Famous 20th Century Theologians

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.
4
Famous As: Civil Rights Activist, Minister
Birthdate: January 15, 1929
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Atlanta, Georgia, United States
Died: April 4, 1968

A leader in the civil rights movement in the mid-twentieth century, Martin Luther King Jr. is best remembered for advancing civil rights through nonviolence and civil disobedience. A man of Christian faith who was inspired by Indian freedom fighter Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent activism, he was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize for fighting racial inequality.  

 2 Paul Tillich

Paul Tillich
4
Famous As: Christian existentialist philosopher
Birthdate: August 20, 1886
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Starosiedle, Poland
Died: October 22, 1965

German-American theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich is remembered for his work in the field of Christian existentialism and for concepts such as the method of correlation. His notable works, such as The Courage to Be and the three-volume Systematic Theology, has inspired intellectual thinkers and commoners alike.

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 3 Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda
4
Famous As: Indian Monk
Birthdate: January 12, 1863
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Died: July 4, 1902

The founder of the Ramakrishna Mission and Ramakrishna Math, Swami Vivekananda was an Indian Hindu monk, philosopher, and spiritual leader. He is credited with introducing the Indian philosophies of Yoga and Vedanta to the Western world. He is also credited with elevating the status of Hinduism as a major religion in the modern world by raising interfaith awareness.

 4 Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu
4
Famous As: Anti-Apartheid Activist
Birthdate: October 7, 1931
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Klerksdorp, South Africa
Desmond Tutu is known for his anti-Apartheid activism in South Africa. The first black Archbishop of Cape Town, he has also been the Bishop of Johannesburg. His efforts to eradicate AIDS, poverty, anti-LGBT sentiments, and human rights violations earned him the Nobel Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 5 Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
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Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: February 4, 1906
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Wrocław, Poland
Died: April 9, 1945
Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer is remembered for his anti-Nazi stance, for establishing the Confessing Church, and for authoring the book The Cost of Discipleship. He was sent to the Flossenbürg concentration camp after being imprisoned for a year. He was eventually hanged after being charged of plotting to assassinate Hitler.

 6 Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer
4
Famous As: Theologian, Polymath
Birthdate: January 14, 1875
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Kaysersberg-Vignoble, France
Died: September 4, 1965

Albert Schweitzer was an Alsatian polymath who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 for his philosophical work, Reverence for Life. He is credited with founding the Albert Schweitzer Hospital, which was a direct result of his philosophical expression. Schweitzer is also credited with influencing the Organ reform movement, which began in the mid-20th-century.

 7 Francis Chan

Francis Chan
5
Famous As: Theologian, Author
Birthdate: August 31, 1967
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Hong Kong

The Cornerstone Church and Eternity Bible College founder Francis Chan is a popular Protestant preacher. Apart from authoring the New York Times bestseller Crazy Love, Francis has also penned children’s books such as Halfway Herbert and Ronnie Wilson's Gift. He has also co-launched the discipleship movement named Multiply.

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 8 John F. MacArthur

John F. MacArthur
5
Famous As: Author
Birthdate: June 19, 1939
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Los Angeles, California, United States

John F. MacArthur is an American author and pastor best known for his television and radio program Grace to You which is broadcast all over the world. MacArthur has been playing an important role in the prosperity of a non-denominational, evangelical megachurch called Grace Community Church where he has been serving as a pastor-teacher since 1969.

 9 Martin Niemöller

Martin Niemöller
4
Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: January 14, 1892
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Lippstadt, Germany
Died: March 6, 1984
Best remembered for the quote “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out...,” Martin Niemöller was a German pastor who tried to counter discrimination against Christian converts with Jewish heritage. His Confessing Church was perhaps his apology for initially being a Nazi sympathizer.

 10 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
4
Famous As: Priest
Birthdate: May 1, 1881
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Orcines, France
Died: April 10, 1955

French paleontologist and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is remembered as someone who deviated from theology to science. He discovered the fossilized remains known as the Peking man in China, but faced a lot of opposition from his religious superiors when it came to publishing his scientific thoughts.

 11 Rudolf Otto

Rudolf Otto
3
Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: September 25, 1869
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Peine, Germany
Died: March 6, 1937

Initially a professor of theology, philosopher Rudolf Otto later contributed to some of the most significant works of theology, such as The Idea of the Holy. He was also a member of the Prussian Parliament and is remembered for his services to Christianity and his idea of numinous.

 12 Rowan Douglas Williams

Rowan Douglas Williams
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Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: June 14, 1950
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Swansea, Wales

Rowan Douglas Williams became the first archbishop of Canterbury who was not from the Church of England. The Welsh Anglican bishop has been quite liberal in his views on homosexuality. He has also taught theology courses at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, and is a life peer.

