Charles Stanley was rated the third most influential Protestant pastor in America, behind Billy Graham and Charles Swindoll, in a 2010 survey by LifeWay Research. That's ahead of Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and Joel Osteen, among many other prominent pastors. Given that theologically Stanley is a fundamentalist and dispensationalist—theological approaches that are considered passé today—that's an anomaly. Though he's been at the center of controversy (as president of the Southern Baptist Convention while fundamentalists and moderates contended for control; as a pastor who has experienced divorce in a morally conservative denomination), his gracious spirit has tended to win over even his enemies.
Stanley doesn't wear his formal theology on his sleeve, and instead spends the bulk of his ministry teaching people how the Bible deals with the practical concerns of their lives—family, work, pain, addictions, spirituality, and so forth. He does this as pastor of First Baptist in Atlanta (16,000 members) and through In Touch Ministries, which broadcasts his messages in more than 50 languages worldwide, over 500 radio stations, 300 television stations, and several satellite networks.
Mark Galli, CT's senior managing editor, spoke with the 80-year-old Stanley about his latest book (he's written more than 30), The Ultimate Conversation: Talking with God Through Prayer (Howard), which he considers his most important.
Early on in the book you talk about how one's relationship with one's parents can shape one's prayer life, both for good and for ill. How did that work out in your life?
My father died when I was nine months old. So it was just my mother and myself. As ...