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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. Raz car mor

    .
    1 Corinthians 2:8
    8 Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.
    .

    July 24, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  2. John F. Fay

    The author is being rather selective in quoting Jesus. Jesus said "go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." In the final analysis, it is impossible to "follow Jesus" without joining the Church.

    – John F. Fay

    July 24, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
  3. redeemed

    But if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to those that are LOST: in whom the god of this world (satan) has blinded the minds of those which believe not,lest the light of the glorious gospel Christ,who is the image of God should shine unto them.2Cor.4-3,4 Paul.
    MANY ARE CALLED FEW ARE CHOSEN! Jesus Christ,concerning true believers.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  4. Parasite Host

    Yes! For the love of god, yes! Stop! Let us live and die in peace.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:14 pm |
    • john

      we will only die in peace if we know Jesus who died so that we might live

      July 24, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • Fhahsd

      Jesus is garbage!

      July 24, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  5. merebai

    telling and teaching about the words and the actions of God is so importan to every one, i believe. so if you are trying to do that keep it up!!

    July 24, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • HappyModerat

      Absolutely!

      July 24, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Sybaris

      Which god?

      July 24, 2011 at 10:31 pm |
  6. john

    Jesus himself is the one who told his disciples to "go into the world and make disciples" – evangelism is at the heart of following Jesus

    July 24, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • Fhahsd

      Its like a self replicating virus isn't it. If it doesn't infect others and continue to replicate it would die. Got to hand it to religion for getting that right. Make up some sh!t and then tell people if they don't believe it and spread it their going to suffer eternal torture. So simple, yet ingenious.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:22 pm |
    • Sybaris

      Jesus said nothing of the sort. Whoever wrote the gospels said that and they weren't even an eyewitness to the alleged quote.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:33 pm |
  7. Molly

    I agree with this guy that some traditional evangelism methods do not always work well, that we all should be talking about Jesus more, and Christians should be concerned (and moved to do something) if wickedness is going on in His name. However, I really wish he would've said that Jesus said, "I AM." He said he is/was/will continue to be God. (That's what REALLY ticked the Jews off at that time). And he also said, He is the Only Way. So, as long as Carl's making that clear in his discussions, great, otherwise, stop representing Christianity.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Molly

      Actually, there is no evidence that a real Jesus ever existed.

      Cheers!

      July 24, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
    • JF

      DJ,

      Actually there is some evidence that Jesus existed. We have a lot more evidence to prove that David Koresh existed. There have been many mentally challenged people who have claimed to be God. They all seem to find a group of people that's willing to listen.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  8. Willy

    After reading all the bickering here I'm glad I converted to Buddhism, which discourages proselytizing but accepts other religions.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Yep, and I'm glad I joined the Elks.

      Cheers!

      July 24, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
    • JF

      I'm glad I converted to reality.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:44 pm |
  9. Joshua

    So basically he's an apostate who has never actually read the bible ...

    Matthew 10:34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.

    The point being, the preaching of the Gospel will cause both controversy, and division. Christians are not called to "bring together humanity in mutual appreciation" we are called to preach Christ and Him crucified for the remission of sins.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Joshua

      You said: "So basically he's an apostate who has never actually read the bible ..."

      Or it is just his interpretation of a poorly written book...

      In the same vein as the above, notice how many denominations of Christianity there are (~ 34,000). Each denomination can show you scripture, that "proves" they understand the wants of Jesus/god.
      All of the denominations could not be correctly interpreting the bible. Many are contradictory.
      Many of these denominations believe only their members will be saved.

      If the Christian god exists, and He is all knowing and all powerful and all good, why didn't He provide a bible that could not be misinterpreted? That everyone's comprehension of His wants would be the same?

      Christians believe god's purpose in creating the Bible is to guide human beings towards a knowledge of God, and to help them lead moral lives, Christians must be certain of the meaning of the Bible.

      ambiguity – a word or expression that can be understood in two or more possible ways : an ambiguous word or expression.

      "There are in excess of 1,000 Christian faith groups in North America. They teach diverse beliefs about the nature of Jesus, God, the second coming, Heaven, Hell, the rapture, criteria for salvation, speaking in tongues, the atonement, what happens to persons after death, and dozens of other topics.

      On social controversies, faith groups teach a variety of conflicting beliefs about abortion access, equal rights for ho_mo$exuals and bi$exuals, who should be eligible for marriage, the death penalty, physician assisted suicide, human $exuality topics, origins of the universe, and dozens of other topics.

      The groups all base their theological teachings on the Bible. Generally speaking, the theologians in each of these faith groups are sincere, intelligent, devout, thoughtful and careful in their interpretation of the Bible. But, they come to mutually exclusive conclusions about what it teaches. Further, most are absolutely certain that their particular interpretations are correct, and that the many hundreds of faith groups which teach opposing beliefs are in error." Source: Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance

      If the bible is ambiguous, then it cannot be said to be inerrant. If the bible is not without error, then how do we know which parts to accept as truth and which to reject as fiction?

      The Christian god is very unlikely to exist.

