The 100 Most Influential Evangelicals in America

Newsmax recently released their picks for the 100 Most Influential Evangelicals in America. I’m sure it was no small project to sift through the thousands of possibilities among the millions of Evangelicals to arrive at a mere 100. Their top-ten are Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, Joel Osteen, Mike Huckabee, Pat Robertson, Rick Warren, Jerry Falwell Jr., Joyce Meyer, Mike Pence, and the combination of Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. It’s quite a list and has generated no small amount of response. I spent some time pondering it over the holidays and thought I’d share a few thoughts on it.

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First, the list is pretty good. That’s not to say I like or respect the people on the list or that I even regard them as evangelicals (or Christians for that). But I see what Newsmax was trying to accomplish and I think, according to their criteria, they assembled a list that meets their purpose. These 100 people undeniably wield tremendous influence over American Christianity. (Their criteria was simple: They chose people who share “a common belief in the holiness of scripture and the centrality of faith in Jesus Christ for their lives.”)

Second, the list is terrible. Though I agree that these people wield tremendous influence over American Christianity, I wish many of them did not! In fact, there are some in the top-ten (and far more in the full list) who are clearly not even true believers in Jesus Christ. They are, in reality, “evangelical unbelievers” or “evangelical heretics.” Which brings us to our next point.

Third, it shows that the label “evangelical” lacks any robust definition. Roma Downey and Robert George are both devout and vocal Roman Catholics and, by any good definition, cannot be evangelicals. Matt Walsh specifically denies the label. Glennon Doyle Melton is a lesbian who writes books lauded by Oprah Winfrey. T.D. Jakes denies the doctrine of the Trinity while Creflo Dollar’s gospel is not ultimately about salvation through faith in Jesus Christ but about personal enrichment. It sometimes seems that there’s no scandal bad enough, no denial deep enough, and no heresy terrible enough to keep people outside the bounds of evangelicalism.

Fourth, it shows America’s unique conflation of evangelicalism with politics. In no other nation would so many leaders be so clearly connected with politics. The top-11 includes three who are first politicians and several others who use their influence equally in both worlds. It’s difficult to imagine too many other countries in which so many key evangelicals would also be influencing national politics (or wishing they did).

Fifth, there are some bright spots. It is good and right to see names like Tim Keller, Trip Lee, John MacArthur, John Piper, R.C. Sproul, and Joni Eareckson Tada on the list. There are quite a few others whose lives are unblemished by scandal, whose theology is untainted by heresy, and whose ministries consistently honor the Lord. If the list represents bad news, it represents good news as well. Whatever Newsmax’s evangelicalism is, it’s broad enough to encompass the very best and very worst of Christian teachers.

Sixth, there are a few clear misses. I have already pointed out how some were included who should not be, but there were also some left off who probably should have been on there. For example, how does Al Mohler get left off the list? If Trip Lee is on the list, then why not Lecrae? If Creflo Dollar, why not Benny Hinn? And what about some of those silent, faithful people who wield tremendous influence from behind the scenes?

Finally, it reminds me how small and weak the Reformed corner of the Christian world is. Broaden it beyond Reformed to “conservative evangelical” or something along those lines and it doesn’t get a whole lot bigger or stronger. At least, it is small in numbers compared to the vast quantity of people who fall within a standard label of “evangelical” and it is weak in influence compared to circles that are welcomed by the world’s most wealthy and powerful. Yet I am convinced that it is among these weak people that the gospel is held in highest esteem. It is these people who protect the true and infinitely powerful gospel against the endless pretenders. It is these people who are most worthy to wear the label “evangelical.”

Did you read through Newsmax’s list? If so, what are your thoughts on it?