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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. Chris

    @ Laughing

    In regards to your second paragraph, I admit I worded it wrong. My point is, Jews revere the prophets... now. But take a look at some of the revered prophets such as Amos, Jeremiah, Uriah; all were persecuted. True not all major prophets were persecuted, but major or minor, they are all revered now. In regards to an anti-semitic agenda, everything I said is true, according to the Bible. My "part of the plan" comment comes from the Old Testament, where over and over Jesus was prophesied to come and die. Isaiah 7:14, 9:6, 53:3-7; Zechariah 9:9; Micah 5:2; etc. My point was not intended to be anti-semitic, but rather coming from prophesy within the Old Testament. Listen, I am far from anti-semitic, heck, my Savior was a Jew, being a follower of Christ, the Old Testament is part of God's revelation. If my words were poorly chosen, I apologize.

    In regards to your first part, yes, separate but eternally one. It is an extremely tough concept to understand. If you are interested, I would love to point you to Scripture, both Old and New Testament, which help explain/identify the Trinity.

    @ i wonder

    Your post speaks for itself... 😉

    Regards to both,
    Chris

    July 25, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  2. Melissa

    As a follower of Jesus Christ, I agree we should be introducing others to him however we can. I agree we should be showing and speaking of the love of Jesus more than anything instead of just pointing out things in others that we don't agree with. I'm not saying we should start compromising our beliefs, I'm just saying that first and foremost we must lead others to Him. Without that part, none of the other stuff is important But Jesus is not just a good example of how to be a leader or a good humanitarian. He's the Son of God, and just following his example doesn't change anything.

    Christians aren't perfect people. We're human. I know I still make mistakes, no matter how hard I try not to. It's human nature. The world has been broken since Adam and Eve were deceived in the Garden of Eden by a trick. A trick broke the perfect peace the human race had with each other and with God. God knew what sacrifice had to be made to save us from death and hell. So, He sent his Son into the world as a man, who experienced all the pain and human suffering that we do today, and then was beaten and hung on a cross, so that we wouldn't be doomed. (John 3:16-21) Jesus could have called down angels to rescue him. He could have come down off the cross himself. He could have wiped everyone off the face of the Earth, but he didn't. He chose to save us.

    Christ defeated death when he rose again 3 days later.

    This is what following Christ is about. Accepting the gift that he gave for us on the cross. Admitting we're not perfect and are sinners.(Romans 3:23) Believing the Jesus, the Son of God, died for our sins and rose 3 days later (John 5:24), and committing to follow Him (2 Peter 3:18).

    So, simply making a list of right and wrong and following that list, or a set of rules and regulations doesn't make someone a Christian. It is believing in and accepting the gift that Jesus is offering to us. Once you've done that, a transformation in your life will take place naturally because you will experience the love and peace of knowing Christ as your Savior. That's why why we say Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship. Because without the relationship, Christianity wouldn't really exist.

    Not everyone will accept the gift. There are skeptics just as the Bible said there would be, but that doesn't mean we should give up. The world WILL come to an end one day. Jesus wants us to be with him in heaven for eternity when it does.

    I like to think of it like this to help put it in perspective. If you knew a tornado was going to come to your city, destroying everything in its path and others didn't know about it, would you try to warn as many people as possible, or would you quietly get in your car and leave town without saying a word for fear that people might judge you or call you crazy? Well, Jesus is coming back one day to get his people, and the rest of the Earth will be destroyed and doomed to spend eternity in Hell where there will be eternal separation from God, meaning that all things good, like peace and love, will be non-existent. Shouldn't we keep trying to take as many people to heaven with us as possible?

    July 25, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Chris

      If you actually believe the Adam and Eve myth really happened, then having a logical discussion with you would be impossible.

      The Catholic church has even come out and acknowledged that the Adam and Eve story is not to be taken litterally. They stated that god created the big bang.

      LOL

      July 25, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  3. grams

    Jesus does NOT say come join a religion... but calles all humans to Come into a PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP with him.
    now what relogion is that pne//

    July 25, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • Chris

      What's sad is people often delude themselves into believing these myths!

      The placebo effect is very powerful, so powerful some believe in angels, spirits, devils, and other non-sense!

      July 25, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • JDinFLA

      Chris

      Whats even sadder are those that delude their logical minds into thinking there is nothing greater than man!

      July 25, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • mac

      Nowhere in the Bible does it say "personal relationship with Jesus." Just want to point that out. It's been bandied about a little too long.

      July 25, 2011 at 8:12 pm |
  4. Joe

    How can I listen to a man talk about peace when the picture on the article shows him posing with a Jew hating terrorist leader? Not only is he posing, but the man is smiling! This leads me to believe he ENJOYED meeting with a terrorist mastermind responsible for the death of thousands of Jews. If that's your religion, then you can keep it. AM YISRAEL CHAI.

