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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. Jonathan

    I wish people would realize the whole "My invisible friend is better than your invisible friend" argument is just detrimental to society. How about this, we fix the problems we actually know about first and then you can debate the imaginary ones all you want. With all the suffering that's going on in the world, how people can spend so much time arguing over this stuff and not be ashamed of themselves is beyond me.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
    • Babs

      Why are you here, troll?

      July 24, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • Fred

      As soon as you use the term "invisible friend" you reveal yourself to be a hater of religion and a forum agitator.
      That would be like me going on an evolution thread and talking about your "evolutionary fairy tale" and criticizing your
      evolution belief system.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:10 pm |
    • News Flash

      Freddy and Babs
      Aren't you the guys who keep telling them that atheism is a religion? Why shouldn't he be on the Belief blog ? If you want the "Everything is All Nice" blog or the "Stop Asking Impertinent Questions" blog, ask CNN, their might make one for you.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Babs

      No darling. I do not believe atheism is a religion. I believe many atheists hypocritically TREAT their beliefs in every bit as religious a fashion as the religious, but then bash others who are openly being religious. Two: there is absolutely a time and a place to debate foundational issues underpinning atheism, agnosticism, and/or religion. I wish there was such a forum on CNN!

      But the context of an article that presupposes a particular religious view to make a secondary (or tertiary point) is NOT, to my mind, an appropriate forum for debate "first causes" or foundational issues such as "is there a God?" "what are the merits/demerits of religion in general" etc.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Peter Grenader

      I'm having one of those Jon Stewart moments...don't do it, Jon...don't say it. Ah hell, here goes:

      @babs; I think they way you condescended to Jonathan was unconscionable. He brought up some very good points which I think you'd benefit from.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
    • Yah! Raht!

      @Peter; I think they way you condescended to Babs was unconscionable. Babs brought up some very good points which I think you'd benefit from.

      atheists – arrogant people with God complex who think they understand life better than everyone else

      July 24, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • News Flash

      Babs honey
      You are obviously new here. Almost no one, ever, sticks to the point of the article.

      July 24, 2011 at 11:03 pm |
    • Duce

      @Fred – The only problem with your statement is that evolution is not a belief, it is fact. Continue to live under the cloak of you mental safety.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  2. sunny lovetts

    This is more anti-God propaganda from the mainstream media. EVANGELIZE ALL YOU WANT! Just hurt no one.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
  3. curt

    Is the cat, in the hat?

    July 24, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • Watcher

      no, no, no, like Amy Winehouse sang. The hat is in the cat.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:24 pm |
  4. warren

    Religions are ALL lies, that can help people feel a false sense of purpose...suicide bombers and crusaders...
    They are old ideas that don't apply anymore, like the idea that the world is flat...or that stars are located in the sky...

    GROW UP and face reality, there's no room for THOR, or ZEUS, or SANTA CLAUS, or TOOTH FAIRY, or JESUS...etc...

    July 24, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Babs

      Religion is meaningless, blah, blah, blah. Why are their always anti-religion trolls evangelizing on a on a belief site? Why??!!? Newsflash: if you don't like or believe in what is posted on this site....find something to read somewhere else. And to make a segue to what this article was ACTUALLY about: I thought this was a good, thought-provoking article, that evangelicals might want to personalize the way they reach out more. Doctrine is always in service of people....great stuff (But for the record, atheists "evangelize atheism" every bit as much as the religious! Casein point here.) Love to humanity.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
    • AtheistWhoNeverQuestionsOwnBeliefs

      Yes. All religions are bunk. There is no god. We are free! We can act in absolutely any way we wish because there is no god who sees us or will punish us. We can all be like the "terrorist" in Oslo. We can make our own rules because we are accountable to no one and there is no hell to face. Atheists should get into positions of power because then we can make up any sort of "morality" we like. Want to be another Hitler? Stalin? Pol Pot? Go right ahead! There is no right and no wrong. There is only will to power.

      "Only the fool has said in his heart there is no God."

      July 24, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  5. Watcher

    Do they want to silence all the true christians or the fake one? True Christians know their Bible and know how to defend the faith. Stop talking about religion and start preaching about love. God is love and if you don't believe in God then you don't believe in Love, period! There will always be wolf among the sheeps and this is why Jesus' teaching became a business instead of a Kingdom. Blah blah blah is what I hear when people start talking about different religions instead of talking about what Jesus spoke; Love. I am going to call this article the following: CHRISTIANS SHOULD DISAPPEAR.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  6. Raz car mor

    We are all be judge by the gospel, we better read the Bible and follow His commandment.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • Jean

      Which one of the gospels? They were each written for different purposes and audiences. They are similar, yet different.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
  7. Russ

    To me this man is just a self serving nut.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Russ

      You said: "To me this man is just a self serving nut."

      WoW! The nut part is how I feel about evangelicals.

