The Top Twenty Progressive Rock Albums of the Decade

As most of my readers know, my quirky taste in music runs along the lines of progressive rock, a genre made popular in the 1970s as part of a "mostly British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility” (allmusic).

What I love about Prog Rock is both the musicianship (artists are constantly pushing rock's technical and compositional boundaries) and how the genre joins together the standard song structure of rock/popular music (verse-chorus-verse) with the influence of classical music’s complexity of composition (resulting in longer songs, thematic albums with concepts or storylines, and explorations of melodies that the standard structure limits).

With the rise of Punk and Disco in the late ‘70s, Prog lost its selling power (though established bands like Yes, Genesis, Rush, and Pink Floyd were able to continue). In the ‘80s, there was a revival of the genre with bands like Asia, Marillion, UK, IQ, and Pendragon (with music that is technically called “Neo-Prog”). But MTV had hit it big, and Pop was all the rage (along with Hair Bands!) and as The Buggles sang, “Video Killed the Radio Star.”

In the ‘90s, a real revival of Prog occurred, one that even Grunge could not choke out. This “Third Wave,” was spearheaded by Sweden's The Flower Kings, the UK's Porcupine Tree, the Netherland’s Arjen Anthony Lucassen with his project “Ayreon,” and from the United States, Dream Theater, Spock's Beard, Echolyn, and Proto-Kaw,(a reincarnation of an early lineup of Kansas).

So what were the best albums of the past decade starting in 2000? Here’s my take. Check these albums out; you’ll be glad you did.

20. Spooning Out the Sea, by Orphan Project, 2009
Orphan Project offers a crisp sounding American prog sound (in the vein of Kansas and Spock’s Beard) with deep lyrics of hope and reliance upon the grace of God.
Lyricist and singer Shane Lankford has a lot to say: on OP’s first album he shared how his being an adopted orphan also led to his discovery and embrace of being adopted into God’s family. On this, OP’s second album, he further explores spiritual issues with great, engaging progressive music.

riverside-secondlifesyndrome19. Second Life Syndrome, by Riverside, 2005
Riverside is a Polish band that has found fame in that part of the world (they really are “Big in Europe!”). Those of us who love progressive rock that is on the more metal side, but with complex changes in mood and a lot of variety with mellow, Pink Floyd-like sections along with harder Porcupine Tree-like sections, will really enjoy this album. Riverside has toured with both Marillion and Dream Theater, which gives you an indication to both of the quality of their musicianship and the unique style of their music.

MUSE - Theresistance-300x29518. The Resistance, by Muse, 2009
Muse is not strictly a Prog Rock band, but they certainly have a progressive approach to their music, constantly experimenting to create unique atmospheres with piano and strings, yet never afraid to go bombastic with aggressive guitars and huge anthem choruses. They make pompous and grandiose music cool again (the first time we can say that since the heyday of Emerson, Lake and Palmer!).

17. Half Way Home, by DeeExpus, 2008
Inspired by the music of Porcupine Tree (as evidenced by the song “PTTee",” one of the finest songs you’ll ever hear), songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist Andy Ditchfield got together with vocalist Tony Wright to create this amazing album. After the album was created by the incredibly talented Ditchfield, they recruited a band to play on tour. In the words of the band's own publicity "their sound is as eclectic as their influences, drawn from years of listening to such groups and artists as Joe Jackson, Iron Maiden, It Bites, Crash Test Dummies, Rush, Nik Kershaw, Marillion and recently - Porcupine Tree and Spock's Beard". DeeExpus is good. Really good. And that’s not just my opinion, they won Classic Rock Society's “Best New Band” Award.

dream theater octavarium16. Octavarium, by Dream Theater, 2005
Dream Theater has long been established as the kings of Progressive Metal. I remember the first time my friend Matt took me to a DT concert – I was just amazed at what I was watching. These guys are the most technically amazing musicians I’ve ever seen. It’s downright frightening to think how good each one of them are on their instruments. Dream Theater is a mix of Metal (think Metallica, Queensryche, and Rush) with Progressive (think Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes). Much of DT’s music features extremely complex and fast metal, with sophisticated time signature changes thoughout, which makes for difficult listening to the uninitiated. But with Octavarium, the band focused more on actual songwriting, creating a much more accessible album, with songs that sound like Muse (“Never Enough”) or even U2 (“I Walk Beside You”). But for the diehard Proggers, there is the magnificent 24 minute, eight-parter, “Octavarium”.

Porcupine Tree Deadwing CD15. Deadwing, by Porcupine Tree, 2005 Steven Wilson started Porcupine Tree in the ‘90s with spacey experimental psychedelia reminiscent of Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream. But Wilson’s music has evolved into making Porcupine Tree the band on the leading edge of modern Progressive Rock, defying genres by blending together numerous ambient, metal and avant-garde styles. Wilson creates and produces soundscapes that are the best in the business. Deadwing is the band’s eighth studio album. The material here varies from shorter airplay-friendly songs like “Shallow” to the 10-minute proggy masterpiece “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here.”

touchstone-wintercoast14. Wintercoast, by Touchstone, 2009 This album won the top honor in my best albums that I discovered last year. Touchstone’s music is an awesome juxtaposition of symphonic progressive melodies and soundscapes featuring the angelic, sweet vocals of Kim Seviour with the aggression of guitars and drums that edge toward metal and the masculine vocals of keyboardist and composer Rob Cottingham. This creates a musical journey with twists and turns – sweet melodies followed by heavy rocking, all in the same song. What a fantastic album, for fans of Lacuna Coil and Within Temptation, but also for those who love Genesis, Yes, and Spock’s Beard.

