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.