 13 William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig
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Famous As: Philosopher, Theologian, University teacher, Writer
Birthdate: August 23, 1949
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Peoria
William Lane Craig is an American analytic philosopher and theologian who is known for defending the Kalam cosmological argument for the existence of God. He has authored or edited over 30 books, and a hundred articles in professional journals. Craig is a professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University and Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology.

 14 Timothy J. Keller

Timothy J. Keller
5
Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: September 23, 1950
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Allentown, Pennsylvania, United States

The author of the New York Times bestsellers The Prodigal God and The Reason for God, Timothy J. Keller also chairs Redeemer City to City, which establishes new churches and trains pastors. He is also the founder of the Manhattan-based Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In 2020, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

 15 Ali al-Sistani

Ali al-Sistani
4
Famous As: Theologian, Akhoond
Birthdate: August 4, 1930
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Mashhad

 16 Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi

Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi
4
Famous As: Islamic Scholar, Reformer
Birthdate: June 14, 1856
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Bareilly
Died: October 28, 1921

Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi, also known as Ala-Hazrat, was a renowned Islamic scholar and an Urdu poet. Born in Bareilly, British India, he belonged to a family of Rohilla Pushtuns who had migrated from Qandahar. He wrote about various subjects such as philosophy, science, and astronomy.

 17 Adnan Oktar

Adnan Oktar
4
Famous As: Writer, Theologian
Birthdate: February 2, 1956
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Ankara

 18 John Hagee

John Hagee
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Famous As: Pastor, Theologian, Saxophonist
Birthdate: April 12, 1940
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Baytown

The founder of the John Hagee Ministries and the Christians United for Israel, John Hagee has also established the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. He has penned several bestsellers, such as Absolute Power, and is also known for his controversial concepts, such as the blood moon prophecy.

 19 Omar Abdel-Rahman

Omar Abdel-Rahman
4
Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: May 3, 1938
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Dakahlia Governorate, Egypt
Died: February 18, 2017

 20 N. T. Wright

N. T. Wright
4
Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: December 1, 1948
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Morpeth, Northumberland, England

N. T. Wright is an English New Testament scholar. Also a Pauline theologian and Anglican bishop, he served as the bishop of Durham from 2003 to 2010. He calls for a biblical re-evaluation of theological matters and has authored several books and seminars about theology and Christian life. He is highly regarded in academic and theological circles. 

 21 Ivan Illich

Ivan Illich
4
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: September 4, 1926
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Vienna, Austria
Died: December 2, 2002

Ivan Illich was a Roman Catholic priest, philosopher,  theologian, and social critic. He criticized modern society's institutional approach to education in his book Deshooling Society. He studied theology and philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and was ordained as a priest in 1951. Later on, he founded the Center of Intercultural Formation (CIF) to train missionaries. 

 22 Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong
4
Famous As: Theologian, Writer, University teacher
Birthdate: November 14, 1944
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Worcestershire

Karen Armstrong is a British commentator and author best known for writing books on comparative religion. Her work emphasizes the commonalities of major world religions like the Golden Rule and the importance of compassion. Karen Armstrong has received several prestigious awards, such as the Freedom of Worship Award and the Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Global Cultural Understanding.

 23 Max Lucado

Max Lucado
6
Famous As: Theologian, Writer
Birthdate: January 11, 1955
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: San Angelo
A best-selling author and pastor at Oak Hills Church, Max Lucado is known for combining poetic storytelling and homespun humor. With over 120 million copies sold in 54 languages, Max is dubbed as America’s Pastor. He received three Gold Medallion Book of the Year awards for his books, Just Like Jesus, In the Grip of Grace, and When God Whispers Your Name.

 24 Jeremiah Wright

Jeremiah Wright
6
Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: September 22, 1941
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Philadelphia

Dr. Jeremiah Wright had initially served the Marine Corps before joining the U.S. Navy as a cardiopulmonary technician. He has also been a professor, and his research interests include Black Sacred Music and African diaspora studies. He also led the Trinity United Church of Christ as a pastor.

 25 Jacques Ellul

Jacques Ellul
4
Famous As: Theologian, Philosopher, Writer, Sociologist, University teacher
Birthdate: January 6, 1912
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Bordeaux
Died: May 19, 1994

 26 Francis Schaeffer

Francis Schaeffer
3
Famous As: Theologian, Philosopher
Birthdate: January 30, 1912
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia
Died: May 15, 1984

Francis Schaeffer was an American philosopher, evangelical theologian, and Presbyterian pastor. He is credited with co-founding the L'Abri community, an evangelical Christian organization, along with his wife Edith Schaeffer. Francis Schaeffer's work has influenced several Christian conservative leaders like Tim LaHaye as well as members of the L'Abri community.

