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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. AIZEN

    why is that arab so mad, he doesnt smile? lol

    July 25, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  2. Anna Nwa

    Bruce, I am a christain catholic and no question about that. If as a christian, I am spreading the gospel, it is because I want to win and convert souls unto my Lord, Jesus Christ. I see nothing wrong with that. Would'nt christians first have to spread the gospel for conversion to take place?. To me, one goes before the other. I preach the Word, and someone has a change of heart to become a christain, then he or she is converted. No one is being forced. The Lord said christians should go into the world, make ye disciplines of all the nations baptizing them in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Christains should be seen preaching the Gospel. The rest is conversion(a change of heart) which occurs through the power of the Holy Spirit. Why should christians therefore not envangelize?

    July 25, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Bruce

      Christians should not evangelize if "evangelize" means to straddle someone with an insurmountable amount of theological baggage that just gets in the way, which is what most evangelicals do when they attempt to convert someone to the religion of Christianity.

      Tell the story. Let your eyes light up when you tell it. Your enthusiasm will be contagious. Some may even convert.

      But those who do not convert when they hear you tell the story are not destined for hell because you failed to convince them of the historicity of the gospels. Thomas refused to believe without specific proof and he was still saved. Thomas should have known better, right? Didn't Jesus tell Thomas and the other disciples that he would rise up on the third day after dying?

      Recognition happens to those with eyes to see and ears to hear. No amount of evangelism will cause recognition to the blind and deaf man. Recognition often comes without any of that religious malarky, such as the Centurion, who recognized something similar between his station and what Jesus was. The Magi recognized Jesus as a baby, by using astrology of all things...

      July 25, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  3. Collin

    Christians are persecuted, killed and driven from their homelands in the Middle East and other muslim countries. The muslims, as part of Jihad, are driven tio emmigrate to our countries and spread their faith, build mosques, terror cells and prepare for the vanguard of the faithful (as per Mohammed) and the problem is Christians being evangelical. Right.............

    July 25, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • D.

      Where did you get your facts? Fact check plz. I am a Middle Eastern Christian who WAS NOT forced out of my country

      July 25, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  4. Andrea M

    To me if a christian from group x wants to evangelize to Christians from group y, whatever. Example, my Mormon brother in law going on a mission to Mexico, obviously he was converting Catholics. As long as you're not obnoxious about it and not shoving it down people's throats, it's fine imo. My bigger problem is mostly a historical problem. Missions to convert "heathen natives" which caused vast amounts of death and the loss of beautiful native cultures. For example, royalty in Hawaii though still Hawaiian became Victorianized. But as long as you're not destroying cultures, killing people, or being obnoxious/threatening hellfire if people don't convert, it's fine by me. That goes for all groups too. Even Buddhists try to convert people.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Lydia

      Voluntary convert is different from force to convert. Non-Christian marries to Christian (to be exact – Catholic) has to convert to Christian in order to have a ceremony in the church, that is a force converting.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  5. Eric

    In other words...
    Christians! I demand you sit down and shut up!

    July 25, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • wes

      thats what the article is saying

      July 25, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • wes

      thats not what the article is saying

      July 25, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  6. wydok

    I think it's important to spread the Good News of salvation throughout the world, but it makes more sense to focus on the non-churched than those happy in their religion. IT's like when Jehovah Witnesses come to my house. I know they are wasiting their time and they should be talking to the unchurched in the neighborhood instead.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  7. Biggieron

    Stop belittling Christ as some random love filled doormat. He was the Son of God who came down from his throne in heaven, to wage a war against sin that eventually cost him his life. The belief and worship of other Gods was part of the sin that tortured and killed MY LORD!

    Do you know why God hates sin more than anything else? Because it is the only force in this entire universe that can separate Him from his Children. Any religion that denies the deity of Christ or denies the Father, takes the Father's children away from him.

    You aren't doing anybody favors professing such a luke warm faith. Other religions are to be hated because they try to separate us from the Father and the Son. The people who practice them on the other hand are to be respected but still told the Gospel AND the Law.

