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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. Andrew

    They shouldn't try to establish oligarchy in hate laws, either.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:34 am |
  2. William Brown

    Jesus said, "I will build my church" He also said, "Do not think I came to bring peace on earth, but a sword." There are only two groups of people on this earth, God's children and Satan's children. Unless God decides to bring you to Jesus and engineer your repentance, you will never come. God is saving a poeple out of this world unto Himself. The rest He will burn. P.S. The real Christians don't use violence to advance their Lord's Kingdom. That's what Catholics and cult christian groups do and have done.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • jnab

      "Do not think I came to bring peace on earth, but a sword." "P.S. The real Christians don't use violence to advance their Lord's Kingdom."
      Clearly you can't even get your own story straight.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • LAborn

      "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." and guess what, we all fall into that catagory, even me and even you. And this: "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (NIV, Mark 12:28-31).

      July 24, 2011 at 9:38 am |
    • William Brown

      Reading the rest of the verse you will see the sword is for making a spiritual separation of the two groups (God's and Satan's) He's not condoning physical violence. Do a little research before you fly off the cuff about things you are ignorant of.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  3. Marc

    Trying to brainwash someone with stupidity who has already been brainwashed by another version of stupidity is just two stupid people talking.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • Happyasiam

      Right on!

      July 24, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  4. tutu

    "so when jesus came he forgave all people by forgiving all sin".. O.K,. so a murderer,rapist etc who is a x-tian but wears a crucifix chain in his neck is saved even if he did not get any punishment or serve jail time in this world ??

    July 24, 2011 at 9:31 am |
    • jnab

      You speak as though you believe you're innocent.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:41 am |
    • dinkydo

      Not exactly. All sins will be forgiven by God if Jesus, his son, is accepted as your savior. The murderer, rapist, etc., will also be forgiven by God if he/she truly accepts Jesus. He/she still must or should pay for the crime here on earth by serving time or receiving the death sentence. God sees all sin the same. Robbery is the same as murder is the same as adultery. It doesn't make sense to us but it is God's word and he is the boss!

      July 24, 2011 at 9:43 am |
    • dinkydo

      ....and yes, we're all sinners in God's eyes. The person who breaks any of the ten commandments is as bad as any murderer and who of us hasn't broken at least one commandment? The good thing is that God understands that we make mistakes everyday which is why he sent Jesus to save us. He loves us as any father would love their child.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:47 am |
  5. djmuth

    Religion amounts to special Ed for the morally vacant. Only when you can do good without the promise of eternal reward have you actually understood compassion. The promise of reward in heaven is the very aspect of modern religion that makes it appeal to the masses as it plays so effortlessly on our greed and fear of death. Though paradoxically, by fixating so wholly on that reward (as so many Christians/Muslims do) one steps farther and farther away from Jesus, and eliminates themselves form the kingdom of heaven, should such a place actually exist.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:31 am |
  6. Weep4America

    CNN should trying having actual Christians write their articles for their stories that are supposed to be from a Christian point of view.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • John 3:16

      Exactly, seems like everyday someone is putting a brand new "twist" on the truth. But this is the fullfillment of prophesy before the end. So called teachers have itching ears....

      July 24, 2011 at 9:32 am |
    • jnab

      I love posting to articles without reading them too.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:33 am |
  7. Livelystone

    When a Christian is walking in the light, through the presence of divinity within them and the signs and wonders that follow what is divine, they will attract members of other religions to them without having to browbeat them with threats of hell and eternal damnation.

    Once persons of other religions see the miracles coming from a true Christian and realize that the same divine presence can be in them too, it does not matter what religion they currently belong to because they will leave it to find Christ. That is the way the first century church operated and God does not change. He is the same today as He was during the time of the first century church.

    Problem is when have you ever seen a Christian walking and performing like Jesus and the Apostles did.

    Because the church of today cannot heal the sick, to gain followers they threaten others with eternal damnation when the early church preached that Jesus would bring all of mankind into reconciliation with God.

    Just like the Marines, God is looking for a few good men to appear strong on their behalf.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  8. Rick

    This is what Carl is missing.

    He uses only half what Jesus said in that scripture. Read the next verse after Jesus tells his disciples to go and preach to the world. He then said, those that believe were to be baptized. That is converting them. And if they do not believe and are not baptized, read what happens to them. So those people who are concerned about mankind following Jesus try to preach, teach, make them believers and convert them by baptizing them for their salvation and not damnation.

    Mark 16:15-16

    15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

    16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned

    July 24, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • LAborn

      "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," Matthew 28-19

      Making a disciple means to emulate Christ, which isn't just "preaching" or evangelism. Christ was a servant, a lover of men, a healer......he was the ultimate sacrifice. So, we are vessels of his love to be poured out to mankind, and all we come in contact with......