coldplay VivaLaVida
13. Viva La Vida, Or Death and All His Friends, by Coldplay, 2008
Okay, I know that Coldplay are not a Progressive Rock band. But they represent the same kind of mentality toward their music that a good Prog band has: lush atmosphere, a theme that unites the album into a cohesive whole, and experimental explorations of melodies beyond the standard music structure of pop music. How the album opens with an instrumental (“Life in Technicolor”) that blends into an atmospheric piece (“Cemeteries of London”) tells you this is no ordinary pop album. “42,” “Lovers in Japan/Reign of Love,” and “Death and All His Friends” are examples of Proggy song composition – a willingness to switch gears midsong to create a more powerful experience. There are a number of great-selling bands that edge toward prog: the aforementioned Muse and Radiohead are examples, along with Metallica and Mastodon in the Metal genre.

TransAtlanticBridgeAcrossForever12. Bridge Across Forever, by Transatlantic, 2001
When Americans Neal Morse (keyboards, vocals) of Spock’s Beard and Mike Portnoy (drums) of Dream Theater dreamed of starting a supergroup, they imagined working with some Prog Rock masters from overseas. They recruited Roine Stolt (guitars, vocals) whose band The Flower Kings moved the Yes sound into the 21st Century, and Pete Trewavas (bass) from Marillion, a leader in the new wave of bands in the Genesis sound lineage. Their debut album, SMPTe (2000) was critically applauded. But the second album really shines, as the band became more cohesive and the “epic” songs lived up to the term. Both “Duel with the Devil” and “Stranger in Your Soul” clock in at over 26 minutes, the latter is a masterpiece from the mind and heart of Neal Morse.

devin townsend project addicted11. Addicted, by Devin Townsend Project, 2009
Townsend is the founder of “Extreme Metal / Thrash Metal / Death Metal” band, Strapping Young Lad. I am not a fan of this genre of music, and have little interest in SYL. I find it all so loud and obnoxious. But with his new “The Devin Townsend Project,” he is turning over a new leaf. “I wanted to make a record that was heavy, without being dark or depressing. When I got into metal it was for the energy behind it, but somewhere along the way that energy started getting really negative.” With Addicted, Townsend offers an excellent hard prog rock album, with melody and precision. But the spotlight on this album is the vocals of Anneke van Giesbergen (ex-The Gathering, Ayreon). Her beautiful and haunting voice compliments Townsend’s exceptional vocals perfectly. This album must be heard on top-of-the-line headphones or a high-end home sound system to get the fullness of the production value. Townsend’s ability to add layers upon layers of sounds without muddying the sound is an amazing feat.

OSI Free10. Free, by OSI, 2006
OSI’s first album, “Office of Strategic Influence” (2003) and their third album, “Blood” (2009) both could have made this list. For some reason, I’ve chosen their second album to represent this impressive body of work. Fans of Dream Theater were put off by OSI’s first album, expecting a DT-like experience, since Kevin Moore was previously the keyboardist with Dream Theater, and the drummer was Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater’s drummer). But this music is very different, being a whole new hybrid of post-metal and electronica. The band is actually led by Moore and Jim Matheos (Fate’s Warning), and they have come up with a new and experimental sound that is unlike anything else out there. To compare OSI with Dream Theater is like comparing apples to oranges.

TRANSATLANTIC-The whirlwind.9. The Whirlwind, by Transatlantic, 2009
After a prolonged time since their last getting together when they made “Bridge Across Forever” in 2001 (see #12 above), Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Pete Trewavas, and Roine Stolt gave us the incredible gift of “The Whirlwind.” This is an epic story both musically and lyrically, a magnum opus with eschatological undertones but with hope in the midst of suffering. Transatlantic has placed themselves in the upper echelon of the great rock supergroups of all time. How good are they? Good enough for me to drive eight hours to Philadelphia to see them live in concert back in April. What a show! After they played this entire album through, they took a break for intermission and then played songs from their first two albums. Before leaving the stage for intermission, a sweaty Mike Portnoy stood next to his drumkit and said, “Well, that was our first song. How’s that for an epic? A 75-minute opening song!”

peter gabriel - up8. Up, by Peter Gabriel, 2002
What can I say? Peter Gabriel is the man! “Up” was his last full album (he contributed several tracks to “Big Blue Ball” (2008) and his latest album, “Scratch My Back” (2010) is a covers album). At over 50 years of age, he shows the rest of his former bandmates in Genesis how it’s still done. He is always “progressive” in that every track is inventive and pushes the boundaries (yet with the incredible knack of keeping us with him with an accessibility that is uncanny). How I wish he would have joined the rest of Genesis for the reunion tour in 2007!

Porcupine_Tree_The_incident7. The Incident, by Porcupine Tree, 2009
After the disappointing “Fear of a Blank Planet” (2007), I was wondering if I was “Porcupine Treed Out” after having consumed so much of Steven Wilson’s music over the past decade. Therefore, when “The Incident” came out, I had lower expectations than for that previous album, and the first couple listens had me confused as to what Wilson was up to here. Some songs were only a minute and a half long! As soon as I was getting into it, the song would switch to the next track. Then I figured it out: The entire CD is meant to be a single composition, with musical themes repeating here and there throughout the album. Some tracks were indeed set-ups for the next track, and several tracks were meant to be considered together as a single entity. Oh! I get it! And, with that, I was amazed. “The Incident” is evidence of Steven Wilson’s musical genius. And it is also evidence that the iTunes era of downloading single tracks is sad, because this album is meant to be heard in its entirety.

