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My Take: Why evangelicals should stop evangelizing
Carl Medearis with Sheikh Nabil Qawouk Hezbollah’s number two leader.
July 24th, 2011
01:00 AM ET

My Take: Why evangelicals should stop evangelizing

Editor's Note: Carl Medearis is an international expert in Arab-American and Muslim-Christian relations and is author of the book Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism.

By Carl Medearis, Special to CNN

Let’s do an exercise. I want you to fill in the blank on what you think you know about me based on what I’m about to tell you.

Here goes: Twenty years ago, I became a missionary. My wife and I left our home in Colorado Springs, Colorado to move to Beirut, Lebanon. Our job description was to plant churches and evangelize to Muslims.

Based on what I just said, Carl Medearis is a ______________ .

Depending on your background, the blank may look something like this:

Carl Medearis is a... hero of the Christian faith, a saintly super-man willing to sacrifice the comforts of home in order to share the love of Jesus Christ with those who have never heard the gospel.

Or this:

Carl Medearis is a... right-wing extremist who destroys cultures, tears apart families and paves the way for neo-colonialist crusaders to invade, occupy and plunder the resources of local populations.

Quite a range, isn’t it?

For one group of people, the words “evangelist” and “missionary” bring to mind pious heroes performing good deeds that are unattainable for the average Christian. For another group, those same words represent just about everything that’s wrong with the world.

I understand the confusion.

Based on my experiences of living and traveling around the world, I know that religion is often an identity marker that determines people’s access to jobs, resources, civil liberties and political power.

When I lived in Lebanon I saw firsthand how destructive an obsession with religious identity could be. Because of the sectarian nature of Lebanese politics, modern Lebanese history is rife with coups, invasions, civil wars and government shutdowns.

When I tell my Christian friends in America that some of the fiercest militias were (and are) Christian, most are shocked. It doesn’t fit the us-versus-them mentality that evangelism fosters, in which we are always the innocent victims and they are always the aggressors.

This us-versus-them thinking is odd, given that Jesus was constantly breaking down walls between Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, men and women, sinners and saints. That’s why we have the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Jews in Jesus’ day thought of the Samaritans as the violent heretics, much the same way that Christians think of Muslims today. The idea that a Samaritan could be good was scandalous to first century Jews.

Jesus was the master of challenging religious prejudice and breaking down sectarian walls. Why do so many Christians want to rebuild those walls?

Even the Apostle Paul insisted that it’s faith in Jesus that matters, not converting to a new religion or a new socio-religious identity.

What if evangelicals today, instead of focusing on “evangelizing” and “converting” people, were to begin to think of Jesus not as starting a new religion, but as the central figure of a movement that transcends religious distinctions and identities?

Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider. How might that change the way we look at others?

This is more than just a semantic difference.

When I used to think of myself as a missionary, I was obsessed with converting Muslims (or anybody for that matter) to what I thought of as “Christianity.” I had a set of doctrinal litmus tests that the potential convert had to pass before I would consider them “in” or one of “us.”

Funny thing is, Jesus never said, “Go into the world and convert people to Christianity.” What he said was, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

Encouraging anyone and everyone to become an apprentice of Jesus, without manipulation, is a more open, dynamic and relational way of helping people who want to become more like Jesus — regardless of their religious identity.

Just because I believe that evangelicals should stop evangelizing doesn’t mean that they should to stop speaking of Jesus.

I speak of Jesus everywhere I go and with everyone I meet.

As founder and president of a company called International Initiatives, my work is aimed at building relationships among Christian leaders in the West and among Muslim leaders in the Middle East.

It may come as a surprise to many Christians that Muslims are generally open to studying the life of Jesus as a model for leadership because they revere him as a prophet.

But now that I’m no longer obsessed with converting people to Christianity, I’ve found that talking about Jesus is much easier and far more compelling.

I believe that doctrine is important, but it’s not more important than following Jesus.

Jesus met people where they were. Instead of trying to figure out who’s “in” and who’s “out,” why don’t we simply invite people to follow Jesus — and let Jesus run his kingdom?

Inviting people to love, trust, and follow Jesus is something the world can live with. And since evangelicals like to say that it’s not about religion, but rather a personal relationship with Jesus, perhaps we should practice what we preach.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Carl Medearis.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Interfaith issues • Opinion

soundoff (3,792 Responses)
  1. Samuel

    It is a sin Not to evangelize, and those Christians who don't, will not be saved.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • David

      Says you...

      July 24, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Luis Wu

      What a crock.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • why

      Why is David contradicting Samuel, David was annointed by Samuel....

      July 24, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Conky2012

      Is it a sin to remove a large ammount of books that were originally to be included in the bible, that depict jesus in an entirely different light, to turn a good idea into a religious war machine? The bible is crap, read the removed books.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • Jose San Antonio

      Are you one of those guys holding up the bible yelling & screaming at an intersection?

