to me that not all culture was bad, and that all legalism was. Through his combination of wit and sarcasm I was able to step outside the fundamentalist bubble that I had long been frustrated by, and move forward in ministry and life with freedom. For that reason alone I could put his name on this list.

4) J.I. Packer – If there is a theologian on this list whom I have read more from than any other it’s Packer. His has written on a wide range of topics and shaped many theological, historical, and practical discussions because of it. But most significantly for me is Packer’s teaching on the Puritans. Not only would I probably not know who the Puritans were, but I wouldn’t care, were it not for Packer’s book A Quest for Godliness. I have read this book close to ten times and every time I read it I am captivated by something new. Packer not only opened up the world of the Puritans to me, but compelled me to read them first-hand too. John Bunyan’s volume on Prayer, John Owen’s The Mortification of Sin, Thomas Watson’s The Doctrine of Repentance, these and countless other books have been a special addition to my theological reading over the years. The Puritans understood better than anyone else the practical implications of theological reflection. All their volumes could be classified under the heading Christian Living, despite their theological treatise form. It was Packer who taught me how to read them, and why I should, and for that reason alone he has forever influenced me.

3) Martin Luther – I have long been enamored by Luther. For years I have studied him, read him, and laughed at him. The age of the Reformation has captivated me, and perhaps because of my own rebellious streak Luther in particular has garnered my affection. It’s not that I always agree with him. Often I find him extreme, vulgar, and ridiculous. But he deeply believed the gospel, defended the importance and supremacy of the Scriptures, and was willing to die for the purity of the church. What is not to love about those qualities. He had numerous faults, no doubt, but in spite of those I love him. What I love most about Luther is reading about his own conversion and confrontation with the church. Roland Bainton’s biography Here I Stand may be one of the best books I have ever read. And Luther’s The Bondage of the Will isn’t just hilarious at times, but brilliant. Luther knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards, and that is a challenge to me to dig deep and read long. He was willingly excommunicated for his commitment to these Scriptures, and would have willingly been killed for them. If that isn’t a great example and a challenge for me to read them deeply then I don’t know what is.

2) John M. Frame – I can’t begin to list all the ways in which the writings of John Frame have influenced me. His massive Doctrine of God was the first book I read in seminary, and I can remember being so amazed at how accessible it was. That is partly because of his understanding of theology. He defines it as the application of the Word of God to life. If theology isn’t accessible then it isn’t theology. I love that about him. He profoundly shaped my epistemology too. Frame’s volume on The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, might be among the top five most influential books of my life. It helped me to wrestle with epistemic justification, the authority of Scripture, the role of experience, and circular reasoning. I still frequently refer to this volume. But equally important is Frame’s influence on my own willingness to learn from other traditions. In the Reformed community tribalism and solipsism are common. But Frame has been willing to learn from others, dialogue with others, and acknowledge all truth is God’s truth. He has treated other theologies with grace and kindness, rarely is he dismissive or condescending, and he is always ready to reform according to Scripture. While he certainly loves his tradition, he does not think it has the market on truth, nor is it above questioning. Frame is a rare breed within higher academia and especially within Reformed theology. I love that about him and have tried to follow his model in humble theological engagement.

1) Frank Tallerico – You most likely won’t know this name if you live beyond the immediacy of my city. Frank Tallerico has been a local pastor in Scioto County Ohio for more than 30 years. At Reformed Theological Seminary and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School he was trained by some of the most prominent theologians in the world (John Gerstner, D.A. Carson, J. Ligon Duncan III, etc.). But the bulk of his ministry he has spent laboring and loving people in small Southern Ohio towns. For over 21 years he was a faithful pastor at the same church. He was constantly learning, growing, and expanding. He trained and discipled young men for years. He counseled in and helped innumerable people through difficulty and sin. And he preached the Word of God faithfully with accuracy and passion. For all the wealth of knowledge I have received from big name theologians and authors, it is this man from whom I have learned the most. It is crucial for every young theologian and pastor to have someone actively present in their life modeling for them what effective ministry looks like. I have asked Frank more practical and theological questions than I ever could have asked professors and authors over the years. His own life experience gives him volumes of knowledge to draw from, and his awareness of our area allows him to speak directly to cultural engagement in a way that even Tim Keller can’t speak (because he’s never been to my city). But more than just his knowledge and ministry help, Frank has been a personal friend and accountability partner. Without him I wouldn’t have survived disappointment, setback, and frustrations in ministry. Without him I wouldn’t have been challenged to grow, change, and wait. Without him I would have given up and left a long time ago. Because he has been a mentor and a friend like no other, Frank Tallerico is easily the most important and influential name on this list.

Who has inspired and influenced you in your Christian life? Share you thoughts in the comments, I’d love to know.

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