My posting on September 5 closed with a reference to Francis of Assisi, who is called “the last Christian” by Adolf Holl. No doubt most of us “Christians” today would disagree that Francis, literally, was the last Christian. But who are the “best” Christians in history? In addition to Francis, who else could be put on a list of “top ten” Christians?
I have tried to think through this question to a degree, and I am now sharing the list I came up with. But first, a couple of qualifiers: from the beginning I excluded from consideration Christians of New Testament times or the early Christian martyrs. Also, I have weighted my list toward more recent times but haven’t included anyone still living.
Also, by “best” I certainly am not thinking in terms of greatest influence. I am focusing primarily upon those who seemed to live most consistently in the spirit of Jesus, those who followed in Jesus’ footsteps most closely and were most faithful to his teachings. And it should be recognized that these are exemplary Christians in the last part of their lives; some became “good” Christians only after a life-changing experience, such as Francis had when he was about twenty-four years old.
Here is my current list of the “top ten” Christians:
* Francis of Assisi (1181/2–1226)
* Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz, and the other 16th century “Swiss Brethren”
* Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55)
* Kagawa Toyohiko (1888–1960)
* Dorothy Day (1897–1980)
* Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–45)
* Mother Teresa (1910–97)
* Clarence Jordan (1912–69)
* William Stringfellow (1928–85)
* Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–68)
The people on the above list deserve to be there, IMHO, but that does not mean they were perfect people. For example, MLK, Jr., was guilty of marital infidelities that I cannot excuse. Most of the others had their own foibles. Still, by how they lived, what they said (wrote), and what they did, these are the “top ten Christians” on my list at this point. (I reserve the right to change this list at any point.)
I would be very interested in having readers of this blog respond by suggesting others that they think deserve to be on this list. But for each new name added, I would like suggestions of whom to eliminate to keep the list at ten.