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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. Kathy

    Standing and applauding! Thank you!

    July 24, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  2. Tim

    God created man. Man created religion.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Josh

      ill finish it for you.....God created man, man created religion, Christ destroyed religion

      July 24, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Jim

      Man destroyed God's intent....religion seems to have been broken from day one....can break the already broken

      July 24, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Uriah

      Jesus came to destroy the church and rebuild it. Yet many try to follow his ways but many obscure

      July 24, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Uriah

      his word for personal gain.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      GOD created man and Men created religion is True and Beyond reproach for did not Adam and Eve live a religiously free life?

      July 24, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  3. Jim

    Faith is about God, whatever God you choose to believe and follow, NOT about religion. Get religion and its never ending interpretations of God and we are all better off. What is so hard to to follow? Love you neighbor, be nice, don't lie, don't steal and be happy with what you have? THAT sounds like a pretty good God....but then I am just interpreting the words! See the problem. Just be freaking nice and honest....let's start there and lets end the whole "Just what did Jesus mean" stuff......you, nor anyone can ever know. Heck I barely know what my wife means.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      PEOPLE People people, GOD God god, GODDESS Goddess goddess, "Where's the BEEF?" USE Wisely the King's English or be forever inclined to be an intolerant lot in the Lots of LOT!

      July 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  4. Buzzz

    The author is very confused and hasn't read his Bible in a while...

    July 24, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Ydan

      What do you mean by this? What does your Bible say?

      July 24, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • danY

      Why are you are asking? Are you interested of what it says?

      July 24, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  5. Michael

    I'm an evangelical Christian. This is a strawman article. Evangelicals don't encorage each other to convert people to Christianity. They do encourage people to a) evangelize: "tell the good news" and b): witness: tell others how God has saved you c) disciple: as Mediaris says and d) pray: for those who are in danger of being lost, for our enemies. Evangelicals believe that the Holy Spirit is the only one who converts people to faith.

    This is a fake article by someone not familiar with Evangelical beliefs, culture or rhetoric.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • MJ Shaw

      I think you missed the point, Michael. The author said he still spreads the word, etc., what he was talking about is the condemnation of others who will not follow the words he spreads. He doesn't do this and emphasizes that Jesus did not suggest this either. The point he is making is that too many evangelicals do not accept (and often condemn) others for who they are and whatever faith follow if those others do not accept the word the evangelical is attempting to spread. I've seen it, so have you, and you know exactly what I'm talking about. Don't accuse an article of being strawman simply because you do not like the implications of what it says.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Logan9773

      A word of advice. Quit showing up on our doorsteps and you won't end up buried in someones crawlspace.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      Hello Michael,

      I do so Fear GOD with an unattainable Love toward HIM the GOD who is the Embodiment Of ALL CREATION.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Jacob

      "This is a strawman article. Evangelicals don't encorage each other to convert people to Christianity. "

      Total utter BS. That's what evangelical means.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  6. pb_j

    nteresting, I've never heard of the Carl Medearis Bible...must not be inspired or well known. On the other hand I do know of John 3:16 – "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." Another quote by Jesus ..."I'm the way the truth the life, no one comes to the father but by Me." Sounds like great news to the Whole Wide World
    with a sectarian bent to me.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Christmommy

      The problem is you read the same bible passage to ten different people and they will have a different take on it. People inteperate the bible the way they want to. One will say that Jesus said to go and make converts. And one will say he didn't. Tihis man is a progressive Christian as most liberal Christians are and then you have the zealots fundamentalist who judge in the name of the bible instead of love. Can't win either way. Christians fight with other Christians.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Gary

      I feel so sorry for you. You are so lost and afraid. I have a message for you. God's trying to talk to you but you can't hear him because you're too busy listening to the lies of men and shouting down anyone who believes differently from you. God's word can't be spoken or written, it can only be heard and felt. God has a message for you but you cannot hear it until you cast aside the abomination of man made religion.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • pb_j

      Gary, one reason you and I will have a hard time seeing things in the same light is because I do believe God's word is written down. It's written in the Bible. The next verse after John 3:16, verse 17 says, "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." Beautiful words spoken by the Son of God. This being saved only comes through Jesus Christ, not Buddha, not Ganesh, not Mohammad, not the millions of gods man has made.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Jacob

      "must not be inspired"

      Kinda like the so called holy Bible.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  7. Shannon

