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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. e

    Mr. Medearis writes: "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.'"

    I don't think that means "Christians, go make Muslim, Buddist, Hindu, etc. disciples throughout the nation."

    July 24, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  2. seth

    Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned. St Mark 16 15:16.......

    July 24, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Phyrro

      Seth: "preach the gospel to every creature". I hope the evangelicals go and preach the gospel to the 500,000 species of the trillions of beatle "creatures" and leave the rest of us creatures alone. Although the beatle creatures would probably also be disgusted with you.

      July 24, 2011 at 6:38 pm |
    • frank

      I wish they'd all go preach their insufferable horse-shit to hives of killer bees, black mamba snakes, and female grizzly bears with new cubs.

      July 24, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Phyrro

      Frank: You may be a bit too harsh here but just a bit. An interesting thought occured to me how did Noah fit two of all those 500,000 species of beattle on the Ark alongside all the species of dinasaur the creationists believe lived at the time of man. The ark was supposedly 450 feet long and 75 feet wide but all the species of dinasaur would have sunk it. What did the carnovoires eat on the ark?. Even if the ark could accomidate the dinasaurs – two of them copulating would have tipped the ark.

      July 24, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  3. RealityChecker

    Carl Medearis.... trying to peddle his book to gullible readers. He is as convincing as your average used car salesman.

    July 24, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  4. Becca

    Mr. Medearis,
    You often say that Christ was not trying to create a new religion, but I beg to differ. He was building a religion on guiding principles and ordinances, on following his examples in this life so we can obtain blessings in the life to come. yes he was breaking down walls between Jews and gentiles because that was part of what he taught, that we must love one another no matter how different we are. When he said Go and make disciples of all nations, he met those to follow his teachings, to believe in what he taught and act upon that belief. To say that Christ would not build a church is completely wrong he is so organized in all he does and has a purpose to it all. Maybe then he tried to put a church in place or help another.But today there is a church headed by Christ himself, it is called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He leads us and teaches us through living prophets and apostles and makes it easier for us to get back to him. He does want us to preach the truth to all nations, so that they can hear it and make their own decisions.
    Sincerely,
    Becca
    (P.S. I am 15 and go to seminary at school regularly so I know what I am talking about.) 🙂

    July 24, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Nate

      Oh poor child, how lost you are.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Relentless skepticism

      Here we go with this "My interpretation is right and yours is wrong" nonsense. And to make matters worse, you're 15?!?! You haven't even taken a college-level class on ancient world history yet and you're trying to say you know what you're talking about? REALITY CHECK: You don't.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Dee

      I'm so sorry, but your religion is so close, yet so far away from the true Christianity. Becca, there are many, many things that Mormon's believe that unfortunately make it a false religion. If you read the original New Testament and not the Book of Mormon, you will eventually see that you are in a clever imitation of the Christian life. The scary thing about Mormonism is that it is so wrapped up in families that to break away is like breaking with a cult. I have had several Mormon friends that I love dearly. Please know that I am speaking in kindness to you.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:51 pm |
    • Isolate

      Rather you know what you've been taught, and are not old or experienced enough to question those beliefs. I am 53 years older than you are, have read the sacred books of every major religion, yet I still have not found a faith that meets my standards of credibility.

      Have you ever read an assessment of the LDS by someone outside the organization? Have you reconciled your beliefs with the shady background of the man who started it? Or that his "reformed Egyptian" orthography never existed? How do you deal with the myriad anachronisms in the Book of Mormon? Aren't you curious why the various tribes described therein built mighty cities and conducted endless wars for a thousand years but failed to leave a single artifact behind? Doesn't the total absence of DNA evidence for the claims of Middle-Eastern ancestry bother you?

      The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews had the final say on the difference between religious beliefs and reality: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (11:1) For many of us that's not good enough.

      July 24, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • Phyrro

      Becca: At 15 years old you seem to have a good command of language and your thoughts. But you need to widen your horizons from the brainwashing that a seminary gives you. Think of all the posibilities in the world and then ask yourself why am I narrowing it down to the dogamatic teachings of the church.

      July 24, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  5. Philip L

    Has this guy really read the New Testament?

    July 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Dee

      Only the one he revised in his head apparently!

      July 24, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  6. SemanticsIndeed

    Regardless of this man's approach, Jesus Christ did tell his followers, as he was returning to Heaven, to go into all the world and preach the good news of what he had just done on Earth by dying for sins and raising himself again to bring individuals back to the God we put out of our minds. Hard sell or soft sell is up to the conviction of the messenger. What's interesting is that it's been happening for about 2,000 years and neither the message nor the the response has changed.

    What's your response?

    July 24, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  7. frank

    So teaching peopel to "love, trust, and follow Jesus" is not the same as evangelizing them? This guy is playing some kind of semantic game. Maybe it's to curry favor with Muslims who fear the word "evangelism." I suspect he's trying to do a good thing, but is just creating confusion for everyone.