Neal_Morse_V_Testimony_R_Front6. Testimony, by Neal Morse, 2003
The first album for Morse after leaving the band he founded, Spock’s Beard, for a more clearly Christian slant, this is a very personal and amazing album, telling the story of his struggle to seek fame and fortune as a musician and getting caught up in the party lifestyle of California rock music. All the while, Jesus was reaching out to him (“Sleeping Jesus”) while he was still feeling the influence of “The Prince of the Power of the Air.” He met his future wife, a devout Christian, and he was moved by the love of Christ found in the small country church near Nashville that she attended. This is an epic, 2-CD testimony of Neal Morse’s conversion, with elements of Kansas, Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Dream Theater, The Beatles, and classical music. This CD has a special place in my heart, I listened to it a lot while recovering from the aortic dissection that nearly took my life in 2006., it was the soundtrack to my worship of God in sparing my life. I told Neal this at an after-concert meet and greet, and he was visibly moved by my testimony about his “Testimony.”

frost15. Milliontown, by Frost*, 2006
Frost* debuted with one of the most impressive CDs of the decade. In 2004, Jem Godfrey, a multi-talented musician who has made a name for himself in the UK as producer of many top radio hits, decided to try his hand at Progressive Rock. Milliontown is an extremely listenable symphonic progressive rock album. Melodies are the centerpiece, with progressive rock changes in time signatures. For fans of classic Genesis, a must have. There are also shades of latter-day Peter Gabriel.

neal_morse_ONE4. One, by Neal Morse, 2004
This is the quintessential Neal Morse album. “One” tells the sweeping tale of the original union of humanity with God, followed by disastrous separation, but then culminated in a glorious reunion  This album features not only the tremendous artistic diversity of Neal Morse (vocals, keys, guitar), but also the superior drumming of Mike Portnoy (formerly of Dream Theater) and the legendary guitar skills of Phil Keaggy (who also sings a duet with Morse on one song). Think of the best of prog legends Pink Floyd, old-school Genesis, Kansas, and Yes, and add in the best of Rich Mullins or Michael W. Smith from the Christian sector, then add the kind of rock-opera feel that Trans-Siberian Orchestra has accomplished with their Christmas albums… and on top of all that, add the pop-music sensibilities and sophistication of The Beatles at their creative height and you are just scratching the surface of what you’ll be hearing. Read my full review here.

Porcupine Tree In Absentia CD3. In Absentia, by Porcupine Tree, 2002
With three albums in the top 20, the band of the decade was Porcupine Tree. They have single-handedly redefined the genre with a mix of ambient atmospheres, catchy melodies and hooks, complex time signatures, aggressive guitar and percussion, and story-telling lyrics. “In Absentia” is PT’s most approachable CD. The opening songs (“Blackest Eyes” and “Trains”) epitomize the PT sound with hints of Radiohead, while “Gravity Eyelids” harkens back to their days when they were called the new Pink Floyd.

Ayreon_-_Human_Equation2. The Human Equation, by Ayreon, 2004
Along with his side projects Star One, Guilt Machine, Ambeon, and Stream of Passion, Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s primary musical project has been Ayreon, a series of CDs dating back to 1995 with The Final Experiment and ending with 2008’s 01011001. All the albums in the Ayreon catalog have been incredible and worthy of their own place on “Top Albums” lists, but The Human Equation is simply one of the finest albums ever produced. It tells the story of a man in a coma after a car crash, interacting with his emotions after the betrayal he experienced when he caught his best friend kissing his wife. What makes this particular album unique is that each of his emotions is anthropomorphized and given a specific vocalist – eleven vocalists are employed, singing the parts of “Reason,” “Love,” “Pride,” “Agony,” etc. The 2-CD concept album never gets old or tedious because of the eclectic styles that Lucassen is capable of creating. At times, the music reminds you of something from Pink Floyd, then it sounds like Genesis, and then it sounds like a wonderful mix of Yes with Dream Theater. The artists that Lucassen recruited to sing and perform on this album are all amazing, and the his production genius is amazing.

SBSnow1. Snow, by Spock’s Beard, 2002
Neal Morse’s final album at the helm of the band he founded is a rock opera masterpiece. It’s too bad that he left the band after it’s release; I would loved to have seen this album performed live. Morse went on to a fantastic solo career, while the band went forward with uneven results (understandable, since Neal Morse was the creative force behind the band for its first six albums). Morse is also one of the masterminds behind the Prog supergroup Transatlantic. “Snow” is the story of a young man whose called this nickname due to his pale complexion. Snow leaves his small town for New York, where he discovers his supernatural powers to feel the pain of the people he encounters and the ability to heal them. This is a very moving album – the Christian allegory is real but it is subtle. The music moves effortlessly from the influence of Genesis to Yes to The Beatles to Gentle Giant to Kansas. There are wonderful ballads and hard-edged rockers. There are excursions into magnificent instrumentals that showcase the band's excellence as players (especially Morse, who provides vocals and plays piano and acoustic guitar). This 2-CD concept album moved Morse into the upper-echelon of composers; with this album he developed the ability to create a complex yet cohesive album with repeated themes to tie things together and catchy melodies and hooks for individual songs that are worthy of radio airplay.

