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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. B.R. Clifton

    A very interesting article. It's interesting in that it is totally one sided and speaks from a very lop-sided viewpoint. I notice that the writer did not address the other side of the coin and whether Islamicists should evangelize. Believe me, they are doing exactly that mostly with muscle and threats. One need only to read the newspaper to see how Christians are treated in Islamic countries. I noticed also that the writer threw in the old worn out "Crusader" thingie. The truth is that the Christians were not the first "Crusader". The muslims were when They invaded the middle East slaughtering everyone in their path and forcably taking over the region they had no legal (or otherwise) claim to. That's a truth that people like the writer usually avoid in order to put forth their skewed opinion.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Jacob

      I agree. Religious people are nuts.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  2. Tom

    An earlier post of mine isn't showing. Come on.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  3. WhatWhatWhat?

    A million evangelicals, a million different ideas of what's what. Very few religious delusionists would actually agree on a majority of the silly sayings and absurd beliefs that form their "belief system" (i.e. delusion). Each one thinks that they have it figured out, and there's no accountability for facts or evidence. At least with science, 2+2=4 no matter who does it and where they live.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Casey

      Are you saying that scientist always agree and that they are pure in their search for truth? That they have no dissagreements in regard to their theories and/or interruptertation of theories.... Really??? As a Scientist, I can say that you should rethink your position.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Jacob

      Exactly what kind of scientist are you?

      July 24, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      Casey, why do you have to read between the lines? It sounds like you're reading a bible. Did I say any of those things that you said? No. This isn't a doctoral thesis if you haven't noticed. I'm sorry I couldn't live up to your high expectations.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • WhatWhatWhat?

      By the way, I'm a scientist who doesn't believe in fairy tales. Did I make an error with my math?

      July 24, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Scott

      Actually the great thing about science is if you can produce solid, testable, verifyable eveidenc that 2 + 2 4. They will seiously reconsider there position and with enough good evidence they will change the theory

      July 24, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  4. AGuest9

    Basically, throw away the Old Testament. It is a bunch of Stone Age babble. Keep Mark from the New Testament, or use Jefferson's "Bible". See Christ for what he really was – a Gandhi, a man preaching peace and co-existence. Throw away most of the New Testament, which was James' attempt to capitalize on his brother's death at the hands of the Romans, as pressured by the Sanhedrin. Jesus' death was a political hit. James' church is what the Catholic church became. The rest of the mysticism was an attempt to keep the simple in line. It obviously works!

    July 24, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  5. Allen

    An evangelical who doesn't evangelize is not an evangelical (or a Christian).

    July 24, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Thomas

      Or despised the world over.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  6. Sharon

    "Preach the Gospel always–if necessary use words." Francis of Assisi

    July 24, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • Thomas

      So you're saying Francis was the Christian version of Osama bin Laden. "Convert or die" kinda philosophy....sound familiar?

      July 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • Casey

      Preaching is not the same as trying to convert people. The Catholic Church is very clear on this point. They do not want Priests or Deacons out trying to convert people. It is NOT ok to coerce through fear or any invasive tactic. It is good though to spread the word, and let people come to God on their own. Most missionaries that I know, will go to an area and just help with whatever needs to be done in that area. They may try to build a Church... and so if people come to them with questions, they can help them spiritually too. That's the way it works.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  7. ufadoof

    I must have missed to part in the bible about jesus being a republican. So if Obama is a marxist where on the political chart does that leave jesus?

