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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. WFO

    I gave up on organized religions decades ago. My relationship with whomever I call god is between me and me. I came to realize that organized religions are nothing more than political platforms. I've always felt that Jesus would not be heading up any missionaries to "heathen" nations to spread any word. "Word" is spread through understanding of how to treat others. You do not need to preach any gospel .. nope. Simply treat others as you would be treated yourself .. that is all one needs to do to spread that same sentiment all over the planet.

    I try to live by two rules these days. Treat others as I would have them treat me. And try to leave this place .. this *life* . this planet .. this civilization a little better off than it was when I got here. One doesn't need books, tablets, scrolls ... bla bla for guidance. Religions ... whatever.

    So then ... Here they go again. Two nutcase religions going at it, while the *silent majority* is caught in the crossfire. Same o' same o'. Problem is, the weapons are much more powerful this time around .....

    July 25, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  2. Garry Rief

    I want to ask a few questions. I will be on board all the way. Since you want to share Jesus with muslims and others, I don't care what they think at this time. I want to ask Carl what Jesus asked His disciples. Who do YOU say I am ? If you say that Jesus is the son of God, that He came to die on the cross, shed His blood for our sins, was buried and rose again on the 3rd day, and sits on the right hand of the Father, I'm with you. If you say, Jesus is the ONLY way, ONLY truth and the ONLY life and no one comes to God the Father but through Jesus, that's great !! If you say, Jesus is THE Saviour and all I have to do is ask Him to forgive me for my sins and come into my heart, I will be saved. I'm all over it. BUT if you can't, then your just part of the people with a watered down white wash gospel with no power or worth. No two people can come together unless they agree. JESUS is the ONLY way. Jesus said, if they hated me, they will hate you. Love the person enough to tell them the truth and be hated. Be a God pleaser not a man pleaser.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • WFO

      Problem is .. these things you speak of .. they are your opinions .. and they do not happen to align with mine.

      So now what?

      All of the story of Jesus and the whole son of god thing is based on opnions. Many people have sacrificed their lives for those they have never even met. countless soldiers have died protecting humans they've never met. How many humnas have died in torture protecting perhaps only a single person? Or a "secret" that if let out would ressult in suffering?

      Jesus didn't "make" that deal .... God did. Jesus was just offered the chance to die for those that he'd never met. We praise Jesus for his death, we worship this corpse on a cross. Jesus didn't arrange the deal .. God did! ANYONE would have done the EXACT SAME THING if given the chance. You mean all I need to do is suffer and die .. then I'll be brought to God's side and not only that I'll inspire and shape the human world? Heck yea! Sign me up for that right now! Millions of soldiers have already done just that, folks. Why do we not worship them?

      Chrsitianity worships the wrong things. It's based on nothing but the saving of self. The entire thing revolves around salvation ... saving one's own ass. It is brilliantly designed to appeal to the ego, and boy does it work! Get people hooked on this idea and they're easily manipulated once the hook is set. This is not dificult to see.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Ike

      WFO, Spoken like someone who hasn't even read the Bible. You will find everything Garry said in the Bible and is not opnion. It only becomes opnion when you can't back it up.

      July 25, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Sporkify

      Ike –
      I love how you think quoting the Bible or telling someone to read it makes it true. The book is filled with the most nonsensical, ridiculous, childish things imaginable. I don't know (or care) if there's a god. If you need your faith to live a full life, that just makes you weak-minded. Everyone has to grow up sometime...

      July 26, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  3. J

    If Christians loves people that much, why they never leave their houses to bring the "word" to others and are content with letting their pastors to feel their ears with his only interpretation?

    July 25, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • AllOtherGod'sAreBeneathChristFeet

      It's a sad but true trend that's happening "J", you're right man. We've lost a drive to indulge ourselves in God's word the bible, we don't know it like the back of our hand like we should so what we've done now is forced ourselves to believe everything the pastor says cause he "probably" knows what the bible says, instead of going and finding out what it says for ourselves. Door-to-door preaching is no longer viable man, it's taboo to "force God on people", not only that we've found cleaver way around confronting and telling people about God by using this catch phrase, "I show people who Jesus is by my actions, not by words..." if that was the right way to go about it, why did Jesus go all over "telling" people who he was? We adjust and mold God's word and who Christ is to fit our comfort level, and that's on eof the major problems we face today.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
  4. AllOtherGod'sAreBeneathChristFeet

