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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. Thomas

    Very nice article and great first brick in an effort to build a bridge people of all faiths can cross to meet one another in the name of God. Thank you Mr. Medearis.

    July 24, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  2. Dominga Jimenez

    To-may-to, to-mah-to. If you go out there to tell people about Christ, you are evangelizing...there's no way around that. Now, if you're starting to question your own faith, that's something else entirely. Either you believe Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life...or you don't.

    July 24, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  3. Lenny Pincus

    Evangelistic Christians can't stop evangelizing. They will literally have nothing else to do with their time.

    July 24, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  4. Yemi

    He is saying nothing new. Just playing with words to get attention. Seems like he just woke up to the real meaning of evangelism.

    July 24, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  5. JorgeM

    I only follow what the Bible says

    Jesus said there is no other way! John 14:6
    Who will tell them .. Check Romans 10::14
    Jesus Himself says Luke 19:10

    The way I see it .. your Jesus ISNOT the JESUS found in the Bible.
    Probably you stated very well your position .. It is only your point of view .. Well your point of view does not agree with the Bible!
    We are talking about eternity
    Sincere people do not go to heaven .... FORGIVEN people who believe in JESUS are John 3:16-17

    Ask the Lord to open your eyes and ears to see and hear the Gospel of truth

    July 24, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • just an observer

      I hope you're aware that there are several versions of the bible and each version is for the benefit of the church/religion using it. e.i. the Catholic bible is different from the Baptist version in as much as it's different from the Jehovah's version, etc, etc, etc and to this I rest my case. Amen.

      July 24, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  6. Ginger315

    Oh my, is he married to Oprah "all paths lead to God" Winfrey?

    July 24, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  7. John

    Is it possible to "Make Disciples" without conversion? Can you believe in Jesus and at the same time HATE him?
    Any one that become a disciple has been touched by the spirit of God and will love Him as well as his followers. Because
    the spirit of God is in him. Muslims love to read about Jesus and learn about him through the prism of their religion, NOT to
    subject themselves to the doctrines you know through the bible.

    EXCEPT a man be born again, He can not enter the kingdom of God. This is an everlasting truth that no rationalization or modernization can change.

    July 24, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  8. Michael

    Wolves in sheep's clothing this one is, Jesus himself said "a kingdom divided against itself will not stand", knowing thus is the case, if this man has any understanding of the word of God he'll understand that in order to follow Jesu you must break your idols first, adandon all including religious faith, how can satan and Christ walk hand in hand, only fools who fear not the Lord will listen to this nonsense.

    July 24, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Marvin

      I agree with you. The author does a very good job of distorting the Bible, it's truths, and history. You have to have sympathy for someone like that! He probably needs to actually read the Bilble to see what it actually says!

      July 24, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  9. Charles

    I pity this poor author,,,,

    July 24, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  10. teddy

    Real funny thing is the author quoted the "Great Commission" but says says Jesus did not teach evangelism. He is free to denounce Christian faith but should not fool himself (only himself) with this crazy logic.

    July 24, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • SpeakOklahomaCom

      Heh, his real mistake is the mistake of being relgious at all...no one needs to be religious to be moral and decent. Religion is responsible for 3/4 of all conflicts in human history, Christians supported Hitler into power....the America RW Christians helped bring us the disaster of W (which we are STILL reeling from along with their left over GOP henchment).

      The less religious a country is the better off it's society is...that's an easy GOOGLE for proof. I think it cowardly not to face the real "truth", people need to grow up and out of their weird fantasy worlds.

      When is CNN going to put up a "Non-belief" section? Only fair since I consider most of these postings....unbelievable.

      July 24, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  11. Ladybird

    Martin Luther King and Ghandi....

    July 24, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  12. Ted Hayden

    The quote from the Great Commission states, correctly, that we are to make disciples. However, you can not make a mature disciple of all Christ's teachings without first introducing them to Christ as Saviour and Lord, any more than a married couple can make raise a mature adult without first making a baby.

    July 24, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  13. Lee

    Neither do people light a lamp and put it under the meal tub. Instead they put it on a lamp stand,so that it may give light to everyone in the house.

    July 24, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  14. Barbara Kaye

    It's very interesting to see the individuals that try so hard to say they don't believe in God. If I didn't believe in something or someone, I'd simply leave it alone and make no comment on the subject. I wouldn't waste my time debating it over and over. Just the fact that they are so vehement about their non-belief shows they have unresolved issues about the subject. Like others, I've said a prayer for you, that you will find your way.

    July 24, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • frank

      @Barbara Kaye
      "Just the fact that they are so vehement about their non-belief shows they have unresolved issues about the subject."
      Incorrect.

      July 24, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • fimeilleur

      The truth of the matter is that there aren't any Unicorn brigades trying to impose their morality on us non-believers, or Irish men staking claim to rainbows so that they can hunt leprechauns...

      We point out your weak beliefs and attack your morality (Ted Haggart, Jimmy Swaggart, et al.) to guarantee the seperation of Church and State in CIVIL matters.

      July 24, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Issy

      It is very hard to ignore something when it is constantly being rammed down people's throats.

