As we move into 2017, I’ve been thinking a lot about the changing face of evangelicalism in America. In many ways the shifts are for good. A softer, more winsome approach than the Religious Right’s old guard, yet spreading orthodox Christian teachings and embodied by the faithful Evangelical women and men I noted in my latest post “7 Rising Evangelical Stars to Look Out for in 2017,” not to mention many others. But this post got me to thinking: Who are the rising stars, or new leading figures, within progressive Christianity?
This is a harder question to answer, and perhaps that’s a good thing in itself. Because the leading figures who came to my mind are the Jim Wallises, Brian McLarens, and Doug Pagitts of progressive Christianity who we already know. Authors, bloggers and pastors who have been around for a while now and mimicking the same liberal theology that shrinks congregations and, in my opinion, fails to spread the Gospel. Still, I’ve noticed a few new(ish) faces to consider.
Instead of attempting to tackle them all in one listicle, what follows are my brief thoughts on a few progressive Christian figures I predict will continue to rise in influence within the more unorthodox corners of Christendom.
Native American activist Mark Charles first caught the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s (IRD) attention back in 2013 as a contributor to Jim Wallis’ Sojourners blog. Since then he has exploded onto the Evangelical Christian conference scene.
Speaking regularly on Christianity and indigenous peoples, Charles has landed speaking gigs at the prominent Q Ideas conference, InterVarsity’s Urbana 15, the Evangelical Dordt College, and the upcoming Urban Youth Workers Institute National Conference in May. Last June, Charles was the opening plenary speaker at the 2016 Justice Conference, where he declared the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and U.S. Supreme Court are systematically racist and told his young audience: “Everything you own is stolen.”
While on staff at Wheaton College, Julie Rodgers wrote and spoke often of being a “gay celibate Christian” and her commitment to honor God’s prescription for sexuality and marriage. In April 2015, she was a plenary speaker at the prominent Q ideas conference where her talk “Freedom through Constraint” was well-received. However, in July 2015 she resigned from her post at Wheaton amid her shifting viewpoint on same-sex relationships.
Rodgers continues to write and speak, but now as an outspoken activist for the reconciliation of same-sex relationships and Christian teachings. You can read more about her “evolved” views on her popular blog http://julie-rodgers.com/ or watch her recent talk as a keynote for the “bible-based, Gospel-centered” pro-LGBT Reformation Project’s Los Angeles conference.
Lisa Sharon Harper
Lisa Sharon Harper certainly isn’t brand new on the scene, but she is a dynamic speaker and author continuing to rise in popularity. The Evangelical Left organization Sojourner’s Chief Church Engagement Officer, Harper is another popular figure invited to the Christian conference line-up. Similar to her boss Jim Wallis, Harper spent much of 2016 condemning a conservative Christian worldview in the context of social justice. At one point during her talk at the 2016 Justice Conference, Harper told her young audience, “We have transported the view of racial hierarchy, of sexual hierarchy, of gender hierarchy and we slapped some Bible on it and we called it a day.”
She has spoken at Wild Goose 2016, Christ at the Checkpoint, the Evangelical Biola University, and the Justice Conference 2016.
Perhaps you have predictions or comments on the face of Progressive Christianity. If so, I welcome you to leave them in the comment section below.