Special Honorable Mention:
The new 5.1 Surround Sound and Stereo Masters of the Genesis Catalog (2007). I have long been a fan of this band, especially of their music from when Peter Gabriel was the lead singer (1969-1975) up through 1982 when Phil Collins was lead singer but they remained a leading progressive rock innovator. Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, and Steve Hackett are far too often overlooked in favor of the bigger-than-life frontmen, but they are the heart and soul of this music. These CDs are not just re-mixes, but entire re-masters. To hear old albums like “Nursery Cryme” (1971) brought to new life is just amazing. Wow. Just wow.


Jubilee Topics and Speakers

Jubilee Conference: It Could Change Everything

The CCO’s annual Jubilee Conference offers speakers on a wide variety of topics and interests. Here are some of the topics and speakers for Jubilee 2011, February 18-20 in Pittsburgh:
Engaging and Creating Culture
Soong-Chan Rah is the author of The Next Evangelicalism, on the changing face of American Christianity and on the cultural captivity of the American evangelical church.
Gabe Lyons is the co-founder of Catalyst and founder of “Q,” a learning community that mobilizes Christians to advance the common good. Co-author of the must-read book, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why It Matters, Lyons is a respected voice for a new generation of Christians, being featured by CNN, The New York Times, Newsweek, and USA Today.
David H. Kim is the Director of the Gotham Initiative at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, and he runs an intensive leadership development fellowship for young professionals who seek to live out their faith meaningfully through their work in the City. Before directing Gotham, David started a campus ministry at Princeton University called Manna Christian Fellowship and served as the executive director for over 15 years.  David was convinced that the heart and the head shouldn’t be separated, especially on the campus, and Manna has developed into a ministry that develops and engages a gospel worldview focusing on how the gospel renews both private and public worlds.
Rob and Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma are co-founders of the non-profit organization *culture is not optional. They formed *cino in 2001 when they realized that others shared their post-college sense of isolation and desire to keep learning in community how to live faithfully in the everyday stuff of life. *cino’s work has extended to a bi-weekly online magazine called catapult, the biennial Practicing Resurrection conference, a quarterly print publication called road journal and a growing series of topical books that includes Eat Well: A Food Road Map and Do Justice: A Justice Road Map. In 2009, *cino purchased an historic 27,000 square foot school in Three Rivers, Michigan, to renovate as a center for intergenerational education, service and imagination.
Anne Jackson is an author, speaker and activist who lives in the Nashville area. Her book, Mad Church Disease: Overcoming the Burnout Epidemic (Zondervan), was released in February 2009. Her newest book, Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession and Grace came out this year to rave reviews. Her most requested topics include: The Power of Confession, God’s Heart for the Poor, Using Social Media for Social Justice, Avoiding Burnout by Becoming Spiritually Connected, and Healing from the Shame of Pornography Addiction.
Jason Locy is Principal of FiveStone, a brand and design firm. As a sought-after Creative Director, he helps organizations move from standard marketing hype to long-term sustainable strategies. Jason’s marketing campaigns have garnered national attention, and numerous national and international design publications have featured his work. While working with one foot in mainstream culture and the other in the church world, Jason observed firsthand how society has influenced the church. This led to his first book (written with Tim Willard), Veneer: Living Deeply on a Surface Society, a cultural theology that examines how the Language of Culture affects humanity and what our Christian response should be.
Tim Willard is a freelance writer, musician, and theology student. He writes articles, collaborates with best-selling authors and has served as the small-group study editor for organizations such as Catalyst, Q and Chick-fil-A Leadercast. The book he co-wrote with Jason Locy, Veneer: Living Deeply in a Surface Society explores how God’s idea of humanity is quite different from the world’s. It is also far more rewarding. This life begins when we dare to strip away our veneers and enter a life of freedom, honesty and rare beauty.
B.J. Woodworth is the lead pastor of The Open Door, a five-year-old PCUSA missional church community in Pittsburgh’s East End. He serves the community by being a visionary guide, worship choreographer, mission equipper, community catalyst, and prophetic poet. B.J. is also the abbot of World Christian Discipleship (WCD) at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, a year-long, missionally-contemplative communal experience in spiritual and vocational formation for young adults.
Denise Frame Harlan completed an MFA in Creative Writing through Seattle Pacific University acclaimed low-residency program, while parenting and working as a blog moderator for More magazine. She now teaches The Great Conversation, a course on reading, writing and thinking for incoming students at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts. Denise wrote as essay for The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields, featuring writing and recipes by Wendell Berry, Andre Dubus, Lauren Winner and Luci Shaw. Denise writes regularly for Catapult and Comment magazines, for The Englewood Book Review, and for crafting magazines such as Interweave Spin-Off and Living Crafts.
Eric Dolce currently serves as campus minister for the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) at Prince George’s Community College in Largo, Maryland. He is also a staff member at The New Macedonia Baptist Church, where he leads the Youth and Young Adult Ministry. Eric’s passion for connecting faith in Christ to all areas of life led to his 2007 book, Jesus and Jigga: Where Hip-Hop Meets Scripture.
Biblical Christianity for the 21st Century
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture and hosts churchandculture.org; ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president; and author of over a dozen books which have been translated into ten languages, including Gold Medallion nominees Serious Times and A Search for the Spiritual, Christianity Today book-of-the-year award winner Embracing the Mysterious God. His most recent publications include A Mind for God and Christ Among the Dragons.
Anthony Bradley is associate professor of theology at The King’s College in New York City and a research fellow at the Acton Institute. He studies and writes on issues of race in America, hip hop, youth culture, issues among African Americans, the American family, welfare, education, and modern international forms of social injustice, slavery, and oppression. His dissertation explores the intersection of black liberation theology and economics.
Kyle Bennett teaches philosophy and theology at Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California and Providence Christian College in Pasadena, California. Prior to teaching, Kyle was a youth and associate pastor at a church plant in Orlando, Florida. Kyle has written for Religious Studies Review, Comment Magazine, and Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue, and presented at conferences such as the American Academy of Religion and the College Board Annual AP Conference. Kyle is a member of the Southern California Faith and Order Commission and in 2007 was an Emerging Leader Representative at the Christian Churches Together Conference.