 27 Israr Ahmed

Israr Ahmed
3
Famous As: Philosopher, Theologian, University teacher
Birthdate: April 26, 1932
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Hisar
Died: April 14, 2010

 28 Shmuley Boteach

Shmuley Boteach
5
Famous As: Writer, Theologian, Rabbi
Birthdate: November 19, 1966
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Los Angeles

Orthodox rabbi and author Shmuley Boteach, also known as the host of Shalom in the Home, soared to international fame with the release of his book Kosher Sex. The father of nine was a spiritual advisor to Michael Jackson and has founded the pro-Israel non-profit The World Values Network.

 29 George Pell

George Pell
4
Famous As: Cardinal
Birthdate: June 8, 1941
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Ballarat, Australia

Australian archbishop George Pell had served as the first prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy. He had also played professional Australian rules football before stepping into priesthood. He made headlines in 2018, when he was convicted of child sexual assault, though the conviction was reversed later.

 30 Daniel Berrigan

Daniel Berrigan
3
Famous As: Peace activist, Theologian, Writer, University teacher
Birthdate: May 9, 1921
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Virginia
Died: April 30, 2016

Daniel Berrigan was an American anti-war activist, Jesuit priest, Christian pacifist, author, poet, and playwright. Berrigan gained national attention for his protest against the Vietnam War, which landed him on the FBI's most-wanted list. He remained a popular anti-war activist throughout his life, co-founding an anti-nuclear weapons movement called the Plowshares movement in 1980.

 31 Martin Adolf Bormann

Martin Adolf Bormann
3
Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: April 14, 1930
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Grünwald, Bavaria, Germany
Died: March 11, 2013

Son of a top Nazi official, laicized Roman Catholic priest Martin Adolf Bormann found shelter in a church after Germany lost the war. Ordained as a priest, he later served in Congo before leaving the ministry to become a teacher of theology. After retirement, he began traveling across Germany and Austria, talking about the horrors of Nazi rule in schools.

 32 Theodore McCarrick

Theodore McCarrick
3
Famous As: Priest
Birthdate: July 7, 1930
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: New York City, United States

Theodore McCarrick is a former cardinal and laicized bishop of the Catholic Church. He became the first cardinal to resign from the College of Cardinals because of sexual abuse claims in July 2018. Known as a champion of progressive Catholicism and social justice causes, McCarrick was found guilty of sexual crimes and abuse of power. He was dismissed from clergy in 2019.

 33 Abraham Joshua Heschel

Abraham Joshua Heschel
3
Famous As: Rabbi
Birthdate: January 11, 1907
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Warsaw
Died: December 23, 1972

Born into a family of rabbis in Warsaw, Abraham Joshua Heschel managed to move to London before Germany’s invasion of Poland but lost his mother and sisters to the Holocaust. The theologian eventually set base in New York, where he continued his work on Jewish philosophy and American civil rights.

 34 Marcel Lefebvre

Marcel Lefebvre
3
Famous As: Theologian, Catholic priest
Birthdate: November 29, 1905
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Tourcoing
Died: March 25, 1991

Marcel Lefebvre was a French Roman Catholic archbishop who founded the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). He joined the Holy Ghost Fathers for missionary work as a young man and was ordained a diocesan priest in 1929. Years later, he was appointed the Vicar Apostolic of Dakar, Senegal, and the Apostolic Delegate for West Africa.  

 35 Edir Macedo

Edir Macedo
3
Famous As: Theologian, Writer
Birthdate: February 18, 1945
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Rio das Flores

 36 Peter L. Berger

Peter L. Berger
3
Famous As: Sociologist, Theologian, University teacher
Birthdate: March 17, 1929
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Vienna

Born in Austria, Peter L. Berger initially moved to Palestine and eventually to the U.S. after World War II. While aspiring to be a Lutheran minister, he ended up being a sociologist. He taught at various institutes, such as Boston University, and penned the iconic book The Social Construction of Reality.

 37 John Shelby Spong

John Shelby Spong
4
Famous As: Priest, Theologian, Philosopher, Writer
Birthdate: June 16, 1931
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Charlotte

John Shelby Spong is an author, religion commentator, theologian, and retired bishop of the Episcopal Church. Over the years, he has appeared on several national television broadcasts, such as Larry King Live, The Today Show, and 60 Minutes. In 1999, he was honored with the Humanist of the Year award.

