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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. Jon

    Jesus also told his disciples that you are either with me or against your mother, sister, children (Matthew 10:35-37) so I don't see how this is message that people need to be learning. Love one another, regardless of the savior you believe in is the more important one.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  2. JDC

    This article is on a path that sounds good, but there are some lingering problems with this theory:
    1. The 1st church did not die for talking about Jesus, but for making disciples.
    2. The fact of discussing Jesus only makes one knowledgeable not believing.
    3. Muslims do believe that Jesus was a prophet, however, when the religious leaders of Jesus' day asked him who he was, he clearly stated, "I am". This is the reference to God speaking to Moses through the burning bush. Jesuse claimed to be God.
    4. Teachers in colleges that teach religious study talk about Jesus all the time. It doesn't mean they are Christians.
    5. Jesus said, "I am the Way. the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me." I think that slims the playing field a bit on who Jesus is – The only way to heaven.
    6. Jesus said, "I have not come to bring peace but a sword." This was a reference to the divisions among people due to their belief in Him. This was true 2000 years ago and still holds true today.
    7. Jesus also said, "I have come to seek and save those that are lost." This was a reference to every human being, regardless of race, religion or anything that defines one person from another. Jesus came to save those who He calls to Himself. It is not the job of a person to decide who is His and who is not. Only the fruit of one's life can be tested.

    This brings me to one conclusion, if Jesus is who He claimed to be then He was either telling the truth or a lie. If Jesus was telling a lie, then his claim to be God were and are irrelevant as he was then a madman or a good liar. However, if Jesus' claims are true, then the divisions among people will remain until He comes back to straighten this out.

    Just because I believe in Jesus as the only Savior in the world, doesn't mean you have to. It also means that just because I speak about my relationship with Jesus doesn't give others the right to make personal attacks on anyone either. Jesus said it best, "Religion is feeding the widows and orphans". This is not about religion, but about Christ.

    If I decided to tell my wife, that I will marry her however, my relationship with her is solely private, then I would be a hypocrite. If people asked me about my marriage and I said, "What relationship? I am just reading a book about her life" then it would not be a marraige (relationship) at all. Just because you can discuss a topic doesn't mean you fully understand it. The only way to understand a relationship with Christ is to experience it and once you start that experience you will never want to return to the former way of living.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Jon

      Did you know that Jesus is mentioned more in the Quran than Mohammad is? It's the truth, look it up.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      "If I decided to tell my wife, that I will marry her however, my relationship with her is solely private, then I would be a hypocrite. If people asked me about my marriage and I said, "What relationship? I am just reading a book about her life" then it would not be a marraige (relationship) at all. Just because you can discuss a topic doesn't mean you fully understand it. The only way to understand a relationship with Christ is to experience it and once you start that experience you will never want to return to the former way of living."

      Wow, I love this analogy!

      July 25, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • sps

      JDC...That is well spoken and so true! Believing is only the beginning and i think that's what a lot of non believers don't understand. This is an experience. An experience that is SO GREAT! It's more than believing that God exists. It's having a personal relationship with him. To see God move in your life is amazing. A lot of religions want to attribute certain things to a god but when THE God shows you who He is there is no denying Him.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • JDC

      @Jon, DamianKnight and sps,

      Thank you for the encouragement. Most of the recent posts are negative and attacking. It's good to see there are still some who can reply without attacking.

      July 26, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  3. Bawa

    Jesus is the Son of God , then who is his father ? I confused. is it Allah or ??????????

    July 25, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Kwaku

      sorry Bawa,Jesus said,anyone who does not believe Him as LORD and GOD,does not know the Father.Allah and God are different.Christians serve the Almighty God but i dont know who is this Allah that will command folowers to kills all who dont believe what they believ.Its unheard of.Christ loves us all and COMMANDS us to love all.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  4. Reality

    Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

    Current problems with the "Reformed" and "Born-againers":

    Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

    July 25, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  5. Activ8a

    The Greek term "evangel" simply means "good message" or "good news." So, to say that Christians should stop evangelizing seems to imply that Mr. Madearis doesn't want Jesus's message of salvation to be taught. I'm all for showing Christ's love, I'm all for a holistic gospel that includes Jesus's kindness and loving character, and I'm all for cultural sensitivity and respect. But since Jesus Himself said that those who don't believe He's who He claims to be will die in their sins (John 8:24), I believe Muslims deserve to hear the true message of Jesus, not a watered-down one that makes Jesus no different from Moses or Muhammad.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • Bruce

      Activ8a, you don't need to convert to Christianity to recognize Who Jesus was and is. You don't need to believe a laundry list of Christian doctrine, without a hint of doubt, for this recognition to occur.

      The gospels record many people (the Magi, the Centurion) who recognized Jesus for what he was, people who did not need Christianity in order for this recognition to occur. Moreover, they recognized him BEFORE some pretty important events (e.g. the death and resurrection) occurred.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  6. William Hanna

    Carl is an Idiot. He should shut up and go back to his cave. Jesus Said: "14 Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen.

    15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

    19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. 20 Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. "

    Carl if you are not doing that, don't even bother calling yourself a Christian. If you are not a Christian, you have no write to even speak the name above all names. Good day!

    July 25, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • kirshy

      "if you're not a christian, you have no right to even speak the name of names"?
      um, william, yes he does. it's called the first amendment. grow up.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  7. Wolf

    As a person who doesn't believe in the existence of any 'god' I am compelled to note the difference between Christians and their “Go and make disciples of all nations” and Muslims and their "Slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them, and confine them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush".

