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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. matthewlasnyder

    As a Christian missionary myself, I completely agree, Carl. Jesus didn't tell people to stand in front of him and have them "invite" him into their life. He was never after anyone's acceptance. Jesus just asked for people to follow him, and following him looked like loving God back and loving others without selfish-gain. I think the Church could learn from that.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Michael

      I think the fact that you accept that magic is real is astonishing. The hard part is over, they have you believing in unproven magic, getting you to act like an idiot or commit violent acts is the easy part. Welcome to reality.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  2. GetRealPeople

    God's Word? In that book? You believe that? Still amazes me. So... God had these fellows write this book ages ago – the church takes it and ruins civilization, destroys cultures, steals and hoardes wealth, burns thousands of women for NOTHING!!! God (son Jesus too?) are silent. Oh sign me up immediately!!!
    The church is the biggest sinner on the planet – ironic isn't it?

    July 24, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Michael

      That my friend is irony, the disgusting things that follow religion are of no surprise to me, once you accept that there is a magic man floating on a cloud who loves you and watches you, convincing you to commit violent acts in the name of said bearded magic man is the easy part.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  3. Byrd

    Evangelicals have done more damage to this country in the last 20 years than both terrorists and republicans combined and use basically the same methods, be it bombing abortion facilities or sending their children to religious shock indoctrination camps. I really see no difference between the two groups whatsoever, but the way things are going they're libel to be the ruin and/or death of us all.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  4. Chris

    Agreed. This is what turns so many people (like myself) against modern Christians. The majority of them (at least those whho speak up in public forums such as these) are always trying to shove their agenda and beliefs down your throat. Their message is "my way or you're doomed". It's very annoying and counter productive.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Bibletruth

      Lets see now, Jesus came to fit right in and be a good ol boy....No wait, the bible says He came to show the Father-WOW....Lets see now...Jesus came to fit right in and be a good ol boy...No wait, the bible says Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil.....Lets see now ..Jesus came to fit right in and be a good ol boy....No wait, the bible says Jesus came to magnify the law....Lets see now ..Jesus came to fit right in and be a good ol boy....No wait, the bible says Jesus came to save his people from (not in) their sins. Dear reader those are the four reasons the bible explicitly says why Jesus came. Those four reasons of his coming are an all out frontal attack on sin, the thing so many people love and do not want to be disturbed about. Dont be on the wrong side of this thing.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  5. Robert

    Mark 16:15: "And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." Once you do that, and people believe you, they will want to unite with and fellowship with others who believe the same way. But once they do that, they separate themselves from others who do not believe that way. That means becoming part of a church. If you don't, you remain disorganized and run out of steam without the support from others. How do you unite with humanity without diluting your own beliefs and values? Was Jesus a compromiser? He didn't compromise his message.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • John

      That is assuming Jesus said that. Mark wrote his book well after Jesus was dead.A persons faith/beliefs are theirs and theirs alone.You cannot "dilute" your faith being a member of mixed society.It is all personnel and unique for each.Lead by example.Stop putting up fences and barriers,we love yall, come join the rest of us....

      July 24, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  6. Byron Jones

    If Mohandas Ghandi was correct in stating that all religions are equally valid, then why should anyone try to impose his or her religion on others? Nard Jones wrote "The Great Command", an engaging account of the missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, New England protestants smitten by the desire to bring the Gospel to the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest. It is a good read - a true cautionary tale.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Michael

      They are all equally valid pieces of fiction.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Byron Jones

      Sure enough

      July 24, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  7. Synapse

    Waaayyyy too rational an article-
    The ONLY time it was told that Jesus got violent, was when people were making money in the temple.
    It's stunning how fundamentalist Christians have corrupted Jesus' message of acceptance and love 180 degrees- into a message of coercion, violence, superiority, greed, and control.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • modern_day_soothesayer

      Very well put. Most of the Christians I knew in church didn't seem to have any idea what Jesus was even talking about.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:08 pm |
  8. Boseph Heyden

    This may be the stupidest thing I've ever read. Christianity IS all about evangelizing. Christianity IS being narrow-minded about your beliefs. Anyone who says they're Christian and doesn't believe in evangelizing people or keeping an open mind towards accepting and/or implementing other people's beliefs is not a Christian, period.

    Maybe other people should follow suit, not just in religion, but in life in general, with that kind of approach. Because it is very obvious by how well the US and other countries with the open-minded mindset are doing (complete sarcasm there, because they're doing horrible) that they absolutely need to change.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:56 am |
  9. What does the Bible say?

    You (Carl Medearis) say, "Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider."

    But,

    Jesus said, (Matthew 10:34-37) "Do not think I came to put peace upon the earth; I came to put, not peace, but a sword. For I came to cause division, with a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a young wife against her mother-in-law.  Indeed, a man’s enemies will be persons of his own household.  He that has greater affection for father or mother than for me is not worthy of me; and he that has greater affection for son or daughter than for me is not worthy of me."

