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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. Rainer Braendlein

    9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.

    What a joy, what a pleasure, finally Sarah bare a son. Everybody should have congratulated the old woman.

    But what is Ishmael doing? He mocks Isaac. That says a lot: Ishmael was no, no, no believer like his mother Hagar was no believer, otherwise he had loved his newborn brother of faith Isaac.

    Hagar and Ishmael didn’t not want to believe in the God of Israel. Of course Abraham and Sarah had told them about the faith, but they the refused to accept the Old Testament Gospel.

    Ishmael is the father of the Arabs:

    Genesis 25: 12-18:

    12 Now these [are] the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s handmaid, bare unto Abraham:

    13 And these [are] the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam,

    14 And Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa,

    15 Hadar, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah:

    16 These [are] the sons of Ishmael, and these [are] their names, by their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations.

    17 And these [are] the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people.

    18 And they dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, that [is] before Egypt, as thou goest toward Assyria: [and] he died in the presence of all his brethren.

    The area, which is described in verse 18, is just the today Arabia (the Jordanians are Arabs too!)!

    Are the Arabs or the descendants of Ishmael somehow damned to disbelieve? Never!

    Jesus Christ has died on the cross for Arabs, Muslim Arabs and the whole world. It is up to them to accept the gospel.

    Of course every Muslim, who doesn’t convert from Islam to Christianity will get lost. Every Moslem should recognize his personal sinfulness and believe that Jesus has borne his sin on the cross, in order to set him free. By baptism the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus is dedicated to us (also every Moslem, when he wants to believe in Christ).

    Jesus from Nazareth is the eternal Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah. Jesus, the Son of Mary, is “Allah”!!! Yes!!!

    Everybody, rejecting the divine sonship of Jesus Christ, shall be condemned for ever!

    Furthermore: God is a Triune God: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Rainer Braendlein

      @Carl Medearis

      You are a damned heretic! Repent or get lost!

      Islam and Christianity don't go together. They are totally different religions.

      Islam saves nobody, because it provides no Deliverer. The unholy Koran is a book of lie and murder and war. Muhammad was an wicked impostor. Clear enough?

      I adore Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, who has delivered everybody, who believes in Him, and me.

      Jesus is "Allah" (Allah as Arabic word for God).

      July 25, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
  2. Jose San Antonio

    Hey guys, check out Pastor Joe Nelms, before the start of NASCAR race. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J74y88YuSJ8

    July 25, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  3. PeaceOut

    I don't think a lot of people are reading this article all the way through. Please read the whole thing before you comment.

    Mr. Medearis, it is difficult to see your distinction between evangelism and talking to people about Jesus. To me, and I think to other modern Christians it is the same thing. The problem people have with some evangelical Christians is the fact that they can become hostile in a religious conversation and lack the open-mindedness of understanding the other person's situation. Evangelism is not about telling people that Jesus is the guy you should follow.. he knows it all. People need to understand the Why. Why Jesus is important and what his death and resurrection accomplished for all people. So, inevitably it is about others seeing what having a personal relationship with God looks like.. then the conversation starts. I think you are definitely right about that part.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  4. Truth Matters

    This guy conviently forgets, or is perhaps simply ignorant of the fact that Jesus himself said that accepting him and living your life according to God's wishes could put someone at odds with a person from within their own family who chooses not to do so, resulting in a severe test of faith for that person. But the person would have to choose one way or the other—a definite stand MUST be made for the truth. He did NOT preach that we should all be happy with whatever our beliefs are.

    Here's the actual quote from the Bible:

    Matthew 10:34 34 Do not think I came to put peace upon the earth; I came to put, not peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to cause division, with a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a young wife against her mother-in-law. 36 Indeed, a man’s enemies will be persons of his own household. 37 He that has greater affection for father or mother than for me is not worthy of me; and he that has greater affection for son or daughter than for me is not worthy of me.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
  5. Wendy

    Doesnt really matter what you christian hating people thing about God. Do you believe in Ghosts? Most of the people that I have met that dont believe in God, do believe in Ghosts, how is that possible? Explain to someone who has seen Ghost, that it was a figment or a fairy tale. Bottom line, Christans are not just right-wing people, that is a label you Dems cooked up. There are just as many God Fearing Church Goers (Bill and Hillary) on the left as the right. Maybe it is time for you non believers to have some acceptance in your heart. We do not need to go away, you just need to show the same tolerance you are asking for in return.

    Muslims on the other hand, well, maybe they are growing a bit, but their basic doctrines state that people are to convert to Islam or be killed. Maybe tolerance is coming around from both ends.

    I ask you, what is so wrong in beliving in something bigger than yourself? Sure, maybe the Big Bang theory isnt just a theory, but where did all those gases and particles come from so the big bang could happen? Science has yet to prove that and so on and so on....so a bit of tolerance is needed everywhere, not just from the Christans.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Cap

      I'd love to - as soon as you learn to "live and let live" and not tell me whom I can sleep with, whether or not I have a choice as to whether I'd bring someone in to this world, what kinds of economic activity I can engage in (think the morons and liquor in Utah), etc.

