Demonstrating the State of Evangelicalism Today

Today, Thom Rainer posted a list of the “twenty most influential evangelicals in America.” In light of the recent World Vision controversy, I think this list demonstrates precisely what is wrong with evangelicalism in America, at least as it is perceived and defined by most people – both insiders and outsiders. Namely, it is limited to those who are publicly conservative in their politics, against legal gay marriage (and hiring married gay people to do charity work, apparently), and limited in their interpretation of the Bible to an inerrancy-based, mostly neo-Calvinist perspective.

Here’s the list:

Matt Chandler — The lead pastor of teaching at The Village Church in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and prominent author. Chandler’s podcast is consistently in the top five of the leading Christian podcasts on iTunes.

Wilfredo De Jesus — Better known as Pastor Choco, he is the head pastor of New Life Covenant Church in Chicago and the author of Amazing FaithTime magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in America in 2013.

Ross Douthat — Author, blogger and New York Times columnist. He was a senior editor at The Atlantic and wrote Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.

Tony Evans — Prolific author and senior pastor at Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas. He is also founder and president of The Urban Alternative, a national organization that seeks to bring about spiritual renewal in urban America through churches.

Louie Giglio — Pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, speaker, author, and founder of the Passion Movement.

Franklin Graham — President and CEO of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse. Prominent evangelist.

Craig Groeschel — Founder and senior pastor of LifeChurch.tv, one of the largest churches in the United States with 15 locations in five states.

Bill Hybels — Founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, and founder of the Willow Creek Association. Prolific author.

T. D. Jakes — Bishop/chief pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas. Prolific author of many books.

Tim Keller — Apologist, speaker, and the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Author of several books.

Lecrae — Christian hip hop artist, record producer, and co-owner and co-founder of the independent record label Reach Records. Co-founder and president of the non-profit organization, ReachLife Ministries.

Albert Mohler — President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for more than 20 years. Prominent spokesman in evangelicalism. Author of several books and hundreds of articles.

Beth Moore — Founder of Living Proof Ministries in Houston. The ministry focuses on aiding women who desire to model their lives on Christian values. Prominent author and speaker.

Joyce Meyer — Prolific author and frequent speaker, with many of her appearances on television. Heads Joyce Meyer Ministries, based in Fenton, Missouri.

Joel Osteen — Senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston, one of the largest churches in America. Prolific author of several books.

John Piper — Served as pastor for preaching and vision for 33 years at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. Retired from the church in 2013. Prolific author. Founder of Desiring God Ministries.

Dave Ramsey — Best known for his syndicated radio show, “The Dave Ramsey Show,” heard on more than 500 radio stations. Authored many books, including four New York Times bestsellers. Focuses on personal financial health.

Priscilla Shirer — Bestselling author and frequent speaker, largely at women’s events. Most common venue is Bible teaching to women. She and her husband, Jerry Shirer, own and run Going Beyond Ministries.

Andy Stanley — Senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, and affiliated churches. Also founded North Point Ministries. Prolific author and frequent speaker.

Rick Warren — Senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, one of the largest churches in the United States. Author of several books, including Purpose Driven Life, which has sold over 30 million copies.

Granted this is not a study, just a poll done by Rainer himself with his own readers. But I think it’s reflective of what most people think when they think “evangelical.” 

Do you agree? And if so, what does that mean for the future of centrist/nuanced, progressive, and emergence evangelicals in the U.S.?

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About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is an Author, Preacher, and Content Creator who writes and curates here at The Apocalypse Review. You can also catch him at his author blog, zhoag.com.

  • Alan Noble

    Little troubled that I didn’t make the top twenty.

  • John Hawthorne

    Alan: In the words of the inimitable Maxwell Smart. “missed it by THAT much!”

  • Paul Robinson

    Evangelical is a term used almost exclusively in the US from my experience. I’m from the UK and it’s rare people identify themselves as such. It’s only since I moved here that I have heard it more often. Plus I think people are probably more likely to put people they agree with in the list. So you may not agree with Rob Bell but you can’t say that he’s not one of the most influential Christians/Evangelicals in the US just as one may not agree with John Piper but he also is clearly one of the most influential. Basically, I wouldn’t necessarily read too much into his list.

  • http://apprenticeinstitute.org/ Josh Luton

    I’ve always wondered what “evangelical” meant and whether I am one (based on this list, I’d say no). But my other alternative–mainline–isn’t exactly exciting, either. Maybe we can mash up “progressive” and “evangelical” to start a new movement no one can really define, something like: “Provangelical.”

  • http://www.mustardseedyear.com/ Jason Wert

    Looks like a good, solid list of Bible-following Christian leaders. Well, most of it. Joyce is a stretch.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    haha has a nice ring to it!

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    I hear you, but what I read into it is simply a popular perception – perhaps even the dominant perception – of what an evangelical is (in America).

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    Also, I was at a conference this weekend where a bishop in the Church of England referred to himself as a “boots on the ground evangelical.” Pretty interesting.

  • http://chrishirschy.com Chris

    It seems like a fair list. I don’t know all of the names listed but it reflects the type of people that the leaders of the church that I work at look to for guidance.

    As far as, what do I think it means for the more nuanced (great way of wording it by the way) evangelicals? I think it means that we will continued to be placed in the minority. If Christianity is only defined by the above leaders, then things will continue to worsen for American Christianity. I would say we should write more books but of course that won’t help because who will buy them? We don’t have the audience (and I don’t think we want it). (I’m not saying that we shouldn’t write books. I know that you have and I hope to some day. I am only saying that books are a big way that this list pushes their agenda.)

