January 9, 2017

Who are the Rising Stars of Progressive Christianity?

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.

Mark Charles

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.”

Julie Rodgers

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 Sojourners’ 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.

9 Responses to Who are the Rising Stars of Progressive Christianity?

  1. If they are associated with Jim “the Gospel is all about wealth redistribution” Wallis’ Sojourners group, you can be sure they are wolves. They are race-baiting, pro-abortion, pro-gay “Christian” Leftists. And they are worse than the typical “Christian” Left, because they falsely pose as centrists.

  2. MarcoPolo says:

    Thank you Chelsen for proffering the names and brief bios of individuals whose presence may, or may not play pivotal roles in our current and future society.
    Your open attitude is applauded!

  3. Believing is Believing says:

    Not sure if she can be considered a “rising star,” but very liberal Rachel Held Evans is certainly attracting a cult-like following on Twitter (maybe elsewhere, as well) and influencing a lot of young women who hang on her every word.

    • Jeffrey Walton says:

      Evans does have an extraordinary following on social media, and at least two of her books have been well-received. But an examination of her followers (often middle-aged mainline protestant women) and her recent speaking engagements (the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia’s Spring conference) indicate that she is increasingly addressing audiences more on the old-school Religious Left and less on the young Evangelical circuit. This isn’t to imply that she is not relevant, just that she is no longer a “rising” star in the same sense that these other progressive figures are.

  4. PennyD says:

    As a long time progressive Christian in a mainline denomination, this is one of my responses: the Evangelical mindset includes going out and making disciples. As the young evangelicals get into the culture they find great injustices and perhaps see the Christianity that they have been immersed in as perpetuating or creating those injustices. Those who still see value in being followers of Jesus find that a progressive theology is more in line with their new experience and mission. They have watched as some of the famous leaders of the evangelical movement have moved into the progressive thought mode, and they find a new home there. Some older progressives, who have been saying all the same things for decades, often bring a more academic, intellectual, theological perspective that challenges us to rethink our beliefs. That allowed many of us older folks to stay in the institutional church longer. For a variety of reasons that didn’t always create a desire for us to go and “make more disciples”. Those reasons would be fodder for discussion. I would also note that all the “progressives” the author mentions are from the evangelical tradition. For me, the “real” progressives, long before Brian McLaren, were Bishop Spong, Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, David Felen, Jeff Procter-Murphy and a long line of mainline pastors who didn’t get the same publicity that those men who “converted” to a more progressive theology received. I don’t begrudge them that–I just wonder if it’s the evangelical culture of constant promotion that enables it. We all could learn from it.

  5. Stan Bohner. Stan says:

    Don’t forget Bishop John Shelby Spong
    (Retired) He has been leading this
    Reformation for the last twenty years. Just
    read one of his many books.

  6. Stan Bohner. says:

    Don’t forget John Shelby Spong, retired
    Anglican Bishop. His many books have
    outlined this progressive reformation for
    the past twenty years.

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