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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. zyan globosits

    SEE HOW CNN WARPS THE FACTS.

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

    Carl, like so many other people in this country, is embarrassingly ignorant. Countless people in this country don't know the difference between 'sharing the gospel and imposing it.' Imposing a belief, like the muslims do, is forcing others to accept it. Sharing a belief is telling them about it without forcing anything. I strongly urge and encourage the non-believers to read and STUDY Matthew 5:20 and Romans 10:3, and you'll see how backwards the world is. If one will read the teachings of Jesus Christ, he'll notice that he commanded believers to go out and preach the truth; God's Word !!_____It's the Muslims who are at fault. Muslims worship a rock. Their god is nothing more than a rock; a piece of the earth.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Phyrro

      The evangelicals don't physically "force" their beliefs (at least since the Inquisition) instead they use the fear of an everlasting hell of incredible torture, the wrath of god on non believers and Armeggedon to "force" their victims to kowtow to them.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Py

      Anyone can turn that right back on you "Michael". No person has the right to tell someone that their religion or belief is wrong. You say they worship a rock? People say christianity worships an imaginary person. It works both ways. The only time a "religion" could be wrong per say is when it actively involves harming people, either physically or mentally, which would be more like a "cult". Muslim religion has been twisted in peoples eyes by media and christianity itself from what it truly is. But you do not seem like the type of person that will take an educational look into learning the facts of another religion. Saying ridiculous irrational things such as you said just shows how much ignorance breeds. Pick up books and try learning before making statements. Atleast that way you will look like you know something instead of just looking like an intolerant idiot.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  3. chris

    I am amazed by everyone's opinion, we speak as if we have it all figured out...hmmm... I wonder what God thinks of all this? I wonder which parable he would share with us... and I wonder if some of us would just listen and hear what God has to say.
    Mr. Medearis, my wife and I enjoyed reading your article. Thank you and God bless! =)

    July 24, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  4. Anthony

    As christians we must evangelize. Christ said to spread the gospel to all the earth baptizing them in the name of the father son and holy spirit. We must be respectful but we must evangelize.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Michot

      Sorry, WHERE did Christ say this? Book, chapter and verse please.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Doug Hildemann

      And Christ ALSO said in Matthew 10:14, that if you spread the word and it is rejected, shake the dust from your feet and move on.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • pb_j

      To answer Michot's question ... Anthony quoted Matthew 28:18-20

      July 24, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  5. Richard

    There's a lot going on in this article... I think the hidden, over-arching theme of this argument is someone finding an easy way out of avoiding persecution and suffering for faith in Christ, which a lot of Christians seek to do.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  6. This guy is an IDIOT

    Jesus entire life was about teaching the truth about God. He expended his entire life converting people to become TRUE CHRISTIANS. All the of greek scriptures are FILLED with Jesus' followers who preached from home to home and HOW to do so. This just shows how incredibly LOST Christendom is and all who follow it. 'BAPTIZE PEOPLE IN ALL THE NATIONS' to be his followers means followers of CHRIST = CHRISTIANS! Wow. I pity this man and all who listen to his empty-headed reasonings.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • DJ

      Your extreme opinion has been noted. Property values in your neighborhood just tanked.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      You must be talking about yourself...I mean, your screen name?

      July 24, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  7. Chartreuxe

    In that case one would also have to get atheists out of our face as well. Separation of church and state is just that: separation. As a scientist who also happens to be Christian, I keep my religion separate and would prefer that people who are atheists refrain from evangelising their lack of belief as well.

    Feel free to be an atheist but don't preach at me about my beliefs. I have them and you don't, that's fine. Don't proselytise about my 'magical book and imaginary beings.' It's rude and just as wrong as a religious troll droning on about their beliefs. Have the courtesy not to be rude if I say 'God bless' to someone else on a board. It's not meant to taunt you about your own lack of faith.

    Do you understand the ground rules here? It's like that Golden Rule you *claim* to follow but fail to do. Everyone has to behave or no one will do. Follow the rules and everything will be fine.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Phyrro

      As a scientist and a Christian do you believe in evolution or creationism? Do you believe in Armaggedon or global warming?
      There are evangelical beliefs that are so harmful to society that they need to be debunked. Are you as a scientisit willing to debunk them?

