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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. Ben

    Faith is like a penis. It is wonderful to have it, it is great to be proud of it, and it is great to share it with those that want. However, do not go out in public and start waving it around, and definitely do not try and shove it down childrens throats.

    I do not understand the need to force others to believe, if you have faith, that is all you should need.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Agnostant

      HA!

      July 25, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • brad

      Faith is more like an activity of the mind and heart. This means that it goes on somehwere above your belt. No need to discuss faith when you can't life your brain out of your pants.

      July 25, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  2. Rick Berry

    Don't listen to Carl. We need some Christians to hate. I'm tired of hating Jews and Buddhists and Muslims. I want to hate some Christians too. So keep on evangelizing you guys. You know of course that your religion is the only true one and that all the others are phony and will lead you straight to hell so keep on keepin' on. I know you will. Religion after all is for the weak minded.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Peter

      Actually ricky baby, lack of religion is for the weak minded. No ability for Faith. You must have proof in front of you that you can feel/see. Therefore you have the weakest mind of all. I feel for you. I hope you see the Light one day...but then you might think it's a train coming.

      July 25, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  3. John _Atlanta GA

    Science flies you to the moon
    Religion flies you into a building!

    July 25, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Peter

      Lack of Christ flies you NOWHERE.

      July 25, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  4. ahmed

    Jesus and his mother are human. read the Quran for guidance.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Reality

      What reading the koran/quran has caused:

      The Muslim Conquest of India – 11th to 18th century

      ■"The likely death toll is somewhere between 2 million and 80 million. The geometric mean of those two limits is 12.7 million. "

      and the 19 million killed in the Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C by Muslims.

      and more recently

      1a) 179 killed in Mumbai/Bombay, 290 injured

      1b) Assassination of Benazir Bhutto and Theo Van Gogh

      2) 9/11, 3000 mostly US citizens, 1000’s injured

      3) The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US troops killed in action, 3,483 and 925 in non combat roles. 99,901 – 109,143 Iraqi civilians killed as of 3/3/2011/, mostly due to suicide bombers, http://www.iraqbodycount.org/ and http://www.defenselink.mil/news/casualty.pdf

      4) Kenya- In Nairobi, about 212 people were killed and an estimated 4000 injured; in Dar es Salaam, the attack killed at least 11 and wounded 85.[2]

      5) Bali-in 2002-killing 202 people, 164 of whom were foreign nationals, and 38 Indonesian citizens. A further 209 people were injured.

      6) Bali in 2005- Twenty people were killed, and 129 people were injured by three bombers who killed themselves in the attacks.

      7) Spain in 2004- killing 191 people and wounding 2,050.

      8. UK in 2005- The bombings killed 52 commuters and the four radical Islamic suicide bombers, injured 700.

      9) The execution of an eloping couple in Afghanistan on 04/15/2009 by the Taliban.

      10) – Afghanistan: US troops 1,141 killed in action, 242 killed in non-combat situations as of 03/03/2011. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror

      11) The killing of 13 citizen soldiers at Ft. Hood by a follower of the koran.

      12) 38 Russian citizens killed on March 29, 2010 by Muslim women suicide bombers.

      13) The May 28, 2010 attack on a Islamic religious minority in Pakistan, which have left 98 dead,

      14) Lockerbie is known internationally as the site where, on 21 December 1988, the wreckage of Pan Am Flight 103 crashed as a result of a terrorist bomb. In the United Kingdom the event is referred to as the Lockerbie disaster, the Lockerbie bombing, or simply Lockerbie. Eleven townspeople were killed in Sherwood Crescent, where the plane's wings and fuel tanks plummeted in a fiery explosion, destroying several houses and leaving a huge crater, with debris causing damage to a number of buildings nearby. The 270 fatalities (259 on the plane, 11 in Lockerbie) were citizens of 21 nations.

      15 The daily suicide and/or roadside and/or mosque bombings in the terror world of Islam.

      16) Bombs sent from Yemen by followers of the koran which fortunately were discovered before the bombs were detonated.