    July 25, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Chartreuxe

      Jesus said, 'Love thy enemies,' did He not?

      July 25, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  5. Robert Ingersoll

    Is there a supernatural power—an arbitrary mind—an enthroned God—a supreme will that sways the tides and currents of the world—to which all causes bow? I do not deny. I do not know—but I do not believe. I believe that the natural is supreme—that from the infinite chain no link can be lost or broken—that there is no supernatural power that can answer prayer—no power that worship can persuade or change—no power that cares for man. I believe that with infinite arms Nature embraces the all—that there is no interference—no chance—that behind every event are the necessary and countless causes, and that beyond every event will be and must be the necessary and countless effects. Is there a God? I do not know. Is man immortal? I do not know. One thing I do know, and that is, that neither hope, nor fear, belief, nor denial, can change the fact. It is as it is, and it will be as it must be. We can be as honest as we are ignorant. If we are, when asked what is beyond the horizon of the known, we must say that we do not know.

    July 25, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
    • Chris

      I like your post.

      However, I think based on the preponderance of all the evidence, we must conclude supreme beings are not creators of man, rather man is creator of the god(s).

      July 25, 2011 at 7:27 pm |
    • Beth?

      I can't even remember what I had for breakfast !

      July 25, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  6. Chris

    Quit evangelizing? Yes! Please!

    It's real simple folks! Each of us knows what death is like. Death is exactly what it was like before you were born (if you can wrap your mind around that). There is continuity in non-existance with life in between. Before you were born, you didn't exist. After you die, you again cease to exist. I know it may sound depressing, death as an eternal dreamless sleep, but this is the nature of our reality. If you can't deal with reality and feel compelled to delude yourself in fantasies and myths, go right ahead! But keep your delusions out of my life! Why must liquor stores be closed on Sunday's? Why can't two people of the same se-x marry? Why must you try to push to teach creationism to our kids? And on and on and on! I'm sick of it!

    98% of people that have come and gone before us never heard of this Christ figure. We as a species have lived tens of thousands of years before this idea of a Christ evolved. How arrogant of some of you Christians to exclude all of these people simply because 'the only way to heaven' is through Christ? Really? 98% of all humans that have existed (at least what you'd recongize as human) never heard of Christ! More than half of people living right now have beliefs other than yours! How easily you can exclude all of them from your 'heaven'?. How dare you! How dare you be so selfish even in your delusions!

    Please poeple! We as a species REALLY need to leave these bronze age myths where they belong, in the past! It is extremely dangerous to believe in a man that will come back in the sky and save us! We humans are so easily deluded that we have a name for it, it's called the placebo effect. It's all in your head folks! There is no god or gods, and it's very unlikely this Jesus character never even existed!

    July 25, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
  7. Wolfgang Fernandez

    Carl is right on! As a follower of Jesus I also went through the shift his words imply. I can now talk to almost anyone about Jesus for people normally vote Jesus YES Religion NO.

    July 25, 2011 at 6:16 pm |
  8. Bill Huffhine

    Major kudos to Carl for this thoughtful piece. As a former Christian pastor who has left the church to discover anew the God that cannot be contained within the walls of any religion, I applaud your courage. Our thoughts and ideas on the damage caused by the Christian religion harmonize. I've written about it as well at http://www.christiandropout.com and in my newly published book, "Confessions of a Christian Dropout." May your journey take you far from the shores of religion deep into the heart of God.

    July 25, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
  9. Barry

    Otto,

    If you’re sincere, why don’t you get a Bible and read it, before you reject it.

    What do you have to lose?

    Perhaps you’ve heard about the former atheist and geologist, John Clayton.

    He, too, was a skeptic. But one day he decided to read the Bible, for himself.

    Much to his amazement, he realized that he had been wrong for many years.

    Ask him.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
    • Jesus of Nazareth

      I took this challenge in college, reading the bible after getting brow beat to 'just read it'.

      How people can take the book as anything more than the equivalent of Grimm's fairy tales is mind boggling. Taken as a historical piece it certainly is interesting and worth studying. But it hardly serves as a moral compass any more than watching Star Wars does.

      I suspect the bible is only palatable if you are force fed it at a very early age to the point that you cannot imagine life without it by the time you reasoning develops. College is too late for the brainwashing to stick.

      July 25, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • TrueBlue42

      Barry, if you’re sincere, why don’t you ask how many so-called "Christians" have actually read the "bible" themselves?
      What do you have to lose?

      Perhaps you’ve heard the famous writer, Mark Twain.