      July 24, 2011 at 11:10 am |
  2. tony

    What does a miscarried 3 month fetus have to look forward to in heaven? How ill the rest of us converse with it? And about what?

    July 24, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  3. Bob

    I think Jesus' original religious teachings have very little to do with religion as it exists today. They have become distorted into what is little more than a colossal political machine, so Christians HAVE to recruit to keep the machine running. Without an active campaign to "convert", the religious-political machine will slow and eventually grind to a halt (to the betterment of the world, IMO).

    July 24, 2011 at 10:45 am |
  4. DC

    Nonsense.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  5. Mike

    1 Corinthians 15:34 Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.

    Looks to me like the Bible and this so called Christian author don't agree! I'll choose to agree with the Bible.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Conky2012

      That verse said absolutely nothing about people converting people. Can you not read?

      July 24, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Luis Wu

      Yeah, yeah, and blah blah blah to you too. Quoting ancient myths means absolutely nothing.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  6. greg

    There isn't a Christian alive that can save anyone's soul, Only Christ can do that, We can only point the way, As for this gentlemen he has it only half right, But half right is still WRONG!

    July 24, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Alverant

      Since the bible isn't even half right, I guess that makes it even more wrong.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:52 am |
    • Luis Wu

      Wallow in your fantasy world but don't try to push it on others.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  7. 21k

    maybe the best reason for xtians to stay indoors would be that the bible was made up over hundreds of years, starting with a group of arabic men who split their tribes off and started their own religion, in order to gain power over a population.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  8. tony

    You have to marvel at the immense power of religion over fools, when you consider that even the most all-powerful gods we have ever come up with, still need collection plates, to have their all-powerful religions maintained . . . .

    July 24, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  9. Wacky Jabber

    Ezekiel 3:8 "When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand." It's like not warning a blind man that he is walking towards a cliff.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:42 am |
    • Luis Wu

      Blah blah blah, your quotes from ancient mythology mean nothing.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Wacky Jabber

      @Luis Wu
      You are blind. You are walking towards a cliff. You have been warned.

      July 24, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  10. tony

    Which came first? The Priest or the God? 100% of religious people get this answer wrong

    July 24, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  11. Joseph

    Muslims should be flocking over to the Christian faith.Where human sacrifice is a requirement.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Tim

      Why would anyone flock to stiff necked fools like you as a basis and example of something or someone to believe has changed for the better of humanity? (Rhetorical for slow minded Christians).

      July 24, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  12. JT

    More proof that we are in the loast days. Liars galore...leaders leading their flock into pits...sheesh...Jesus is the ONLY way, if we don't tell them that what else is there to tell?

    July 24, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • tony

      "get thou behind me Groomer"

      July 24, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • COMMON SENSE

      HERE WE HAVE THE FIRST JESUS FREAK OF THE COMMENTS SECTION.....

      July 24, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Luis Wu

      How utterly stupid.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:57 am |
  13. Guitar

    Hey, an Evangelical finally incorporating a wee bit of 'rationalism'. Still has a way to go, but it's a start!

    July 24, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  14. Freethinker

    http://www.truthofalltruths.org

    July 24, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  15. Freethinker

    Why were 14 books removed from the Bible??

    July 24, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • 21k

      they didn't fit with grover norquist's vision for the gop. so they had them removed by rupert murdoch, who owns the rights to the bible.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • arthurrrrr

      BECAUSE they were not written by the Holy Spirit but by MEN. If you were born again, and the Holy Spirit lived inside you, then you could read them and understand WHY they were not written by the Spirit. If you do not accept Yeshua and do not ask the Holy Spirit to live in you, you have no spiritual discernment.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Luis Wu

      Because they were too dumb even for the bible. All of it should be thrown out as stupid archaic myths and superst!tious nonsense. People need to get a brain and use some logic and reason instead of blindly accepting 2000 year old myths.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  16. Luis Wu

    Jesus, like Muhammed and dozens of other religious icons, was a mythical figure. He may have indeed existed, but due to the nature of his message and the manner of his death he became a martyr. And like a lot of martyrs, his life and deeds were blown all out of proportion in the telling and retelling.

    All religions are really just ancient mythology, written thousands of years ago by primitive cultures. All primitive cultures have their creation myths and other myths to teach people how to behave and to comfort people who fear death. One of my favorite people, James Randi said "No amount of belief makes something a fact." It doesn't matter how many people believe or how strongly they believe, that doesn't make something a fact.

    I understand that people need a crutch, something to cling to in the face of death and to comfort them in their daily lives. And religion does provide that service. But that certainly doesn't mean that ANY religion is any more real than the Easter Bunny. To me it's all just ancient mythology that people get sucked into because it comforts them. But thhey usually aren't content to wallow in their fantasy world, they want to force it on everyone else. Religion causes more problems in the world than anything else. It always has.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Ralph

      Luis,
      While it is true that people groups and cultures tend to recreate Jesus in their image to a certain extent, His life and deeds have not been blown all out of proportion. I challenge you to actually look at the historical material that exists regarding Jesus and not just regurgitate what you’ve heard your friends, or teachers say. I agree that no amount of belief can make something a fact, just as no amount of skepticism can make the truth about Jesus into a myth. So instead of just repeating what others say would expect an intelligent person like yourself to look into the life of the One who claimed to be “the Way, the Truth and the Life.”

