This post has been updated, expanded and re-posted here. Just fyi.
So in the StrangeFire aftermath, one of the complaints that has been lodged at the conference and the whole cessationist case is that we always grab the “low hanging fruit” on the fringe of the movement as some sort of normative representation of the movement as a whole. We’re told that we grab absurd examples and try to pass them off as some sort of example of the mainstream. The level-headed folks are the obvious mainstream representatives, and the entranced glossolalaholics and Fletch-clone healers are the fringe, right?
This argument has always made me puzzled since it’s so horribly obvious to me that the theologically absurd charismatic church of 20,000 obviously has far more influence in the movement and “on the street” than the theologically restrained charismatic church of 2,000 (and that’s being generous since the theologically absurd churches aren’t just bigger, but far more numerous).
So, I thought to myself, how can I give some sort of objective measure of influence? How can we say who is mainstream and who is fringe? Then I had an idea. Its not a great idea, but an idea none the less. I’m going to look at online presence in the form of Twitter reach (as measured by followers) as a general indicator of just how many people are paying attention to whom.
This does not indicate, in any way, the truth claims of any person/organization or the biblical conformity of their doctrine.
This is not an attempt to show who’s right, but rather who’s being listened to.
So, let’s look at the theologically cautious vs. theologically absurd crowd and see who the folks on the streets are listening to, shall we? (be warned: this is a link fest that will have you reading for a long time…)
A. The Theologically Cautious Crowd:
I’m going to list (as best I can) all the “remotely respectable” charismatics with over 100,000 followers (using that number to keep the list reflective of those with widespread influence), and the numbers are rounded to the nearest thousand (and accurate as of November 13, 2013):
1. Rick Warren – 1.223 million followers
2. John Piper – 558 k followers
3. Mark Driscoll – 435k
4. Beth Moore – 415k
5. Louie Giglio – 407k
6. Matt Chandler – 245k
7. David Platt – 226k (I wish all Charismatics were as level-headed and honest as Platt. I disagree with him, but if you read his 63 page take on the Holy Spirit and his gifts, I’m sure you’ll agree that he’s in a way different league than people in the theologically absurd list below.)
8. Desiring God – 213k
9. Craig Groeschel -182k
10. Bill Hybels – 174k
11. Scott Williams – 147k (Craig Croeschel’s worship pastor)
12. Pete Wilson – 128k
13. Passion Conference – 120k
14. Priscilla Shirer – 117k
15. Ed Stetzer – 106k
16. Paul Washer – 106k (Yup, he’s a charismatic…no wait. He contacted me and told me that he’s not. My mistake. I still included him in this list to be nice to the continuationists and pad out the list in their favor a bit. I’m a nice guy that way!)
17. Perry Noble – 103k
If I’ve missed any theological cautious charismatics with over 100k followers, please drop the names in the comment feed and I’ll add them.
Notice how that list doesn’t include some of the people that many think would be more influential: James McDonald (86k), Tim Keller (81k), Ann Voskamp (78k), Josh Harris (78k), Greg Laurie (75k), Mars Hill Church (60k), Robert Morris (53k), JD Grear (38k), CJ Mahaney (38k), Steve Mays (37k), Kevin DeYoung (36k), Jud Wilhite (33k), the Acts 29 network (31k), Leonard Sweet (30k), Josh McDowell (27k), Justin Taylor (27k), Miles McPherson (26k), Scot McKnight (23k), N.T. Wright (21k), Frank Viola (20k), Adrian Warnock (16k), J.I. Packer (14k), James Robison (13k), Bob Coy (12k), Jim Cymbala (12k), Miroslav Volf (11k), Michael Youssef (10k), D.A. Carson (9k), Francis Chan (8k), Bruxy Cavey (8k) Dr Michael Brown (6k), Brian Brodersen (5k), Tope Koleoso (5k), Francis Frangipane (5k), Skip Heitzig (5k), Kevin Meyers (5k), Sam Storms (3k).
You’ll also see that the previous list is very generous regarding who’s included among the “theologically cautious” charismatics. I included both John Piper and DesiringGod, as well as charismatics who basically never address the issue or have continuationist beliefs that they never act out (like Rick Warren, Craig Groeschel, Scott Williams, Bill Hybels or Perry Noble).
Also, it’s worth noting that Craig Keener, Vern Poythress, Gordon Fee and Wayne Grudem aren’t on Twitter at all. Good thing they’re the academic defenders of the movement; I’m sure everyone in Africa is fully versed in the nuance of their theological defenses.