    July 24, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  8. Rev Kathy

    The root of the original Greek word used in Matthew's story of Jesus 'Great Commission to go out and "make disciples" (also translated as "teach") is mathetos, which literally means "to approach in a spirit of inquiry." As in the Socratic method of teaching which was prevalent in the 1st century culture in which Jesus' radically inclusive Judaism entered the world. Ask questions, question assumptions. Disciples were seekers, inquirers, students. Jesus made disciples by asking questions, posing koan-like scenarios, and loving abundantly. Not by telling people what to believe. Let alone making their access to water and health care dependent on assenting to a credo. So, fellow Christians, go forth and approach all nations in a spirit of inquiry.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  9. ruemorgue

    Evangelicals shouldn't proselytize because what they believe in is BS. Myths, legends, booger-men, things-that-go-bump-in-the-night, that's the Shiite that evangelicals believe in. Evangelicals are bug-eyed anecephalics.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  10. ThsIsNotReal22

    Luke 12:51,52 -
    Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division.
    From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  11. William Fitzwater

    1st off Americans or for that matter certain select group of Americans don't understand a lot of the outside world. Islam does not hate Christians or Jew sor any other non Muslim group . That is false in fact they have a great deal in common with Christian people both in our core beliefs and religious books. In fact what was Islamabad was once a center of multicultural city where many faiths freely lived together in peace. Islam has a reputation of protecting other faiths and in some cases were welcomed as liberator in some wars in the past
    In fact most of western knowledge came from Alhambra Muslims Spain . Yes Spain was originally is colony of Muslims . Until it was liberated or so called liberated. Many of the liberaies of protected achient knowledge were translated by the new technology of the printing press.
    Islam has given much to our world. Sadly there are violent extremist ; they exisit to preach a very different model of Islam ; just as the same fanatical expression can exist in Christan thought as well. People have to won to a understanding of Christ using violence persecution intimidation meddling will just fail.
    I love other culture and try to respect their values and belief . I may Not agree with them but I certainly believe if they wish to change ( their beliefs) my example will help win them over.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  12. NewsOrGossip

    You all know that Jesus is not the author of the Bible, nor did he have this Bible when he walked upon the earth! Read the article again, and this time with the intent of understanding. 1st Acquire Wisdom, go within...to the Upper Room, where the "light" within you lights up and the spring of knowledge appears everywhere. This is the Life that Jesus taught...it is about the "Light" within you...not following some "dogma". Jesus taught unity, humanity!

    July 24, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Bill Lester

      Jesus never spoke of a "light within you." This is something that has quite possibly been added over the last few years. Jesus was plain and the New Testament is plain in describing Jesus as the light, not some "light within you." Jesus also clearly states that there is no way to the Father but through him. We can say anything that we like, but the message of the New Testament and from Jesus himself is clear.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  13. glory

    christlam they call.. being a christian and agreeing with muslim beliefs.. this guys needs to read his bible.. jesus said to go into all the world a preach the gospel.. so that means we are too all evangelise and guess what dude, thousands are evangelising and gaining big ground .. it is harvest time and satan is mad.. so he gets this dude to write this book for him.. dont buy.. and keep evangelsiinmg people are getting said and being snatcned out of hell

    July 24, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Sheldon

      "jesus said to go into all the world a preach the gospel." Surely you don't mean the gospels that were written seventy years after Jesus died - which were completely unknown to him? It's funny when Christians think Jesus says for them to preach a Bible that wasn't even written during his lifetime.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • ThsIsNotReal22

      Sheldon - The gospels were not written by Jesus's own hands but it is mostly composed of his quotations...

      July 24, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • NewsOrGossip

      That's the problem ...the Bible. Jesus is NOT the author. Jesus taught to dwell in the Upper Room...discover your own Light within you....be the light of the world. Do you know what this "Light" means. It's not Bible dogma about punitive Gods. The authors of the Bible had their own struggles and wrote their own perceptions of their experiences. Why has that turned into "The Bible Says" ....Jesus didn't have this Bible, nor is Jesus the author of the Bible. Do your own research and studying. The "Light" is what's inside of all of us. When you dwell in the Upper Room, and discover the light within you, you discover oneness with that which Created us, and you discover oneness with the world, the universe, your fellow humans. You discover what love really is...and you "love your neighbor", and I mean truly love your neighbor"...where you let this "light" of love, peace, joy etc. flow from you unto others. Think about this. Jesus taught humanity, oneness...unity! This discovering your own light within, is the "keys to the kingdom" that he talked about from his own discovery experience. Jesus draws the listeners' attention back to themselves, and makes himself out to be nothing special. Jesus doesn't want praise or lip service...but "light within you" action. Partake of your own bubbling spring within you!!! If our burden is truly light...all I need to do is allow my discovered light within me...shine upon you! I love you fellow human.!!! Now go forward and discover that light within you...Glorify that!!!!

