Friday, March 10, 2017

Ten Most Admired Contemporary Christians

Who are the ten living, and still active, Christian speakers/writers that you admire/respect the most? Recently I began to think about that question, and now I am sharing my (tentative) list with you.

Please note that these are “professional” Christians who are currently active (or not completely retired). They are people who primarily speak to or write for a “popular” audience rather than to academia. Thus, none are full-time religion/theology professors.

(My list of the contemporary theologians/professors that I admire most would be quite different.)

One more brief caveat: my list is skewed a bit (but not much) by my desire to include some diversity. I didn’t want the list to be completely of white, male, Protestants like me.

So here is my list, presented in alphabetical order (by last name): 
Rev. Barber is perhaps the person on this list I have known about for the shortest time. I probably heard about him for the first time when working on my 9/30/13 blog article about the Moral Monday movement in North Carolina. I have since seen him on several YouTube videos and then was impressed anew when I heard him deliver a powerful sermon in Kansas City last year. Here is the link to the blog article I wrote about him last September.

AMY BUTLER (b. c. 1970)
Rev. Butler has been pastor of the highly influential Riverside Church in New York City since 2014. I first met her when I visited a Sunday morning worship service at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., in 2012 when she was pastor there, and I regularly see/read her perceptive op-ed articles.
Widely known as “the nun on the bus,” Sister Simone is the executive director of NETWORK, a nonprofit Catholic social justice lobby. She was the subject of my 9/20/14 blog article (see here).

TONY CAMPOLO (b. 1935)
Stimulating writer and extraordinarily good speaker, in my 2/18/15 blog article I called Campolo “one of my favorite people.” He is one I would have long had on a list such as this.
The youngest person on this list, Claiborne is the author of The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (2006, 2016). He is a young man worth reading and listening to.

POPE FRANCIS (b. 1936)
Perhaps this selection speaks for itself.

JAMES FORBES (b. 1935)
A marvelous preacher and gentleman, I have long admired Rev. Forbes, who was pastor of Riverside Church in New York from 1989 to 2007.

BRIAN McLAREN (b. 1956)
I have been an admirer of McLaren since I read his novel A New Kind of Christian (2001). Then in 2008 I marked that the best theology book I had read that year was his Everything Must Change (2007). As a primary leader of the emergent church movement, he is a very significant contemporary Christian leader.

JIM WALLIS (b. 1948)
Founder, president, and CEO of Sojourners and editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine, I have been an admirer of Wallis since the early 1970s—and have written about him and his early activities in this article on another blogsite.

I have personally met or seen/heard all of the above persons—except for Pope Francis, for obvious reasons. But I have never met Yancey; however, I have read, and been impressed by, several of his books. I especially recommend What’s So Amazing about Grace? (1997) and Soul Survivor (2001).

Since these are contemporary Christians that I most admire, I have also learned from them--and my faith has grown, I believe, because of them. 

Who's on your list?


  1. Very interesting, Leroy! I realize I'm not reading Christian writers much these days. Too many other things to read. And I haven't thought about favorites much. I would probably include, though, Tony Campolo and Pope Francis on such a list. Maybe also Joan Chittister. I'm also fond of Elaine Pagels. Is Dorothee Soelle still alive? I like her, too. Do we not count Bart Ehrman among Christians anymore? I realize that I tend to read dead Christian writers more than live ones. Hm...

    1. Thanks, Anton!

      I'm glad that you at least agreed with me on two on my list. I have Joan Chittister and Richard Rohr as runners up. I consider Pagels and Dorothee Sölle professors/theologians rather than "popular" speakers/writers--and Sölle, whom I like(d) more than Pagels, died in 2003.

  2. I was surprised Jimmy Carter wasn't on your list, Leroy. He would be on mine. He's still writing. Also high on my list would be Anne Lamott. I agree with Anton that Joan Chittister is worthy of consideration. I share Anton's feeling that there are too many other things to read than Christian writers.

    1. Thanks for reading and responding, David.

      It was because of people like Carter that I said my list was of "professional" Christians. While I certainly admire Carter as a Christian, since he is a former President (and Governor), the general public is going to think of him first and foremost as a politician. So my list was of people who are recognized primarily, rather than secondarily, as Christians.

      As you know, I deal with a lot of different topics and people, Christian and otherwise, in my blog articles. But if, as you and Anton say, there are too many other things to read, does that mean that you consider the Christian faith to be secondary to the more important things such as politics and economics. Or, as Jim Wallis, among others, has often said, don't we Christians need to think about politics and economics (and everything else) Christianly?