      July 24, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  9. Richard S Kaiser

    Dave writes; “Not only is he a supposed "expert," but he clearly is star struck in the presence of another mere human being. The only thing anyone should care about is what God's Word, the Holy Bible, says regarding the topic. And there are dozens of references in the Holy Bible which clearly direct people to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. Start with Rev. 22:10-11 which states, "seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book" which simply means, spread the word. Do NOT keep it a secret. It says nothing about compromising with unbelievers and rejectors of Jesus Christ as God.
    A final warning to my fellow Christians. Notice how the man, the so called "expert," is basking in the attention of the photo op ? Jesus Christ, God, wants your attention. Don't give it to the "experts" who try to divert your attention from what the Bible actually says.” On July 24, 2011 at 9:07 am

    Young Dave in the Gospels are you! Why do you Flay Others with The Gospels’ End Time when You Haven’t and/or cannot make recitations upon the middle? Did Not Christ Jesus reportedly say: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

    Rightly Dividing the WORD of TRUTH is a Religious Colloquialism wherein when One reads and/or speaks, Others will Judge such Words and/or Verbalisms to be Right and/or Wrong.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  10. ajw3

    Everyone reads the Bible through their own colored glasses.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:25 am |
    • Beatrice

      Only those who never read the Bible say such things. The Bible is clear and plain on who is the Savior and how to be saved.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  11. John 3:16

    I will continue to preach and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and bear witness to his forgiveness of sin and show others how to be forgiven of their sins.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • Beatrice

      Amen.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:29 am |
  12. bigshot

    Evangelicals believe others should either accept jesus or go to hell. Muslims believe exactly the same thing about non-muslims. Either one of them is wrong, or they are both wrong. I think they are both wrong. Simple logic.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:24 am |
    • Beatrice

      Muslims, just like any non-Christians, have no specific ways to be saved or damned. Christianity alone has clear doctrine because it alone is truth.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • Happyasiam

      As a non-Christian I find it revolting to be invited to follow Jesus. The pity that accompanies the invitation suggests my life would be so much better if I followed Christ. I'm happy with my life as it is, thank you very much, and I'm rational and decent enough to know how to treat my fellow human beings with kindness and respect. I wish Christians would do the same. By trying to share your religious views in hopes of changing another person's outlook, you imply that the other person isn't good enough as they are, and that's an insult.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:44 am |
  13. Jason

    This viewpoint seems like common sense to me.

    I think a crude but effective way to think of it is in terms of sports, or maybe some television show that you like to watch. Do you talk about it? Yes, of course you do. If you're really passionate about it, you might talk about it with any one who will listen. Do you try to "convert" people to your way of thinking? Not unless you're a jerk. Sure, you might recommend it to your friends, might let them know "hey this thing is awesome, you should check it out" but if you care about them, you don't put pressure on them to start watching your sport or your TV show. If they're not interested then they're not interested.

    I've "converted" hundreds of people in my lifetime to watch the shows I like to watch or follow the sports I like to follow. You know what strategy I used? None. I never tried to convert them. It was never my intention to make people conform to my entertainment preferences. I simply lived my life, and when they saw how much joy I got from these things, many of them were naturally curious. People want joy, they want mental stimulation. When they see it in others, they are curious about it and seek it out.

    If you want to be a good Christian, be a joyful Christian. Live your life, find the joy in your religion, and let that flow naturally from you. Don't try to convert the people around you. You don't need to hide who you are or what you believe, and you don't need to force it on other people either. If they want what you have, they'll seek it out. If they don't, you'll never truly convert them by trying to force them.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  14. RON

    Christians are not trying to sell you something or force their beliefs on others, we are simply trying to warn you that hell is real and that those that continue to rebel against God will go there. If you saw someone stepping in front of a speeding car would you try to warn them? Hell is just as real as that car.

    God is love but He is also righteous, He has provided a way for you to repent of your rebellion and come to Him, if you reject it and continue to rebel, then your condemnation is on your own head.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:23 am |
    • John 3:16

      Strongly Agree!!!!

      July 24, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • Jason

      Ron, if some one doesn't believe in your God, your belief in his reality is immaterial to them. Your "warning" is very pushy and, although it might just seem like the decent thing to do in your own mind, others do not view you as good. You are doing more harm to your own cause then good.

      It is not the fear of hell that is going to convert a non believer. That's no reason for them to believe. What's going to make them curious is if they can see that your religious beliefs actually translate into a sense of happiness and security. If they're curious, they'll seek out the answers for themselves. If you're actively trying to make them curious, then you're selling.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • Sathyavrath

      that pretty absurd!! Of course you are trying to sell Jesus and ram it down everyone throat. By beliveing Jesus is different or unique is also a subtle form of hate and is just Jesus branding.
      The car is real, believing hell is real and that a god would send you there for eternity against a finite years on this planet is not only delusional, but a form of terrorism.Jesus preached Bhuddism and Vendanta. Unfortunately, the transcribers of the Bible took everything literally, never heard of Hinduism. Bhuddism, Jainism or Taoism and thought the Bible was unique. That thinking is unfortunately still prevalant amongst evangelicals and they come across as pretty stupid when the talk about Jesus.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • LAborn