      July 24, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • Chris

      You have a very narrow view of belief. People who don't believe in your God do not disbelieve everything, they simply have their own beliefs. Not believing in something is a belief in itself, and anyone has every right to argue for what they believe in. I think you should look at it backwards, actually. If you have a personal belief in God, why can't you just keep it to yourself, just as you think those who are "non-believers" should? You can't have it one way but not the other, unless you are simply so small-minded that you cannot stand to hear what others believe it does not match your own beliefs.

      July 24, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  15. BlindEye

    I appreciate the tone and opinion of the writer. Not only does he bring world experience to the topic, but he does it in a way so as to not insult while teaching.

    As for Jesus, His life speaks for itself. That some responded with fear and anger speaks to their problems, not His. Any time your beliefs challenge the status quo there will be those unable to understand and more than willing to shout down rather than try to understand.

    July 24, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • just an observer

      If everyone will think this way, there will be no war. If we could only learn to accept and respect each others beliefs and opinions, then peace will truly reign. I truly respect your opinion.

      July 24, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
  16. divejoy

    hey guys look at the picture WHATS WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE

    July 24, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
  17. Richard S Kaiser

    Ernest wrote me saying, “Did it ever occur to you that there is no god? That we were not created, but that there is a beautiful universe around us we are only beginning to understand? That religion is evil that has killed millions of people around the world and still is killing?.. What are you spending your precious and beautiful life on?..” On July 24, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Does the Term “Fractal Cosmologic Relatives” Mean anything to you Ernst?

    If only People would just take Time and consider my following Words.

    Ernest and you who dare to read this, “Fractal Cosmologic Relatives” deals with Cellular sized universes and our Celestial universe. It is said that the “complexities” of a Life’s cellular makeup are mimicked within the Celestial universe of which our Earth is a part of. GOD cannot Be without a Body and it is ALL CREATION that makes up the Celestial Body of GOD. Such is a Work in Progress and in Time, A New Earth and a New Sun will become Manifested on a scale unfathomable to our meek understandings!

    Now consider any Life Form here upon Earth. Are WE Not made up of Cellular Shapes and variable Forms, each one of difference doing their Jobs? These Cellular Embodiments Unseen and Very so Very small Lives get their needed Supplies via our consumption of otherly Life Forms that in turn come into our bodies for the sole benefit of Total migration of unseen to us Life into our bodies. Some of these Life forms are Intelligent while others are Animals and all manner of Life that is not dissimilar to our own Creatures here upon Earth.

    I am betting My Life From’s Essences that what I have just wrote is a Truth and if anyone can find fault, then I say tell me what my faults are in my WORD OF TRUTH?

    We, in affect have within Our Body a Family of One God whose generations run the gauntlet of our generationed Lives. My Body’s God is not your body’s God ad infinitum of the whole gauntlet Of Not Only Mankind But of all Life forms be they animals or birds or fish or any other creature and also Men and women.

    July 24, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • frank

      Are you on peyote, by chance? And what's up with your capitalization mania?

      July 24, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      What I failed to mention are all Plant Forms and their Godly cellular universes in which they contrbute in moderation their foodstuff in our plant consumptions

      July 24, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
    • what?

      So you prescribe to the science of the non observable which is not science at all. Cool. You also sound like you believe in Pantheism. Real cool. I love when some of the "great" scientists today come up with theories that cannot be proven or proven wrong b/c what they claim cannot be observed. What is the difference in "believing" in what they say and believing in a infinite being that created all the complexities we see in the universe? Neither can be 100% proven and requires faith.

      July 24, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  18. izhar syed

    In this day of advertisements and marketing, religeon has taken full advantage of doing just that. I think religon is private and it should stay this way. Governments are keeping the idiots (US) busy so that they can do and commit all sins towards man. I am not an athiest and I do believe in all three monotheistic fundamentals but this is a gross representation of what religon should be. Wake up people, WE ARE ARE ALREADY IN HELL....God forbid if there is another one......People take a breath, sit down and enjoy life with families and friends and once in a while read a real book, reading will keep your critical thought process in check.........

    July 24, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
  19. Rene

    Carl Medearis says: "I believe that doctrine is important, but it’s not more important than following Jesus." There is only one way that can be possible: to regard Jesus the way the muslims do, as a prophet. It is impossible to follow Christ spiritually w/o the one true doctrine. They go hand in hand. I'm afraid Jesus can't do anything for anybody as a prophet. He must be your God.

    July 24, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Michael

      well put

      July 24, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  20. SeeeingEye

    Apparently there's more "know it alls" not reading the Bible for themselves judging by the responses I got to my initial post. People just open it and read if for yourselves. it's not hard to do....but then again, if you've already made your mind up then I guess it doesn't matter because hardned hearts is what killed Christ on the cross in the first place.

    Which brings me to another point:

    If Christ was so much of the "great uniter' that this guy says he was then how come the religious leaders of His day went out of their way to destroy him? And why did the commoners choose to release Barabus (a murderer) instead of Christ when theyu were asked to choose between the two? Now let's be honest here....how many "Great Uniters" can you think of that would have a fate similar to that? Go ahead and take all the time you need to name even ONE!

    July 24, 2011 at 7:26 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.