      17) The killing of 58 Christians in a Catholic church in one of the latest acts of horror and terror in Iraq.

      18) Moscow airport suicide bombing: 35 dead, 130 injured. January 25, 2011.

      19) A Pakistani minister, who had said he was getting death threats because of his stance against the country's controversial blasphemy law, was shot and killed Wednesday, 3/2/2011

      20) two American troops killed in Germany by a recently radicalized Muslim, 3/3/2011

      21) the kidnapping and apparent killing of a follower of Zoraster in the dark world of Islamic Pakistan.

      22) Shariatpur, Bangladesh (CNN 3/30/2011) - Hena Akhter's last words to her mother proclaimed her innocence. But it was too late to save the 14-year-old girl. Her fellow villagers in Bangladesh's Shariatpur district had already passed harsh judgment on her. Guilty, they said, of having an affair with a married man. The imam from the local mosque ordered the fatwa, or religious ruling, and the punishment: 101 lashes delivered swiftly, deliberately in public. Hena dropped after 70 and died a week later.

      July 25, 2011 at 10:39 am |
    • Peter

      Ha Ha Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! Very funny. I'd rather read the instruction manual for my mother's 1958 sewing machine every day.

      July 25, 2011 at 10:42 am |
  5. VoipOfReason

    "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ." – Gandhi

    July 25, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  6. Shadowflash1522

    Beneath the rock of your faith there always seem to be some interesting psychological creepy-crawlies. For example, the reason you can't stop evangelizing is because deep down the control freak in you is worried that, left to their own devices, a person won't find exactly the same Jesus you did. Or, for the OCD among us, the religion won't be *uniform*. Xenophobia, control, latent OCD...anyone whose faith is a "rock" had better check underneath.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  7. Reality

    Truth in the 21st century via a prayer:

    The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians during the past 200 years)

    I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven.

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    =======================================================================================

    July 25, 2011 at 10:33 am |
    • fred

      Reality,
      You said: “I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven “ Careful now it only takes a little light and that darkness is forever broken. I was blind but now I see. When I came to this web site I too thought Gods existence was as clear as day. Then I find empirical evidence has several layers (should you break through any one requirement) and rationally that kind of proof is missing. Science cannot prove or disprove the existence of God. Then that was no shock as 2000 years ago Jesus said He will not give skeptics proof other than the sign of Jonah which he did.

      You said: “I believe Jesus..lived in Nazareth..crucified under Pilate” – ok now were talking, amazing how many people on this site go so far as to say even Jesus was made up and never crucified.

      Welcome to Reality, a breath of fresh air and a hope of the light in an otherwise darkened world!

      July 25, 2011 at 11:32 am |
  8. Truth

    Carl,
    You said wouldn't it be nice if we all viewed Jesus as:
    "Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider. How might that change the way we look at others?"
    Unfortunately that would be rewriting the Bible. In Luke 12:51, Jesus says:
    "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division." The exact opposite of what you are asking us to do. Jesus goes on in verse 52 to say: "From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three." We can't rewrite the Bible to create warm fuzzy articles.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Reality

      Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

      Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospels being mostly fiction.

      Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European, white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

      So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher man would do or say?
      ____________________________________________________________________________________________

      July 25, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • mary

      @Reality
      Yes – Jesus was either a lunatic or the son of God. There is no middle ground – everyone makes this decision on faith. You have chosen to believe the lunatic story and are a missionary yourself. From your posts, you do not disagree with the basic idea of proclaiming a message to others to influence their faith. Your goal is to convert others to your way of thinking. Why do you find that acceptable in yourself and deplorable in others?