      It seems that the religious always feel the right to tell me how to live my life. And if I disagree, they reserve the right to kill me because after all, killing someone in the name of god can always be justified to the "properly" religious.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • BAAL

      Nope, I Don't beleive in ghosts, or ufo's or the boggieman. a Long time ago people use to think the earth was flat and at the center of the solor system, that the sun revolved around the earth. those days are gone because we know better. but there are so many more things yet undiscovered. the things we do not understand YET. are not a justification for God or gods. that kind of thinking went out or should I say should have went out with primitive man. God is a nice Idea but thats all nice yet fictional. I wish I had more for you. lets be tolerant of each other.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
    • Wendy

      Cap....tolerance, like respect, is given and earned. Isnt that what we teach our children. I am a Christan, have been my whole life. I find peace and understanding through prayer AND I accept and tolerate EVERYONE! I will not hate Gays because of whom the choose to love, at least they live with love. I cannot set policy for the whole wide world, but change comes ONE PERSON at a time. If you refuse to change and accept everyone, regardless of what they think of you...then where does that leave humanity. Are you saying that because you are Gay, you dont believe in God?

      BAAL – I cannot deny what my heart tells me is true. I LOVE science. I love it! I have a Bachelors Degree in Biology and a minor in Chemistry! All of these wonderful thing we have discovered and what we have yet to learn....doesnt change my faith.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  6. Kenny Blair

    Jesus himself said that he did not come to bring peace but a sword. In other words there will be division even in ones own family over who Jesus is. (A good man? Or, the Son of God?) He is a uniter of man to God but a divider between men. The division is between those who follow him and those that don't. (The sheep and the goats.)

    July 25, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  7. Sherry E.

    I am completely "stunned" to read the article from a "missionary" of the Christian faith. Please tell me that you did not have the understanding that being a missionary is about "converting" people to Christianity? If that is the case, you had a misinterpretation of Scripture. This is the problem with so-called Christians; the problem is the Holy Spirit is missing and the understanding of the mission of the Holy Spirit's task on earth and in the hearts of believers is flawed. Rather than seeking personal gain while witnessing, Christian missionaries bring glory to God by honoring Christ's righteous life, sacrificial death, and absolute authority, Leave the conversion tactics to the Catholics; Christians do not convert people. A Christian whose steadfast in his/her faith knows that if there's any converting that needs to take place – the best thing to do is leave that up to God. You have a "soap box" on which to stand with this CNN blog, but you are doing no more than the Pharisees did when Jesus walked the earth; knowing some of the Word of God, but lacking the anointed understanding and intent of the full scope of the Creator and His creation.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Brian

      yep, like it or not, loving our neighbor means just that, not converting them, just love them, simple but not always easy, love does not mean argue and disrespect, it means help them, sacrifice for them, be nice to them, ingage them, care about their well being, not shove religion down their throat.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  8. Chris

    The photo of Carl Medearis with Nabil Qawouk says it all.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  9. steve

    Christ changed the world in my opinion. A very small sect of very devout people spread His gospel. How could it have grown to such propertions w/out missionaries? Was it....divine intervention? Maybe both.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Letsbereasonable

      Because ignorant people will believe a lot of crap.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
  10. Mike

    Fear the author is now convertee rather than converter. Muslims continue to be intolerant of all other religions and continue their 1000 year quest to conquer and convert the rest of the world.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • hippypoet

      wow, shut up and read a history book, we started killing them first, we even had the ALMIGHTY popes backing....morons in large groups never get anything done with a cult leader.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Wendy

      Hippypoet, you couldnt be more wrong, it is you who need to read! Christans have been slaughtered by the millions since the time of Christ! Islam is a new religion less than 700 years old. Maybe you should go and receive some real education, not just what you google on the internet or read what others have posted. They have textbooks and everything at places called schools!

      July 25, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • hippypoet

      mike said Muslims wendy, this has become as pointless as religion.... lets all go to war!

      July 25, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  11. jugmonkey

    ok and muslims, stop blowing things up.

    how about that

    July 25, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • Jackson

      Remind me again what faith that guy in Norway was?

      July 25, 2011 at 12:38 pm |
    • McKAY

      And Christians, stop killing people in Norway. History is full of hate and killing from nearly every group. Hypocrisy exists on both sides. People who claim to be Christian need to start practicing what they preach. To those who don't- your hatred for those who are not like you, or believe what you believe is blatant and truly ugly.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  12. hippypoet

    the pope hides s-e-x affenders and this guy is seeking out more "friends" for him... gotta love religion! quick lets go convert everyone, don't worry if they don't want to, we can always make slaves out of them!

    July 25, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  13. mouse

    science is incompete......yes sir and it admits that. Religion is a fairy tail that tries to scare people into donating all their money, admit that!