      July 24, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Luis Wu

      There is NO "historical" references to Jesus at all, except for a 2000 year old book of myths and some dubious writings by Josephus. You should know that, it's a fact.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • ks

      The only "fact" is that you don't know, and I don't know that god exists. Your conclusion is "I don't know, so I don't believe". My conclusion is " I don't know, yet I believe". Either you believe in god or you don't. As Blaise Pascal stated in his famous "Pascals Wager" . If god does not exist, then you lose nothing, but if God does exist then you have lost everything. You must make a choice. What is the more rational position? Pascal reasoned that you have nothing to lose by believing in God so a rational person should choose to believe in God. Simple as that.

      July 24, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Luis Wu

      ks – you mean it's as STUPID as that. I'm an agnostic, if there is a god I doubt he/she sends people to be tortured FOREVER simply for not believing. How utterly stupid.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • ks

      Hey Wu,

      I've learned that when discussing an issue that it is best to put yourself in the shoes of the other person to try to understand their position, then after understanding it, you can attack its merits. Without doing that you are just "attacking a straw man".

      By the way. God doesn't send you to hell.....you send yourself.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  17. KP

    Finally somebody has spoken the truth, conversion has been the cause of so much of friction and animosity that has led to fighting and killings of innocents in many parts of the world, definitely what Jesus did not want. When someone says that his is the only religion and his is the only God, he does not accept the existence of other religion and other Gods. There is an inherent problem with that, When Hindus like us worship many Gods, we do not have problem accepting the existence of other Gods like Jesus or Allah, but we are considered polythiests and even non believers which considering the context is absurd, Also we are considered Idol worshippers when I do not know what to call a cross, which according to me is a form of Idol. Why cannot people be left to live as they chose or like, we do not have to enforce of entice people into accepting a particular faith or religion. Missionaries though are doing a good thing, but can they serve the community without bringing in the religion?, I don't think so, cause spreading religion is the primary intention, service comes next, the former is what is driving them to serve, without which I do not think they would have,

    July 24, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • Conky2012

      What do you mean finally? CNN commentors have been bashing Christianity for years.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  18. Tim Underwood

    Why evangelicals should stop.
    Naturally, if they were right about the reality of Jesus they shouldn't.
    They most likely are not right about the messiah.
    Most likely Jesus was a Roman invention,intended to replace the Messiah the waring Zealots were searching for.
    Most likely all the competing prophets and Gods fall into the same category of being man-made.
    I do support evangelizing ideas that are highly probable
    Cheers

    July 24, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • KP

      Tim, do you realise the misery it is bringing into communities?, The animosity, the fighting and killing that is happening because of this evil intention of spreading religion?. If you are ok with the fighting and killing as long as they pray to your God, then I am sorry my friend, Please stop donating money to church if the money is spent on conversion, only donate money if they are spent on serving humanity without bringing religion into picture, cuase that is your money well spent and for a noble cause.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • arthurrrrr

      you obviously know nothing. shameful.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • Val Binkowski

      What! Your resonse is a little incoherent. Not quite sure what your point is Tim.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • Tim Underwood

      KP
      I only support Family Planning. What God are you thinking about?
      Tim

      July 24, 2011 at 10:50 am |
    • Tim Underwood

      Arthurrrrr and Val
      For something a little more coherent, Google 'The Roman Invention of Christianity video'.
      Tim

      July 24, 2011 at 11:06 am |
  19. Freethinker

    Teach all believers that those who enter the kingdom are not thereby rendered immune to the accidents of time or to the ordinary catastrophes of nature. Believing the gospel will not prevent getting into trouble, but it will insure that you shall be unafraid when trouble does overtake you. If you dare to believe in me and wholeheartedly proceed to follow after me, you shall most certainly by so doing enter upon the sure pathway to trouble. I do not promise to deliver you from the waters of adversity, but I do promise to go with you through all of them.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  20. Tom Haddad

    Matthew 28:18-20
    18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • JT

      Doesn't get much cleare than that does it? If you are a child of God then we know His voice and try to do as He leads us. Sometimes bein a good example is the best, sometimes you need to tell people that time is short and there are only TWO options and one is eternity separated from God and living in torment. The truth hurts, and we lose 93,000 people every month who never made Jesus Lord of their lives and are doomed for hell. Seems simple enough...If you are right and I am wrong, I've lost nothing by giving my heart to Jesus....but, what if I am right?

      July 24, 2011 at 10:41 am |
    • arthurrrrr

      Evangelism IS the commandment for all believers. how youmdoit is another story. yo have to do it with and through the Holy Spirit.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:47 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.