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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

    @Carl Medearis (friend of the arch-impostor Muhammad)

    The article of Mr. Medearis is the worst text, which I have read for months (beside the unholy Koran).

    I suppose, Mr. Medearis is a wicked impostor.

    Dr. Martin Luther and Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer had told him: "anathema!"

    Islam has caused so much sorrow, it can never be accepted as part of the civilized world.

    Muhammad was one of the most wicked persons, which have ever lived on earth. He was an arch-impostor.

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

      Islam has caused so much sorrow, it can never be accepted as part of the civilized world.

      You mean like the Inquisition?

      July 25, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  2. DARTH VADER

    why doesnt this guy just shut up,enjoy life,and leave people alone to enjoy their own fantasy(religion)?

    July 25, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  3. End Islam Now

    I have no use for religion but converting people from Islam to Christianity is a good thing for the world. Imagine how much more peacful the world would be without Islam? It is too bad that the world didn't work on irradicating Islam 100 years ago before it spread like a disease throughout the world?

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

      One word – "Crusades"

      July 25, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Heard of the Inquisition

      Really? You're not religious, but have an opinion on who has the right to believe in something and who doesn't? How hypocritical can you get?! Christians have done some pretty awful things through out history as well. Let's see... The Inquisition, The Witch Trials, etc... What right do we have to tell Muslims they cannot believe in what they want? It's only the extremest that are the nut jobs. And you can find plenty of Christian nut jobs too! Every religion has them!

      July 25, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  4. Bob

    Jesus said, before He ascended to heaven, "All authority has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of the nations, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you..." (Matt 28) That's why the early Christians were tortured, mutulated and killed, even though they were peaceful. The rulers saw them as a threat to their earthly kingdoms. Without evangalism, it's not really Christianity.

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

    Let me know if I got this right. Meadaris's message is this: stop evangelizing and start evangelizing.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  6. William

    Once again CNN will do anything in a attempt to make Christians feel ashmed to be followers of Christ.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  7. A

    Great article! As a Christian, I wish more Christian would speak out like this.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  8. joshua weir

    wow what great insight, this is stuff that takes one off guard and causes you to think deeply about things you just assumed to be a certain way. thanks CNN for putting this article in.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  9. John B

    Very disturbing to see the Word mis-used and mis quoted. One question. What did Jesus mean when He said "I am the way and the Truth and the light, no man comes to the father except by me" ? You say in you article that Jesus never said go and make Christians in all the world but to make deciples. Was Jesus wanting Christians to make deciples of all Religions? I think not and any sincere study of the scripture would reveal that what you are claiming is not correct. I can appreciate the fact that you wish all people woulf just get along and we could all live in peace but that's not what Jesus said either. "Jesus said if they hate you its because they hated me first." Jesus also said that man loves the darknes greater than the Light. This is the condition of the heart that causes all strife; not Jesus or the followers of Jesus fulfilling His command to go out into all the world and make deciples.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Bruce

      John, the word he used was "nations," and not "individuals."

      The modern American evangelical is so wrapped up in this personal-relationship nonsense that they don't understand the collective nature of faith. It's almost like they've never heard of death to self...

      July 25, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • DARTH VADER

      yeah,i guess you were there when jesus said all this stuff.
      right.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  10. My Opinion

    The author never understood what he preached as a Missionary, or even worse, what he know thinks he learned about Jesus. He is part of the "religious" mess.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
  11. Rainer Braendlein

    Muslims can never be really pious, because they are not delivered from their "old man of sin".

    Muslims need to believe in Jesus Christ, who has borne their sins on the cross, and need to be baptized.

    At baptism we receive the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus: Our old man of sin dies together with Jesus and we resurrect to a new life in Christ together with Jesus (this statement can solely be grasped by faith, which is caused by the Holy Spirit).

    The Arabic word for God is Allah.

    In that sense of the word Allah I say: Jesus, the Son of Mary, is Allah! Jesus is God!

