Diagnosing a Downgrade: The Top Evangelicals


A recent Newsmax article lists whom they find to be the "100 Most Influential Evangelicals in America," a list which includes pastors, teachers, politicians, and other men and women in the public eye.[1] Such a list ought to grab our attention, if for no other reason than to help us examine the heartbeat of American Christianity. And in fact, this list does that quite well.

Many on the list come as no surprise: actor Kirk Cameron, musician TobyMac, and radio host Dave Ramsey are familiar names making the cut. And although the influence of movies, music, and radio is certainly a noteworthy point to discuss, of greater importance is the influence of pastors and preachers. After all, even though entertainers undoubtedly affect our spiritual lives, many people would not purposefully look to them for in-depth Bible answers. Not only that, but entertainers aren't held to the same standard of biblical instruction that is expected of pastors. Instead, those in the pulpit are understood to be the ones who provide us with meaningful knowledge for our Christian lives. Thus, looking only at those who are preachers is quite revealing because it helps us understand how the Bible is being portrayed to a majority of Christians.

With that in mind, it's not until slot #22 on the list (John Piper) that we see a verse-by-verse expositor of God's Word. Let that sink in for a moment.

Not only do twenty-one other people influence millions of American Christians primarily with something other than teaching through God's Word, but at least a half dozen of them hold the title of pastor or preacher. As expected, the list is rife with false teachers—Joel Osteen at #3, Creflo Dollar at #12, and T.D. Jakes at #17 all have leveraged their false gospel of prosperity to climb the ladder of influence. But even among conservative, Bible-believing pastors and preachers, so few on the list actually perform sequential exposition.

Do you realize the problem? It's not too difficult to diagnose. What this tells us is that if you were to sit under the preaching of a majority of the top pastors on this list, only in rare exceptions would their ministries enable you to understand a book of the Bible from start to finish. And make sure to finish out the logical implications: this means that only in rare exceptions would their ministries empower you to teach your children a book of the Bible from start to finish. You could sit under their preaching for years and never have a meaningful grasp of Scripture. And sadly, that is precisely the experience of many people.

Is it any wonder that the visible church in America is in such poor health? Rather than being fed the pure milk of the Word, such that we might grow strong and healthy, the path to popularity consists of feeding congregants the spiritual equivalent of Pop Rocks candy—all pop, no protein. Instead of providing spiritual meat each Sunday, the typical sermon is "all sizzle, no steak." And the effects are crippling.

The Bible makes it clear that pastors are to preach the Word verse by verse (cf. 1 Tim. 4:;13), book by book (cf. Col. 4:16), Sunday by Sunday (cf. 2 Tim. 4:2). Without this, downgrade is inevitable. By God's grace, expositors like John MacArthur are still on the list. But at some point, if the ear-tickling continues, American Evangelicalism will no longer tolerate even one man who "just teaches the Bible" (cf. 2 Tim. 4:3). Let's pray that time is still far off.

In the meantime, put the stethoscope up to your own chest: if you were to put together a list of the 100 Most Influential Evangelicals in your own life, how many of them would be expositors?


[1] Jen Krausz, "Newsmax's 100 Most Influential Evangelicals in America," Newsmax, accessed November 21, 2017, https://www.newsmax.com/BestLists/evangelicals-influential-america-list/2017/11/15/id/826258.