Thursday, September 30, 2010

Criteria for "Top Ten Christians"

The September 15 posting on this blog was about my list of “Top Ten Christians.” I appreciate the many comments and suggestions made about that list. Because of the response received, I have, somewhat reluctantly, replaced William Stringfellow with Thomas Merton. I am considering other changes, such as replacing Clarence Jordan with Roger Williams.
Some objected to the idea of making such a list. One of my closest Facebook friends wrote, Time magazine called Stanley Hauerwas the best theologian in the U. S.; Hauerwas replied that ‘best’ was not a theological category. I think I agree.” I responded, Hauerwas is probably right, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to identify those who serve as the best examples of what it means to follow Christ.”
Some thought the list should be more inclusive; specifically, they thought there should be more women on the list. If I were to add another woman, at this point I am most likely to choose Catherine Mumford Booth, the co-founder of the Salvation Army, or Lottie Moon, the outstanding Baptist missionary to China. But to add another woman, which man should be eliminated?
Some wondered about the criteria used in composing my list. An old TF, old not just in the sense that she is the same age I am but also because we first met fifty-five years ago, wrote, I’m not sure why I react negatively to the idea of a top ten Christian list. I’ve been pondering that since you posted it. But if it is a good thing, I would wonder why Clarence Jordan would outclass William Carey or Lottie Moon. Does social action trump quiet sacrificial living? There is something oddly ironic about the notion on which such a list rests. But I'll keep thinking.”
I like the closing words, “I’ll keep thinking.” That is largely why I write this blog, to think and to encourage others to think on topics of shared concerns. The above comment prompted me to think more deeply about the criteria for making a list of the top ten Christians. And after starting to work on those criteria, I received an e-mail from another perceptive TF who wrote, “I would be interested to learn what criteria are important or inconsequential.”
My starting point was St. Francis, who is often said to be the best historical example of a person who literally lived like Jesus. So, who else lived and acted the way Francis (and Jesus) did? Such a consideration should, I think, include criteria such as these:
·       observing a simple lifestyle (no personal luxuries)
·       living a life of love for others as much as self quite literally
·       working for social justice and peace as well as for salvation in the more traditional (evangelical) sense
·       experiencing opposition by political leaders and/or the religious “establishment”
The people on my “top ten” list meet these basic criteria; most other notable and noteworthy Christians do not to the same extent.


  1. You are trying to find ten individuals who are "the best examples of what it means to follow Christ." As you get there, I might suggest looking at the disciples in shaping that criteria. These are the ones Jesus chose to follow him. What did he see in them that we might emulate as we follow Christ? Those of us with a bent toward history like getting as close to the original source material as we can!!!

    In considering the disciples, perhaps you wouldn't change your criteria.

    I tend to agree with other comments that the idea of a "top ten list" seems out of place with this category. But I do like the idea of identifying examples of those who followed with little regard for themselves. I wouldn't be satisfied with just ten. I wonder what a list of 100 would look like?

    Perhaps here lies the framework for your next book, hundred examples of what it means to follow Christ. I think such a list would allow people to see that following Christ is definitely a personal journey lived out in myriad ways.

  2. Dr. Glenn Hinson sent the following in an e-mail received a few minutes ago:

    "Douglas Steere listed these qualities for saints, Leroy:
    --irradiated by the grace of God,
    --seek not to be safe but to be faithful,
    --have learned how to get along in adversity,
    --are joyful,
    --are "kindlers and purifiers of dreams,"
    --above all, are prayerful.

    "I think most people you listed would fit those, although you don't use the word saint."

  3. One of my Thinking Friends who lives in Virginia sent an e-mail that included the following comment:

    "My suggestion would be to expand the list to 20 or 25 so as not to exclude some possible great example of one who lived outstandingly for Christ. Also, you might have to consider whether one lived their whole life or a significant part of their life for Christ. For example, Francis of Assisi did not live his whole life in such a way as to fit the category and John Newton certainly lived the later part of his life in such a manner that his life has certainly has blessed multitudes with evidence of what a difference Christ can make in any life. Shouldn't the effects of his/her life worldwide count as well as the wonderful but quiet life of the saintly person. I agree that 'evangelism' in the way it is used often might not be a criteria but you and I certainly would believe that our life needs to be a 'witness' 'to the ends of the earth.'"

  4. I have found the Douglas Steere list to be very compelling, and have posted it for daily personal review.

    Thank you.

  5. The simple concepts are appealing.

    However, four specifics are missing:
    1) No mention of being a follower of Christ alone and a commitment to his 4 love mandates (God/neighbor/enemy/one another (all fellow disciples)).
    2) No delineation of the oft repeated biblical justice issues: assisting the poor (whoever or whatever that means); the widow/(husbandless), the orphan/(fatherless), the foreigner(refugee) in the land.
    3) Repentance/abstaining from the vices: pride/arrogance, addiction to drugs (including the culturally acceptable ones), addiction to chance/gambling, non-traditional marital sex, etc.
    4) Big picture mission to the nations (we forget the oft repeated heart-beat of God and the scope of the initial apostolic invasion - much of Europe, Asia, Africa - all but one martyred).

    I really like the Steere list, with some minor modifications, as a summary, but how many in our hero lists fit the details? Of the modern day "heroes of the faith" I come up with four unknowns who fulfill the details (except martyrdom).