    It's true that a lot of bad things have been done over the course of history by people who identify themselves in some way with Christianity, and this is tragic, because the Jesus of scripture is such a different person. ... Have you read the gospels in the New Testament? ... I know Carl and I appreciate his unique perspective. He reminds us that (despite Chrsitianity and many Christians) Jesus was not a religious guy, a mean person, a stuffy leader, an oppressor of minorities, or hateful toward anyone. Period. Rather, Jesus talked about a different talked about loving God, loving one's neighbors, loving strangers and enemies, forgiveness, mercy, grace, and a kingdom or new reality he was ushering in. In short, Jesus doesn't fit into any of our boxes. None of them. He is better than that and bigger than that. And he's worth another look - by Muslims and Christians, by atheists and agnostics, by liberals and conservatives, etc. ... Carl does a great job of pulling back the veneer that both sides have attached to Jesus and revealing a different way and an amazing person who has already been there right in front of us. ... Jesus showed/shows us God the Father, and God is love. So says the Bible. ... Keep talking, Carl.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Teri

      Amen Shannon.

      July 24, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  8. Jennifer

    This man needs to go back and read the Bible again. any christian agreeing with this man should do the same. Jesus said I am the way the truth and life, follow me.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Wakey Wakey!

      Jesus repeatedly said that you must sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor. Have you done that yet?

      Jesus said you must love him far more than you love your children and family. Is that true for you?

      Jesus said you can your family, and he will reward you lavishly in heaven. Ditched the family yet?

      Jesus said the Kingdom of God will come down upon the Earth in the lifetime of some of his listeners, and that the sinners wil be sent to hell when that happens. Didn't happened.

      Jesus was a fraud, not a God. Jesus was a David Koresh.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Uriah

      I agree. Based on what I just said, Carl Medearis is a ______________ . Half hearted christian who thinks being an evangelist is an occupation. And not a lifestyle. And doesnt take heed to God's word with the law. But searches for spotlight through reform and not heavenly glory.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Logan9773

      Well said Wakey. I still sit out at night every Halloween, waiting for The Great Pumpkin. Casper the Ghost keeps me company. We know he will come one night. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Uriah

      which is like wakey-blashephemy, even though he clamis to be a follower of God he is the least in the kingdom for false teachings.

      Matt 5:19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach [them], the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Ydan

      Jennifer, Maybe you miss understood what Carl was saying. He definitely believes Jesus is the only way. You should read his book "Speaking of Jesus". Jesus is the way and though doctrine can be good (and true) it is not as attractive as Jesus himself. Someone can begin to follow Jesus without believing everything the Bible teaches. Thanks for listening/reading what I had to say.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  9. Logan9773

    Hey Carl, why are you hanging around with a known terrorist and smiling like its your birthday? Who's side are you on?

    July 24, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  10. OBAMA

    muslims are terrorists and must be stopped.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Logan9773

      And good Christians appear to be joining them.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Uriah

      What do u call a good Christian? you dont have eyes on them 24/7.. Shouldnt put all christians inn the same light..because they are different ppl

      July 24, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
    • Logan9773

      @Uriah – If you call yourself a terrorist, you are a terrorist. Christians are terrorists. So are Muslims.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  11. Jacob

    Isn't Colorado Springs Xtian cult capital of the world?

    July 24, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Mel

      I lived there for a few years, and as a non-christian it certainly felt like it

      July 24, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  12. Nathan Vinson

    Amazing viewpoint!!!

    July 24, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  13. someoneelse

    This guy will do more for Christianity than evangelcials.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Wakey Wakey!

      Read the caption of the picture again and again until you get a clue. That's Hezbollah's number two leader he is palling around with. I guess al Qaeda's second-in-command was busy that day.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Logan9773

      Here comes the War. Been waiting for this. Time to rid the world of all these terroristic, religious nutcases.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  14. Steve

    Jesus told his followers to go into all the world and preach the good news. – Too be a christian, you must evangelize in word and deed.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Jesus speaking:

      "If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." –Matthew 21:22 (NIV)

      "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." –Matthew 17:20 (NIV)

      "Ask and it will be given to you.... For everyone who asks receives." –Luke 11:9-10 (NIV)

      "Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven." –Matthew 18:19 (NIV)

      James 5:15 – And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.

      Let's be honest. Don't be afraid to use critical thinking. Jesus said the above, about prayer. Is it true? Can you post back to me and claim what Jesus said is true?

      Why has there never been a doc_umented case of an amputated limb being restored? Do you think an amputee never prayed or had faith?

      Double blind experiments, have all shown that prayer has no effect on illness.

      Because people have believed the promises of the bible, they have withheld medical care for their children. They prayed instead. Evidently, god was not moved by their faith. Their children died. Modern medicine could have saved them. OOoopsie!

      Why aren't Jesus' words true? Can you think of any possibilities? If Jesus' words aren't true about prayer, then how can we depend on anything else Jesus said? Maybe if we could "test" the afterlife claims, they would be no more real than the claims about prayer.

