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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. Hypatia

    The problem with evangelists is they never shut up long enough to know whether or not the poor slob they're browbeating is already a Christian or not.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:27 am |
  2. Charles Manson

    Jesus was a nut job just like Manson, only bigger...

    July 24, 2011 at 11:26 am |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      What a Heretical Mindset!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Eat Your Own Dirt from off your *&^%*&^

      July 24, 2011 at 11:42 am |
  3. Kay Love

    So perfectly spoken! I left Mormanism years ago for this very reason. I have been on a mission ever since to understand and uplift all those around me no matter what their beliefs were. I have read the New Testament and taken to heart every word that Jesus spoke and out of that came only a love to be of service to all people not just a few that I label worthy. Kudos to you for getting it 🙂

    July 24, 2011 at 11:24 am |
    • Bibletruth

      You took to heart every word.??????...hmmm...love your neighbor as yourself...hmmm...but dont tell them the gospel...hmmmmmm

      July 24, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  4. Brett

    yawn.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  5. pop1

    There is nothing wrong with religion when it is used in a persons life to make them a better person, a person that helps the less fortunate, a person that washes the feet of the poor and cloths them and feeds them. There is nothing wrong with believing (whether real fake or otherwise) that loving your enemy even when they strike out against you is the right thing to do. I agree that religion has been used to justify many evils in the world, there is no doubt about that but in the naked essence of religion it can be a thing of pure beauty. Logic and reason all point to one conclusion, helping the less fortunate helps you.
    As for the article subject, I personally believe that the best way to spred the word of Christ is to simply show love and compassion and caring for everyone, especially those that do not believe and those that hate you. There is no need to talk a big game when actions always speak louder than words.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:23 am |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      What a Well Written and Thoughtout Blog! Kudos to You pop1

      July 24, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Bibletruth

      Spreading the word of Christ, is, believe it or not, spreading the word of Christ. Christ in the heart means love for humanity in the heart. This seen by others disarms prejudice allowing the disciple to speak the word of salvation, truth, gospel to another person.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  6. Richard S Kaiser

    pt writes; “Im a little confused by the author's statement: "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.” Isn't 'making disciples' (of Christ) the same as 'converting people to Christianity'? And 'of all nations' the same as 'go into the world'? It seems that the author never really examined Jesus' example in his preaching activity. On July 24, 2011 at 11:15 am

    Hello pt,

    Making Disciples of ALL Nations is not the same as Make disciples of all people. Christ Jesus is kind of saying for His “Apostles”, (Not Disciples) to go To where each and every Nations’ Seats of Power Lay and to Make Those of whom Powers Lays to become Their Nation’s Disciples.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:23 am |
  7. Concrete Pete

    God did not create man in his own image; man created God in his own imagination!!!

    July 24, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  8. Christian

    I'm not sure exactly why he says, 'I no longer evangelize', when telling people to follow Jesus IS evangelizing. It is the great commission, after all.

    Although Jesus said, "blessed is the peacemaker", he also said, "follow me". It is as blunt as it gets. Follow him.
    And yes, religion does cause divides, in nations, cities, and families. But do not say we were not warned. Anyone who reads the gospels, Acts, the epistles, and the history of the martyrs ought to see that conflict in a sinful world is inevitable.

    As to the many sins of the church, what can I say? Saying you are a Christian does not make that person a Good person. Only God is Good. But the Church also produces saints. Nothing else in the world can make Saints like the Church. So don't blame the Gospel for creating murderers and schismatics. That is what the world made, by perverting the Church.

    I never uphold trying to coerce people into the Church. What kind of faith is that? It is a fact that God made Hell, and only saved people go to heaven. And no one has a right to complain. Because hell is a place that only ourselves can get us into.
    If you ignore God, who mercifully sent his Son just to save us in this broken world, it is you who are unthankful and unloving.

    Again, I want to make clear that the Church, that is, Christianity, is not responsible in any condonable way for the action of those who say it is their members. Jesus told us not even to hate, much less murder, so those who hate and murder are off the path. Wrong. Sinning. Sinners rarely turn to Saints overnight, if ever.

    And as a last historical note, Christianity has benefited the world greatly. No other religion since ancient times has done more to liberate women, slaves, the poor, and the outcast. The Irish monks saved the west from illiteracy. And so on. If you doubt me, actually do some reasearch.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Moogle

      Heh, really? Christianity liberating women? Since when? Christianity teaches that women are not equal to man. It's absurd. I'm not saying Christianity doesn't have wonderful things to teach the world but to say it liberates women is a joke. Christianity as a religion has throughout history kept women as second to males and still does. It's really sad that people honestly believe that would be God's will...

      July 24, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  9. Dave

    Jesus didn't try to convert people to Christianity because Christianity didn't become a religion until after he died.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:20 am |
  10. SCAtheist

    Why don't Christians just stay out of everbody else's business and stop disrespecting their right to their own beliefs?