      July 24, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • felipe

      amen

      July 24, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • DJ

      I understand what you're saying. But I'd like to point out that the times I've been compelled to loudly state my opinion that the bible is a man-made method of controlling people has been when Christians have gotten in MY face and basically demanded that I believe in their book. I don't, I've put plenty of thought into it and I don't anticipate changing my opinion. In these comments sections I think we tend toward little outbursts because we feel Christians are forcing an agenda on us that we think is destructive and narrow minded. It's a problem for us.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  8. Zyad

    There is a lot shared between christianity and Islam but offcourse there is diffrences. God told us in Quran to talk with cristians about these diffrences in the best manner with no compultion or hatred. I agree with this article that both Muslims and cristians should start their debate with respect to each other's belief and discuss diffrences in the best respectfull manner.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • shawn

      zyad you have a big problem. your religion teaches that GOD has no son, but the bible that even mohammad is going to be judged by in the final judgement teaches that if a person doesnt believe in the ONLY BEGOTTEN SON OF GOD then you will spend eternity in hell. Jesus said HE was the only way to GOD and HE didnt say he was a way to GOD.Jesus said himself that HE was THE ONLY WAY to GOD. The Jew is going to be surprised in judgement as well because they continue to refuse their Messiah just as all their own prophets fortold that they would do.the JEW is depending on keeping the law to be saved ,but the carnal law can save no one but a man has to receive GODS only sacrifice for sin and thats the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  9. Voyageur

    This man does not appear to understand the Gospel. Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Him. One needs to hear the Gospel as the means in which to receive faith to believe, leading to repentence, turning from sin, and having everlasting life in Jesus. That is THE only way. To hear the Gospel. But the ones who share the gospel (the right Gospel) actually need to understand it themselves. This man obviously does not.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Phyl

      You got 1/2 of it right....Repent AND be Baptized for the remission of sins...and the gift of the Holy Spirt. Acts 2:38.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Judi Powell

      I beg to differ: Jesus did not go around threatening everybody that was "different" from him. He didn't get on his high horse and tell other people ad nauseum how they should live their lives, do this, do that, be with these people and not with those....and then proceed to to the EXACT opposite as the so-called Christians today. And I feel RELIGION,as it is practiced by today's conservatives has any place in our political world. You all are created the SAME EXACT world here in the US as you are supposedly fighting AGAINST in other countries. Hypocrites.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • felipe

      please read the article again and maybe you will understand it.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  10. CMDTRUTH

    I find it funny on how everyone here seems to be an expert on what jesus said of what the bible tells us to do. Yet no one truely knows. it stuff like this that keeps the world divided and creates hatred.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Dan

      ?? What he taught is there for the reading. John did say that if everything he said and did were recorded it would fill many books, but we get teh gist of his teachings through teh apostles in the NT.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • CMDTRUTH

      yet there many other books with the saying of jesus that isnt in the bible. They are also teaching and sayings of jesus in the koran, yet that isnt in the bible. who truely has it right?? you claim to have the truth, while in the same so do the muslims and so do the nostics, and so on and so forth..... the real truth is no one truely knows. for those who claim with absolute clarity are only lying to themselves

      July 24, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @CMDTRUTH

      You are right. See my comment above.

      Cheers!

      July 24, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Richard

      You're bringing another argument on top of the several arguments that are already in the article. I'll take the bait for a second... generally, Christians believe they hold the ultimate recordings of God speaking to men. All the law and prophets is what is the Old Testament is considered holy and true... which also credits Jesus' words, since most of what he said and did was just fulfillment and reference of those previous scriptures. From there, the chosen Apostles are credited with special revelation and designation since they were firsthand witnesses of Jesus' ministry.

      Basically, Christians (and Jews) think they have the ultimate source when it comes to God's word... and of course some other religions have taken bits and pieces, too, which the Bible addresses. So I guess there's no argument with you. They claim to have the truth in their hands, but you say there isn't any... I guess only time will tell.

