Five of the highest-profile Christian leaders – Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, James Dobson, Tim LaHaye and T.D. Jakes – were unknown to a majority of the population. Most of those leaders were also unknown to most born again Christians.
This one should give pause to anyone who is an author, radio personality, pastor, or leader of any kind in the Christian community. Let's take these one by one:
- Rick Warren: This one should be most alarming to authors. How many weeks was The Purpose-Driven Life number 1 on so many bestseller lists? For years, you couldn't even enter a bookstore without the risk of tripping over a freestanding display of PDL and its myriad ancillary products. And you could hardly find a church that wasn't following the "40 Days of Purpose" program (I tried). If it hadn't been for PDL, Warren's relative obscurity outside of Southern California and his church network wouldn't be such a surprise. But post-PDL, I can't imagine how so many Christians could be unfamiliar with him.
- Joel Osteen: No surprise here. Yes, he's a bestselling author, but his bestselling book has nowhere near the title recognition that Warren's PDL has. He's known in Texas and among charismatics, but that's about it.
- James Dobson: You've got to be kidding me. Christians don't know who Dobson is? With the exception of LaHaye, Dobson's been around longer than anyone else on the list, and for decades he was well-known and highly regarded among evangelicals for his teaching on child-rearing. Even secular parents bought his books. Plus, he had, and has, a huge radio audience. He lost some followers and gained some more when he started getting all political, but he also attracted the attention of secular audiences at that point. They hated him, but still. The man has name recognition. Who on earth did Barna's people ask?
- Tim LaHaye: This one should alarm co-authors. Either the "Left Behind" mega series is better known by its titles than its authors, or Jerry Jenkins is getting all the credit. Actually, the latter may be the case; I've been familiar with LaHaye's work since the 1970s, and I almost never think of him in the context of "Left Behind." He's just always been there, like evangelical wallpaper. I swear, the pollsters must have been talking to teenagers, because anyone who's been around the church for a while should at least know LaHaye's name, even if they can't figure out where they know it from.
- T.D. Jakes: Another bestselling author who is apparently living in obscurity despite his millions of followers. Go figure. Granted, he's best known among charismatics and African-Americans, but he was also well-known in a liberal, liturgical church I attended. Like Warren and Osteen, he's a relative newcomer, so maybe that's part of the problem.
What do you think? Are these people as obscure as the poll suggests, especially among Christians?