Political viability and media sophistication mark those who are considered the most influential evangelicals in America by Time magazine (Feb. 7).
The magazine composed a list of the 25 most influential evangelicals with input of preachers, politicians, scholars and activists. Number one is Rick Warren, megachurch pastor and author of The Purpose Driven Life, a best-selling book that has become a phenomenon among pastors and churches. Warren is said to stand next in line after Billy Graham as “America’s minister.“
The political cast of the list of influential evangelicals is seen in the choices for runners-up: James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and family values activist, is listed second, followed by conservative Christian financiers Howard and Roberta Ahmanson, Diane Knippers of the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy, Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, and then neconservative Catholic Richard John Neuhaus. The latter was chosen because of his strong influence on Bush as well as for his work in forging an evangelical-Catholic coalition on issues of public life (another Catholic on the list is Republican Senator Rick Santorum).
Among the other influential evangelicals chosen were Billy and Franklin Graham, Charles Colson, J.I. Packer (the only theologian of the 25), historian Mark Noll, Stephen Strang of Charisma magazine and Stuart Epperson, founder of Salem Communications which owns 104 radio stations blending Christian music and teaching with talk radio.
Yet Billy Graham remains the most trusted spokesman among American Protestant church leaders, according to a recent Barna Poll. The poll, taken among 614 senior pastors, found that Billy Graham was chosen as their greatest influence by 34 percent of respondents, followed by Rick Warren (26 percent).
The only other leaders listed by at least 10 percent of the pastors was President George Bush (14 percent) and James Dobson (11 percent). Evangelical leaders were the “top influencers,” rating 59 percent among all pastors. In contrast, only six percent of the top influencers were associated with mainline Protestant denominations and five percent were Catholic.