    Jesus knew that not all would accept his teachings. This would cause division between many people, even dividing families.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Eric

      100% correct. You either chose the narrow road leading to life or the spacious path leading to destruction. Jesus also said you can't be lukewarm or god will vomit you from his mouth, what sharing does the darkness have with the light or unbelievers with believers? A sword has been drawn, every human must seek the truth and choose their side. There can only be one true religion, as Jesus said "one father, one faith", the false worshipers will be destroyed at the time of the end of this system of things (controlled by the devil and disobediaent mankind). Do not trust in your own understanding, it does not belong to man to even direct his own step. Seek truth that it may be found before it's too late. There IS ONE TRUE faith, it's a fath being preached in every land around the world. FIND IT. Matthew says this good news of God's coming kingdon will be preached in every land and THEN the end will come. Again, FIND the religion that is following God's word, the bible....there is only one.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  10. Bryce

    Jesus Christ did indeed evangelize. He sent his 12 apostles to spread the gospel to the whole world. In the last two verses of Matthew he declares, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations." This commandment is still in force to his disciples today.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  11. Darren

    all religion is rubbish

    July 24, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  12. Missdarling

    A Christian missionary doesn't convert people; that is what the Holy Spirit does. They don't cram Jesus down people's throats, but tell them about Jesus, who is the only way to heaven. Nobody is perfect; miss the target once, and you've failed, like one small hole in a balloon. Jesus took care of all of our failures; to God, one person is no better than the next, even though the world sees one "imperfection" as less than another. Jesus paid the price for everyone, and that is the message a Christian has for the world. Call us whatever you will, Christianity will prevail to the end of the age.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  13. Peter

    All religion are dangerous, they kill more people in there name then any war or terrorist attack. Beleiving in a faith is a personnal business and nobody have the right to endoctrinate others in the name of a God that may not exist after all.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:53 am |
  14. lee sutter

    And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
    Mark 16:14-16 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
    Matthew 24:13-15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
    Mark 16:14-16 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
    Romans 10:14-16 And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people, rev.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • BL

      The Bible also says to "love your enemy," yet I never met a Christian who actually believed it. Like all religion, Christians simply believe what conveniently supports their preconceived notions, and use it as a weapon to harm others.

      July 24, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  15. Dianne

    "Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel", ....case and point. The Bible...Jesus. "The world will hate you because it hated me first..The Bible...Jesus.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:51 am |
  16. brad1001

    I believe that we'll be judged by our hearts and our actions, regardless of what "Religion" we followed. Be they Christian, Ba'Hai, Muslim, Buddist or whatever. My relationship with my maker is my business w/ Him, just as a man on the other side of the world has his own. This idea of "conversion", or leading the astray to "the One and only" is what has gotten the world into the mess it's in.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • art7

      What has really messed up the world is sin. Sin destroys our lives by leading us to hate, steal, kill, envy, blaspheme, lie, covet, lust, etc. We have a real problem that cannot be solved by religion. It can only be found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  17. Phelyx

    Arguing over which religion is "real" is like arguing over who would win in a fight between Spider-Man and Harry Potter.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:51 am |
    • BL

      I'm going with Spiderman, but only if Hermione stays out of it!

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

      LOL...not quite the same...one has eternal consequences and has within the battle everything good and everything evil...by the way, between SM and HP, HP is the evil one in case you didnt know.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  18. Sam Houston

    @Chris That's like qualifying to be a car mechanic only because you value cars and love driving. Any vehicle needs constant care and maintenance. The Bible clearly says that "faith without works is dead". So "just believing" is not sufficient as Jesus himself mentioned works and an active faith–Matthew 7:16-23.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  19. abdul

    Michelle: indeed the writer of the article has it right,however need to explain muslims view jesus not just "a prophet" but also a mighty messenger of God, Mary was a chaste virgin woman who miraculouslu conceived and gave birth to Jesus (peace and Bl;essings of God be upon himand his mother). Quran, 5:75, 19: 16-21, and 3:47

    furthermore, jesus spoke in the cradle (19:29-30) performed miracles (5:10) and one of the five greatest men in the history of mankind..our relationship with jesus christ and his family is more than just lip service, amen

    July 24, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • art7

      According to the Quran, Muslims are commanded to listen to the people of the book. Jesus said, "Anyone who believes in me already has eternal life ( John 6:47). Jesus also said, "Before Abraham was born, I am (John 8:58)!" Abraham lived thousands of years before Jesus was born. None of the prophets ever said the things that Jesus said. And none of the prophets received worship from men and angels like Jesus did. Furthermore, Jesus said that He is the Resurrection and the Life. And He also said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. If Jesus is just a prophet and a messenger of God, He shouldn't be making such statements because only God can say, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." And only God can give eternal life.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  20. pastafaria

    Nothing good can possibly come from a philosophy that requires you to believe in talking snakes.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Samuel

      Religion pure and undefiled is taking care of the widow and orphan in their time of need. Otherwise it is all politics.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • pastafaria

      Good point, although there are plenty of ways to help widows and orphans without the church taking their cut. My mother is elderly and lives in an assisted living facility, so I manage her affairs including writing a check for the amount of money that her pastor, who not once has come to visit her, "recommends" she pledges to the church every year. A few days ago, I saw a TV commercial for a local Audi dealer in some of the dealership's customer's gave testimonials about how impressed they were with their brand new $50,000+ Audis, the quality of service they got from the dealership, blah blah blah.... Guess who one of those happy customers was – I'll give you a hint, it wasn't a widow or an orphan.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
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About this blog

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.