    2. If David had not gone there first, I would have asked about Jimmy Carter, too. However, your reply to David raises another interesting question, How important are popular "Christianly" writers to Christian readers? I suspect readers of this blog get a good share of their Christian reading from theologians and church historians, along with professors in related fields such as the politics and economics you mention. Whether or not people agree with Bart Ehrman, for instance, I believe he is still worth reading. As Plato records Socrates saying in the Apology, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Even Paul tells us, ". . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you . . ." (Philippians 2:12-13) Even the study of other religions helps us understand Christianity better. If we are to love God and humanity, should we not learn all we can about love?

    3. Thanks, Craig, for your comments.

      I affirm Socrates's statement--and Elton Trueblood's paraphrase: "Unexamined faith is not worth having"--and have spent much of my life in the academic world reading and wrestling with books in theology, church history, and world religions as well as, although not nearly as much, books about economics and political science.

      While the same is also true for several of my Thinking Friends, it is not true for most. And while my own worldview has been shaped perhaps primarily by the scholarly books and articles I have read, the place and importance of "popular" writers/speakers cannot be overlooked or underestimated, I think.

      So, while my intellectual understanding has been greatly helped (and influenced) by theologians and other scholars, in many ways my faith has been helped more by more popular/practical people, such as those on my list--and I think that what they say/write/do is worth serious consideration.

  3. Lists of awards are almost always interesting. So many frames of reference and varying criteria. I wish we had even longer list and harder choices. I just add several very important to me.

    Add my vote for Joan Chittister. It isn’t just the volume of her consistently helpful writing that impresses me—some 35 books over the last 35 years--but the fact that she led a quiet dedicated life for the first half of her life as a member of a community of service before she was assigned to start her writing, and that she has been a continuous advocate for a life of faith engaged to the building of community at so many levels, as well as a longtime champion for better treatment of women.

    My unsung hero and helper along the way would be two editors of the National Catholic Reporter, Tom Fox since the 80s until recently and since then, Dennis Coday. They and some of their key staff have been participants in Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker houses and movement. Tom broke the first stories about the plight of Vietnam people during the Vietnam war while he was there as a volunteer, aiding villagers. He has been consistent in supporting anti-nuclear and peace protests. Both have been thoughtful, prayerful advocates for reform in the Roman Catholic world, often being a lonely lay voice up against a wall of clericalism. NCR broke the first story on child abuse in the mid-80s and has been relentless since against ecclesiastical protectionism. They have produced 28 or more page, biweekly, guiding intelligent persons of faith through the welter of world events in the light of deeply held faith.

    1. Thanks for reading the blog article and for responding, Larry.

      I appreciate your suggestions for the past and current editors of the National Catholic Reporter being on the list. I am a bit embarrassed to say that although I have read some of the NCR over the past few years, I hadn't remembered Tom Fox's name.

      I was interested to see that Fox is the one who initiated the Global Sisters Report. One of their regular bloggers is Dawn Araujo-Hawkins, who is now a member of the same church that my wife and belong to, Rainbow Mennonite Church.

      When you mentioned Tom (Thomas C.) Fox, I thought of Tom (Thomas W.) Fox. He was a person whom I admired, for he was a Quaker peace activist and was affiliated with the Christian Peacemaker Teams. He was taken hostage when he was in Iraq in November 2005 and killed in March 2006.

  4. The first response I received this morning was from a Thinking Friend who is a Disciples of Christ minister. He wrote, "Solid list, Leroy!"

    Then, a few minutes ago I received this comment from a Thinking Friend who is a retired Baptist churchwoman: "Hadn't given this a lot of thought, but I think I would agree with your list! Love all of these!"

  5. I recognize most on the list, as would many Americans.

    Being a life-long sojourner on a different path, my list is a little different. Most are public speakers, most are also published. About half have international roots. All are "evangelical", although most are not Protestant. Some focus on developing males into men. Some focus on the unity of the holy catholic Church. They are Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, Church of Christ, Orthodox. One was just a practical, humble servant of God. All but two married and raised families.

    Bp Keith Ackerman, DD
    Ray Blundell, MDiv
    Fr Peter Gillquist
    Fr Doug Grandon, PhD
    Robert Lewis, DMin
    Fr Philippe (missionary)
    Mars Robinson, PsyD
    Damon Schroeder (missionary)
    Steven Wanji, RN (missionary)
    Mt Kalistos Ware