My Big Five

Dan has introduced the overall concept of this series, so I won’t repeat his comments again. I will note that in my case, several of my choices could be replaced by other very similar people that I read around the same time as those figures, but ultimately this whole exercise is on the arbitrary side and is for fun, so here goes!

1. CS Lewis. In the early half of my high school career I started to read Christian apologetics and study the Bible, and one of the first major apologists I came into contact with was CS Lewis. I think, as I look back, that God especially blessed me. Lewis was an exceptional man and Christian scholar, and had gifts beyond that of apologetics. However, one of the main things I learned from Lewis which has stuck with me since those years was that Christianity was really true: that there was good reason to believe it, and that it claims to be the correct description of reality (both nature and history). Lewis’ classic Mere Christianity was seminal for me in this stage of my growth.

2. Cornelius van Til. Outside of American and/or conservative Presbyterian circles, van Til is often known for his acerbic criticisms of Karl Barth, but for me he will always be synonymous with the recognition that ultimately our covenantal loyalty to Christ must control everything else in our thought and life. He was the founder of one of the more popular versions of presuppositional apologetics, which attempted to mount a kind of Kantian transcendental argument for Christianity: that the Christian system was a logical prerequisite to all thought, period. I have since come to recognize that van Til’s apologetic is more helpful as an agenda rather than as a single argument, but still am appreciative of van Til for first introducing to me to the “biased” nature of all thinking.

3. John Frame. I feel Frame’s influence continually on me in my theological method. Unlike many today, Frame has articulated a philosophically sophisticated biblicism: Frame always keeps front and center that for Reformed theologians, scripture is always the ultimate standard in every area of human life. In addition, consciously and unconsciously I have sought to emulate and follow Frame’s intentionally irenic and evangelically ecumenical project: to always try to put the most charitable construal on any opponent’s comments that one can, and to always try to anticipate and incorporate their perspective into your own.

4. Peter Leithart. Leithart is perhaps the biggest influence on me in many ways. From him I have learned to see the centrality of the church and the sacraments to God’s plan and God’s kingdom for and in history, and to be cautiously but truly “For Constantine” in philosophical and theological disputes over the relevance of religion and the church to society and the state. In many ways, Leithart has put flesh on idealistic “worldview” thinking I learned from van Til. As well, I have learned from Leithart how to read the Bible in a whole different way: instead of reading the Bible simply to confirm my Reformed heritage, I have come to love the Scriptures for their internal complexity and beauty (especially in the typological patterns suffused throughout), and I have come to absorb Leithart’s project of trying to get Christians to “speak Bible” (rather than try to translate the Bible into other idioms, instead try to “fit the world into the text”). More than any of the others on my “5”, I hope gets more of a hearing in the wider Christian community in days to come.

5. Dallas Willard. Willard filled in a gap emphasized less in the above four: personal spirituality and moral development. While I’m sure the above four men would agree that these things are necessary, I have not found anyone who writes with so much wisdom and clarity on the formation of the soul into the image of Christ, and how practical that process really is meant to be. Further, through his work I have come to appreciate the charismatic and pietistic wings of the church in a way that would not be natural for the Anglican and Presbyterian theologies of the above four.