Time Magazine's 25 Most Influential Evangelicals
In case you hadn’t seen it, Time magazine’s February 7, 2005 cover story focuses on who it believes are the 25 most influential evangelicals in America. I have three reasons for taking time to reflect on the list. First, I have a few thoughts on those selected, as well as those omitted. Second, I also believe the list reflects both what is good and bad about contemporary evangelicalism, as well as revealing how the secular media views the evangelical church and its impact in society. Third, and finally, I’m more than a little curious about the list because I was called by one of the reporters who contributed to the piece. No, they weren’t thinking about including me. Perhaps a Christian version of Mad magazine might consider me as a candidate, but hardly Time! The reason they contacted me was to ask questions about John Piper, whom they seriously considered listing but eventually chose not to. They had gotten in touch with Christianity Today and spoke with one of their editors who was a student of mine in the graduate program at Wheaton College. He knew of my friendship with John and thus directed them to me.
First, the list is an interesting one. I’m not surprised that Rick Warren is at the top. His book, The Purpose Driven Life (no, I haven’t read it) has sold over 20 million copies and according to the article “is the best-selling hardback in U.S. history” (35). One might have thought that Bruce Wilkinson, author of The Prayer of Jabez, would have made it, but it just goes to show you how fleeting and short-lived fame can be. Others on the list that one would expect are James Dobson, Billy Graham (and his son Franklin), Charles Colson, and Bill Hybels (pastor of Willow Creek Church).
There are several who made the final cut that I’d never heard of. I don’t know if that tells you more about me or them! Howard and Roberta Ahmanson are described as “savings-and-loan multimillionaires” who support a variety of conservative Christian causes. I had never heard of Diane Knippers, president of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy, nor of Luis Cortes, a prominent and apparently quite influential Hispanic pastor from Philadelphia. Others with whom I was unacquainted include David Barton and Stuart Epperson.
Michael Gerson, a Wheaton College graduate, is deservedly present. He is President Bush’s speechwriter who exerts a profound influence on the American public and the world at large. Joyce Meyer, Pentecostal Bible teacher and somewhat controversial advocate of the prosperity gospel, is included, and probably with good reason. Her influence is widespread and ever increasing. But if I were to think of another woman whose impact is equally as powerful it would be Beth Moore, conspicuous by her absence from this list. Anne Graham Lotz and Kay Arthur would have been worthy candidates as well.
David Coe, Richard Land, and Jay Sekulow are among the twenty-five because of their political, legal, and social activity. Of the three, Sekulow is probably the most powerful as he is the best-known and most effective Christian attorney defending the rights of the church against the assaults launched by the ACLU and other similar organizations. Sekulow is regularly in front of the Supreme Court and should be remembered in your prayers in the days to come.
Some may be surprised that Richard John Neuhaus is listed, as well as Senator Rick Santorum, given the fact that they are both Roman Catholics. Of course, if one believes there is such a thing as an “Evangelical Catholic” (which I do) this ceases to be problematic.
So who’s on the list that I think shouldn’t be? I’d have to start with T. D. Jakes, not because he isn’t influential, but because of questions relating to his evangelical credentials. Jakes’ roots are in the United Pentecostal Church and the Oneness Pentecostal tradition in which the doctrine of the Trinity is explicitly rejected. Jakes himself declines to comment on this other than to insist he is theologically orthodox. But I would first like to see his clear, unashamed, unapologetic affirmation of the biblical concept of the Triune God before I included his name on this list.
It saddens me that Tim and Beverly LaHaye are among the twenty-five, not because they aren’t evangelical and not because they aren’t incredibly influential. They are most certainly both. And that’s precisely the problem. Tim LaHaye’s influence is tied to his best-selling series of books (Left Behind) that promote a false and unbiblical eschatology (Dispensational, Pre-Tribulational, Premillennialism). This isn’t to say the books have had no positive impact. They certainly have prompted people to think about the second coming of Christ and the necessity of personal faith in our Lord. But one could only hope that the glory of the gospel could have been presented in a more biblically sound prophetic package.
I’m not convinced that Brian McLaren should be on the list, but no one can doubt his increasing profile among evangelicals as the unofficial leader of what has come to be known as the Emerging Church movement. Again, I suppose my objection is not whether he has influence, but why. I’m not impressed with the theological agenda that permeates his books and energizes the Emerging Church. But that’s for another time, another article.
Other people on the list who are exerting a positive influence include theologian J. I. Packer (although Packer is British, having taught in Canada for the past twenty years); my former colleague at Wheaton College, historian Mark Noll; missiologist Ralph Winter; Stephen Strang, publisher of Charisma magazine and Creation House Books; and Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and Senior Pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Who else is “missing”? The article acknowledges on the first page that Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell were omitted. Certainly author Max Lucado was deserving of being mentioned, as was Joni Eareckson Tada (whose books and radio broadcasts reach millions). And irrespective of what you may think of their theology (or the lack thereof), both Paul Crouch, President of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, and Benny Hinn, flamboyant healing evangelist, exert immeasurable influence not only in America but worldwide.
I was a bit surprised that no one from music or the arts was included. Perhaps this says more than we would like about the failure of evangelicals to make their mark in this arena. But, then, whom would you nominate in this category? Michael W. Smith? Matt Redman (although, again, he’s British)?
My second observation has already surfaced in comments above. What can we learn about the state of evangelicalism from the fact that our “most influential” figures include folk with questionable theological credentials such as Joyce Meyer, T. D. Jakes, and Tim LaHaye, and others whose presence is solely due to their political power or involvement with certain social or moral issues? It’s almost as if Time thinks of “influence” as largely a question of who has the President’s ear. Aside from Packer and Noll, not a single theologian of stature is mentioned. Which brings me to my third reason for interest in this article.
The reporter spoke with me for about twenty minutes concerning John Piper. I told her that I couldn’t think of another person in America whose impact was as widespread, substantive, life-changing, and Christ-exalting as John’s. I guess that didn’t count for much. I spoke of his many books, his expository preaching (in which he refuses to “dumb down” or cater to so-called “felt needs”), the God-centeredness of his theology, his passion for world missions, and the sin-killing message of Christian Hedonism. When I said he was, like his mentor Jonathan Edwards, a “God-intoxicated man,” she immediately asked me why Edwards was having such a profound impact on the church today. Well, as you might guess, I had a few things to say about that! Perhaps somewhere in the mix my interpretation of what constitutes real “influence” in our nation turned her off. But, in the final analysis, I suppose having millions to donate to conservative causes (and I’m sincerely grateful there are evangelicals who do) and being known in the halls of Congress and the White House count more than preaching Word-based sermons and writing Christ-centered books about the glory of God.
So, John, if I’m responsible for costing you your one chance at international fame, forgive me. But please don’t change. Would to God there were more like you.