    This doctrine is according to Luther, Bonhoeffer and the Early Church!

    July 25, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Slmbro

      Christianity follows much older belief systems that taught the same things as taught in christianity. christianity has not been good, it has been used to enslave and murder non believers. christian missionarys like islam attempt to spread the belief systems through fear and intimidation. We as Americans foought a revolution to have freedom of relegion which means we don't have to believe any relegion or we can. We as Americans cannot force our beliefs on anyone else. That is what freedom of relegion truely means. We as Americans live in a country based on law that we the people have enacted not relegion.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • o.k.

      Slmbro–first off, invest in a dictionary–its difficult enough to understand your ramblings, you don't need to add atrocious spelling to boot (relegion?) Second, the American revolution was brought on by a number of things (taxation, legality of slavery, etc.), but religion was not one of them. Although religious freedom is clearly an American ideal (puritans, 1st amendment), its not credible to say it was the basis for our war with England.

      July 25, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  12. mininene

    How easy it is for us to forget....we were all given free will.....yes God sent Jesus to us and he died for our sins.....yes we have a doctrine and commandments, etc. BUT we are all free to do what we want, believe what we want, feel what we want with the knowledge that we could be risking eternal damnation....with that being said....why are we fighting? tell others about Jesus and if they choose to believe and convert so be it, if they don't let it go.....you have done your job by spreading the news......it is not for you to force someone to believe as you do.....Jesus forced no one to get baptized or follow him so why do we feel it to be our duty to force others to think like us???

    July 25, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Mel

      Exactly. Also, it is not for us to force anything on anyone else but if it's God's will, then he will use the seeds planted to stir the hearts of those who listened. God is the one who changes people, not us. We are just here to spread the good news.... JESUS SAVES!!!!!

      July 25, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  13. Jeff

    Christians would be better served if they spent more time tending their own gardens rather than worrying about their neighbors. If they could live up to the example of Jesus then they would be their own best marketing tool. Unfortunately a lot of fiercly vocal Christians are very bad Christians. They cheat on their wives, lie to their congregations, cover up felonies for one another, embezzle from their churches, favor earthly riches, etc.

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

      This, 1000 times. Why is it always the Christians that cheat on their wives with men or molest little boys? You have to remember that Christianity emerged from people living in the harsh, unforgiving desert that were yearning for a messiah to come deliver them from their horrible, miserable lives. The world no longer has a need for this type of figure because we have become capable of changing the world how we see fit.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • DARTH VADER

      look what chrisianity has accomplished over the last 2000 years.

      wars death and prosecution.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • DamianKnight

      JoeB, Christians are human. They are subject to failures, horrible acts, and other such things. There are many people, not just Christians, that are engaged in adultery, pedophillia, and the like. There are pedophiles and adulterers in every religion, because religions are comprised of people. There are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and even Athiests that are these things.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Michael

      Darth Vader –

      I disagree. People have caused war and prosecution. Sure, some were Christians (or claimed to be), but some where also atheists, Muslims, etc... The only common factor is humanity, not their belief system.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Mel

      First of all, there are a lot of things done in the name of Jesus and 'Christianity' that should not be done. Secondly, Jesus called all of his followers to a relationship with him so that they could grow to be more and more like him BUT that does not mean that any Christians will EVER be like him. Remember that Christians are human just like you and make mistakes. Just because someone is claiming to be a Christian doesn't mean that they are claiiming they are perfect. I am a Christian and it is because of my faith that I see that I'm very sinful and full of darkness. It is only by Jesus' blood that I am cleansed. It is because of what he did for me that I have a chance.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  14. Jeff Teel

    Great article. Just one concern though . Inviting people to follow Jesus. He must be followed not as a prophet BUT as the Son of God risen from the dead. THEY must come to that revelation. There is no other name by which men might be saved. We know all this and conversion is a work of the Holy Spirit not man trying to get someone to say a sinners prayer and then your all good to go. Right ? So whatever invitation there is for a person to follow Jesus it's within the context of His divinity. Many people follow Jesus along with the other Gods they serve . He becomes just one of many that people are following.