John Fea is Associate Professor of American History and Chair of the History Department at Messiah College. He is the author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction and writes extensively at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.
Eric Metaxas is the New York Times bestselling author of two critically acclaimed biographies: Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy—A Righteous Gentile vs. the Third Reich and Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. Metaxas is not only a serious biographer, he has also written for VeggieTales!
Mel McGowan is president and founder of Visioneering Studios, an awarded global church architecture, urban planning, and interior design firm with national offices in Southern California, Denver, Chicago and Charlotte
The Arts, Music, Film, and Dance
Leigh Ann Dull has worked with Campus Crusade for Christ for almost 25 years on college campuses across the United States and overseas in Hungary, Spain and Mongolia. Since January 2005, she has served as the director of transFORM Arts Ministry NYC, and also works part-time with the International Arts Movement, facilitating church and para-church partnerships.For the past six years, she has directed a summer 5.5-week program for art/creative students in New York City, where they focus on the integration of art and faith. Leigh Ann seeks to help artists/creatives engage their art and their faith and pursue both with excellence.
Alissa Wilkinson worked as a business analyst on Wall Street, edited a technical magazine at New York University, founded The Curator, and developed programs and resources at International Arts Movement before accepting a full-time faculty position teaching writing at The King’s College in New York City. She has been associate editor of Comment since 2008, and her articles and film criticism have appeared in a variety of publications including Christianity Today, Paste, The Globe & Mail, WORLD, Relevant, and Prism.
Emily SoRelle Adams is a freelance dancer and teacher based in New York City. , Emily has been blessed with the opportunity to work with several companies, including the Metropolitan Opera, New Chamber Ballet, Rebecca Kelly Ballet, CT Ballet and Eglevsky Ballet. She is a member of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, where she was one of the founding leaders of the Dancers Vocational Group, a ministry of the Center for Faith & Work.
Kenyon Adams is a singer, songwriter and actor with a passion to see artists living out their kingdom callings, in community. He was named a White House Presidential Scholar in the Arts under Bill Clinton, and received a BFA in Theater from Southern Methodist University, Meadows School of the Arts, where he received the Greer Garson Foundation Award for Acting. He currently serves on the Alumni Board for the National Foundation for the Advancement in the Arts.
Zach Williams is a singer/songwriter, listen to some of his songs from his album “Story Time” at MySpace. http://www.myspace.com/zacharywilliams
Colonizing the Cosmos is an indie-folk band that has gained the accolades of listeners, press and radio, all consistently noting the “other-worldly” nature of their dense tunes, catchy melodies, and clever, honest writing.
Charlie Peacock is a Grammy Award-winning, multi-format songwriter, publisher, record producer, and filmmaker. His credits include Brooke Waggoner, Ten Out of Tenn, Switchfoot, Sixpence None The Richer, among hundreds. Film and TV music credits span from Fame in the 1980s to current shows like Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars. A long-time advocate for social justice, Peacock continues to work directly with International Justice Mission and The ONE Campaign, a fruitful relationship that began in 2002 when he hosted co-founder Bono and, later, ONE President David Lane, putting them in front of Nashville’s artist community.
Jeffrey Overstreet has written weekly film columns and reviews for Christianity Today, helped establish ArtsandFaith.com, and contributed articles to Paste, Books and Culture, The Curator, Relevant, and Image. Currently, he contributes two film reviews to ImageJournal.org each month. He is the author of a “travelogue of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, as well as four fantasy novels: Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast.
Andi Ashworth is a writer (author of Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring), gardener, cook, lover of good books, and has recently finished her Master of Arts in Theological Studies. She, along with her musical husband, Charlie Peacock (Ashworth), are the Co-Founders/Executive Directors of Art House America, with branches in Nashville and Dallas, Texas. The Art House America mission is to contribute to the making of artists and artful people who become highly imaginative and creative culture-makers, who continue to mature spiritually, love well, and make the kingdom of God visible.
Ken Heffner is Director of Student Activities and Director of the Festival of Faith and Music at Calvin College, a Christian college in Grand Rapids Michigan. Calvin has a weekly concert series which has included Lupe Fiasco, Joanna Newsom, Sufjan Stevens, The Decemberists, Iron and Wine, Mavis Staples and Switchfoot, to name a few.
Daniel Sepulveda is the Super Bowl-bound punter for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He shares the joys and frustrations of pursuing sports as an profession.
Public Policy, Justice, and Politics
Lisa Sharon Harper is the author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican…Or Democrat, co-founder and Executive Director of NY Faith & Justice, President of National Faith & Justice Network, and a Board Member for New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.
Michael J. Gerson is a nationally syndicated columnist who appears twice weekly in the Washington Post. He is the author of Heroic Conservatism and co-author of City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era. Mr. Gerson serves as Senior Advisor at ONE, a bipartisan organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable diseases, and he is the Hastert Fellow at the J. Dennis Hastert Center for Economics, Government, and Public Policy at Wheaton College in Illinois.
Gideon Strauss, a native of South Africa, now serves as Chief Executive Officer for the Center for Public Justice. He worked as an interpreter for the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (under Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu). He was an advisor to the South African constitutional assembly on the language clauses in the founding provisions and bill of rights included in the 1996 Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. Strauss also served as a Senior Fellow at the think tank Cardus (previously known as the Work Research Foundation), and as editor of the electronic and print journal Comment, which seeks to communicate a Christian worldview and cultural strategy to the next generation of cultural leaders. He is currently working on a book tentatively titled Wonder, Heartbreak and Hope, on reading the Psalms in devotional preparation for social action.
Robert Joustra is the editor of Cardus, Policy in Public, a regular writer with Comment and a lecturer in international politics at Redeemer University College. He is editor, with Jonathan Chaplin, of God and Global Order: The Power of Religion in American Foreign Policy.

