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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. Christian Nurse

    Learning about the life of Jesus is not enough to get into heaven. If you don't teach salvation and believe that Jesus died for our sins and ask for forgiveness then just learning the story is pointless.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Logan9773

      Well, personally, I'm aiming for the Happy Hunting Grounds myself.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Chartreuxe

      Let interested people ask questions. From one Christian to another, please stop cramming it down uninterested throats. People who want it will be attracted to your serenity and happiness.

      If you're a bad Christian no one will be attracted to your religion. If you're evangelical you turn people off with your deranged insanity and self-righteousness. Open your eyes and see.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • News Flash

      I paid for my sins with Amex. Since I am a big sinner, I got a LOT of frequent flier points.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Harry Hippobottomus

      The highest quality sin is cash-only.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  2. les_b

    Biblical reference about praying publically on street corners, and the one about performing righteousness before others, seem applicable here.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  3. MARIVS_MARIVS

    This article is a complete contradiction of Jesus' teachings. I agree, Jesus showed no prejudice or intolerance. But he was the one that said: Go and preach, making disciples among nations and teaching them. Jesus said that there might be divisions, even in families, because of him.

    Those who call themselves christians and are part of militias are not christians. That's hatred. Jesus said that he could ask for twelve legions of angels to defend him; and he didn't do it. He said that his Kingdom was not an earthly one and that this was a reason for his disciples, to not get involved in earthly wars.

    Accordingly, his apostles, when asked for, said that they couldn't stop preaching the good news about Chirst Jesus.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  4. christopher

    You shouldn't evangelize for one very simple reason. People don't need it. Having spent 17 years in the bible belt I cannot count the number of times I had some idiot in my face telling me I was "going to hell" because I didn't agree with their beliefs or their politics. Here is a fact for all you morally superior morons out there who spend so much of your time telling others how to live and think: if you spend every single second of every single day trying to be the best person you can be you will still NEVER achieve the level of human perfection that you think you possess at this very moment which gives you the free time to worry about the flaws in other people. Get life losers. Leave mine alone.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  5. FormFactor

    That's odd. The apostles and the early church did what the author suggests....and got killed for it.
    The obvious conclusion is that the apostles and the early church were doing something different than what the author suggests.
    Whose example should we follow?

    July 24, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Craig

      Amen!!! Go into all the world and preach the gospel. Tis the great commission from Christ who really was a divider...."For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; (Matthew 10:35).

      July 24, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  6. B

    We also should be respectful of others opinions and national laws which can often be in contridiction with evangelizing.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Craig

      It is when the government says that we cannot perform the great commission that we must go against them and suffer for His name. I pray for the grace to do so if and when that time comes. We ought to obey God rather than men in the case that man calls u to go against God. Acts 4 holds a primary example. Blessings.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Phyrro

      Craig: You are the pure example of why religious wars exist. Your self rightous claims of the superiority of your religious dogma coupled with other religious fanatics claims of the superiority of their religious dogma are what wars are made of. You end your email with the word "Blessings" – one can only assume it means belsssings in annahilating those that do not share my religious dogamatic beliefs.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • tiger60

      Live and let live, be whatever religious faith you and everyone else wishes to follow. Noone has the right to force a regilion down anyone elses throat. Religion is responsible for more wars and deaths than any other reason. Maybe this should be the focus of reform, not getting everyone to follow another's man made religion. Riches for the rich churches where they should be going to help the oppressed.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  7. shelou

    I am a Christian. Oh, it is not "evangelizing" that I ask to stop, it's the use of persecution to control, convert, and use as "proof of faith". Jesus was persecuted to death. Jesus did not gather the disciples before his crucifixion and command them to bring down the government, force everyone to believe in him, and go rampaging throughout the land persecuting sinners with a special look out for gay children. Jesus was the first ever savior that wanted the persecution to stop and wanted followers to choose to follow him. The “extreme right” has the right to follow their practices in America; we protect their right, but they will never protect ours because they are addicted to persecution; we’ve seen their persecution flagship church, Westboro and where their addiction took them. A few religious schools must believe they are losing the battle with sin and want to prove that their curriculum is effective in wiping out sin – so a new "fast track" religious activism is called for since Jesus is too slow. Jesus is just too slow and too merciful. The extreme right seems to prefer a return to Salem 1692; “it just makes you feel like you are doing something.”

    July 24, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Logan9773

      And this is why there is going to be War between the religious crazies and the norms. Its already happening.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  8. Reverand Ronald McDonald

    "Carl Medearis with Sheikh Nabil Qawouk Hezbollah’s number two leader."

    TERRORIST!!! TERRORIST!!!! TERRORIST!!!! CARL MEDEARIS PALS AROUND WITH TERRORISTS!!! TERRORIST! TERRORIST!!!

    July 24, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Logan9773

      Sure looks like he does. Tells you something about the "religious". They're all the same. And they should all be carefully watched.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Reverand Ronald McDonald

      That's definitely been on my mind lately...if it weren't for monotheistic religions we would have no terrorism worth worrying about...

      July 24, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • gospelreader

      Yep, it appears Carl does hang around with terrorists, kind of like someone else a few thousand years ago who hung around the most despised and troublemakers of that time period...oh yeah, that was Jesus!

      July 24, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  9. Son of soil

    The real challenge to Christianity and Islam is to work and co exist with other religion rather than converting and later co existing with the neo converts. Conversion takes away peoples ingenious abilty to survive and think, uproots the cultures, civilizations forever. Human mind is not fit for monoithism, in fact we evolved since millions of years from to believe in many things from nothing.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  10. Logan9773

    Hey, Carl, a message from the middle aged and young. We don't want your religion. Or your fairy tales. They have done nothing but caused war, hate, and destruction. There appears to be no love in religion. And its pretty crazy to have an obsessive belief in fairy tales. They aren't real. Jesus is not real. God is not real. You might as well believe in Zeus, Aztec Gods, Casper the friendly ghost, and The Great Pumpkin. Now, Flying Spaghetti Monster, He is real.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Translation

      I do not have Faith, I do not want YOU to have Faith either!!!

