I had a somewhat humerous idea the other night about how to explain the great theologians to sports crazed, and theologically dazed, christians. (I would like to note that I am anything but a sports fan, so if some of my statements about the players mentionned below are not entirely accurate, I hope that I will be forgiven.) Every player in the NBA is an exceptional basketball player. They wouldn't be there if they weren't. However, some players in the NBA shine more than others. Back in the 1990s the Chicago Bulls became probably the top team in the NBA due to the excellent playing and teamwork of Michael Jordan, Scotty Pippen, that guy who was able to hit every 3 pointer that he shot, and Dennis Rodman (though I am not a sports fan, I would have had to be living in total reclusion from society not to be aware of this fact). This is not to say that there weren't other excellent players. The Phoenix Suns had Charles Barkley, and the Lakers had Shaquille O'Neil. In spite of the excellence of Barkley and Shaq, they were unable (for the most part) to lead their teams to beat the bulls trio of Jordan, Pippen and the 3 point shooter (whose name I can't remember). Barkley and Shaq were able to, individually, take on the individual players of the Bulls, but were unable to lead their teams to victory. How can this help to understand the relation of the great theologians?
We begin by considering christian theologians as if they were NBA players. Just as all NBA players are excellent basketball players, so all those who merit the title of Christian theologian or philosopher are excellent thinkers. Putting aside all denominational affiliations, and concentrating exclusively on theological schools of thought, Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas are like Pippen, the 3-point shooter, and Jordan. These thinkers represent, in general, a certain school of theological thought that is commonly referred to (for good or for bad) as traditional christianity. Almost all other Christian thinkers, from all Christian (non-heretical) denominations, are able to trace all or most of their doctrinal positions back to one, or to all three, of these great thinkers. This school of theological thought is widely considered to be the most coherent, credible and truthful. Thomas Aquinas, like Jordan (for basketball), is probably one of the greatest thinkers that the Christian church has ever produced. Augustine (as Pippen was for Jordan), though not quite on the same level as Aquinas, plays a supporting role that is so important to Aquinas, that we could easily say that without Augustine there would be no Aquinas. Anselm (as the 3-point shooter whose name I cannot remember) is not given the credit that he is due, but his theological prowess has had enormous repurcussions in the thought of Christian theology.
Who would Barkley and Shaq be represented by? Barkley was not quite as good a player as Jordan, but he was an excellent player. We would have seen Barkley shine more had he been backed up by a team such as Jordan had. Shaq, though not quite on the same level of athletic prowess as the other aforementioned players, cannot be dismissed as just another NBA player. On the contrary, what made Shaq such an interesting player was his enormous slam dunks and defensiive ability. With these points in mind, we can say that John Calvin is like Charles Barkley, and Jacobus Arminius is like Shaq. Calvin is an excellent theologian who, though not quite on the same par as Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas, holds to many of the same teachings. Indeed, Calvin is more like these three excellent theologians than unlike them. Arminius, on the other hand, like Shaq, though not nearly as skilled as the other theologians, neither is he just an ordinary theologian. Shaq, in the 90s had his good days and his bad days, but when he nailed a point it was always great. In the same way, it is always worth noting when Arminius makes a solid point, however, on the whole, he is just not quite on the same level as the previously mentionned theologians.
If you're wondering who Rodman would represent in the theological world, don't look to far, as the bad boy of the NBA (both off of the court and on the court), Rodman is best represented by Pelagius. Pelagius was, inspite of his many errors, an excellent theologian, and should not be dismissed without serious consideration of his worth in theological discussions.