    July 24, 2011 at 11:20 am |
    • Tim Hynes

      Sure, no problem, as soon as the atheists and muslims stop their attacks. I guess it ain't gonna happen, duh

      July 24, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Bibletruth

      Christians, above all, respect others right to believe what they will....As Jesus said..preach, teach, go to all the world, but never forget "whosoever will"

      July 24, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Liam Ray

      What do Atheists like yourself care about what people tell others regarding their faith? If you're an Atheist, what do you care? If you really believe that God or any god does not exist and everybody else is delusional, when we all die, we will cease to exist anyway. Why are you hateful to others where in the end, we will be no more? It really doesn't matter, doesn't it? Let everybody do want they want. If you really believe what you believe, just chill out, have a beer, and enjoy the remaining years of life you have left here. Let all the crazies and the delusional whack jobs tell others about their gods and let them kill each other. What are you worrying about? Are you worrying that you're going to die? It really doesn't make a difference, doesn't it?

      July 24, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
  11. DD

    Sensible article. "Knowing" someone or about someone costs nothing but is enriching all the same. "Christianity" as a formal religion was established after Jesus' death. I've always been quite certain he would have rejected it & would not have had anything to do with it.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  12. Jim Seeley

    In the picture of the two religious men above, the Muslim man looks self-assured, determined and focused. The author, Carl Medearis, looks as if he's about to say, "Please like me. Please, please like me." Which one do you think draws the most strength from his religion?

    July 24, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  13. Allen

    Does he really have to take a picture with Nasrallah's right hand though?

    July 24, 2011 at 11:18 am |
  14. SmarterthanU

    Evangelicals. The brainwashed trying to brainwash. The world would be a better place if all people would keep their religion to themselves. Don't flash it in the town square. Don't flaunt it on courthouse walls. Don't share with with others. Don't demand it be taught in public schools. Don't put in on our money. Practice it at home, practice it at church and most of all MYOB, don't try to impose your religious values on anyone else, not women contemplating an abortion, not men contemplating marrying other men. Stay the F out of other peoples lives with your myths.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Amistavia

      If they only understood how it makes them look to educated, rational people, they'd be ashamed.

      July 24, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • David

      Couldn't have said it better myself... MYOFB

      July 24, 2011 at 11:19 am |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      What are you trying to do STU? "Brainwashing" is NOT a Religious Virtue Nor Does Any religion Anywhere Brainwash People. As One Believes So One Is, Therefore Your Attempting to Declare "Brainwashing" a Religious Precept Keeps You From The Truths in the WORD of ANY Religion be it Christian or be it Hindu or even be it Muslim! People become deluded By their many variabilities to their own Beliefs and then Protrude upon Others to declare themselves the ALPHA among Betas and even to the Omega.

      July 24, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  15. James

    The mistake here is assuming that Jesus' purpose was to bring peace in the world among peoples. Jesus was not a community organizer – Mark 10:34 says, "“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." He did come to bring peace to people estranged from their God, reconciling the relationship – his primary purpose as a Savior and not just another Prophet to give rules on how to live. That said, yes the author is very correct in wanting Christians to find common ground to discuss Jesus and help people of other faiths learn, and not alienating them.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  16. Reality

    Another point of view via a prayer:

    The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly and based on the studies of historians and theologians during the past 200 years)

    I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven.

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A descent into Hell, a bodily resurrection
    and ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    July 24, 2011 at 11:16 am |
  17. pt

    Im a little confused by the author's statement:

    "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.”

    Isn't 'making disciples' (of Christ) the same as 'converting people to Christianity'?
    And 'of all nations' the same as 'go into the world'?

    It seems that the author never really examined Jesus' example in his preaching activity.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:15 am |
    • RICERAW

      Jesus wasn't saying to get more disciples for him. He was saying make disciples for God, which is the same God as the Jews and as the Muslims. Different roads end up to the same God.

      July 24, 2011 at 11:30 am |
    • Sarone A. Kennedy, Sr.

      Medearis is outstandingly confused or an outright liar. Jesus tells his disciples to go and make disciples, teach, preach and win the lost. In fact the Pharisees also made proselytes during Jesus' day. It is only necessary to evangelize, if sin has eternal consequences. Of course, any eternal punishment for sin is brought to our attention by Jesus and the the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Lastly, Jesus says that the ONLY way to God was through Him. Unless Meadearis has found the forgoing to be incorrect it still stands and does not require a great deal of scholarship to understand.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
  18. Jose San Antonio

    If someone can rise Amy Winehouse from the dead, then I say, Wow!! now that's a miracle.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:12 am |
    • Amistavia

      If they could, I bet she'd look much the same dead as she did alive.

      July 24, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  19. Redeemed

    "I believe that doctrine is important, but it’s not more important than following Jesus" Following Jesus requires teaching, i.e doctrine. I wander if he knows what he is saying?

    July 24, 2011 at 11:10 am |
    • jwrn

      it doesn't require teaching...it requires listening.

      July 24, 2011 at 11:28 am |
  20. Coloradan

    "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ." Ghandi

    July 24, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • James

      Jesus Christ was perfect. Christians aren't!

      July 24, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • Gordon Richardson

      Mat 28:19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
      Mat 28:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
      this article is crazy, it makes me want to wittness more than ever, I will not making converts for Jesus as long as breath is in me. The Early Church filled all Jerusalem with their doctrine and so will I.

      July 24, 2011 at 11:21 am |
    • hokahey

      Amen to that...

      July 24, 2011 at 11:26 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.