"In a sense," Billy Graham said in an address launching Christianity Today 50 years ago, "we are almost leaderless" in the evangelical movement. Half a century later, lack of leadership isn't a problemwe may have more leaders than followers.
When the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals in 2001 provocatively named Tim LaHaye "the most influential American Evangelical of the last 25 years" (for the breadth of his bestselling bibliography), few took notice. But since the presidential election, both religious and mainstream media have been trying to map the tricky network and hierarchy of the popeless priesthood of evangelical believers. Evangelicals are now seen as key political influencers, so observers want to know: Who's influencing them?
New York Times columnist David Brooks came early to the fight, challenging fellow journalists to stop quoting Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. "There is a world of difference between real-life people of faith and the made-for-TV, Elmer Gantry-style blowhards who are selected to represent them," he said.
Evangelicals agree. A spring 2004 poll from PBS's Religion and Ethics Newsweekly found that only 23 percent of self-described evangelicals had "warm or positive feelings" toward Falwellthe same percentage they gave "pro-choice groups." Robertson scored higher, at 34 percent, but still lower than labor unions (36%) and far below Pope John Paul II (44%) and James Dobson (40%).
The real spokesperson for evangelicalism, said Brooks, is John Stott, who is "always bringing people back to the concrete reality of Jesus' life and sacrifice."
Christian publications followed Brooks with their own lists. Christian Retailing's "Top Fifty People" shrewdly broke up the names by category, ...