    Hmmm...

    July 25, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Kool Aid

      Different flavors of the same ice cream

      July 25, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
  8. Bible Clown

    So you want me to be like you, and then you show me that you aren't much. Sorry, not interested. Your god seems to have impounded your brains.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  9. Ren

    You're mixing up two different concepts and stepping into a false theology. Jesus was a lot of things, but he was not a "model for leadership" or a "prophet." He openly claimed to be the son of God and to be God himself ("before Moses, I Am", to paraphrase). If you believe that He is the son of God, then it follows that you must put your faith in Him for salvation. But if you believe that He is not the son of God, then someone who makes the claims He did is either a madman or evil. Jesus cannot be viewed as simply a "great man." He's either the son of God, or He's a lunatic, really.
    I do, however, agree completely with the assertion that you can't convert people by yelling at them about how evil their life is or by arguing with them. Jesus calls us to be a light visible to the world. That's the way He wanted us to reach others, simply be leading a life of love and compassion and, when asked, saying that it's all because of Him. In the words of the Newsboys "Shine/make 'em wonder what you've got/ make 'em wish that they were not/ on the outside looking bored."

    July 25, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Serena

      This is the biggest hoax perpetrated on mankind – that a jewish carpenter is their god. The second biggest hoax is that hadith and sunna were from Mohammad (akin to Misna and Gamarrah for the jews) and practically led to muslims worshiping Mohammed by taking his name alongside God..
      Hear O Israel, your Lord God is ONE. (Deut 6)
      When God ALONE is mentioned the hearts of those who do not believe in the hereafter shrink with aversion but when others are mentioned alongside they rejoice (Koran)
      Surely those who believe, the Jews, Christians and converts ANYONE who believes in God, the hereafter and does righteous works, their reward is with their Lord, no fear shall come upon them neither shall they grieve (Koran)

      July 25, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  10. aj

    The "church" today is still what it was in the first century...misguided by religion and not guided by faith.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  11. jt_flyer

    But it worked so well during the crusades.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:01 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! DOWN WITH RELIGION, ITS THE TRUE AND ONLY DEMON ON THE PLANET AND IT MAKES PEOPLE DO THE WORST OF THINGS!

    July 25, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  13. Andre

    Nice picture, Just for your Information the man you’re standing next to and his party Hezbollah are responsible for the killing of thousands of Christians ‘s in Lebanon and they are the ones who attacked the marines base in Beirut killing US soldiers back in the 80’s . Turn the other cheek my ass of course us Christians are the fiercest fighters during the civil war, we were defending our families and children from being slaughtered. Keep your opinions to yourself I have lived for 30 years in Lebanon and this article is fare from depicting the real situation here.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  14. Brian

    It truly is the Evangelical end time cults who are the ones I call satanist that do the devils work.
    Right in the Bible itself it warns people against the NEW WORLD ORDER and the synagouge of satan(freemasonry)
    But do the evangelicals care? WHat the bible warns christians against are the exact things the evangelicals are doing to bring the so called truth ALIVE. Informed people of the Bible even know that if you truly believe in the Bible and the events that are to unfold then also know that once all achivements have been met that SATAN will rulle for 100 years before christ returns. Yep that is 100% correct! But people scoff at that idea like nooooo that will not happen. IT WILL.

    I blame neocons 1000% for all of American security issues both internal and external. why do you think head posts in USA govt are all hebrew.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      "once all achivements have been met that SATAN will rulle for 100 years" George W. Bush was the Antichrist, and He failed. No 100 years for him, since the Beast McCain and the Great Ho of Babble On and On were defeated.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  15. Barry

    sbk,

    You obviously have not read, nor are you familiar with the Scriptures.

    If you’re sincere about your question, why don’t you read the book of Hebrews , Paul’s epistles and the Gospels.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  16. debrra handel

    Jews have it right. No proselytizing at all. Act holy, maybe people will emulate you.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  17. Kool Aid

    Why not 'evangelize' science? Imagine where we could be if everyone converted to the 'strictures' of critical thinking and the scientific method? Imagine what we could accomplish if we weren't obsessed with the idea of eternal life and escaping the boogey man?

    July 25, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  18. PINKYMC

    Amen! As much as I love the fact that there are christians willing and able to set aside thier lives to go a welcome new people to being christian in undelveloped areas and show there is a choice, I have found that can't seem to believe that a person who is nice, kind, and loving to those around them is condemned by these christians cause they do not claim out faith. Believing that their religion is wrong based on the fact that its not ours seems unfair and very unchristian. My belief is that Jesus loved us all and only wanted us to live a right and moral life in treating other with love and kindness. God Bless~

    July 25, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  19. hippypoet

    religion is dumb and it breeds contemp for your fellow man, straight forward, plain and simple! if the pope really heard the voice of god, why can't he tell us something, something god-like... o thats right, we have to take it on faith that the pope is never wrong and that he talks to a fake dude all by himself! good answer!

    July 25, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
  20. Ken

    To laughing

    You shouldn't laugh. It suggests you know the answers. I understand that u think u do. Perfect example of a closed mind. I am no hating on you or anyone else for that matter....this is just about at least being open enough to consider other concepts. Think about it....we can offer various reasons for this or that...but how about that which is beyond....outside of the body...i speak of thought itself and the power of it. just answer me ...do you contend that it originates with us...that we are the author of it.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      ".i speak of thought itself and the power of it" A chimp can think as well as a small child, and even birds can tell people apart. You are now pro-evolution. Try again?

      July 25, 2011 at 1:07 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.