    July 24, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  8. Scott

    Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Jn 14;6

    July 24, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Mouna

      And who am I ?
      a person, a spirit, a state of mind?
      How do you define me?
      Which Christian definition of Jesus will you adhere to?
      Yours or the author?
      Both of you believe in Christ same as all the muslims that you fear.

      The moment yopu realize you CANNOT define Jesus then you have found a way to the father. NOT BEFORE THAT.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  9. Lika

    Very relevant article! I'm a missionary in Africa, and I'm disgusted with the model of evangelism pushed upon the people. I'm tired of hearing tele-evangelist say that at their rallies 10,000 people were saved. No, 10,000 perhaps raised their hands at an alter call, but how many are actually following Jesus, and trying to behold His beauty a week after the crusade. No, that model is ineffective...like the article says we need to build relationships with PEOPLE, and guide them on a day to day basis on being true DISCIPLES of Jesus Christ. Converting hearts to follow Jesus is the Holy Spirit's job, our part is to open our mouths, speak of Him, and "go tell it" again and again!

    July 24, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Dee

      I get what your saying, but just because there are people like Benny H around doesn't mean that there aren't Christians who are reaching others with the gospel.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  10. Allie

    So true. Jesus said "follow me," not "join a religion." talking about sweet Jesus > evangelism. Well said, Carl.

    July 24, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  11. Alex

    Medearis view of evangelization is not practical or biblical. One can try to lead people toward Jesus without conversion, but there is a point in which transformation needs to take place. That transforming experience acknowledges that Christ is first and all else is secondary. Unless that is done, one is not a disciple. Also, he downplays the importance of the Church. As imperfect as it may be, Jesus left the Church as his agent on this earth. Disciples are not meant to have their own personal Jesus outside of the larger Christian community and not be held accountable for anything.

    July 24, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Jon

      This article is just a taste of what Carl teaches. You should read two of his books – "Speaking of Jesus" and "Muslims, Christians and Jesus." He does have a great love for the church and has helped many many Muslims discover Jesus as Savior. The word "convert" is never used in the new testament as a verb, except in a negative way. The idea is that people don't want to be "converted" (neither would I) Sharing the truth and loving people and letting the Holy Spirit do the work is the message that Carl is sharing

      July 24, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  12. articleisweak

    aside from the content...anyone else notice how no paragraph in this article is more than 2 sentences. Pretty brutal to read.

    July 24, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Alex

      Good catch. Medearis has not only dumbed down the Gospel and Christianity but also the English language. He must not think highly of his audience.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  13. flagwaverguy

    Is Carl a Jew? Just curious.

    July 24, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Walter

      Carl is a, "Engage in oral exchange with my rectal oriface kinda guy". Hope that helps.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Ill ski

      Do you how your biased opinons kill this convo?! He is saying jesus was a relgous liberator.But poeple still press christianty as dominant in this world and forum...You are judgementle people this article refers to!

      July 24, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  14. Angie

    Another attempt at a One World Religion. People, wake up and smell the Chrislam! We are SO living in the end of days. Give your life over to Christ before it's too late.

    July 24, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Walter

      They won't because it is writen they won't. Can't save everybody. Now go get a smotthie and enjoy your day. 🙂

      July 24, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Relentless skepticism

      That is ridiculous. People have been saying this same thing since the days of early Christianity. This "end of days" psycho babble needs to stop. Wars, drought, famine and natural disasters have been occurring since the dawn of time. These things cannot be considered signs of the second coming of your alleged Jesus figure. These things are not new to the human race.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Skeptic?

      By dawn of time you realize that they think that is 6,000 years ago, right?

      July 24, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Dee

      Hey Skeptic, what do you know, really?! Were you there?

      July 24, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  15. Walter

    Whatwhatwhat? Has allot to comment about but nothing to say. Typical.

    July 24, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  16. Believer

    Jesus didn't convert people, he showed people what he was about and asked them to believe in him, trust in him, put their FAITH in him. He didn't take the samaritan woman at the well and make her just like him, he told her to go back home and SHARE with her community. That is true evangelization...something we don't practice today. We try to remove everyone, Carl is showing us a basic principle of Christ...one we've so easily forgotten

    July 24, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Walter

      Your first sentence is the definition of conversion you dork! LOL….

      July 24, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Believer

      Asking someone to trust in you is not conversion. It isn't removing the person from where they live, their family, or anything like that.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Walter

      Asking someone to trust in you or you will burn in Hell is conversion!. Thats all the bible says, is that If you do not worship and praise and give it all to him, YOU WILL BURN IN HELL. Get it? He may have not said "Get on board" but you get what I mean. You are slow dude.....