      Cheers!

      July 24, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  8. us1776

    Religion should just be banned completely.

    Religion has been at the heart of more death and human suffering than any other single cause.

    Religion is more dangerous to the human race than all other diseases combined.

    .

    July 24, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • Whaaaaat?!

      Atheism should just be banned completely.

      Atheism has been at the heart of more death and human suffering than any other single cause.

      Atheism is more dangerous to the human race than all other diseases combined.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  9. OldMo

    I don't want to spend the time skimming all the responses but I'm sure these scriptures have been mentioned. . . Luke 12: 51-53 and Matthew 28: 18-20. It's so enlightening to hear from another CNN "expert" in the field. Hopefully we'll get another article on economics from Fareed Zakaria soon. Ay caramba.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  10. Raz car mor

    We don't judge, but the gospel is.

    Romans 2:16
    16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
    .

    July 24, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • Marik7

      Did Jesus say that?

      July 24, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
  11. Frank

    Big smile as you chill with a terrorist leader. Bet it feels good. Bet you get a big rush. Notice he isn't smiling. Because you are an infidel, not only an infidel, an infidel who propogates infidelity. If you weren't such a useful idiot you would never have gotten near him with your head attached.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • ROTFL

      Man, you nailed that one! "useful idiot"

      July 24, 2011 at 10:21 pm |
  12. Mark9988

    Should journalists stop journaling?

    July 24, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
  13. Justlookatchina

    CONFUCIOUS, CHINA'S WARSHIP, BROUGHT NOTHING TO THAT NATION. THE WORLD DOESN'T NEED MORAL TEACHERS.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
  14. Jesus is God's son

    This guy doesn't believe Jesus is God's son, he thinks Jesus is like Confucious.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Jesus is God's son

      There is no evidence that Jesus ever really existed. Let alone, that He was the son of god or the Messiah.

      Cheers!

      July 24, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
    • Aaron8

      @ DavidJohnson
      There is historical evidence of Christ existence. I am going to need you do some research or watch the history channel.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:08 pm |
  15. David

    The difficulty with the authors comments is in setting up two opposing positions, which are more informed by our Western culural values than an expression of Biblical patterns. The "evangelization" model of most Christian denominations isn't represented in Scripture and so a rejection is warrented. But a reversal to a polar position is extreme in that it accepts "evangelization", as the article described it, as being the same thing that the bible talks about. The author's new position is better than his first, but his rejection of our culturally-defined, non-Biblical ideas and concepts of evangelization, tends to overcompensate and toss the baby out as well. The problem is not in the evangelization, but in accepting our definition of evangelization as a valid and true definition. Which unfortunately it is not. In other words, "evangelization" is a unavoidable necessity, it just isn't what we often think it is. We can't abandon the task, we have just been doing the wrong things, with the wrong intent, using wrong methods, and unfortunately, often giving the wrong message. But all is not lost, we still have a shepherd to guide us.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:39 pm |
  16. Glenn S

    I am a 17 year old man and I am also a Christian. The Christianity that I was taught is that as a Christian I am to go out and make deciples. The Bible states in Matthew 28:19 that we(as Christians) are to go and preach the Gospel to the world. If they accept the Christ into their life then they will be baptize. It sounds as if Carl was once a passionate missionary for Christ, and has lost his faith in the one true God. We do not hold missionaries up on a whole higher level. We are all missionaries of Christ. Some choose to go to other countries as missionaries. And yes the Bible does call for us to have a personal relationship with God but let the first person who hasn't sinned cast the first stone.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:37 pm |
  17. Raz car mor

    Matthew 5:18

    July 24, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  18. smitty77

    All religion is total nonsense and criminal when one attacks another sect. This is the 21st century and time to think for oneself. Where does it say that the Pope should have so many funny hats? In this day and age when the world is reaching seven billion folks, it's time to limit procreation and not "go forth and multifply"! Do you see those women in Somalia with several kids each, all in danger of starving? Well, we won't provide condoms because of our evangelists! How sad! However, it's o.k. to let them starve as they have no oil!

    July 24, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  19. krb79

    The Word of God divides and offends. Read Matthew chapter 10. Jesus is a stumbling block. That's just the way it is, and Christians are going to offend people if they speak the truth about Him. So be it. Hopefully the seeds planted that once offended will bear good fruit. Keep evangelizing!

    July 24, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • Babs

      Yes...but can we do it in a way that simultaneously doesn't water down truth, while at the same time is winsome, loving, and appealing? I vote yes.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
  20. philologus

    Notice in the picture that one man is smiling like a Labrador Retriever, and the other man is wearing the smirkish grin of a Cheshire Cat.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
    • frank

      @philologus
      "Notice in the picture that one man is smiling like a Labrador Retriever, and the other man is wearing the smirkish grin of a Cheshire Cat."
      -Lol, I am with you there.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:44 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.