      A fundie once told me, that god always answers prayers in one of three ways:

      1) God says, "yes". You get what you asked for immediately.

      2) God says, "to wait". You will get what you asked for at some future date.

      3) God says, "no". You will not get what you asked for.

      Hmmm.... But I can get the same success from the carton of milk I have sitting on the breakfast table.

      1) If I pray to my magic carton, some things will come true immediately, just by chance and coincidence.

      2) Some things will come true at some future date, for the same reasons.

      3) If I don't get what I want, then my magic carton said, "no".

      I think there is a problem, when there is no difference between praying to a god and praying to a milk carton.

      Remember the Gulf oil spill?
      Remember how a ton of people prayed for god to stop the gushing?
      I was spellbound! I watched the real time video of the oil spill. I expected to see it stop. It did not. Human technology eventually capped the well.

      Studies have shown prayer does not work. Any miracles or answered prayers are the result of random chance, coincidence and selective observation. Believers tend to remember the perceived positive outcome of prayers and forget the failed.

      Christians MUST contest this. They must rent their clothes and Shout: "Do not put the lord your god to the test!" LOL!

      God, either did not care or does not exist. Personally, I'm checking the second box. LOL.

      Cheers!

      July 24, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Tmaxims

      Jesus was a Jew, not a Christian so no, he did not tell the insurgents opposed to his strict Jewish edicts..... whom are now known as Christians . . . to run around and shove their insurgent beliefs upon anyone.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • truththwythlf

      I agree anyone who knows the bible accuratley knows that your suppose to preach the word as did Jesus. he lived his life to teach others about God

      July 24, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @truththwythlf

      There is no evidence that Jesus ever actually existed. He was probably a myth. A composite of the gods before him.

      Cheers!

      July 24, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Uriah

      @ David – God is not a man that he should lie.. Jesus was here before and after us. He has the power to reveal what needs to be revealed so that our faith in him can bring us eternal life.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  15. Snooterdog

    I don't know if its dawned on anyone but all religions and all philsophies "evangelize" either directly or indirectly....even atheism. No one is neutral about their beliefs. So why should Chrisitans be subject to a double standard while others go about seeking converts? Its a free country. We can reject or accept what others have to say. What is really being advocated is a form of censorship. No one is forcing anyone to accept anything.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Matt Damon

      Nobody is forcing you to buy what telemarketers are selling but it is still fu$%king annoying to deal with.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Logan9773

      @Matt – Hell yeah! To bad we can't shoot the numbnuts that march up to our doors, bible in hand. Would end a lot of problems.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  16. Deborah DeVane

    Amen, Selah and Halle-freaking-lulah. PLEASE all you rabid evangelicals and prostelyizers pay attention and knock it off already.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  17. Logan9773

    *Knocks on door.

    "Hello Brother! Do you have a few minutes to talk about The Great Pumpkin?"

    Aye Yes! He hath risen from the Pumpkin Patch! Halleeloya!

    Hopefully, you can see how us norms view you "believers". Your all crazy and brainwashed.

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

      looks like this story about pumpkin has a happy ending where it rose from the ground...what positive message do you have? the pumpkin shrivelled and died???

      July 24, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • xXAnonXx

      Do not defame pumpkins in such a manner! But seriously, this guy is right in a lot of ways. Christians and all religions need to be willing to accept new members but at the same time it is wrong to be active in convincing them to join in my opinion. Because at that point is becomes conning more than anything. They might as well just advertise like other corporate products.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  18. Evangelicide

    Wow... a rational xtian.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  19. Kyle

    Awesome! Thank you, Mr. Madearas, for this thoughtful, gracious and highly relevant presentation. If only more die-hard defenders of the evangelical status quo would read this with open hearts and minds...

    July 24, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  20. Dale Riley

    Religion is like a penis. It's fine to have one but don't go waving it around in public and try to shove it down other people's throats. Don't try to get other people to admire it. It's a private thing.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Rosanne Rosannadanna

      And it's nowhere near as impressive as you think it is.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Deborah DeVane

      ROFLMAO. That is CLASSIC!!!!!!

      July 24, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Kyle

      lol! that's a great expression, mind if I use it?

      July 24, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Logan9773

      LOL, well said. Do it behind closed doors, and the police won't get involved.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Eric

      Perfect!

      July 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Dale Riley

      Thank you. I'm glad other people appreciate that point of view. Sure, feel free to use it. I saw it on a t-shirt somewhere. It isn't an exact quote but that was the general idea.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Dixie Normas

      I believe Dale was quoting the Sermon on the Mount.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:08 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.