    My wife and I have decided that we just need to keep pursing the gospel. We’ll be the voice on the other side, comforting those hurt by “the Christians”. I believe that, if we continue to preach the good news of Jesus Christ, the tides will shift and the church will call for reform from within.

  • Nish

    And only 3 women listed out of twenty. I mean, COME ON. How many times do we have to have this discussion?!

  • R Vogel

    Thank G*d I have no idea who virtually any of the knuckleheads are besides that hate peddler Franklin Graham.

  • http://beingperfectlyhuman.blogspot.com/ Eric Fry

    I personally know three on that list, and I’ll readily admit that they’re three of the last people I would ever let influence me in church matters. I don’t think I’d let the others on the list influence me, either.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    right? it’s just ridiculous.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    good stuff Chris.

  • Gavin Johnston

    The sort of conservatism that many of these evangelicals espouse really only has power within their own circles and hence at this point has minimal impact on culture and society as a whole. So what if 20 million people follow Joel, if they have nothing to say of any depth, what does it matter? Their objections to homosexuality hold no sway any longer. People like Joel Osteen who put out the self-help-God and the Gospel of Prosperity actually meet people where they are at on their spiritual path and level of maturity. Sure, it would be nice if Joel could get a little nuanced and not be so self-assured, but his eyes sparkle and he has a big smile because of it, the very thing his flock needs from him. Christian exclusivism (salvation through Christ alone), that evangelicals are so sure of really has minimal impact on the world stage right now. 99% of the evangelicals are living highly cultural lives, watching heathen television, working jobs that steal from the meek, driving planet destroying cars, living in big houses, and have 50 pairs of sandals. The power of culture in that case is much more powerful than gospel-influence. Actually, their faith probably gets them to do more good things and avoid more bad things even though they are mostly living through cultural definitions. Once these sticking points like homosexuality have set their course regardless of the evangelical response, it will be interesting to see what impact they will still have. Possibly, if the world is moving towards moral degeneracy, that ironically most evangelicals are part of, like money, environmental destruction, greed, etc they will discover a deeper beauty in the Gospel that can find voice on the world stage? Perhaps they will forsake their wealth, forsake their worldliness, and forsake their comfort in order to show the world what the Gospel is really about.

  • Paul

    Douthat is a Roman Catholic.

  • Jacob Lupfer

    This is hilarious. Thom Rainer is a good person and, as far as I’m concerned, a true Christian gentleman. But he isn’t going to list anyone the neo-Calivinsit boy’s club doesn’t like. Notice how the women only/mostly teach women. I have to wonder if Douthat is really that enamored with how much these people love him. Also, he’s not the first evangelical Catholic. Bobby Jindal has already inaugurated that particular pander. And Marco Rubio doesn’t know whether he’s Catholic or Southern Baptist.

  • Jacob Lupfer

    Interesting. I’m basically a lapsed Mainliner, but I really do love the Mainline and want it to do well. I keep hoping that a lot of people who get fed up with sexism and anti-gay obsessiveness — or who get excommunicated from evangelicalism — will join Mainline traditions. But I just don’t see much evidence of that happening. I’m wondering where all these ex-evangelicals will go.

  • Chris

    There is really two definitions of Evangelical. One being the literal meaning which is essentially a messager of the gospel. The other is the cultural meaning which can lean all kinds of different things depending on who you are talking to. It has primarily a negative context grown over the last 150 years as postmodernism combats the ideas of absolutes. Evangelicals are often singled out for their exclusicism, when the reality is all worldviews have some point of exclusivity. The reason modern American evangelicalism goes further into the minority is because its culture rubs up against the “inclusive” culture that now dominates. Funny thing is, Jesus teachings are by far one of most inclusive teachings of all the world religions, and yet makes some very exclusive claims as well. The gospel is a balance of love and truth. The most credible person on this list I believe is Tim Keller…if you don’t know him, look him up.

  • Jacob Lupfer

    The women these people really admire are doing the carpool and chores, and everyone knows it.

  • mochalite

    I
    mainlined six years ago. Though I was
    raised in evangelicalism, it now feels loud, abrasive, and inconsiderate. I found worship increasingly difficult in the
    mega-church atmosphere of 7-11 praise music, folks long on “hate the sin” and short on
    “love the sinner,” and reality outside the doors.
    God carried me to an unusual and wonderful PCUSA congregation that embraces ancient
    liturgy and music and emphasizes service and inclusion, while letting me teach
    a Bible geek class. Plenty exciting for
    me!

  • Al Cruise

    The list could very well be accurate for what it is. The list is definitely not the top twenty people who are leading people to be “transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory which comes from the Lord” [2 Cor 3;18] and described in [Romans 10:14] ” How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news”. That is a completely different list. The people on this list are very influential at getting “their” message out.

  • Al Cruise

    How come no Mark Driscoll? Any thoughts?

  • http://apprenticeinstitute.org/ Josh Luton

    Mochalite–Glad to hear you’ve found a home in PCUSA.

    Jacob–I had a brief lapse during div school, but have been UMC most of my life. I’m ordination track now and also would love folks to dig the mainline.

    If I jumped ship any direction it would be Anglican/Episcopal, I’m a sucker for high liturgy and tradition. So, if we could just blend these two comments and get a vibrant mainline with some “ancient liturgy” I’d be down!

  • http://chrishirschy.com Chris

    Maybe he got left off because of all the negative news that has come out about him lately. I was surprised that he wasn’t on here as well.

  • Lamont Cranston

    It’s no surprise that evangelicals wouldn’t have a problem with a pedophile enabler.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    Methinks Driscoll may not make these lists going forward. There has been some permanent damage done in this latest round of reports.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    Yeah, he’s an interesting choice, but given his public intellectual cred and conservative politics, it makes sense.


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