      "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness..." Book of 2 Timothy, chapter 3

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

      my claim is not that there isnt some form truth out there, but that no one really knows it. and I am ok with that because in that uncertainty there is honesty. The problem is that people abuse religious books and creates division throughtout the world. missionaries go to the far corners of the world to places in which they claim god dont exist as though god is something that can be brought over in a ship or a plane. In the process cultures are destoryed and divison is created. we go to war because of our interpretations of god. I just cant understand it. I am just honest enough to say that I dont know the answers instead of claiming to have some.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  11. ctb67

    As a Unitarian Universalist, this is music to my ears. I don't know how many times I've acknowledged Jesus only to be told that my way isn't the right way and I was still going to hell because I wasn't a Catholic, Baptist, Reborn etc ad nauseum. This not evangelizing is the only way to walk the path of Jesus and not be called a hypocrite. Do as he does, not as you want it to be done. If the only way to the father is through him, shouldn't we emulate him instead of some moldy oldey in it for the money preacher? You can not call people unworthy, evil and doomed and expect them to grovel at your feet because you have the only snake oil that can save them. Love is the law ya'll.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Dan

      "You can not call people unworthy, evil and doomed and expect them to grovel at your feet ..."

      You call people hypocrites and yet have no compunctions generalizing about "moldy oldy in-in-for-the-money preachers." You reap what you sow. Perhaps people are judging you because you are being judgmental.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Dan

      *perhaps yoou are judged

      July 24, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Notice how many denominations of Christianity there are (~ 34,000). Each denomination can show you scripture, that "proves" they understand the wants of Jesus/god.
      All of the denominations could not be correctly interpreting the bible. Many are contradictory.
      Many of these denominations believe only their members will be saved.

      If the Christian god exists, and He is all knowing and all powerful and all good, why didn't He provide a bible that could not be misinterpreted? That everyone's comprehension of His wants would be the same?

      Christians believe god's purpose in creating the Bible is to guide human beings towards a knowledge of God, and to help them lead moral lives, Christians must be certain of the meaning of the Bible.

      ambiguity – a word or expression that can be understood in two or more possible ways : an ambiguous word or expression.

      "There are in excess of 1,000 Christian faith groups in North America. They teach diverse beliefs about the nature of Jesus, God, the second coming, Heaven, Hell, the rapture, criteria for salvation, speaking in tongues, the atonement, what happens to persons after death, and dozens of other topics.

      On social controversies, faith groups teach a variety of conflicting beliefs about abortion access, equal rights for ho_mo$exuals and bi$exuals, who should be eligible for marriage, the death penalty, physician assisted suicide, human $exuality topics, origins of the universe, and dozens of other topics.

      The groups all base their theological teachings on the Bible. Generally speaking, the theologians in each of these faith groups are sincere, intelligent, devout, thoughtful and careful in their interpretation of the Bible. But, they come to mutually exclusive conclusions about what it teaches. Further, most are absolutely certain that their particular interpretations are correct, and that the many hundreds of faith groups which teach opposing beliefs are in error." Source: Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance

      If the bible is ambiguous, then it cannot be said to be inerrant. If the bible is not without error, then how do we know which parts to accept as truth and which to reject as fiction?

      The Christian god is very unlikely to exist.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      It seems to me that you're no better than the "Catholic, Baptist, Reborn etc ad nauseum". You're blaming them for not " Do(ing) as he does, not as you want it to be done", so you've essentially called them "unworthy, evil and doomed".

      July 24, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  12. WhatWhatWhat?

    Finally, one delusional person telling the rest of the delusional people not to be so delusional. I feel like I'm living in an insane asylum. Please, seek medical attention.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  13. nice

    LOL @ adults who believe in children's fairy tales in the year 2011.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Caesar in Atlanta

      Amen to that, it's a miracle these people don't believe in Santa Claus either.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Dan

      The date has nothing to do with.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  14. teepee

    that is the stupidest statemetn I have heard today

    July 24, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  15. Mary Smith

    Don't look to a Muslim supporter to learn about Christ! You'll never get the truth.....

    July 24, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Get a Grip

      don't look to a fundamentalist christian either!