      Sorry, Ron. If you examine Christ's life, and the reason he came, it was more about grace and less about "if you don't believe in me and the father, you are going to hell". Christ was a servant, he was (is) love, he is the reconciler. He fed the hungry, he healed the sick, he taught about his father in heaven, he lead by example. I completely agree with this author's take. Many Christians come across as salesmen and NOT lovers of people. I am a Christian, and feel religiosity has poisoned many people, we have gone off track. I am constantly referring to Jesus' life for how I am to live, period.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:34 am |
    • RON

      Jason, My job is not to convert you but to warn you. Only God can convert you, I can only warn you of the danger ahead and beg you to turn around.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  15. tutu

    I fail to understand the logic behind that Jesus came to save your sins and sacrificed himself that X-tians will go to heaven. Does this make any sense? Jesus was a messenger (prophet) of God only and he conveyed God's message.
    Another huge difference between Islam and X-tianity and Judasim is that in Islam, there is no guarantee that every muslim will go to paradise. The muslims that do sins will be judged and punished on the day of judgement also but will go to paradise eventually. A muslim who fasts in ramadan, prays 5 times, takes care if human rights etc etc will receive a very different treatment on doomsday compared to sinful muslim but in the end God is the best judge. This is in contrast to X-tians who believe Jesus has died for them and they need not worry.
    Regarding that muslims are backward today is only because they are not following Islam properly. Many don;t even know how to read the Quran. Also God says, he will sometimes give the infidels much more that the believers as a test so sometimes this could be resaon for the muslims sufferign these days

    July 24, 2011 at 9:22 am |
  16. StephensB

    If Christians in this nation were only evangelizing the tenets of their faith ..... I'd have a lot of tolerance towards them . On the few occasions I have interacted with those that are just " bringing the message " , it has been a wonderful and enlightening conversation . The situation today is such that the " message " of Christianity is no longer what being evangelical is about . It is now all POLITICS ..... it is completely caught up in a political ideology of rampant totalitarian theocracy and the so called " free market " tenets of " profit – any time , anywhere , in any way possible " even at the expense and suffering of my fellow man . I can't see Jesus , or Abraham , or Mohammad , or Bhudda , for that matter , ever saying to someone who is ill .. " I will care for you in my tent , but only if your flock is big enough to pay me !!! "
    Enough Said Already !!!!

    July 24, 2011 at 9:21 am |
  17. CT

    Lets be friends with Hitler too! Obama's a christian right? We're all christians! Everyone's a christian! Iran is our buddy isn't that stinkin awesome? Oh, but I forgot let's blow Israel off the map! I am a believer and a follower of the Messiah, but a christian? No thanks! The key to all of this is to obey scripture. I am not ashamed of the gospel...TO THE JEW FIRST, not too the Muslim first. Sorry Charlie, I mean Carl. You want to befriend terrorist's, go for it, but don't call it the gospel. Ask your sheik buddy what airline he'll be on so I can take a different one. Islamaphobe? You bet! You better be! They'll cut your throat and say "Allah Akbar" over your dead children. Don't tell me there over here in the US to make peace either. Not when 911 is a holiday and they are water logging the courts to inact Sharia law. Wake you!

    July 24, 2011 at 9:19 am |
    • jp

      "You want to befriend terrorist's, go for it, but don't call it the gospel."

      What do you call Paul, before the road to Damascus? Pretty sure he was a terrorist. Good thing Jesus doesn't have your view or we would have to rip out half of the New Testament.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:27 am |
    • CT

      JP, don't rip it out, just your false "christian" interpretation of it. Notice, Yeshua spoke directly to Shaul, which is exactly how many of these modern day terrorist are finding the Lord. We don't need freedom of religion! We need the freedom to worship the ONE TRUE GOD!

      July 24, 2011 at 9:32 am |
  18. T3chsupport

    I was just going to say Mormon...

    July 24, 2011 at 9:19 am |
  19. wirius

    When Jesus came, he saved all people by forgiving all sin. It doesn't matter what religion you are, everyone is already saved. The joy of being a Christian is knowing this, and spreading this news to other people. There was nothing expected back by God, it is just that the knowledge of this incredible gift allows us to avoid dispair and know there is a loving God watching us.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • To "weary-us"

      You preterists love your free ticket into heaven, don't you? Jesus saved everybody whether they wanted it or not, whether they repented or not, whether they believed or not. So now, everyone can run around and do whatever they want because it doesn't matter... we're ALL saved! Talk about twisting scripture and being lazier than lazy.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:25 am |
  20. Mr.Agnos

    I believe in but one God, not three. I don't need saving. I have but one like on earth and I choose to live a good life. See you in heaven.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:14 am |
    • Beatrice

      Agnos, you're going to hell at this rate, according to the Bible. Repent your sin and believe in Jesus in order to go to Heaven.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:29 am |
    • Beatrice

      The Bible declares all are sinners and atheists the worst ones among humans.

      July 24, 2011 at 9:32 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.