      Cheers!

      July 24, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
    • Dave

      And that self-serving tripe is why people are turning away from you in droves.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:16 pm |
  10. Raz car mor

    .
    Jesus DID NOT come to send peace on earth.

    Matthew 10:34-37
    34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. 35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. 36 And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. 37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.
    .

    July 24, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • HappyModerat

      Jesus certainly didn't come to bring war to Earth either. He stopped Peter from killing the men sent to round up Jesus. He did not ask for his disciples or his angels to avenge him. He accepted his death without malice. I think that is a fine story even if you don't believe in him, his message or God.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Raz car mor

      " 37 He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."

      I love my daughter way more than I could ever love a non-existent demigod.

      I never thought Abraham was some sort of a hero for being willing to sacrifice his child. I thought god was vile to put Abraham and the boy through the drama.

      Cheers!

      July 24, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
    • frank

      @David Johnson
      "I never thought Abraham was some sort of a hero for being willing to sacrifice his child"
      Me either; it struck me as the very opposite of heroic. Somebody who would be willing to kill their own child doesn't deserve to be called a man, let alone a hero...
      Cheers.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
    • JF

      Want to read another fine story? How about Job. What a wonderful story about some sick twisted god that destroys a man's family in order to win a one dollar bet with the devil. A man that was completely loyal to this sick twisted evil god. I know, this was the old testament god. The new improved god from the new testament is all loving. How lovely.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:59 pm |
  11. alan

    Eric – you are a very confused man.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:05 pm |
  12. warren

    this is what all religions are like...they are all the same in the end...
    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFBZ_uAbxS0&w=640&h=360]

    July 24, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • Maybe

      Sure, they're all equally silly if you weren't indoctrinated as a child. But, I don't believe anybody has committed genocide of mass murder in the name of Scientology. So maybe they're a little better.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
    • Kevin

      This is probably the best refutation I've seen on many boards discussing this or similar topics. I'm actually kind of stunned I haven't seen it before. Great job!

      July 24, 2011 at 10:30 pm |
  13. Trib

    Yes.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:01 pm |
  14. planet212

    Regulate it like a business...all this double talk will stop.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  15. abbottabad

    They both should be Neutered....plain and simple

    July 24, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  16. Fhahsd

    The problem isn't how people interpret Jesus' teachings the problem is religion, period. The only thing that has measurably improved our lives is science and discovery about how the world really works. Religion has never done anything more but impede that process and cause countless needless deaths in the name of _____!
    God, angels, Jesus, Muhammed, the existence of the soul, all are lies.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  17. warren

    Christianity as antiquity.– When we hear the ancient bells growling on a Sunday morning we ask ourselves: Is it really possible! This, for a jew, crucified two thousand years ago, who said he was God's son? The proof of such a claim is lacking. Certainly the Christian religion is an antiquity projected into our times from remote prehistory; and the fact that the claim is believed – whereas one is otherwise so strict in examining pretensions – is perhaps the most ancient piece of this heritage. A god who begets children with a mortal woman; a sage who bids men work no more, have no more courts, but look for the signs of the impending end of the world; a justice that accepts the innocent as a vicarious sacrifice; someone who orders his disciples to drink his blood; prayers for miraculous interventions; sins perpetrated against a god, atoned for by a god; fear of a beyond to which death is the portal; the form of the cross as a symbol in a time that no longer knows the function and ignominy of the cross - how ghoulishly all this touches us, as if from the tomb of a primeval past! Can one believe that such things are still believed?

    from Nietzsche's Human, all too Human, s.405, R.J. Hollingdale transl.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  18. Marik7

    What did the word "nation" mean when Jesus used it? In fact, was there a concept of nationhood in the language Jesus spoke, or is that concept an extrapolation of later translators? How can a "nation" be a "disciple"? Maybe Jesus was like our supreme court–you know, the one that thinks that corporations are people.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  19. chacha

    I was born in a small village. Up until I was in junior high school I never heard the name of Jesus. A foreign missionary came to our area and introduced Jesus to us. To make the story short I attended a theological school and became a church pastor.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • frank

      I was born a poor black child.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @chacha

      You said: "I was born in a small village. Up until I was in junior high school I never heard the name of Jesus. A foreign missionary came to our area and introduced Jesus to us. To make the story short I attended a theological school and became a church pastor."

      Too bad a missionary didn't introduce you to engineering. You could have gone to school and actually done something for your village. There is nothing that is more of a waste of money, than theological schools or seminars.

      Cheers!

      July 24, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • Peter Grenader

      @David Johnson: THAT was a brilliant comment. I completely agree

      July 24, 2011 at 10:19 pm |
  20. Raz car mor

    Psalms 14:1

    Psalm 14

    To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.

    1 The FOOL hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
    • Marik7

      So the one who says in his (her?) heart "There is a God" is not corrupt and does not do abominable works. Is that the logic of the Psalmist, whoever he (she?) was?

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

      Noooooooo Not the FOOOoooooooolllllllllll

      July 24, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • Fhahsd

      Your an idiot.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:04 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.