      July 24, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Chartreuxe

      That seems amazingly racist of you, Ms Smith.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  16. Jose Alvarez

    The Bible is full of evangelism and evangelists. Evangelism comes from two Greek words which means announcing good news. People like good news. Evangelism is the sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ. There is nothing wrong with that. Yes coercion to conversion is not right.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Good news is one thing, but delusions of grandeur are something completely different. I don't like your delusions, and I don't like people telling me about them. I stop people immediately if they try to tell me things like that, I don't stand for it.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Dan

      WHatWhatWhat?...You feel you have teh right to tell people what you believe, but have no tolerance for others telling you what they believe. That's just hypocritical and closed-minded. One good turn deserves another, as they say.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      No Dan, religion is a delusion. Every one of them. I wouldn't stand there and reason with a crazy guy screaming on the street, or someone with Alzheimer's, or dementia. This is exactly the same thing.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  17. ivan

    Actually, CNN is the biggest enemy of Christians, they support the Gay agenda, Abortion, and is an Anti-God Network, but before you think "Ok then Fox Network is conservative, then is Pro-Christian"...Wrong! Fox Network is far more Guilty than CNN because not only Fox live from the conservatives but also produce some of the most sinful movies, TV shows, Cartoons and reality shows out there, Fox Network are BIG TIME hypocrites, CNN is just evil...anyway, CNN love to put doubt in the heart of man with this Liberal pastors that they find anywhere and that's just evil, probably my post os going to be deleted soon...hope not, and remember Trust Jesus not religion created by man.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • dean

      Lord, please deliver us from your followers. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Skaggs

      You need to watch "for the Bible tells me so"....You can stream it on Netflix. You don't understand the true Bible at all.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • Dan

      Skaggs...He doesn't understand the Bible? But you do?

      July 24, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Chartreuxe

      Ivan, I've read the exact same charge posted on boards aimed as MSNBC, CNN, and all the other news boards. Well, except for FOX. I don't know what claims are made against them because I can't bring myself to read that cr@pfest of infotainent.

      My point is that these charges are flung about wildly by 'Christians' who dislike the content of whatever articles happen to be up that day. They don't mean a thing.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • Py

      If you dislike CNN so much why do you bother to go to their news site? When I read CNN I see NEWS not all the bull that you are suggesting. This article is an "Opinion" article meaning someone is sharing their opinion, we all have different opinions as we have different beliefs. The man who wrote this article is pretty much describing people like you "ivan". So caught up in your own world you refuse to see others and just spread hatred. My religious affiliation is my own and I'm glad to see someone actually having the courage to write this article. Take a history lesson and see how many wars in the past where caused. Jesus didn't come forth to cause wars over differences of religion, he wanted to share his ideals and opinions and never cast away those who thought differently nor condemned them.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Sarah

      If you hate CNN so much because it's going infect our souls, curves our spines and keep the country from winning the war, what are you doing on CNN.com commenting on a CNN editorial? If you don't like any of the news stations, go stick your head in the sand.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
  18. jim

    CNN don't have to suggest what evangelicals do according to their faith.
    CNN anti-Christian network ?

    July 24, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • hahaha

      They are not anti christian, they are just with the times. Well at least 2,000 years ahead of christians.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  19. alordnelson

    You can evangelize all you want. I think it's great to have that diversity. Just don't do it they way you did in Lebanon. Manipulating, without listening, loudly quoting a few scriptural passages learned at Bible Studies to show how you are right and muslims, mormons, catholics etc... are wrong.

    If you evangelist can't do missionary work in a different way, I agree. Stop today.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  20. twiddly

    You're on the right track.
    Now, just take the next step and dispense with religion entirely.
    You can do all your good works with no need for "jesus" discussions or any religious beliefs.

    Your "not evangelizing" claim doesn't ring true, as anyone with no interest in jesus (or the easter bunny, or santa claus) would still be subject to your jesus discussions, so your are still evangelizing.

    July 24, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Dan

      I do agree with your last statement. I am a Christian and it's still evangelising. I know what the man is saying about building bridges, etc., but it is still the same thing in the end. Typically, people don't think of Evangelical Christians when they think of being "pc," but this is how that mentality has influenced Christians.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:47 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.