      July 25, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  9. Richard S Kaiser

    Beatrice did write; “Evangelism made the Christian West superior over all and the whole world a civilized place with sane con-sti-tu-tions. The West have forgotten how barbaric they were without the evangelism of Christianity. Evangelism by Christians continues on until the Kingdom comes.” On July 25, 2011 at 12:46 am

    TrueBlue42 rebutted writing; “There is no "kingdom". Our morals came from a mixture of innate goodness and studying the historical effects of evildoing in the world.” On July 25, 2011 at 12:50 am

    Beatrice added; “Humans are evil; there is no goodness in them unless religion(Christianity) teaches them. You Americans are hopelessly naive because you never suffered under ruling atheists. Atheists are evil.” On July 25, 2011 at 12:57 am

    The “Christian West” as Beatrice touts being “superior” to the “rest of the world” is clad with Thistles and Thorns. As the “United States of America” endures in its’ Christendom’s flailings toward condemnations abating the Evil Affairs of Manliness and wickedly affairs of unsound Womanhood, is a non-effect Ritual.

    TrueBlue42 saying that “There is no kingdom” fails to see the Kingdoms of this world! As a Once Christianized Nation, the U.S.A. is slowly being empowered by forces not Akin to Christendom’s Virtuosos in Up and Coming Days Whereupon These Prophetically Religious Ones will face Evil Forces from the most Mild to the most Dangerous of Demonist endowed Clans.

    Beatrice adding that “Humans are evil” is a Truth. All Have Sinned and fall short of the Mercies of all the Gods who dwell Individually Inside Each and Every Body of Humanity. “The Kingdoms of the Gods are Inside All Life Forms.”

    July 25, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  10. Agnostant

    Thank you Mr. Medearis. Your words will be ridiculed and there will of course be detractors. But if for one moment we could all accept that Jesus was a good MAN with an important message imagine what we could accomplish together. Put the bible down and open your heart to the human race, we are all in this together. COEXIST.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  11. masonjar

    I've never had a problem with Jesus. Whether or not he actually said the things he said, most of what is attributed to him makes sense. it's the Christians that I have a problem with.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Gritty

      AMEN TO THAT!

      July 25, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  12. Buddy R

    Mr Medearis needs to study the Bible. All through the New Testament are calls for generalization. Jesus preached. Jesus sent out his apostles to preach before his death and resurrection. Jesus told his apostles to preach the gospel after he rose from the dead.

    Jesus is not one of many ways of salvation. Jesus said he is the only way of salvation. There are not many true gospels. The Bible says to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    The church was born on the day of Pentecost when Peter was, you guessed it, preaching the gospel. I think I'll stick with what the Bible says rather than what the article writer says.

    Acts 2: 38Then 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.
    39For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.
    40And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Buddy R

      ***calls for evangelization***

      July 25, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Herb

      So, to clarify/simplify – You'll "stick" to what was written by one group of people over what was written by another person or group of people? Hrmm... I guess I'm convinced!!

      July 25, 2011 at 10:47 am |
  13. Stewart

    Speaking of Jesus is evangelism. Your article sucks.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • agtraylor

      It certainly feels that way much of the time, doesn't it? But maybe that's our prejudice as people who don't like to hear about it. As a long-time skeptic, I'm open to talking about Jesus (or any other religious figure or tradition). Bring it on, I say. I'm willing to be convinced, but your argument can't move me if it hinges on feelings or beliefs. I respond to logical arguments full of data, and that's the problem with ancient religious traditions-there's very little non-conflicting, independently verified objective truth. Such data would, in fact, be in conflict with religious orthodoxy, and would render heterodoxy irrelevant.

      July 25, 2011 at 10:49 am |
  14. James pfeiffer

    The comment by the racist called "POD" and his ilk is, in my mind, a perfect example of what is at the center of all the hatred, anger and divisiveness in this world. True Christianity has been hijacked by the likes of these small thinking, hateful individuals. For people like him religious belief is used for justification of his silly stereotypes and, ultimately, as a ready made excuse to remain what he is, dumb and dangerous...and all the while remaining pathetically aloof and self righteous. Kudos to Mr. Medearis for his fearlessness in stepping out of the safe confines of righteous evangelism and embracing the big, mysterious and ever changing world!

