As with any Top 10 or Best list, this post will be fairly subjective. In other words, these are my picks for the Nation’s Top Progressive Christian Leaders. Your mileage may vary.
My criteria for the main list is fairly straightforward: How often do these people get quoted, shared, name-dropped or referenced in Progressive Christian posts, books, interviews or on social media?
In my experience, these are the Christian Leaders who are the most influential among Progressive Christians:
Richard Rohr – His book The Universal Christ might be in the running for Canonization if we ever decide to create a Newer New Testament. His influence reaches from Bono and Oprah to Brene Brown and beyond. His wit and wisdom are matched only by his humility and insight. A real treasure. Our interview with Richard Rohr on the Heretic Happy Hour Podcast was pretty amazing. Listen HERE>
William Paul Young – He’s the author of that book your pastor and your Mom love to hate. No, not Harry Potter. The other one. You know, the one where God is a black woman and everyone is loved and forgiven? Yeah, I’m talking about The Shack. He’s also a wonderful human being who continues to share himself with pretty much anyone who will take the time to listen. Interview HERE>
Rachel Held Evans – Losing her was probably one of the most traumatic events in recent memory. She was funny, wise, honest, brilliant, and a fantastic author and communicator. Her books are all amazing. Her impact is still being felt in her absence and I predict it will continue for many decades to come. Her books, Inspired and A Year of Biblical Womanhood are classics. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to speak with her just months before her passing. Listen HERE>
Kristin Kobes Du Mez – Her book Jesus and John Wayne is an exceptional and timely expose on the rise of toxic Christian masculinity and how it influences pretty much everything in Evangelical Christianity today. Check out here interview HERE>
Rob Bell – Some will argue that Rob belongs at the top of this list because his book LOVE WINS pretty much catapulted so many people into what is now known as the Deconstruction Movement, and they might be right. But lately Rob has been less vocal and his influence may have shifted just slightly. Still, his books and his voice continue to have huge sway among many Progressive Christians. Interview HERE>
Nadia Bolz-Weber – She’s known affectionately as “The Pastrix” for once pastoring a progressive church that celebrated pretty much anyone and everyone regardless of orientation, gender identity, race, creed or otherwise. Some might say we need to hear more from her these days, and I would one of them. Her books Accidental Saints and Shameless are exceptional. We interviewed her HERE>
David Bentley Hart – It’s no big secret that I have a huge theological man-crush on DBH. He’s snarky, wise, insightful, brilliant and did I mention snarky? He’s snarky. And his New Translation of the New Testament is my go-to source for all things New Testament. Plus his book That All Shall Be Saved is required reading. Interview HERE>
Brian McLaren – One of the Godfathers is easily this man who was Deconstructing before anyone knew what it was. He’s still flipping over tables and tipping sacred cows with his newest book, Do I Stay Christian?. Check out our conversation with him HERE>
N.T. Wright – The Grandad of Progressive Christianity, Wright is often less subversive than many Progressives would like, but still too subversive for most Conservatives. Still, if you can read between the lines, he eventually comes out and says what you think he’s saying even when he’s trying to sound like he’s not.
Brian Zahnd – One name that simply must be on this list – and many would argue it should ride near the top – is BZ. He’s the pastor of a large Progressive Mega-Church that streams on YouTube to several thousands [or millions?] of viewers. His books are among the most treasured, shared and quoted – especially Sinners In The Hands Of A Loving God and Farewell To Mars – and he’s even had a documentary made about his book Postcards From Babylon. You can stream the entire documentary for FREE right here>
Brad Jersak – Not only are his books Her Gates Shall Never Be Shut and A More Christlike Way some of the most compelling and beautiful treasures published in recent memory, he’s also a wonderful human being and, dare I say, a dear friend and brother in Christ. The real deal all the way through. Listen to our interview with Brad Jersak HERE>
Peter Enns – His landmark book The Sin of Certainty is often cited as the catalyst for escaping Biblical Literalism among Progressives. He’s also funny enough to perform standup comedy on the weekends [if he wanted to], and his podcast “The Bible For Normal People” is the bomb. Interview HERE>
David Hayward – You may know him as The Naked Pastor, or you may just recognize his on-target, pithy, and/or prescient cartoons on Instagram or Twitter on the daily. He’s a friend, and he’s also someone I trust when it comes to helping people who are going through the painful process of Deconstruction. Interview HERE>
HONORABLE MENTIONS: These are the authors, speakers, and thought-leaders who influence Progressive Christianity in more subtle ways and deserve to be mentioned.
Peter Gomes: The first time I came across Mr. Gomes he was being interviewed on a news program about his new book The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus which I promptly purchased and read with great delight. Not only was Peter John Gomes an author, he was also an American preacher and theologian, and the Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard Divinity School and Pusey Minister at Harvard’s Memorial Church — in the words of Harvard’s president “one of the great preachers of our generation, and a living symbol of courage and conviction.” Oh, and he was gay and black.
Rene Girard – Almost no one has impacted Progressive Christian Theology the way Girard has. His “Mimetic Theory” turned modern Christian theology on its head in very good ways. His book I See Satan Fall Like Lightning is required reading.
Robin Parry – Many cite Robin as the ambassador for Christian Universalism. He gets my vote.
Elizabeth Schrader – If you’ve never heard about this amazing New Testament Biblical Scholar, it’s time to correct this. Her mind-blowing research has forever changed the way theologians of the future will talk about the Gospel of John or Mary Magdalene. Listen to her interview HERE>
Bart Ehrman – Okay, I know he’s a former Christian and an avowed Agnostic, but his voice reverberates long and loud among many Progressive Christians. His books Misquoting Jesus, How Jesus Became God and Jesus Interrupted will blow your mind and rock your theology to the core. Interview HERE>
Marcus Borg – He’s no longer with us, but his voice and his impact are still quite prominent among many Progressives. His books Meeting Jesus Again For The First Time and Reading The Bible Again For The First Time are hands-down brilliant and thought-provoking. I sincerely regret not Deconstructing fast enough to have met this man or having the opportunity to interview him.
John Dominic Crossan – This man is a treasure. In some ways, there’s sort of a Progressive Trinity [at least in my mind] that includes Borg – Crossan and Spong [see below]. These three men pioneered modern Progressive Christianity as we know it. Forever grateful for all three of them.
Bishop Shelby Spong – I’ve never read any of his books, but his influence is still fairly impressive among Progressives. Watching old videos of his “debates” with people like Dr. Walter Martin regarding homosexuality makes me wish we had a few dozen more just like him.
Joan Chittister – What a prophetic, apostolic, and contemplative voice she was. Joan was a Benedictine Sister and the author of over 50 books.
Brennan Manning – Another treasure who touched so many people and awakened so many hearts to a more Christlike God. Dearly missed.
So, who did I miss? Share your own list in the comments below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
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Keith Giles is the author of the hot new bestseller, SOLA MYSTERIUM: Celebrating the Beautiful Uncertainty of Everything, available now on Amazon. Keith is also the host of Second Cup with Keith [a new solo podcast available now on the Ethos Radio App, for Apple and Android and on Spotify.