[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelicals leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]
#11 Rick Warren. Generational bridge b.1954
If forced to choose, by most measures megachurch pastor and best-selling author Rick Warren is now the most influential evangelical in America. He has his evangelical critics, but most mute their criticism when he presents the Gospel in places such as Fox News Channel and prays boldly at the Presidential Inauguration.
Warren has worked to shift the evangelical movement away from an exclusive focus on traditional evangelical social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage (regarding the latter, he called divorce a greater threat to the American family), to broader social action. Warren’s five-point plan for global action, the P.E.A.C.E. Plan , calls for church-led efforts to tackle global poverty and disease, including the spread of HIV/AIDS, and to support literacy and education efforts around the world. In February 2006, he signed a the Evangelical Climate Initiative, a controversial evangelical statement backing action to combat global warming. As the director of the ECI campaign, I saw firsthand how Warren’s signature drew media attention and provided the campaign with a gravitas that it otherwise lacked, making it impossible to ignore. In this and numerous other efforts Warren has been parting ways with other conservative, high-profile evangelical leaders.
Warren’s softer tone on political issues central to U.S. evangelicals and his concern for issues more commonly associated with the political left have resulted in the characterization of Warren as one of a “new breed of evangelical leaders.” But it has also been misunderstood by much of media as indicating a shift in the position of the “new breed” on traditional evangelical issues.
Warren has been married to Elizabeth K. Warren (Kay) for 31 years in 2010. They have three adult children (Amy, Josh, and Matthew) and four grandchildren. He considers Billy Graham, Peter Drucker, and his own father to be among his mentors.
Due to enormous international book sales, in 2005 Warren returned his 25 years of salary to the church and discontinued taking a salary. He says he and his wife became “reverse “tithers,” giving away 90 percent of their income and living off 10 percent.
Warren is the founder and senior pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, currently the eighth-largest church in the United States. He is also a bestselling author of many Christian books, including his guide to church ministry and evangelism, The Purpose Driven Church, which has spawned a series of conferences on Christian ministry and evangelism. He is perhaps best known for the subsequent devotional, The Purpose Driven Life, which has sold over 30 million copies, making Warren one of the bestselling authors of all time.
Warren holds conservative theological views and traditional orthodox positions on social issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, and stem-cell research. What distinguishes his public voice is his call on churches worldwide to also focus their efforts on fighting poverty and disease, expanding educational opportunities for the marginalized, and caring for the environment. During the 2008 United States presidential election, Warren hosted the Civil Forum on The Presidency at his church with both presidential candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama. Obama later sparked controversy when he asked Warren to give the invocation at the presidential inauguration in January 2009.
Warren’s chief contribution has been the forging of a new tone and a broader set of issues from the prominent position he earned through historic book sales, while maintaining strong and clear evangelical positions on major public issues and on spiritual priorities. Through these efforts, Warren may represent a bridge between the leaders who began ministry in the 1950’s and the young evangelicals yearning for a break from the more strident voice of recent leaders.