      July 24, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  14. Divynthought

    I agree 100% with Carl! Being a light and living to love and share God's love with others in a non-judgemental non-manipulative way is so much more effective than forcing religion on people. Jesus loved everyone and his ministry was about inclusion not division. Kudos to you Mr. Mendearis....now following you onTwitter 🙂

    July 24, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  15. Dave H

    Who cares! Christians are a threat to the world and we all know that. They are nothing but trouble and racist. I could care less what these people think about anything. Muslims are not the problem,Christians are~!

    July 24, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • mroberts

      And Dave, you're clearly completely clueless. Tell me, how many Christians are starting wars, bombing nightclubs, and hijacking airplanes in the name of Christianity? Now tell me how many are doing that in the name of Islam? Are you seriously so braindead that you think Christians are the problem. No, your REAL problem is your bigotry and hatefulness toward Christians.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Thomas

      Do you SERIOUSLY want a list of all the wars Christians have started??!! Okay! You asked for it!

      1562-1598 – French Wars of Religion – France – 4 million dead
      1095-1291 – Crusades to the Holy Land – Middle East, Spain, Africa – 1.5 million dead
      1184-c. 1860 – Various Christian Inquisitions – Europe – 17,500 dead
      1492-1911 – European settlers' extermination of Native American peoples – genocidal casualties
      1914-1918 World War I – 39 million dead

      This does not include folks like Cortes heading into Mexico and killing everyone there with the diseases he and his crew spread around to the locals.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  16. Jack

    Jesus in no way brought unity to the world. If anything, through his "preaching" he brought untold horror and zealotry into the consciousness of countless people. He was a false prophet, nothing more, nothing less.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • really

      What have you done for Mankind lately bro???

      July 24, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  17. MikeTheCat

    Why read the Bible again? It's all just a bunch of horrible nonsense. What is amazing is that any person can believe a word of it.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • mroberts

      Too bad you have no clue what you're talking about. So you're saying King David never lived? King Solomon, or Nebuchadnezzar? Or that Herod and Pilate weren't real people? The Bible knew about many ancient cities in the Middle East long before modern archaeologists did. If you want to argue the Bible, at least get the most basic level of knowledge.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • tallulah13

      Mr. Roberts, one would hope that the ancient authors of the bible would know the geography of their land. Perhaps the historical individuals on your list existed. However, there is certainly no archaeological evidence of any supernatural occurrences ever taking place.

      The city of Troy was found using the descriptions from the Iliad. Does this mean Zeus and the Olympian pantheon existed?

      July 24, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  18. ufadoof

    I talk directly to god. He told me he doesn't exist.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • MikeTheCat

      and since he's capable of doing anything, he also decided to go back in time and make it so that he never existed.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Tim Jordan

      Couldn't have put it better myself.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  19. Danny

    Why is the author posing with a terrorist?

    July 24, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Jacob

      I'm not familiar with him What terrorist acts did he commit?

      July 24, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • yoshutthefup

      how do you know hes a terrorist?

      July 24, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  20. Jacob

    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."

    There's not much evidence Jesus ever existed. If he did, he never bothered to write about his beliefs.

    July 24, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Yakob

      And thats the point, Jesus came to earth for a divine cause and he fulfilled this purpose for the redemption of mankind.
      He never bothered to write books because that is not what he came to earth for...

      Time to start beleiving and stop questioning..we are not 2 year olds anymore...to ask frivolous questions.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Jacob

      "Time to start beleiving and stop questioning."

      Must be a tough life being that naive and simple minded. Good luck with that.

      July 24, 2011 at 4:52 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.