Brian Harskamp is the Director of Development at Cardus, a North American public policy think tank making technical arguments for religion in the public square. Brian has a BA in business from Redeemer University College and an MBA in Strategic Marketing from McMaster University. In addition to his work at Cardus, Brian serves on the Redeemer University Board of Governors, is the President of the Canadian Club of Hamilton, and speaks across Canada on various topics including generosity, charitable branding, and career preparation

Anthony Tongen teaches college mathematics and emphasizes including college students in research, both inside and outside the classroom. In addition to writing a book called Keeping it R.E.A.L., about undergraduate research in the classroom, he was recently a contributing author to Mathematics through the Eyes of Faith.
Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of as four fantasy novels: Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. He is also a film critic, writing articles to Christianity Today, Paste, Books and Culture, The Curator, Relevant, Image, and ImageJournal.org. He is also the author of the book, Through a Screen Darkly, which he describes as a “travelogue of dangerous moviegoing.”
Jonathan Weyer is the author of the recently-released novel, The Faithful, which the Midwest Review of Books calls “a stunning debut novel.” The novel follows the story of a minister’s crisis of faith as told through a ghost story. Jonathan also has just completed a nonfiction book about his time working with atheists at The Ohio State University. Together with the atheists, Jonathan won a Multicultural Award from the university for their joint discussion groups on campus.
Curt Thompson, M.D., is a psychiatrist in private practice in Falls Church, Virginia and founder of Being Known, which develops teaching programs, seminars and resource materials to help people explore the connection between interpersonal neurobiology and Christian spirituality which lead to genuine change and transformation. Dr. Thompson is the author of Anatomy of the Soul (Tyndale, June 2010), which demonstrates how insights from interpersonal neurobiology resonate with biblical truths about God and creation—validating the deep human need for meaningful relationships as a key to a life of hope and fulfillment.
Justin Cook serves as Head of the Languages Department at Hamilton District Christian High School in Hamilton, Ontario. Justin loves learning, moments of epiphany breathed into the mundane. In his classes, he hopes to cultivate a communal “narrative intelligence and imagination” as a way to organize life for meaning. Previous student editors from his writing class say it this way: “In reading and writing, we discover our own voices, the voices of others, and of Love itself.”
Greg Veltman and his wife, Andrea, live in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Together they are mentors at Nizhoni House, one of five Project Neighborhood programs run through Calvin College. Nizhoni is an off-campus, intentional living-learning community which practices the presence of place to love and serve neighbors and neighborhoods for the renewal of the city. Greg is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh, with a focus on the philosophy and sociology of education. He has taught Social Foundations of Education at the University of Pittsburgh and Grand Valley State University, as well as sociology and the humanities at Geneva College. Greg loves conversations at the intersection of higher education and culture, as well as engaging and discerning popular film and music.
Racial Justice
Rodger Woodworth is the founding pastor to hundreds at an inter-racial church called New Hope in the North Side of Pittsburgh. Rodger is also President of New Hope’s community development corporation and the Director of Cross-Cultural Ministries for the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach). He writes a blog called cross-cultural convergence, is an adjunct seminary professor at RPTS with a Doctorate of Ministry in Complex Urban Settings and serves on the Board of Directors for the Center for Urban Ministerial Education.
Eric Mason is the co-founder and lead pastor of Epiphany Fellowship in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He has spoken at Life Way 2009, Moody Bible College, Campus Crusades Conference, and The Desiring God Conference for Pastors with John Piper Ministries.
Samuel Chez is in his 13th year on CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) staff and currently serves as the Vice President for Strategic Partnerships. A native of New York City, born to a Cuban mother and Dominican father.
Curt Wright, as campus ministry staff with CCO at Penn State Altoona for three years was a part of a ministry that grew tremendously in numbers and in diversity. While working for the CCO, Curt finished his Master of Arts in Higher Education degree from Geneva College, and his capstone work focused on racial diversity in campus ministry fellowship groups.
Creation Care / Environmental Stewardship
Jonathan Merritt is a faith and culture writer who has published over 200 articles in respected outlets such as USA Today, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, BeliefNet, Christianity Today, The Huffington Post, and CNN.com. He is author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet (2010), which Publisher’s Weekly called “a must-read for churchgoers,” and the editor for QIdeas.org. As a respected Christian voice, he has been interviewed by ABC World News, NPR, PBS’ Religion and Ethics Newsweekly, Fox News, The New York Times and The Washington Post.
College Life for the Christian
Walt Mueller is the founder and President of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding, a non-profit organization serving schools, churches, and community organizations across the US, Canada, and worldwide in their efforts to strengthen families by helping those who know and love kids to understand today’s rapidly changing youth culture. A prolific author, he has written The Space Between: A Parent’s Guide to Teenage Development; Youth Culture 101; Opie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore: Where Faith, Family, and Culture Collide; Engaging The Soul of Youth Culture: Bridging Teen Worldviews To Christian Truth, I Want To Talk To My Teen About Movies, Music & More and the critically acclaimed Gold Medallion Award winner, Understanding Today’s Youth Culture.
Derek Melleby is the director of the College Transition Initiative, a ministry of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding and the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach). He is author of Make College Count: A Faithful Guide to Life and Learning (Baker Books) and coauthor of The Outrageous Idea of Academic Faithfulness (Brazos Press).
Stephen Lutz is a campus minister with CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) at Penn State in University Park, Pennsylvania, and Director of Life Groups with Calvary Church. He has recently completed a book on missional ministry to (and for) emerging adults, which Alan Hirsch calls “an intensely practical, and theologically substantial orientation on what it means to do campus ministry in 21st Century America.” Steve has helped start campus ministries, a church, and is the founder of Commontary.com, a ministry which provides access to free biblical resources.
Erica Young Reitz serves as the director of campus ministry at a Calvary Church, reaching out to students at Penn State University in partnership with the CCO. Whether in the context of the local church or on campus, Erica helps students connect faith with real life. She, along with a team of church members, leads Faith for Thought, an annual conference where people come together to explore connections between Christian faith and everyday life.
Global Justice
Bob Goff is a highly influential attorney whose deep passion for justice led him to create Restore International, a nonprofit organization that endeavors to address atrocities and injustices throughout the world. He has an intense passion and vision for finding audacious ways to restore justice to children and the poorest of the poor. New York Times Best-Selling Author Donald Miller says this about Bob Goff: “[I’ve] met the greatest real-life storyteller I will, perhaps, ever know, a person who has forever adjusted my moral compass and destroyed all the bridges leading back to common life. That person is Bob.”