      July 24, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Logan9773

      @Translation – Exactly. The world has enough terrorists as it is. The Norway killer emphasizing this. Were waiting for all the religious crazies to die off, and leave the world in peace.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • really

      When did you convert the Norway killer into a christian, how very convenient for you?
      it was a disillusioned mind with 1500 pages of some blah...blah....blah...

      July 24, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Logan9773

      Lol @ Really. How conveniently you dump your followers when they don't suit your needs. I feel sorry for you christians. You even use your own, carelessly casting them off when your done with them. What a bad cult.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • really

      do not convert people to suit your convenience.....come out of thy fantasies....

      July 24, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  11. curious mind

    A good book-Jesus Among Other Gods, Ravi K. Zacharias

    July 24, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  12. Rick Love

    Like Jesus, Carl knows how to get our attention! Some will be upset at what Carl suggests, while others will rejoice. Carl highlights major issues that we face in the world today. But the brevity of a blog and his writing style could cause many to miss the importance of what he is saying. First, Carl is not so much against sharing our faith. He is against a certain motives and methods of sharing our faith. He critiques presuppositions and practices that are worthy of critique! Carl is an evangelical and he knows that evangelicals must share their faith. The issue is not “if” they will, but “how” they will. And that’s why this blog is so important. That’s why his new book, “Speaking of Jesus,” is so important. Second, Carl’s radical Jesus-centeredness challenges our view of the Christian faith. I totally agree with this emphasis and believe it will revolutionize the church. Third, Carl writes to stir up things and challenge people to wrestle with these important issues. You may not appreciate his style or agree with his conclusions, but you have to admit, he gets you thinking!

    July 24, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  13. Diana

    Very interesting except for the point where the author refers to the Samaritan as being "good." That word is not used in to define him. Rather, he uses the word "certain" when referring to the Samaritan and the word good in other passages when referring to His Father.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  14. k

    In a time when religion is such a divisive topic.. you really, really bring such a Jesus-like perspective! Thanks!

    I've heard you talk about this stuff a good amount. Would be cool if you had the chance to flesh out more of what you mean.. tell stories, etc. I think it's very timely & profound stuff that would be interesting to many of the commenters here.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Ron from Jersey

      Evangelism is not about conversion it's about planting seeds in the hearts of the unbelieving world.
      Human beings cannot convert anyone to Christianity. That part is the Holy Spirits job. You can't plant seeds unless YOU go out there and share your Christian faith.

      Evangelism by Christian perspective is not an option but a requirement of the Christian faith, sharing the gospel with love not force,
      Ron

      July 24, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  15. SpeakinDaFacts

    One has to ponder on the thought....why are there so many people at odds on believing in the scriptures? Is it that the sins of mankind run deep in the blood? And we are clueless to the facts of the bible? We have all been given a conscious to believe in God...not all CHOOSE to do so.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Jay

      Why do so many fundamentalists throw around words like "facts" when they clearly do not have a full understanding of what the word means?

      July 24, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Clint

      No, we all have the ability to have common sense and stop believing in fairy tales, but you and yours don't choose to do so.

      It's really that simple.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Logan9773

      @ Jay – That's because most of them aren't playing with full deck.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Phyrro

      Jay: The issue is that many people have no concept of logic passed "cause and effect" and even that they do not utilize correctly. To argue with them is useless (but interesting) in the sense that "faith" is their logic. For the most part these are well intentioned people who actually believe in what the have been brainwashed with. The real problem is the money hungry Bible thumpers who prey on these people.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  16. Rick C.

    Evangelicals in America are hypocrites because they have a watered down version of Christianity due to all the 1st world creature comforts of an industrial society; they have contorted Christianity to justify protecting their personal belongings above all other things and against any group whom they do not understand and makes them an enemy. They should just be honest and say they are scared, greedy and that is why the find the conservative party acceptable, then it would not seem so dishonest and sick.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • AlfredHusseinNeuman

      Surely you are not suggesting that the liberal party is more good-like, with anything goes morals and based on independent studies, give significantly less of time and money to charities (even when Church donations are excluded). The liberal party is all about letting the government take care of others so I don't have to get involved.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Phyrro

      Rick: If you were "the real" christian then you would have given up all your worldy goods (ie computer) and could not be making comments on this blog.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  17. Rita Corbett

    interesting and helpful article, but leaves out some of Scripture - let's not pick and choose??
    "Seek and save the lost" is still in there.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  18. Religion Must be Destroyed

    Faith is the vilest disease to ever infect the human mind. We must utterly destroy all religion and abolish it from our species.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  19. aoi

    is it still evangelism if you cause billions of people to hate your religion because you're so pushy and narrowminded?

    July 24, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  20. German Dude

    The most important thing is, and I miss it in all the comments, is that the bible is not about Christianity (we find the word "christian" just 4 times in the new testament – just FYI). Anyway the bible and especially the NT is about a relationship with Jesus. Christianity is a religion and religion is about DO. Faith in Jesus Christ is a relationship and we don't have to work for our salvation, it's about DONE.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Clint

      Actualy they're both about STUPID!

      Evangelising is why so many people hate religon instead of just coexisting with it.

      Stop being pushy, believe what you want to, and leave the rest of us alone.

      Good day.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
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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.