      He, too, was a Christian. But one day he decided to read the "bible" for himself.

      Much to his amazement, he realized that he had been wrong for many years.

      See what he said. http://www.hitchenszone.com/atheism_quotes_page_01.html

      July 25, 2011 at 7:04 pm |
  10. Barry

    Otto,

    Jesus said: I lay down my life. No one takes it away from me.

    Jesus gave his life. It was not taken from him.

    Someone had to pay for you and I have done.

    There's always a price, which must be paid, to set things right.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  11. Jay G

    Who cares. Religion is simply the greatest tool ever invented for controlling the populace. People still are simple minded enough to believe that there is some great being out there that created us and has such a great ego that he wants us all to waste time praying to him or her or battling on his or her (or its) behalf. Yeahhhh, that's it. When are people going to wake up? The author of this article misses the biggest problem – it's not how he views and portrays Jesus. It's that he still speaks about it to everybody and acts as if it's real. If you want to praise the historical Jesus for being somebody who tried to bring people together, great, but do it outside the context of religion. Only then will the world start to become one nation. Religion is the root of 99% of the world's conflict.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
    • Barry

      Christianity is not a religion, it's a relationship and a way of life.

      And it works.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Ike

      Actually religion is not the problem, people are the problem. If you get rid of them, then you get rid of the conflict. A little too simple and straighforward isn't it. Many religions use conflict, but Christianity actually strives to stay away from conflict. People have used the name of Christianity to fight or hurt others, but that was just thier justification. The Bible teaches otherwise, but do people read and listen. No, so I say get rid of them. The world would be a whole lot peaceful.

      July 25, 2011 at 6:40 pm |
    • KEI

      @Ike..

      With your statements, you could be the next Anders Behring Breivik!

      July 26, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  12. Alvino

    Right on, Carl! Why doesn't "the church" get it? Where can we find more guys like you?

    July 25, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  13. otto

    book of myths: Old Testament.
    book of restated false tales about how killing a big person will buy you something from the sky father. New Testament.

    Book of Mormon. tales about Jewish tribes in North America. note how no one ever finds the pottery or other cultural evidence. Best part is how it was translated from the "egyptian". guy looked into his hat, thru a stone with holes in it.
    As he looked, the translation letters/words would appear and then waft into the ether, one word at a time.
    119 pages was dictated and when the 119 was stolen, the 'author' never bothered to re-dictate the original 119, thus the book of Mormon is missing its introductory material.

    Koran, entire book dictated by an angel in one long sitting and supposedly memorized for later writing down.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • JDinFLA

      You forget the book of moron that you read

      July 25, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  14. Barry

    Dear "A Follower",

    I'm quite impressed and am grateful for what you wrote.

    Well done.

    –Barry

    July 25, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  15. otto

    Any credible scholar or historian, religious or secular, acknowledges that a man named Jesus lived in the first century CE, that he was a Jew and a teacher (rabbi), and that he was crucified, under by the Romans, during the reign of Augustus Caesar.
    -

    You go on about how Jesus was known to have existed.

    There is no such evidence at all, in any place or book. ZERO.

    the closest thing is a reference to a similar name as Jesus, in writings, several decades after the supposed events.
    NOTHING from the time of the events. NOTHING from remotely close to the purported event.
    NOT ONE WORD.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Barry

      Otto,

      The earliest followers of Jesus were not only eyewitnesses (including the Romans, who crucified him), but many of them were willing to subject themselves and their families to ostracism, persecution, torture and death, because they believed that Jesus lived, died and rose again.

      Who do you think were martyred in the Circus Maximus and the Coliseum?

      Who do you think Nero and other emperors executed?

      Remember these were people, who despised lies and any form of evil. Their reputations were solid.

      As if that’s not enough, the message of the good news about Jesus Christ has not only lasted for two thousand years, but it has thrive, despite the worse possible conditions; and, it has changed and healed broken lives more than anything else before, during or since.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  16. otto

    drinking the blood of another person is a pagan ritual without merit.
    eating the meat of the killed person is just a pagan ritual.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Barry

      Not when that person is the son of God.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  17. Barry

    Spiffy,

    Even agnostic and atheist scholars do not deny that Jesus existed.

    Surely you’re not serious!

    Any credible scholar or historian, religious or secular, acknowledges that a man named Jesus lived in the first century CE, that he was a Jew and a teacher (rabbi), and that he was crucified, under by the Romans, during the reign of Augustus Caesar.

    Any credible scholar realizes that many of Jesus’ followers were also persecuted, tortured, and executed, because they believed that Jesus was the son of God.

    These matters are indisputable.

    Incidentally many brilliant individuals, such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle believed in the existence of God.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • otto

      poster says: many brilliant individuals, such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle believed in the existence of God.