      July 24, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Believer

      You are thick. Its a choice, you get to choose your outcome. Conversion requires force, no one can force you to make that choice. So its not conversion.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Abu Rami

      Believer- I think you have an erroneous definition of conversion. Conversion has nothing to do with being forced. The word "convert" means "to turn around". So maybe your issue with the word "convert" is simply semantic.

      Also, the biblical idea of conversion requires a genuine personal repentance and a decision to believe in Jesus as both savior and Lord.

      In Islam you can convert by force, without any kind of personal heart change, since all it takes to become a Muslim is to utter the words of the shahadah. But according to the biblical definition of conversion, it's impossible for it to be done by force.

      When Jesus preached "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"(Mark 1) he was calling people to be transformed, and converted from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Relentless skepticism

      So wait...if I get to choose my outcome then that would mean "god" isn't all-knowing or all-powerful. And last time I checked, all non-believers get sent to "hell". Unless jesus has secretly whispered something to you that he hasn't whispered to all of his other "followers"... please enlighten us Mr. Prophet.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Believer

      Abu- Correct, it is all about transformation, but it todays terms, ask anyone what it means to convert. People think you are destroying someone's family, taking away parents or children, removing them from society, etc. The biblical conversion is something to be celebrated; that's not the way people view it. That's what most of these people on here are arguing about, the don't know the biblical sense, and Carl is explaining that in his article

      July 24, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Believer

      Relentless – You get to choose whether to follow him or not, not to save yourself. Jesus doesn't force anyone to follow him, you choose to. Eternal life is only given by Him

      July 24, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • George R

      Conversion certainly does NOT require force. In the case of Xtian conversion it is most often as stated before: convert or face hellfire. You can call it a choice and you can put lipstick on a pig but it's quite simply dishonest, deceitful and manipulative to use scare tactics to strengthen the flock.

      July 24, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  17. max

    Christians need not hide the truth from others.
    The fact this man stands smiling next to a Baal worshiper says what you need to know about him.
    A true believer in Jesus Christ makes it obvious, & shares the truth w/ others given the opportunity, however that may be.
    I don't condone rudeness, but no compromise regarding false religions & their believers needs to be expected.
    This mistaken individual is one of the many "False Prophets" spreading deception the Bible speaks of.
    There's no shortage of coverage of these types in this "Belief" section.

    July 24, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  18. Frank

    This is a time many muslims are converting, especially due to the satellite t.v. Christian shows in their own language. Jesus is appearing to many muslims now and they are converting despite much opposition, even to the death. This guy is preaching an accomodation to Chrislam. Time is short, buddy. Don't compromise.

    Chris says: "some of the fiercest militias were (and are) Christian." Thats due to the fact they've been mercilessly attacked now for decades. The Buddhists in southern Thailand have fierce militia's too (ooh, I'm so surprised! haha) because they're ALSO being mercilessly attacked my muslims. Same with the Copts in Cairo.

    Jesus said "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation." Mark 16:15

    July 24, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • college_student

      Frank can you please source your information about many Muslims converting to Christianity. It is OK to source a Christian source, but please add non-denominational sources in addition, thanks

      July 24, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Larry

      The fastest growing religion in the world right now is Islam. Not many muslims are converting to other religions. (I am neither Christian nor Muslim). Be careful about believing things just because you want them to be true.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  19. gogogopher

    Of course Jesus killed 42 children with two female bears in 2ndKings chapter 2. All for making fun of a bald headed man. They weren't mocking God... they had no idea the man was a new prophet. They were all children, 12 and under.... The word for "children" is in fact, a correct translation.

    So why did Jesus, "In the beginning was The Word... The Word was with God... The Word WAS GOD.. kill children with bears?

    killing children...... by a God/Jesus.... not cool. And untrue... myth. Story. fable...

    July 24, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • Eagles Questions

      That was Elisha.
      The book of 2 Kings is in the Old Testament.

      July 24, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • SemanticsIndeed

      How do you know they didn't know Elisha as a "new" prophet? He had been walking with Elijah from 1st Kings 19 (~901 BC) through to 2nd Kings 2 (~896 BC) and it seems entirely reasonable that he was well known (read the Old Testament passages carefully) during that time. One point we could take from the passage is indeed to advise the Jewish nation of how seriously they should take their prophets, as the prophets spoke the word of God.

      An application to non-Jews today may be to not mock the God of Heaven or those who he asks to speak his word. Thanks for bringing up the passage, but sadly you shot yourself in the foot with it...

      July 24, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • George R

      The entire bible is fiction.

      July 24, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  20. Religioous people are so wearisome

    So this guy went from a hard sell to a soft sell, and thinks he is no longer selling?

    I guess that if you can believe in invisible men in the sky without having een the slightest shred of hard evidence to support that belief, then it would be easy to believe that his new form of evangelizing is not actually evangelizing.

    July 24, 2011 at 5:08 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.