This is a fascinating question. The original Church Fathers were the leaders that came after the Twelve Apostles. Their ministry and influence carried the Church for several hundred years. These men provided guidance and direction and helped to formulate theology as well as a framework for organization in the Post-Apostolic Church. Their writings are fascinating and insightful. One excellent collection is Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers, published by Penguin Classics. This book contains writings from Clement, Polycarp, and Ignatius, among others. One other book that comes from the Church Fathers that should be read is Augustine’s Confessions. This is a classic work detailing Augustine’s own journey of faith but provides much insight into what the Church was like during his lifetime (354-430 AD).
When we turn our attention to the question of who might qualify as modern day Church Fathers, we must realize that the best that we can do is speculate. Those who are alive usually do not realize that they are making history. The early Church Fathers probably did not understand the pivotal role that they played in the early Church. It was later Church Historians who looked back and recognized the accomplishments of the Church Fathers.
With that in mind, I am going to mention three men whose influence in the modern Church may very well give them the status of “Modern Day Church Fathers.” The first is Pastor David Yongi Cho, of Yoido Full Gospel Church, in Seoul, Korea. This is the largest church in the world, with a membership of over one million. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Yonggi_Cho Dr. Cho, besides pastoring the largest church in the world, has had an impact on a world wide scale through his writings. His books include The Fourth Dimension, The Holy Spirit, My Senior Partner; Praying With Jesus; More Than Numbers; and Prayer, Key to Revival.
There are several other specific ways in which Dr. Cho has been influential to the Church at large. First of all, his preaching, teaching, and writing have helped to bring Charismatic/Pentecostal Theology into the mainstream. Yoido Full Gospel Church is affiliated with the Assemblies of God and is unabashedly Pentecostal in its theology. Cho served as the president of the World Assemblies of God Fellowship from 1992-2000. Another way in which Dr. Cho has impacted the Church is that Yoido Church was one of the first to adopt the concept of using Cell Groups to train, disciple, and evangelize. The Cell Group concept is now used in churches throughout the world. Church Growth International was founded in 1976 to help train leaders around the world in how to grow their churches. Another important way that Dr. Cho’s influence has been felt is in the way that he has elevated women into ministry. Dr. Cho has women serving at many different levels of leadership in his church. He attributes much of his success to the fact that women have been allowed to be equal partners in his ministry.
A second man that might be considered a Modern Day Church Father is Rick Warren. Pastor Warren is founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange County, California. He founded the church in 1980 and it is one of the biggest churches in the United States with over 22,000 people attending weekly worship services. Saddleback Church is active in the community with over 300 outreaches every week. These include jail ministries, outreaches to single parents, and providing food to the homeless. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saddleback_Church
As an author, Warren’s two most popular books are The Purpose Driven Church and The Purpose Driven Life. The Purpose Driven Life has sold more than 30,000,000 copies. Besides pastoring Saddleback Church and writing books, Warren also leads the Purpose Driven Network of churches. This network is represented in 162 nations. http://www.rickwarren.com/about/rickwarren/ One of his passions is for training the next generation of pastors and church leaders. To date, Warren’s ministry has trained over 400,000 pastors. Over 150,000 leaders subscribe to Warren’s weekly e-mail newsletter. Saddleback Church and Pastor Warren are affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. At the same time, however, he is respected throughout Evangelical Christianity and has been referred to as “America’s Pastor.”
One last man that could be considered a Modern Church Father is Anglican Bishop and New Testament scholar, N. T. Wright. Wright has had the unique position of being both strongly entrenched in the academic world, but also functioning as a priest and a bishop in the Church of England. Wright lectured in Canada for five years. Other than that, most of his teaching was at Oxford, where he taught various courses related to the New Testament. He retired from the Church of England in 2010 and took a full time position at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N._T._Wright
One of the ways that Wright’s influence has been felt is from his prolific writing. He has written over 30 books. He is best known for his study and teaching on the Apostle Paul. His knowledge of First Century History enhances his knowledge of the Scriptures. Wright is a true New Testament Scholar and he seeks to help others better their understanding of the Scriptures. Wright also wrote the 16 volume For Everyone set of commentaries. These are aimed at a more general audience and are not as technical as some of his other books. Bishop Wright travels and speaks to a wide variety of audiences and does a wonderful job of bringing serious theological questions into the mainstream. Wright is a conservative Christian in an environment where those are uncommon. He regularly discusses and debates with his liberal counterparts and maintains friendships across a broad spectrum of theological beliefs.
Cho, Warren, and Wright are very different in their backgrounds and ministries. All three men, however, are having a significant impact, not only on their respective communities and countries, but on the Church throughout the world. It has been said, “Good leaders influence their audience. Great leaders influence the world.” If that is the standard, these three men are great leaders. Whether or not they are designated as Church Fathers will have to be left to the historians.