Kent Annan is co-director of Haiti Partners, a nonprofit focused on education in Haiti, where Kent has worked since 2003. His latest book, After Shock explores the implications of faith in the midst of suffering in wake of the historic earthquake in the fragile country of Haiti. Taking courage from the psalmists of old and the company of grieving neighbors, Kent has found that there is solidarity in suffering.
JR Kerr is both the Teaching Pastor at Park Community Church in Chicago and the co-founder of Aitreni Group, a hands-on consultancy which serves change agents. Park is a growing church in the Cabrini neighborhood of Chicago’s near North Side, reaching young professionals with the Gospel and living it out among those in need. The Aitreni Group serves as a liaison, connecting resources with influencers to impact humanitarian work and extend justice in the United States and around the world. Aitreni comes alongside innovative kingdom leaders as well as leaders of movements of change to serve them and catalyze their efforts to influence for the common good.
Jessica Patterson has been working with the Foreign Service since 2003, where she has served in Tel Aviv, Israel; Santiago, Chile; and in Washington as the Algeria Desk Officer at the State Department. In Tel Aviv, Jessica spent a year adjudicating visa applications and a year as the Ambassador’s staff aide, where she got to watch the events surrounding Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005 from the inside. In Chile, she covered the transnational crime portfolio, working on issues ranging from trafficking in persons, drugs, and money laundering, to terrorist finance and intellectual property rights. She served in Washington as the Algeria Desk Officer, covering the range of issues that are important in the U.S.-Algeria bilateral relationship: counterterrorism, energy, nonproliferation, educational exchanges, among others. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once stopped Jessica to compliment her on her suit. Jessica is now studying Pashtu, preparing for her next assignment in southeastern Afghanistan.
William Messenger is the Executive Editor of the Theology of Work Project, Inc., an international organization which is researching, writing, and circulating materials about how the Christian faith can contribute to ordinary workplaces. Its materials are available at wiki.theologyofwork.org. From 1999 to 2008, Will was Director of the Mockler Center for Faith and Ethics in the Workplace at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and an adjunct faculty member there. While there, he led the seminary’s doctoral and master’s degree programs in workplace leadership business ethics.
Jason Locy is Principal of FiveStone, a brand and design firm. As a sought-after Creative Director, he helps organizations move from standard marketing hype to long-term sustainable strategies. Jason’s marketing campaigns have garnered national attention, and numerous national and international design publications have featured his work. While working with one foot in mainstream culture and the other in the church world, Jason observed firsthand how society has influenced the church. This led to his first book (written with Tim Willard), Veneer: Living Deeply on a Surface Society, a cultural theology that examines how the Language of Culture affects humanity and what our Christian response should be.
Charles Lee is the CEO of Ideation, a consultancy that specializes in helping organizations and businesses take ideas to implementation via innovative strategy, branding, design, marketing, web, social media, and creative event development. He is also a founding member ofJustOne, a nonprofit organization committed to addressing issues of poverty, orphans, and slavery. In addition, Charles is the creator of grassroots efforts including the Idea Camp, Ideation Conference, and the Freeze Project. Charles regularly speaks around the country on topics such as creativity, innovation, leadership, new media, and compassionate justice.
Patrick Colletti is President of Net Health Systems, Inc. At the peak of the dot.com days, he joined a startup whose Red-Bull-swigging, flip-flop culture quickly faltered, leading to lay-offs, substantial debt, and near collapse. From this, Patrick was appointed President, and he and a partner led a turn-around which included negotiating debt, re-focusing the product, and of course, wearing many hats simultaneously. The company that emerged (Net Health Systems, Inc.) is focused on healing the seven million people in the US with chronic, life-threatening, non-healing wounds often associated with Diabetes. Today, the company’s web-based Electronic Health Record (EHR), WoundExpert®, facilitates over three million patient treatments and supports reimbursement for $1 billion in services annually.
Mark L. Russell is the co-founder of Russell Media. He has a Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies from Asbury Theological Seminary, a Master of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a Bachelor of Science in International Business from Auburn University. Mark is a frequent public speaker and has spoken at numerous conferences, including InterVarsity’s Following Christ, Urbana Missions Conference, and the Origins Project. He has worked as a consultant for a diverse set of organizations from large multinationals to microfinance institutions and has published over 100 academic and popular level publications. Mark is a member of the Theology Working Group of the Lausanne Movement and a member of its Government, Business and Academy Think Tank. He is the author of The Missional Entrepreneur: Principles and Practices for Business as Mission, the coauthor of Routes and Radishes and Other Things to Talk About at the Evangelical Crossroads and editor and publisher of Our Souls at Work: How Great Leaders Live Their Faith in the Global Marketplace, a book with contributions from several Fortune 500 CEOs, as well as a variety of emerging social entrepreneurs.
Paul Estridge, Jr. has been in the home building business in the Indianapolis area his entire life, having come from a family of homebuilders. In 1967, Paul’s father founded Paul E. Estridge Corporation, a home builder known for their high quality custom homes. In 1983, Paul Jr. started his own home building company, The Estridge Group, with the mission “to build quality homes in neighborhoods designed for families.” In March 2009, Paul and The Estridge Companies led ABC-TV’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition project for a deserving family in Indianapolis. While a single father and his three sons were the recipients of the new home, the entire Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood was transformed by the project due to Estridge’s insistence that the project be larger than just one home.
Ryan O’Dowd is Senior Visiting Lecturer of Aerospace Studies at Cornell University, where he also leads students in the Air Force Reserve Officer training program. The flip side of his life is theology, having previously taught biblical studies and social justice at Briercrest College and Redeemer University College in Canada. After graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy where he earned a BS in biology (with 30 hours of engineering courses), he spent seven years as an Air Force officer working in areas of fitness research, logistics, space operations, software testing, and laser systems development. He then entered seminary, earning an MA from Reformed Theological Seminary and a PhD from the University of Liverpool in England. Ryan’s main academic interests and publishing are in biblical wisdom and law. His books include The Wisdom of Torah: Epistemology in Deuteronomy and the Wisdom Literature (Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 2009) and, with Craig Bartholomew, Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction (InterVarsity Press) expected out in the spring of 2011. Biblical wisdom, of course, relates to the whole of human life, so it is a natural place for Ryan’s eclectic life to find a home.