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

      No matter how badly one has been treated, a true follower of Christ will not give in in his effort to forgive, becase his own faith has its foundation on the realization and acknowledgment of his being a grave sinner himself. This is a good article; let us just focus on practicing what we preach and leave the rest for the heaven to take care of.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  15. ki1234

    5. Jesus (pbuh) of Nazareth – a Man Approved of God

    The following statement from the Bible supports the Islamic belief that Jesus (pbuh) was a prophet of God.

    "Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know."

    [The Bible, Acts 2:22]

    6. The First Commandment is that God is One

    The Bible does not support the Christian belief in trinity at all. One of the scribes once asked Jesus (pbuh) as to which was the first commandment of all, to which Jesus (pbuh) merely repeated what Moses (pbuh) had said earlier:

    "Shama Israelu Adonai Ila Hayno Adonai Ikhad."

    This is a Hebrew quotation, which means:

    "Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord."
    [The Bible, Mark 12:29]

    It is striking that the basic teachings of the Church such as Trinity and vicarious atonement find no mention in the Bible. In fact, various verses of the Bible point to Jesus’ (pbuh) actual mission, which was to fulfill the law revealed to Prophet Moses (pbuh). Indeed Jesus (pbuh) rejected any suggestions that attributed divinity to him, and explained his miracles as the power of the One True God.

    Jesus (pbuh) thus reiterated the message of monotheism that was given by all earlier prophets of Almighty God.

    NOTE: All quotations of the Bible are taken from the King James Version.

    III) Concept of God in Testament:
    1. God is One

    The following verse from the book of Deuteronomy contains an exhortation from Moses (pbuh):

    "Shama Israelu Adonai Ila Hayno Adna Ikhad".
    It is a Hebrew quotation which means:
    "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord"
    [The Bible, Deuteronomy 6:4]

    2. Unity of God in the Book of Isaiah

    The following verses are from the Book of Isaiah:

    (i) "I, even I, am the Lord; and beside me there is no saviour."
    [The Bible, Isaiah 43:11]

    (ii) "I am Lord, and there is none else, there is no God besides me."
    [The Bible, Isaiah 45:5]

    (iii) "I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me."
    [The Bible, Isaiah 46:9]

    3. Old Testament condemns idol worship

    (i) Old Testament condemns idol worship in the following verses:

    "Thou shalt have no other gods before me."

    "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:"

    "Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God."
    [The Bible, Exodus 20:3-5]

    (ii) A similar message is repeated in the book of Deuteronomy:

    "Thou shalt have none other gods before me."

    "Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that in the earth beneath, or that is in the water beneath the earth."

    "Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them; for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God."
    [The Bible, Deuteronomy 5:7-9]

    July 25, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • HM

      "Indeed Jesus (pbuh) rejected any suggestions that attributed divinity to him" Huh? How about John 10:30:
      I and my Father are one.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  16. BetterDeadThanFed

    Thought bubble on photo: "I can't wait to cut this infidel's head off".

    July 25, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  17. Activ8a

    One concern I have is that some Christians confuse the greatest and second greatest commandments. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all our hearts and that the SECOND greatest commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-39, Mark 12:28-31). So yes, absolutely, we should love all people and show Jesus's love to the Muslims. But we must also love God (Jesus; see John 14:6), which means being honest about who Jesus is and giving Muslims the opportunity to know the true Jesus, who died and rose from the dead to bring salvation, not a watered-down and ineffective Jesus who is only a man and nothing more.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • ItSOnLyME

      And therein lies the problem. Bringing "religion" to another, when finding faith (of any kind) is the most intensely personal decision anyone can make. Notice how you don't see evangelical Buddhists? That's because you have to find it for yourself for it to mean anything. About 98% of the problems the world has ever had have arisen, at least in part, because of one guy telling another guy who the "right" and "true" god was. Lay off and let people be. They don't need your "help" to find a path to god.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Activ8a

