(Photo: Saddleback Church / Scott Tokar)
Time magazine has named evangelical megachurch pastor Rick Warren as one of this year's World's Most Influential People.
Warren’s name was listed under the heading of “Heroes & Icons” along with international celebrities such as Michelle Obama, Tiger Woods, and George Clooney.
For years, the easy-going, amiable California pastor was best known as author of The Purpose Driven Life, the best-selling book in history behind the Bible, and for founding one of the top ten largest churches in America.
He has spoken at the world’s top universities and business meetings as an innovative thinker on how to tackle AIDS and poverty using the church’s extensive network. During this time, Warren successfully crafted an image of a moderate Christian who, although holds socially conservative views, is also engaged in social problems – something traditionally associated with more liberal Christians.
But in January, Warren’s image was tested when then President-elect Barack Obama invited him to deliver the invocation at his inauguration ceremony. Gay rights advocates accused Warren of being a homophobe and bigot for his opposition to legalizing same-sex marriages.
Although Warren survived the storm of criticism, he remains a lightening rod for criticism from both the right and left. Conservatives are angry that Warren would associate with a vocal abortion and gay rights president, while liberals dislike him for his socially conservative views.
"He has called issues like abortion, stem-cell research and euthanasia 'nonnegotiable,' while he has pursued his fight against AIDS and poverty," Time Editor-At-Large Nancy Gibbs writes in her commentary on Warren. "This ideological evanescence ensured that the left would be furious when Barack Obama asked Warren to offer the invocation at his Inauguration - and that the right would be furious when Warren accepted.
"But in the middle are thousands of pastors whom Warren trains and millions of seekers who follow his every word. Which means he is right where he wants to be," she adds.
Warren recently teamed up with publishing powerhouse Reader’s Digest Association Inc. to develop an ambitious multi-platform network to better train and connect millions of people worldwide who found his Purpose Driven books helpful.
The global evangelical leader joins The Twitter Guys, Ted Turner, Brad Pitt, Bernie Madoff, Zac Efron, and Jay Leno among others in “The 2009 Time 100: The World’s Most influential list.”
In 2005, Warren was one of Time's 25 Most Influential Evangelicals.