So, if we total all the “theologically cautious” charismatic followers with 100k+ we get 4.905 million followers.
For the record, that number is 3.076 million followers without including Rick Warren, Craig Groeschel, Scott Williams, Bill Hybels or Perry Noble.
(source – And let’s be honest. Rick Warren doesn’t have time to talk about Charismatic issues. He’s too busy “keeping it real”…)
B. The Theologically Absurd Crowd:
I’m going to list (as best I can) all the “clearly non-evangelical” charismatics (namely prosperity hacks, false prophets and theological clowns) with over 100,000 followers (using that number to keep the list reflective of those with widespread influence), and the numbers are rounded to the nearest thousand (and accurate as of November 13, 2013):
1. The Pope – 3.243 million followers (Considering that 1/4 of all Charismatics are Catholic, the Pope is an unquestionable false prophet/false teacher, both Benedict XVI and John Paul II have officially endorsed the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, the current pope has officially endorsed the Catholic Charismatic Revival and is already seen as a defender of it, I include him. To learn more about the Catholic Charismatic movement, check out this [best official resource], and this, and this, and this and this).
2. Joyce Meyer – 2.465 M
3. Joel Osteen – 2.198 M
5. TD Jakes – 1.274 M
6. Marcos Witt – 714k (previous Spanish ministries pastor at Lakewood, moved on in 2012).
7. Hillsong United – 687k
8. Silas Malafaia – 675k (Brazil’s version of Pat Robertson…except around 1,000x as popular… He makes jaw-dropping political statements that make Pat Robertson look like an example of self control. He’s the founder of the denomination Assemblies of God: Victory in Christ and notorious prosperity preacher).
9. Carlos “Cash” Luna – 441k (Guatemala’s version of Creflo Dollar; here’s a little video that shows just how insanely large this church is…)
10. Hillsong Church – 423k
12. Danilo Montero (Current Spanish ministries pastor at Lakewood) – 367k
13. Darlene Zschech – 383k
14. Jesus Culture – 328k
15. Brian Houston – 308k
16. Creflo Dollar – 298k
17. Judah Smith – 271k
18. Matthew Barnett – 269k
19. Benny Hinn – 256k
20. Victoria Osteen – 247k
21. Paula White – 243k
22. Matt Redman – 232k
23. Hillsong Live – 200k
25. Steven Furtick – 185k
26. Deitrich Haddon – 183k
27. Joseph Prince – 182k
28. Israel Houghton – 179k
29. Bishop Noel Jones – 169k
30. Christine Caine – 153k
31. Estevam Hernandes – 152k (Brazilian prosperity preacher who started the “March for Jesus” craze and pastors the Igreja Apostólica Renascer em Cristo, which apparently has a network of 500 churches with around 2 million members. He got arrested in 2007 when he tried to illegally sneak $56,467 into the U.S., partly by shoving $9,000 in his Bible…and he served 5 months in a U.S. prison)
32. Kim Walker-Smith – 149k
33. Mike Murdock – 149k
I will confess. Every time I hear his name, I can only think of this picture:
34. Jentezen Franklin – 142k
36. John Bevere – 138k
37. John P. Kee – 136k
39. Steve Munsey – 114k
40. Hillsong London – 112k
41. John Hagee – 112k
42. Reinhard Bonnke – 106k
43. Enoch Adeboye – 104k (“pastor” of Redeemed Christian Church of God in Lagos, Nigeria)
44. Marcelo Rossi – 103k (Brazilian Catholic Charismatic)
45. Bill Johnson – 103k
46. Kenneth Copeland – 100k
47. Lisa Bevere – 100k
You’ll also see that the previous list is very generous regarding who’s included among the “theologically absurd” charismatics: I’ve only basically included the ones that I’m aware of, and a few in South America that I’ve learned about while writing this. If I had around 600 hours to do research, that list would be a lot larger.
Notice how the list doesn’t include some of the lesser lights (who still have over 50k followers) like Sam Adeyemi (99k), Otoniel Font (96k), Bishop Charles Blake (94k), Bishop Paul Morton (92k), Kong Hee (92k), Bishop IV Hilliard (92k), Bobbi Houston (89k), Lakewood Church (84k), Taffi Dollar (84k), Carl Lentz (81k), PlanetShakers (80k), R.R. Soares (75k), Jesse Duplantis (73k), Tim Hughes (67k), Rod Parsley (66k), Chris Quilala (64k), Brian Welch (58k), Cindy Jacobs (54k), Kimberly Jones (54k), Bishop Eddie Long (54k), Tommy Tenney (53k).