    Matthew 12:33-37

    “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

    Funny...did Jesus just call these individuals a "brood of vipers" and condemn them to hell for spreading false gospel? Hmmm...i guess that really blows away the old "Jesus always loves and never judges ANYONE" misconception.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
  8. doug

    analogy:

    we are the fuel bearers - we bring the Word.
    we are NOT the fire starters.
    The Holy Spirit lights the fire of faith using the Word we bear.

    WE can not bring anyone to faith, nor force them to have faith.

    Only the Holy Spirit can bring about faith.

    Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.

    Thus, yes, we make disciples -- just as Christ did. He, the living embodiment of the Word, spoke the Word and the Spirit worked faith in the disciples such that they dropped all and followed Him.

    More often than not, just by living the Word in our every deed - the old ACTIONS speak louder than words - we will do more to bring the Word to others and allow the Spirit to grow their faith in Christ.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
  9. RA Moody

    Carl you should know The Word well enough to know your statement and your "wish" are at odds with what Jesus himslef said. In your article you said, "Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider. How might that change the way we look at others?"
    But, Jesus himself said, "51 Do you think I came to give peace to the earth? No, I tell you, I came to divide it.52 From now on, a family with five people will be divided, three against two, and two against three. 53 They will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law." Luke 12:51-53

    July 25, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Sam

      He is talking about being His disciple, you must have Him First, he said in many many places to turn the heart of father toward son, son toward father, etc... Naomi and Ruth is another perfect example of mother in law's heart toward daughter in law... Do read the Bible in its entirety.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  10. Rainer Braendlein

    @ Imam Carl Medearis

    Do you eat kebab, when you meet your Islamic colleagues?

    The meat for kebab is produced by ritual slaughter, which is animal torture. Animal torture is a crime and a heavy sin.

    A true Christian would never eat that kebab-crap, because sweet animals had to suffer infinitely at ritual slaughter.

    People, torturing animals, will finally torture human beings!

    July 25, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  11. Sam

    Interesting and though provoking piece

    July 25, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  12. CRC

    Carl, you are very confusing. Kind of talking out of both sides of your mouth with different stories but claiming they have the same goal. Do you know Jesus or is it just head knowledge. By the way some of histories greatest offenders were Muslim warrors. Check up on your history a bit. Most of the battles between Muslims and Christians were of Christians defending themselves. You are creating confusing by spreading mis-information about Christianity. Did you know that only those who are saved by the blood of the perfect sacrifice (Jesus) will enter into Heaven, all others go to hell. We didn't write the Bible but God did and we follow what he said. Jesus intended that we convert all to Christianity if that were possible. That's why we evangelize or whatever name you want to tack onto it. We care about everybody and don't want them to go to hell. If your not interested just say so; we will leave you alone.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  13. Drew

    I find it astounding at the number of people who quite obviously know nothing about religion, or God, or the teachings of Christ, yet they set themselves up as doctors of theology.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
  14. Liz

    What would be much better is to respect the religious beliefs people already have! all religions pray to and worship the same thing no matter what they call it. it's the height of arrogance to think your religion is better than someone else's. if someone is searching for a religion that works for them because they haven't found one yet, it's ok to say 'this is what works for me,' but to insist everyone believe in and follow Jesus is arrogant and has caused untold misery since the time of Jesus. if you have a problem with someone because they're not a 'christian,' the problem isn't them, it's you!

    July 25, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      Can I ask a question? How does one "insist" on someone following Jesus? Are there missionaries somewhere, capturing people and waterboarding them into believing in Christ?

      July 25, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • BetterDeadThanFed

      Ignorance at it's worst. I'm guessing, Liz, that you don't know anything about any religion.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  15. niti

    Evangelizing is talking about Jesus and about salvation from our sins!

    July 25, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  16. Ann Marie

    Christians aren't killing, beating and torturing their women. Christian women are allowed to drive and have an education. Think about those words....here is a fill in the blank for you... _________forbidden to drive or have a job or go to school. If that blank were filled in with any other noun other than the word women or females...there would be a worldwide Liberal outrage. Where there is Christianity, there are women who are safe. Evangelize please.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
    • D.