    July 25, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
  14. person

    science is incomplete, and unreliable.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Mother Goose

      And the bible is??? Religion has produced nothing but wars and hatred. Science on the other hand is complete and explains your existence. You're ignorant

      July 25, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
    • Mother Goose

      Forgot to mention too, Have looked around at what Science has brought to our lives today? If it 'was not reliable', you wouldn't be on the Internet right now...

      July 25, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Science will eventually win because it WORKS.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Wendy

      Mother Goose, you are no scientist...any scientist would tell you that science is never complete. We are always making discoveries...have you ever read about Noetics? You have no room for tolerance in your life...I can see that by your posts, maybe you are part of the problem, not Christians.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • News Flash

      And the next time you are sick, or having a heart attack, we all know you will NOT go to the doctor/hospital. Right.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Wendy

      ..and the next time you are afraid, lonely, scared, sad it is perfectly fine to drop to your knees, clasp your hands together and ask God for help and guidance. Unlike you, God will always be there for you, all you have to do is ask. Most of you do on your death bed because at the end of your existance, you usally want to cover your bases, because you know deep in your heart....what if you are wrong!

      July 25, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
  15. mouse

    Humm......I've never been acosted by a Muslim trying to convert me however, I can't go into the grocery store where I shop without being hounded coming in and going out. IF I was interested in your religion, there are plenty of churches that I can grace since I obviously have a car to get to the store I could easily get to a church......please leave me alone!!!

    July 25, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  16. BAAL

    religion is a scam, I will be so glad when the world will realize that this religion stuff is holding us back from alot of good things. we debat over nothing when it comes to religion is was created out of every culture to impose order from chaos with out inforcement. in was made for primitive man as a guild. now it becomes a beast that holds us back as people from the things that are truly important. Remember we as humans us to think the world was flat, now we know better, or at least some of us do.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  17. Mother Goose

    Read a Science Book folks, God and Jesus are nothing but a fricken FAIRY TALE!!! Time to GROW UP into reality!

    July 25, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Jay

      Fairy Tale, huh Mother Goose? LOL let me put my faith in people like you or Obama. And I'm crazy because I put my faith in Jesus, I'll take my chances with Him. Look at this world.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • flimflam

      There is just one flaw with your idea...as of late, most science has come under pressure because of FALSE DATA being tossed around. Hmmmm. Bible or Science book........The problem we have is Human nature. Basics of science are straight forward, which is why the scientists running around screaming about global warming have no great information to use or stand on to back up anything they are saying.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • ScienceChangesEveryGeneration

      Which science books? The one I read in high school 35 years ago that said it was a proven fact that cells were just basically bags of water with stuff floating around, or the ones after the "new" fact of Tubulin was discovered that said cells were stuffed to the gills with complex dynamic structures? The history of heories (plural) of evolution are the same. Which generation's science do you want me to believe? In 50 years or less, nearly ALL of your current theories will be overturned and replaced by "newer shinier" ones and your grand-students will laugh at how quaint your theories were. I'll base my eternity on something much much more stable, thank you, God's Word.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Letsbereasonable

      Prove the false data. From what I have seen, the false data has come largely from those who deny that climate change is happening. Most of the data shows that climate change is real, is happening at an alarming pace due to the release of carbon dioxide and methane from mankind's industrial activities.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • News Flash

      @ScienceChangesEverygeneration
      You DID ride your horse to work today right ?

      July 25, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  18. David Crosby

    Best reason to quit persecuting the rest of the World in the name of Jesus..is that he is dead..not alive ..not a ghost..god nor deity..just dead..end of story..except for tens of thousands of gay fascist's that have run the church as priests and popes for their own power and pleasure..its a scam... outlaw it all..just like ponzi schemes and drugs...if I can't smoke pot..you shouldn't be able to ruin the World in the name of your dead god..and please feel free to not return to Colorado Springs..we are drowning in bible thumpers..and skunks..

    July 25, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  19. sailin

    Apparently Carl was never saved therefore he was confused about what he was promoting to begin with.
    His lack of knowledge of the Bible and salvation is glaring.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Bill

      sailin, I think his knowledge of the bible far outweighs yours. You cling to a legalistic, orthodox driven, system of beliefs that is as extremist and dangerous as radical Islam.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  20. flimflam

    I agree, they need to sit down and shut up. But, with that said, Atheists and their little religion need to also shut up. Personally, I dont care what your beliefs are. Are you a good person? Do you contribute to society in a positive way? Does your religion actively state that ki11ing others is good? Thats all I need to know.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Letsbereasonable

      Calling atheism a religion is like calling "bald" a hair color.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • Jay

      And the Gay community and their agenda? They discriminate and protest against any business that does not support their agenda. Yet, when people turn around and do it to them, they whine, cry, and call it harassment.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • BAAL

      Religion or not, god or no god. Mankind will always find justification to kill each other. Mankind as a whole is corrupt and evil in nature, after all it is our nature you are an animal after all, and just because we have a bigger brain does not make up the better species. Fools we be all and in the end we finally will see it.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:24 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.