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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. Bart Tarman

    Carl Medearis has raised a very important an biblical issue. What is the good news which Jesus told us to preach/proclaim? If the good news He commanded his followers to proclaim was the good news of a new religion called Christianity, why did He not say so? Why did He never use the word or the concept? Jesus Himself is the good news of the Kingdom of God. In the great commission (in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28, verse 19 and following) Jesus tells His disciples (Medearis correctly calls them "apprentices"- the word disciple means "student" or "learner") to make "disciples/students" of all people groups (in Greek- "ethnosin", from which we get the word "ethnic"). Disciples of whom? Disciples of Jesus. There is no mention of becoming an adherent of an organized religion. But rather, there is a call to become a follower/student of Jesus who is announcing and demonstrating "good news" for the whole world. Mr. Medearis has made the distinction between Jesus and any one organized religion- this is a distinction that is very valuable. It is so sad to read some of the comments which condemn Mr. Medearis for his opinion. Those comments prove the very point he is trying to make. A person can be very religious.... even zealous.... and lack the love of the Person they claim to be following- Jesus of Nazareth.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
    • frank

      @Bart Tarman
      "It is so sad to read some of the comments which condemn Mr. Medearis for his opinion."
      He should be condemned for stupidity. Hezbollah is disgusting. Standing next to that scum with a big goofy grin...fuck him.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • Buddy R

      Jesus did say so and so did the apostles Jesus called to preach.

      Mar 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
      Mar 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

      1Co 1:23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

      Jesus said he is the only means of salvation. Buddah can't save you, Mohamed can't save you, only Jesus. Jesus said believe he is God or die in your sins and be damned.

      Joh 8:24 I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
  2. Matt

    I evangalize by volunteering at a homeless shelter. If someone asks I will tell them I believe Jesus rose from the dead. i could careless about trying to be a door to door sales man going around telling people they will burn in hell if they don't convert. You people who do that should worry about your own souls. Have you forgotten only God can judge... and not to cast the first stone.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • Jon (age 15)

      ^this guy's got it right. You go man, thats awesome.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  3. Andy

    So Carl, proud of that picture with Qawouk, are you? You ear to ear grin while standing beside the leader of a terrorist organization tell everything one needs to know about you.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  4. Susan

    Thank you! You are now among those who actually do spread goodness and not evil and divisiveness. I bet you're making Jesus happy now 🙂 I hope you can inspire more of your (former) colleagues, but from the look of the comments, they have a ways to go before they truly see Jesus.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  5. max

    finally....

    July 24, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
  6. Tom Kotner

    DaveK –
    Well, since Christianity is and has been for at least the past 100 years the most globally evangelical religion, that 40% of the population probably has also never heard of Bhudda, Allah, the Vishnu, nor any of the major spiritual figures. It would be deceptive for Mr. Medearis to talk about Jesus exclusively, as if he alone provides path to a spiritual relationship. This would be deceptive and exploitive.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Buddy R

      Jesus said salvation is only through him so it would be deceptive of anyone claiming to be a Christian preacher to say otherwise.

      Joh 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

      July 24, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • frank

      Christianity? Deceptive and exploitive?? WHAT?!??

      July 24, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • News Flash

      Buddy Boy
      Until and unless you get your PhD in scripture, let's watch the quote thingy, unless you are smarter than all those people in the Jesus Seminar, put together. That quote is not considered one of his authentic sayings.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Seminar#Sayings_of_Jesus

      July 24, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  7. Nicole

    He needs to go back and read his bible!!!

    July 24, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • Trish

      You're an idiot. I feel sorry for all of you. This guy obviously knows more about the bible than all the haters making comments. Walk in Christs shoes, see through his eyes, loose the hate in your heart. Doesn't anyone here understand Christs message of love and understanding? You all are hopeless, you are no different the the Westboro Baptist Church folks, the hate in your heart will not get you into heaven.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  8. Jon (age 15)

    The thing you don't realize is that Christianity is all about evangelism.
    16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
    Jesus evangelized through his love and Christians are called to as well. Real Christians wouldn't be killing anyone or fighting in militias. Don't use the extremists to make the entire Christian faith look bad.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • Horace

      Read more books, young feller. It's been proven that verse is fraudulent.

      July 24, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Matt

      People believed in the apostles by witnessing the great miracles they did with the power of the Holy Spirit. To say that Jesus and the apostles in the gospels were speaking to evangelicals 2,000 years later to go out with their Bibles and tell people how much better their religion is... is absurd. How would you like it if Scientologists showed up at your door telling you stupid your religion is and that you must convert because they only have the answers. Christians should start converting by their actions... helping the poor, the sick and oppressed..... and stop spreading hate.

      July 24, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      @Jon,
      Check out Acts 1: 6. just before the story of the ascension, they asked him, "Lord wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel". Even at the very end, they totally misunderstood the teaching, apparently. They thought it was all about politics, to the very end, and that's what they expected, and anticipated. What does that tell you ?