      Just an FYI, I am not a muslimg but lived in the Middle East long enough. You have the wrong idea. Dont mix Middle Easterns and Muslims. There are plenty of Chirstian Middle Easterns, and as a general rule, No women in the Middle East are not supressed due to religon but rather to inherited Turkish traditions that ppl were foced to follow at the time of the Ottoman Empire occuptaion to the land and stayed with the cultures after. The Middle East is no Pakistan/ Afghanistan...etc. Not to mention that there is plenty of abused women here in the U.S and no one seems to figure out why males get so crazy in those cases

      July 25, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • Mouna

      A Christian killed 90 in Norway. Fill out the blank please__________________

      July 25, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Lydia

      Ann Marie,
      Christian women are not the only ones who are allowed to drive, to work or to have access to good education. Only women from the third world contries that have not been civilized yet are not allowed to do such things. That has nothing to do with the religion.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  17. Michael

    This article seemed reasonable on the surface until he got to the part where the author basically says that, "Hey, instead of sharing Jesus with people as a form of redemption, let's let them study Jesus the prophet."

    It's all well and good to talk about sharing Jesus rather than a religion except for the fact that Jesus wasn't just a prophet, he was the redemption itself. He stated, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the father except through me."

    That doesn't just imply that Christians just mention him in passing to others, like you might share information about a friendly clerk at a local store but rather that you share the entire redemption story.

    Sounds like this author lacks a clear understanding of Christianity and Jesus. Epic Fail.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Tony

      Very well stated and true, Michael.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      "Sounds like this author lacks a clear understanding of Christianity and Jesus. Epic Fail." He sounds like a normal person, compared to you zanies and your pregnant virgin.

      July 25, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  18. william adamsen

    God is winner over satanic forces ,lifting lost ones out of crisis and uplifting them , as if crisis is created by God in a persons life which may be spoken of as testing of God, usually followed by some rewards.All of God and Godly forces to conquer satanic forces, uses the positive powers of love.Spanish saying ,Love and work conquers All, includes the evil forces of evil.Love is greatest of All as answered by Jesus Christ,,

    July 25, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  19. Believer

    Science has yet to prove any thing regarding creation, holds on to theories that they package as truth. The Bible provides an accurate view of creation, however some people like to pick apart each and every word in order to find fault. The true message of the Bible is to serve others as Christ served his life as a perfect example for you.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Non-Believer

      Science has already proven creation 'as-nauseum'. It's just not your biblical version, or the version you prefer or would accept.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      First off, the phrase is "Ad nauseum." It's Latin.

      Second, no, it hasn't. It has not definitively proved it. Does it have some pretty good evidence? Sure. But it is a far cry from "proven."

      July 25, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Mouna

      The Bible doesn't prove either. Is is one's belief in it that suddenly seems to turn religion into ones own science. (as you well know the Bible has been manipulated so many times so who knows which truth are we being offered to believe).
      Science points the way to wards truth and tries to be as subjective as possible to prove things. Recent science though have shown that there are no objectivity and that we influence what we observe, so even science is a belief
      system and a religion. You see Science and the Bible agree after all.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
    • Mouna

      Sorry typo I meant to say objective:
      Science points the way to wards truth and tries to be as OBJECTIVE as possible to prove things.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Jon

      Science only deals with the NATURAL world. God, or whatever label you prefer, is a SUPER-NATURAL being and therefore cannot be proven or disproven through the methods of Science. It is then a matter of faith that deals with God. Faith is simply belief in the absence of evidence.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Bible Clown

      "Science has yet to prove any thing regarding creation" They prove things over and over, and you keep snorting "Yeah, but my Bible says there were only seven days, so you are wrong." Meanwhile scientists build a computer and you use it, and don't know how it works.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  20. Peter

    The Sheikh in the picture looks so thrilled.

    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.