    Evangelism is what we do as Christians, one of the most basic obligations we have. Stop overthinking Christianity it's not that difficult to understand, this author thinks he's showing us some new type of enlightened thinking that hasn't been tried before, believe me nothing's new under the sun in God's eyes, just like all other false teachings it will pass and fade away, and in the end God's true word will remain untouched and pure like always. God's word is not flexible, it's not adaptable to other faiths, it doesnt take into consideration new "Gods", it doesn't play nice with other religions. Christ never compromised his teachings or who he was or what he was about to gain popularity and this is what a lot of pastors and evangelists are doing today, whether ithey know it or not. He came to you in absolute love, but also in authority he gave his everything to have a relationship with us and expects us to do give that back in return uncompromised. The official non-word of the day class is...UNWAIVERING!!!

    July 25, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • chipdex

      Carl is not wavering about Jesus and the need to proclaim him, he is questioning the usefulness of words like "evangelism" and "christianity", words that you hardly even find in the New Testament. Go ahead and look it up. I'm sure you know your Bible pretty well. You will find Jesus calling people to follow him and talking about the Kingdom of Heaven, there's lot of that going on. There is plenty of people talking about Jesus in Acts but there is little meaningful appearance of the words "christianity" or "evangelism". And if you look at how Paul adapted the message to his audience like in Athens where he goes so far as to quote a worship song to Zeus in order to help the people connect, you may not find what Carl is saying so out of place, biblically speaking.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Jeff

      I have had the good fortune of reading many of Carl's books on the topic of discussions with our Muslim brothers and sisters. They have truly changed my heart about evangelism and about Jesus' true message and methods. It sounds like this comment is implying that Carl is somehow watering down Jesus' message by not adding much of the Christian doctrine to his message. I wonder if Jesus asked folks in his day to convert to Judaism before he healed them or made them see... maybe he made sure that they had made their sacrifice at the temple, maybe he asked if they had ensured that they had eaten all of the right foods. Before you look it up, no he did not... he simply acted. In fact, he tended to poke fun at Pharisees that insisted on following strict rules of adhering to the rules of the religion of their day. Like Carl, I am also not advocating unsound Christine doctrine, however, I do believe we have more in common with our Muslim brothers than we tend to let on... Why don't we start there.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  5. J

    Why people keeps worshiping men and not the ones who really deserve all the Glory?

    July 25, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  6. DamianKnight

    Here's my problem with Athiesm, and this is said with the utmost respect. I have trouble with the belief that this is the best it's ever going to be. There's nothing to look forward to, because you just live here, deal with all of the garbage this world has to offer and then you die.

    It sounds so...bleak.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • Laughing

      So.... you're saying that the prospect of living in Heaven is the only reason to live? Sorry, I'd rather carry on my "bleak" existance where I can truely make the most of it without worrying whether my eternity rests on whether or not I make the big man upstairs happy or not.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  7. Natalie

    Well said Carl. Jesus commanded us to love EVERYONE. Scripture also says not to argue about doctrine.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  8. Jondra

    Well done, Carl. After reading your books, I know your heart. Keep on lifting Jesus up!

    July 25, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • J

      Does Jesus needs help to lift him up?

      July 25, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  9. Apostle Correa

    Brother....YOU JUST REALIZED THAT YOU WERE DOING THE JOB OF HOLY SPIRIT! We as Kingdom believers we don't convert people to join us, but we OPEN THEIR EYES THAT GOD "JEHOVA" LOVED THEM FIRST & THEY ARE HIS CHILDREN. Lets do what we are called to do. Talk about Jesus and let HOLY SPIRIT do what is it supposed to do....CONVICT THE ONES THAT DON'T HAVE A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM TO DO SO.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • Sporkify

      Why are theists' posts always so full of grammatical and spelling errors? You come off as (even more) unhinged and ignorant than you're already perceived. I think it's telling that the higher level of education someone achieves, the less their chance of being religious. Pretty darn telling.