      ItSOnLyMe, I agree with you that Christianity should never be forced. However, in Christianity, Jesus commands His followers to preach the gospel and make His message of hope and love known to all people groups on earth. So, I think Christians need to do a much better job at being more loving and meeting people's needs, rather than expecting others to be instantly converted on the spot. Nevertheless, I think it would be unkind, and probably a bit racist, to refuse to show the love and message of Jesus to Muslims simply because they come from a different culture.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  18. Steve

    Great article... nails my exact feelings of the typical church branding... churches are too focused on their own brand of Christianity... the What would Jesus do approach would win a lot more to Christ and make Christians look a lot less wacko!

    We Christians need to stop judging as a whole and start loving as Christ does (and did while He walked on the earth).

    July 25, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  19. Atheist

    I think you're being a bad christian if you aren't trying to convert people to christianity because not doing so is just like saying, "I know you're going to burn in he11 for the rest of eternity but I don't don't feel like taking up that conversation right now so too bad for you". That being said, I'm an atheist and would personally prefer people to be bad christians just so I don't have to hear it.

    July 25, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  20. Biggieron

    This right here is the perfect example of why the emergent church is so dangerous. It follows a Christ who knew nothing of anger and was this harmless ball of love that wouldn't hurt a fly or pass judgement. It stands for a Christ that can be found no where in the bible who, never existed. Yet people flock to this concept because it calls for no real change in your life other than claiming you love everything, all walks of life, and take no moral stance whatsoever.

    Christ is the Son of God who was much a conqueror over sin as he was a lover of humanity. He said himself that he came not to change the law set down by his Father( the old testament), but to fulfill it. Part of the law states that you will put no other gods before the Father...so Carl knowing that Christ is the fulfillment of the law how do you think he feels about other religions with other gods that take people's hearts away from his Father? Be prepared to have your pitiful and weak notion of Christ rocked because the answer is:

    HE HATES THEM.

    Don't get me wrong, I love humanity and want to see everyone saved. But what kind of giant HYPOCRITE would I be if I claimed to believe that faith in Christ is the ONLY way for us to achieve salvation, and then turned around and said:

    "But following other religions is cool too!, just make sure you love people like Jesus did, he was a really nice guy!"

    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 1:19 pm |
    • ItSOnLyME

      Wow... Jesus (who was a man who has been dead for over 2000 years) "hates" people? How exactly do you know that? Did you ask him? Does it say that in the bible? I must have been absent that Sunday. This is the problem with so-called "Christians". Too much hate and judging, not enough loving.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Steve

      This is the legalistic interpretation of Christ's purpose and walk on the earth. THe problem is we Christians are not under the law! We are saved by GRACE through Faith! You cannot have it both ways. Sure there are rules/commandments etc... but Jesus accepts everyone! How receptive would you be as an unchurched person if you were approched by the vision you portray here? Sure Jesus turned the tables in the temple and showed feelings... but there is no reference I have ever been shown where he demonstrated the fire you are portraying. I applaud your passion, and your commitment... I just think your approach has some extreme twists that do not sync with the New Testament I have read!

      July 25, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Biggieron

      @ItSOnLyME did you even read what i said?

      "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."

      @Steve

      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.”

      This was a direct quotation from the New Testament book of Matthew taken from Christ's own lips. CHRIST HIMSELF condemned them for spreading false gospel and leading people away from God. I have no idea how sit there and tell me that Jesus had no fire. He stated that He is the way the truth and the life and the only way to eternal life is through him. Not by just following his teachings but by believing and professing he is the son of God to others. The only "extreme" approach is trying to make Christ sound like all he ever taught was love. When the words from his own mouth show that not the case.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Ray

      Wow – you're nutty, I hope you die soon.

      July 25, 2011 at 1:52 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.