Of course, Franklin Graham is currently tops on the list. After all, he is Billy's son and he is officially taking Billy's place in the organization. Not only that, but Franklin has done some noteworthy things in his own right. I have some respect for Franklin Graham. Currently coming in second is T.D. Jakes. Now, I have some issues with Jakes. First, there's the modalistic view of God that he holds. Basically, he doesn't hold to the orthodox formulation of the trinity. This does not mean that he is not a Christian, it just means that he holds to an error that has been rejected in the church for nearly 2000 years. Holding a false belief about the nature of God can have unforseen negative consequences. Jakes apparently subscribes to the "try Jesus, you'll like Him!" approach to evangelism. Here is how he responded when asked why he is a Christian rather than a Buddhist or something else:
I’m a Christian because my faith works for me. It meets me at the point of my personal needs; it gives me a foundation to stand on when all the world seems crazy. The fact that Christ died for me and rose from the dead and continues to live and influence my behavior is significant to me, and it’s been effective.
But what if someone says that atheism works for them? What would Jakes tell them? This approach to evangelism does not do justice to the gospel. The Gospel is the message of Christ crucified, resurrected, and reconciling people to God. It doesn't have much to do with what "works" when you face the trials of life. Now, I do think that Christ carries His children through their trials, but that is not THE reason to become a Christian. BUT, I would happily vote for Jakes over the man who inexplicably holds third place.
Coming in third is Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church. By now most people know who Osteen is through his best-selling book Your Best Life Now. Frankly, I'm astounded he's on the list, let alone getting votes. Why would I take Jakes over Osteen? Because at least Jakes seems to care about the Gospel. Osteen is more concerned with people living a nice life. His message is something like "God wants you to have good health, a nice job and a good family life." Sin? I don't think that gets much airtime at Lakewood. That's negative, and Osteen doesn't want his people going home feeling low. The kicker is, folks, without sin, there is no gospel. As I've heard Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason say, there is no reason for the Good News unless we know the Bad News first. If you don't talk about sin, you are not an evangelist. Period.
The only remaining evangelist in double figures (12%) at the time of this writing is Luis Palau. This man has my vote. He was asked what his favorite prayer is in a beliefnet interview, and this is what he said:
O God my father, I believe that you created me, that you love me, that you even like me, O God, and even though I don’t deserve it, because I sinned against you, I have broken your moral laws, I believe that you sent your son, Jesus Christ, and that he died on a cross to take away all my guilt, to wash me spiritually, and Lord Jesus I believe that you rose from the dead, that you hear my prayer, and right now I open my heart to you. Please come into my life, Lord Jesus, make me your child, give me the assurance of eternal life, fill me with your holy spirit, and I will serve you, and I’ll obey you until I see you face to face in heaven. Thank you, Father, I am yours forever because Christ lives in me. In his name I think you, Amen.
While I could nitpick on a few issues, I think by and large Palau has it right. There is sin, and there is the need for Jesus to overcome the sin. Earlier in the interview he also indicated that he believes Jesus is the only way to heaven, which is not a given with popular "evangelists" this days. I also know Palau is a man of integrity. In the interest of full disclosure, I have a brother-in-law who does some work for the Luis Palau Evangelstic Association. I like what I have heard from him about Mr. Palau. He is a true, genuine minister of the Gospel.
The current results of this poll are a sad commentary on the state of evangelicalism today. This is because most people who claim to be Christians don't know what the Gospel is! How could they vote for the quality of an evangelist when they don't even know what the message he carries should sound like? If someone doesn't know what a guitar sounds like, it is useless to tell them that "such and such a person is a good player." You must have knowledge of the true standard before you can know who is good at explaining that standard.
Consider this my plea for an education in basic theology for all Christians. We have a responsibility to get to know God and His message as they are revealed in the Bible. If we do that while keeping a heart that burns passionately for God, the list of candidates for "the next great evangelist" might be a mile long (by God's might). Then feel good churches "try Jesus you'll like Him" evangelism will be dumped on the ash heap of history, where they belong.