Of honorable mention here are a few people whose influence is clearly not indicated by their twitter presence:
1. César Castellanos – 49k and pastor of one of the largest churches in South America: Misión Carismática Internacional, which is a church in Bogota, Columbia. It has over a quarter million members…you read that right…
2. Valdemiro Santiago – 30k and pastor of what is likely the largest church in South America: The World Church of the Power of God, which is a church in Sao Paulo, Brazil that has well over a million members that runs a network of 4,000+ churches and has recently completed a building that seats 150,000.
There are a whole lot more people who deserve honorable mention, but I am cutting things short because I want to actually put this post online sometime today…
I also didn’t even include “small fries” with less than 50k followers like IHOP (47k) or Mike Bickle (39k) or Lou Engle (34k) or Banning Liebscher (33k) or even relative “nobodies” like Steve Murrell (19k followers and pastors the largest church in the Phillipines with over 60,000+ attenders) or TL Osborne (17k followers and is a globally-traveled faith healer who, well, really looks like a vampire) or At Boshoff (15k followers and pastors a multi-site church of 48,000 in South Africa) or Todd Bentley (12k followers, even after he basically yelled “I am a false teacher!” for several years straight).
I also didn’t include the “even smaller fries” that you’ve never heard of like Chuck Pierce (10k) Chuck is a professional false teacher (explore this) and is currently making sheep stew in old stomping grounds:
Nor did I include other “even smaller fries” that you’ve never heard of like Sunday Adelaja (10k)…even though he’s more widely followed than D.A. Carson and pastors one of the largest charismatic churches in Europe, let alone the Ukraine; The Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for All Nations. If you’re wondering exactly where he’s at theologically, watch this video and explore the rest of their church website. That skoubalon is being peddled in the Ukraine under the guise of “Christianity”. Here’s a picture of a typical church service there:
(Source – These guys would have no influence in the Ukraine, being a church of only 25,000+ and having planted 700+ churches, right?)
If I included all the “small fries” like Phil Pringle (38k followers and he’s behind the global C3 church movement, started by the gigantic C3 Church in Australia and branching out into over 300 churches worldwide), the list would be thousands long.
So, if we total all the “theologically absurd” charismatics with 100k+ followers we get 20.379 million followers.
For the record, that number is 17.033 million followers if we don’t include the 2 Catholics (the Pope and Marcelo Rossi).
At best, there are 4.155x more absurd charismatic followers than cautious ( 20.379 /4.905 = 4.155).
At worst, there are 5.537x more absurd charismatic followers than cautious (17.033 / 3.076 = 5.537).
On the basis of that, I’d suggest, on the basis of the numbers, that the “level headed” continuationists are the obvious fringe. They’re quite outnumbered by the theological circus acts that composes the mainstream and usually ends up looking like this:
So when people cry “foul” when people like Creflo Dollar or Benny Hinn are used as an example of something reflective of the charismatic norm, simply ask them “Why is your theologically cautious church of 500 as the norm and the theologically absurd church of 25,000 the break from the norm?”
I think the real problem lies in the fact that the level-headed continuationists can’t really critique their movement because the minute they pull out the sword of scripture and start hacking away at the frauds in their movement, that same sword will be turned against them and in the end there will be no survivors.
Neither side has theology that can stand up to serious biblical evaluation, so there’s a general ceasefire until someone has a public moral failure.
I have more thoughts, but I’ll save them for another post. This one has been eye-opening enough for me and I don’t think I can take much more of learning just how insane the charismatic mainstream is in South America.
Until Next time,
Lyndon “the Spirit-filled Cessationist” Unger
*Update – November 16th – I had included Tony Evans in the “Theologically absurd” category, which was a mistake that I’m openly admitting. I don’t remember how he ended up on there and I think I confused him with Eddie Long, for some reason. He only has 77k followers and wasn’t part of the tally (and thereby the mistake doesn’t effect the numerical tallies either way), but I’ve removed him from both lists. I’m also not going to provide individual defenses for my placing of certain people on certain lists (i.e. Paul Washer). You all have Google too and can type things like “Paul Washer Tongues” and find resources that will answer those questions.