    July 25, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  15. Beatrice

    The Judeo-Christian value alone taught mankind to fight against the human evil in all forms.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  16. Peter

    I agree with what the author did and what he is now doing. His original path of trying to share Christ with muslims is correct, but on the other hand in the current day, it seems religion is doing more harm to Christianity than good. If I bring Christ up and the person I'm talking to is obviously not interested, then I change the conversation and let them know that will always be there to discuss it if they want. God/Christ is within and if someone hasn't tapped into it yet, then I see no way to convince them without becoming a pain and hence giving Christians a bad name.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  17. Larry - Columbia, SC

    Colin, I used to be an atheist. I found that atheism is just as much a religion as all the standard religions are. What's more, you (meaning atheists) think just as much of yourself as all the world's religions think of themselves. We all think we've got the answer, don't we. Too bad we don't know what the question is.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • debbie338

      Spoken like someone who was never really an atheist to begin with.

      July 25, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Tim

      I truly doubt if you were ever an atheist. Atheism is NOT a religion. I don't make the statement: "I believe in the non-belief of fairies." I simply state that "I don't believe in fairies."
      Now some atheists may attempt to make their point in strong fashion. Perhaps you could make the case that these people are pursuing some end to their means. Frankly, no atheist I know gives a darn about advancing atheism.

      July 25, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Colin

      Larry, it is a common complaint of theists that atheism is "just another religion". It is ironic that the criticism is, essentially, "you're just as bad as us".

      It is not a choice. I cannot exercise healthy skepticism and an enquiring mind in every other aspect of my life and then suddenly turn it off and blindy accept the most extraordinary claims of immortal beings and life after death, like a mindless sheep in this one area.

      If it were true, it surely would not need wilfulll blindness in order to be accepted.

      July 25, 2011 at 10:35 am |
    • Me,Too

      I agree completely with you Debbie. Never was an atheist. Just a pretender...

      July 25, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Alyssa

      Did you get together with friends weekly to talk about your non-belief?

      July 25, 2011 at 10:39 am |
  18. Beatrice

    Without Christians who evangelize, this world is hopeless, meaningless and barren.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • Calvin

      AMEN!

      July 25, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Ben

      no it's not

      July 25, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • Lou

      We might have to subtract 50K-100K indians killed in the West Indies and Central/South America who were killed because they wuld not convert.

      July 25, 2011 at 10:43 am |
    • Fran

      !!!!! AMEN AGAIN BEATRICE ❤ of <3s

      !

      July 25, 2011 at 10:48 am |
    • jerry balog

      How would you like it if the Muslems were sending missionaries into your neighborhood and trying to convince your children that Christianity was wrong and they should believe in their form of religion. That salvation will only come as a result of their converting to Islom....would you like that or would you not want them to evangalize your neighborhood.

      July 25, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  19. TonyB

    Think for yourself people instead of using religion as a crutch.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Phil

      What else should a cripple use?

      July 25, 2011 at 10:32 am |
    • Peach K

      We all have crutches in some way...nothing wrong with that. The question is–does the crutch make you stronger or weaker?

      July 25, 2011 at 10:40 am |
  20. Stephen

    Jesus never said "Go into the world and convert people to Christianity.” What he said was, “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

    Disciples of whom? Jesus. Christian (christianos) was the word given to the 'followers of Christ'. Ergo, that's exactly what he said Mr Medearis.

    He did in fact say he came to divide. Faith in Christ forces division between those that have it and those that don't. Speaking about how faith in Him will cause this division we see Him say in Matthew 10:34 "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household."

    Nice to see you pally with a mass murderer at the top of the page though. Speaks volumes of your naïvety.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Christiano

      I agree 100%, the issue is that some so "Christians" don't learn the word and then they go out preaching the wrong message. and like Mr. Carl Medearis they end up losing their self because they are not prepared. We need to stop running and changing our believes the second we face a challenge and continue to spread the word that Jesus is the one and only that can save us

      July 25, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Christopher

      Those are the same two scriptures that I thought of while reading as well. However, I don't know if that's who you think it is in the picture. And that comment just made it seem like you think that all Muslims look the same and showed that you're quick to jump to conclusions.
      Stick to scriptures without changing for popularity = yes
      Accuse random Middle-Easterners of being mass murderers = no

      July 25, 2011 at 10:40 am |
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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.