      OK fine. what does that have to do with killing a person and then claiming you will go to heaven because you 'believe in' the power of the blood of the killed person?

      July 25, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Spiffy

      Socrates, Plato and Aristotle lived in a different time. I don't really care what they believed.

      The origins of Jesus are just to questionable for me to actually believe he existed. Also his entire life story fits into myths that pagans around the Mediterranean believed at the time.

      July 25, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  18. Barry

    Rebekah,

    You do understand that Jesus, himself, was a Jew.

    You do understand that Jesus’ sacrificial death is consistent with the Hebrew prophetic book, Isaiah, which referred to Israel as the suffering servant.

    You understand that the twelve apostles were all Jews.

    You understand that Saul the Pharisee became the Apostle Paul, who wrote nearly half of the New Testament.

    You understand that Jesus and his followers always considered themselves to be Jews.

    You understand that what Jesus did on the cross comes from the teachings of the book of Leviticus.

    The gentiles did not enter this movement, until later, and they were grafted into this movement.

    Do you understand what I am trying to tell you?

    July 25, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  19. CHRIS FLORES

    THE BOTTOM LINE IS THAT EVERYBODY – INCLUDING CARL MEDEARIS – WILL MEET OUR CREATOR FACE TO FACE AND
    IT WILL BE VERY INTERESTING WHAT NON-BELIEVERS WOULD TRY TO DO OR SAY...........IN THE MEANTIME WRITING,TALKING,ATTACKING IS CHEAP

    July 25, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • JDinFLA

      Hope they are not YELLING up there geez

      July 25, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • mac

      Christians who are rubbing their hands together and gloating about what they believe the fate of nonbelievers to be might want to think about what sort of "witness" they're bearing. Those words "I never knew you" are directed against so-called believers, after all. Never understand why some Christians act like they're on a team. It goes against everything Christ said.

      July 25, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  20. Terry

    This article evokes disbelief and outrage at the same time. Disbelief that someone with as much experience and servitude of being a missionary to others would come up with these conclusions and outrage in the fact that here is another "Christian" example of what is wrong with churches today.
    We wonder why we are losing people everyday and it is because we are trying to placate everyone and not offend anyone. Jesus was humble and served others but He also had an anger or else He would have just left the temple to the tax collectors and others. He told us several times to rebuke our brother when they sinned and he also said that a house divided can not stand in Matthew 12 and specifically in verse 30 He says "He who is not with Me is against Me and he who does not gather to Me scatters aboard." And Paul tells us in 1st Cor 10:21 "You can not drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you can not partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons." We may have to live in the world but we certainly do not have to be of the world. This is exactly why churches are having problems; they don't know what they believe and if they don't know what they believe then how can they relay a belief system or lifestyle to others? They can not. Compromise is just another word for surrender and that is what churches are doing all over surrendering to the world. No wonder we as Christians do not really know what we believe anymore. We have to choose a side, there is no middle ground.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Glenn

      Amen and Amen, Terry. I could say more but you said it very well.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Linda

      Wow so hostile for a Christian. Does your religion also teach you to hate your brother, hate your neighbor? No wonder Christians are so mixed up after listening to hate coming from people like you. You plan to convert people with your hate? Good luck with that. That was why I left the church because of holy people like you who think they are above everyone else.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Eternal

      So do you think Gandhi or Buddha would have been better human if they were converted to christianity first?

      July 25, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
    • JDinFLA

      What are you suggesting Terry?
      We as Christian's start our own Jihad?
      I got news for your – the bible speaks nothing of this – it does however speak of trusting in the lord your God.
      Might wanna give that a shot.

      July 25, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • Brother J. R. Hughes

      Hmm. Interesting. You are talking about Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Jesus said I am The Way, The Truth and The Life, no one comes to (God the) Father, but they have to come through Me. Jesus was the One Who came to die to pay the penalty for the sins of all men. He is Son of God. He is the God in the flesh. Well at least that is what he said. Is Carl Medearas saying that Jesus is properly portrayed in the Quaran? The Quaran says the version of God, Allah has no son. Their version of Jesus did not die on the cross. Their version of Jesus is coming back to convert all to Islam and admit that HE, Jesus was wrong. Jesus said, do you think that I have come to bring Peace on the earth? I have not come to bring Peace, but Division. In other words we have to choose to either receive Jesus death in our place to pay the death penalty our sins earned us, and we can be with Him in heaven forever, BUT if we choose to try to make it any other way, any other way, any other way, then we will die without our sins being forgiven and we will spend eternal death in the lake of fire. IT IS your choice.

      July 26, 2011 at 10:13 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.