 38 Leo Baeck

Leo Baeck
2
Famous As: Rabbi
Birthdate: May 23, 1873
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Leszno, Poland
Died: November 2, 1956

German rabbi and spiritual leader Leo Baeck remains a symbol of liberal Jewish thinking of the Nazi era. He is best remembered for The Essence of Judaism and This People Israel, the latter of which was penned by him while in a Nazi concentration camp.

 39 R. C. Sproul

R. C. Sproul
4
Famous As: Theologian, Philosopher, Non-fiction writer, University teacher
Birthdate: February 13, 1939
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Pittsburgh

R. C. Sproul was a Reformed theologian. He was an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America and also the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries. He has been described as the greatest proponent of the recovery of Reformed theology in the 20th century. He was a popular speaker and a  co-pastor at Saint Andrew's Chapel as well.  

 40 John Stott

John Stott
3
Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: April 27, 1921
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: London, England
Died: July 27, 2011

 41 John Ortberg

John Ortberg
3
Famous As: Author, Theologian, Psychologist
Birthdate: May 5, 1957
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Rockford

John Ortberg is an evangelical Christian speaker and author. A prolific writer, John Ortberg's book If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat won the 2002 Christianity Today Book Award. In 2008, his book When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box won the ECPA Christian Book Award.

 42 Hans Urs von Balthasar

Hans Urs von Balthasar
4
Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: August 12, 1905
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Lucerne, Switzerland
Died: June 26, 1988

 43 Karl Rahner

Karl Rahner
3
Famous As: Theologian, Writer, University teacher, Catholic priest
Birthdate: March 5, 1904
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Freiburg im Breisgau
Died: March 30, 1984

One of the most significant theologians of the 20th century, Karl Rahner was a disciple of Martin Heidegger at the University of Freiburg. His works such as Spirit in the World and Hearers of the Word showcase the Roman Catholic doctrine and its many interpretations.

 44 Erwin McManus

Erwin McManus
3
Famous As: Author, Theologian
Birthdate: August 28, 1958
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: El Salvador

The lead pastor of the Los Angeles megachurch Mosaic, Erwin McManus is also a filmmaker and a poet. He has traveled across the world, speaking on spiritual topics, has created the TBN show McManus, and has penned several books, such as Soul Cravings and Chasing Daylight.

 45 Timothy M. Dolan

Timothy M. Dolan
5
Famous As: Theologian, University teacher, Catholic priest
Birthdate: February 6, 1950
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: St. Louis

The archbishop of New York, Timothy M. Dolan has previously also served as the archbishop of Milwaukee. He has also penned several religious books, such as Doers of the Word and Called to Be Holy. He was also assigned with the task of handling cases of priests engaging in sexual abuse.

 46 Elaine Pagels

Elaine Pagels
4
Famous As: Historian
Birthdate: February 13, 1943
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Palo Alto, California, United States

Elaine Pagels is an American historian who serves as a professor at Princeton University. Pagels, who is credited with conducting extensive research into Gnosticism and early Christianity, came up with the influential book The Gnostic Gospels. The book has been named among the 100 best books of the 20th century by Modern Library.

 47 Mary Daly

Mary Daly
3
Famous As: Philosopher
Birthdate: October 16, 1928
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Schenectady, New York, United States
Died: January 3, 2010

 48 John Dominic Crossan

John Dominic Crossan
3
Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: February 17, 1934
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Nenagh, County Tipperary, Ireland

Irish-American theologian John Dominic Crossan, who has previously been a Roman Catholic priest, was also associated with the Jesus Seminar. It is believed, he had quit Catholic priesthood to marry Margaret, his professor wife, and had then focused on teaching and writing. His written works include Who Killed Jesus?

 49 Rudolf Bultmann

Rudolf Bultmann
3
Famous As: Theologian
Birthdate: August 20, 1884
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Wiefelstede, Germany
Died: July 30, 1976

A professor of New Testament at the University of Marburg, Rudolf Bultmann was a German theologian, known for his work on demythologization, a process that separates cosmological and historic claims from philosophical, ethical and theological teachings. An influential theologian of the post-war era, he undertook pioneering research in historical Jesus, attempting to reconcile faith and reason in a modern context.

 50 Alvin Plantinga

Alvin Plantinga
3
Famous As: Theologian, Philosopher, University teacher
Birthdate: November 15, 1932
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Ann Arbor

Alvin Plantinga is an analytic philosopher best known for his work in the fields of epistemology, philosophy of religion, and logic. He has also served as a professor at institutions like the University of Notre Dame. From 1983 to 1986, he served as the Society of Christian Philosophers' president and is sometimes regarded as the greatest Christian philosopher alive.