College Education: More than a Means to Making Money

People are shocked. How could Andrew Luck, quarterback for Stanford and the presumed first pick in the NFL draft if he left college early, decide to forgo around $50 million and stay in school?

In Western culture, we have warped view of college education. We think it is for the purpose of learning skills so that we can be a marketable commodity on the job market. We think that the telos (final goal) is to graduate into a money-making career so that we can live the American Dream (owning a large home, accumulating wealth, freely participating in the consumer marketplace unencumbered by limitations in our spending power).

So, if a student is offered millions if he leaves college early, the thinking is that he has already achieved that which college is there for – to make tons of money. Why does he need to continue?

So here is Andrew Luck, inexplicably deciding to stay in school and finish his degree. As Michael Rosenberg writes at Sports Illustrated,
“There has to be a reason. Andrew Luck doesn't want to be a Panther. Andrew Luck is crazy. Maybe Luck, who went to high school in Texas, cannot bring himself to switch to Carolina barbecue. Maybe he is scared of the NFL, delusional, socialist, getting bad advice, hanging with the wrong crowd, a flake, a geek, thinks he is invincible ...
With the first pick of the 2011 NFL draft in his grasp, Andrew Luck selected college. His Stanford coach, Jim Harbaugh, has been telling people for months: I think he is going back to school. He wants his degree. He loves his teammates. He loves college life. Nobody believed him. There has to be a reason.
This says so much more about us than it does about Luck. Thirty years ago, opting for life over money was perfectly acceptable social behavior. You used to have to explain why you went for the cash. Now you have to explain why you don't.
Andrew Luck just doesn't get it, and good for him. He is rejecting two American articles of faith: You always go for the money, and the NFL is king. He is just a college kid who is freakishly gifted at football, and that's all he wants to be right now. He is secure enough in who he is to say no to the world and be happy about it.”
Neil Postman wrote,
“(Modern education) does not put forward a clear vision of what constitutes an educated person, unless it is a person who possesses ‘skills.’ In other words, a technocrat’s ideal—a person with no commitment and no point of view but with plenty of marketable skills.”  
Steven Garber adds,
“The shriveled visions of universities under the impact of modernity…seem more concerned to produce people who are technically competent but who have little interest in the whys and wherefores of the competencies.
“Education must be oriented to preparation for a calling and not just training for a career. Walker Percy’s memorable metaphor captures the irony inherent in our individual and social expectations of the meaning of education when he writes of ‘the one who gets all A’s but flunks life.’”
Andrew Luck gets an A in life.