      July 24, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  9. wikiIeaks

    all these words and not one mention of God himself. Wow. People are afraid to use God's name, Jehovah. (Psalms 83:18)

    July 24, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • JP

      The word JEHOVAH appears nowhere in any manuscript of biblical text. It was an invented term, long afterwards. And those are the facts.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • wikiIeaks

      wrong-o....... the tetragammatron is the most populous name in the bible. It appears almost 7000 times in the original manuscripts. In english, it is translated as Jehovah. Or in spanish, Jehova

      July 24, 2011 at 9:06 pm |
  10. BellaTerra66

    The article you wrote, Mr. Medearis, is one of the (too few) really good sermons I've ever heard/read in the many decades of my life. If most Christians were like you, I might become a Christian (something I stopped being over 40 years ago). But most Christians (and their pastors) seem so far from Jesus' teachings - conversion is not going to happen.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • Rapp

      If that is the case... choosing to follow Christ rather than me would be the best option.

      July 24, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Rapp

      Typo... the me above should of course be "men".

      July 24, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • Buddy R

      I have not read his book, but I've read the Bible and it says to preach the gospel.

      Mar 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
      Mar 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

      2Ti 4:2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

      1Co 1:23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;

      July 24, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
  11. Jim

    I wonder how the apostles were to fulfill the Great Commission that Jesus gave them when He left without evangelizing. Wait, they couldn't. Evangelism is exactly what we see in the book of Acts in response to the mandate Jesus gave them. Mr. Medearis, if you really love muslims, you will share with them the words of eternal life since there is no name under heaven by which they can be saved but the name of Jesus Christ.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • Ray

      Acts 1:8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."

      Why do we assume that means beating people over the head with a Bible until they believe?

      July 24, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  12. In response

    To Penelope Pumpkins:

    God is not causing the problems in the world today. God has a plan to remove all wickedness soon. Get informed about it, read the Bible. Ask for help to understand but do not make uneducated comments. Apathy, cynicism and ignorance go hand in hand. Do not be cynical towards God, he is more upset then you are about all the bad things happening on the earth.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • @prepaidburrito

      I knew it!, God hated that they made that movie "The Change-Up". Over done plot line right?

      July 24, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Charlie

      Many are not "cynical" against God..they are cynical against His followers-who do not do what He says yet want to talk about Him all the time-they defame His name with thier hypocrisy.

      July 24, 2011 at 8:57 pm |
    • frenchie

      "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
      Then he is not omnipotent.
      Is he able, but not willing?
      Then he is malevolent.
      Is he both able and willing?
      Then whence cometh evil?
      Is he neither able nor willing?
      Then why call him God?” – Epicurus

      July 24, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
    • Penelope Pumpkins

      "In response", frenchie's response is adequate to show how stupid your beliefs are and how inane your response was.

      I just have to add, fsck off and die, a-sshole.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  13. RD

    Wow. This Carl guy is really really blowing it.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  14. Demirew Guangul

    Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, . . . (Matthew 28:18-20) which part is saying do not convert? Carl! About unity Jesus came to divide those who don't receive him from those who received him. But to unite only those who received him a Jew or Gentile,

    July 24, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  15. PaulC

    Muslims have a sure fire conversion program....Convert or die.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • @prepaidburrito

      Then did he raise on high the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch, saying, "Bless this, O Lord, that with it thou mayst blow thine enemies to tiny bits, in thy mercy." And the people did rejoice and did feast upon the lambs and toads and tree-sloths and fruit-bats and orangutans and breakfast cereals ... Now did the Lord say, "First thou pullest the Holy Pin. Then thou must count to three. Three shall be the number of the counting and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither shalt thou count two, excepting that thou then proceedeth to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the number of the counting, be reached, then lobbest thou the Holy Hand Grenade in the direction of thine foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it."

      July 24, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  16. Noah

    This man works for Satan. Simple as that. Nothing more to see here.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  17. @prepaidburrito

    I have to poop, do I need to baptize it?

    July 24, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  18. redeemed

    Oh yeah, STUPID,thats what I would have put in the blank!

    July 24, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  19. Razcarmor

    .
    .
    Acts 2:38
    Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
    .
    .

    July 24, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • Buddy R

      Amen! Jesus and the apostles certainly believed in preaching the good news. Christians need to get into the Bible so they are not led astray by a smiling face preaching false doctrine.

      July 24, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • PaulC

      That was Peter as he organized the Christian cult...with him as the Pope, of course.

      July 24, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
    • wikiIeaks

      The pope is no part of christianity. peter was not a pope. didn't start the catholic church. Big difference in someone who says "don't worship me, I am but a man", than someone who wears "holy garb" and drenched in jewelry allowing people to kiss his pinky ring. Sounds more like pimp that pope

      July 24, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  20. redeemed

    Carl, you are in a picture smiling away with a known hate monger,a person who wants no less than the heads of every Jew and Christian.You my friend are certainly no advocate of the Christian faith. You are of your father the devil. he is a liar and the father of them,like father,like son.

    July 24, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • @prepaidburrito

      so........ you disagree?

      July 24, 2011 at 8:46 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.