      July 26, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  10. J

    just look at his face... he is just laughing at us... like all others 😀

    July 25, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  11. Bill

    Bravo, bravo Carl. Thank God for enlightenment. We need more of people like him.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  12. robert frost

    I agree with the author of this article. Gotta do something about the fact that "Kristians" have ruined christianity.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  13. Alex

    Finally, here's an evangelical that I might consider taking seriously! Good piece.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  14. J

    also, Christians keep claiming they spread Jesus word... I haven't seeing one knocking at my door ever. I still recall 9/11 when the Grahams were asked why things are so bad in this world... their answer? We don't know. They were supposed to lead people in tough times providing support through the Bible... I guess...

    July 25, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  15. Devara

    You can tell people more about Jesus by the way you live than by shoving doctrine in their faces. I have been a Christian for many years, but I have never "evangelized" anyone. I simply treat others with kindness and respect, and go out of my way to love and serve them. Eventually they ask what's different about me, and then I tell them about Jesus. I've never bashed anyone over the head with it, I simply introduce them to my Savior. What they do with the information is their business. I'm not called to convert anyone. That's God's job, not mine.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  16. Chad

    The basic message of the Gospel, what Jesus told the disciples to teach was that Jesus himself was God and he came to be the spotless lamb to take the sins of the world upon himself to save us all from damnation. God then gives everyone that grace as a free gift through faith in him. And we are told to follow in his ways and spread the good news in peace, not by forcing it down peoples throats. If they refuse to accept the Good News, simply dust off your sandals and move on.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • Fidei Coticula Crux

      Chad, so true. The biggest problem is a lot of non-believers and believers don’t know the difference between sharing the Gospel and imposing (forcing) it onto people.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  17. Tidings

    Why are people so against the sharing of good news about Jesus?
    Logon to CNN and you only read negative news…

    July 25, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • just

      ...because people love to be miserable

      July 25, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Sporkify

      ...because people don't like being lied to.

      July 26, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Fin

      Because we don't want it shoved down our throats.

      "Congress shall pass no law...."

      August 30, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
  18. J

    Christians supports and go to war, something that Jesus totally rejected and and talked against. How come Jesus is coming to take to heaven people who has been practicing war for than 2000 hundred years now? They will take war to heaven too!!

    July 25, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Bruce

      2000 hundred years is a really really long time...

      July 25, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • J

      yes it is... correction 2,000 years. Happy now?

      July 25, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  19. Dam

    Kat6850 – U r a classic example how stupid & ignorant religous people are. Slavery was considered okay by the evangelical people until 100 years ago. Most scientists were persecuted by the church. For example Galileo was jailed bcoz he proved that the earth is round and it is not the centre of the universe as the bible stated. The bible is a some mumbo jumbo written by some ignorant people to brainwash morons like u. No wonder u have no knowledge of history of Gailileo & his persecution by the church. The fact that the earth was round and it is not the centre of universe was known to Indians/Chineese 400 years before Christ was even born but the people who wrote bible were retards just like u. Even today Christainity preaches that earth is only 4000 yrs old and all that nonsense about Adam/Eve when Darwins theory of evolution has clearly proven all that to be garbage.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • James Reavis

      Yeah, bc ur ways are awesome calling ppl names, right?

      July 25, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • MasonJames

      Lovely day for a troll around the internet, eh?

      July 25, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • Dam

      Is there a better word for a moron who believes in a bible mumbo jumbo which stated that the earth is flat and is the centre of the universe .

      July 25, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • Dam

      U cant disprove any of my claims, all u can say is u r call names or troll. Just googe about Galileo what he discovered and how the church persecuted him & why. U will realise the bible is a big piece of crap written by ignorant idiots. Read how the evangelicals said slavery of the black man was okay as white man was superior.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • vapor

      Dam, why are you so angry? You sound like a spoiled kid calling people names to get attention. GO TO THE TIME OUT CORNER!

      July 25, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  20. Canbuhay

    "I believe that doctrine is important, but it’s not more important than following Jesus."

    I'm confused – isn't this also a "doctrine" – and one that you are evangelizing for by writing this article?

    July 25, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Bruce

      Yes. It's called irony. I'm pretty sure the author is well-aware of the cognitive dissonance he's creating here by asking evangelicals to think outside their little boxes...

      July 25, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • chipdex

      Following Jesus is not a doctrine, its active participation in a living relationship. My wife and I are taking swing dance classes. In swing there are leaders and followers. The leaders lead and the followers follow. I suppose you could call following a "doctrine", but its really more of a lifestyle orientation, in the framework of a trusting relationship. I don't see them as being the same thing.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:28 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.