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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. AvdBerg

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    July 29, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  2. AvdBerg

    By reading the comments on this Blog it seems very obvious to us that all the foundations of the earth out of course (Psalms 82:5). For a better understanding of this scriptural verse we invite you to read the latest article ‘CNN Belief Blog ~ Sign of the Times’ listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    Please ignore any messages that inform you that we are on a troll and that ask you to activate the abuse button or even refer you to a gaychristian website. It is an attempt to discredit the work of our Ministry, which is for the edifying of the Body of Christ – His Church (Eph. 4:12).

    July 29, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • .....

      Thanks for proving what a troll you are by posting the same thing over and over again. This AvdBerg is a troll on this site trying to sell their cult and book, when ever you see their post click the report abuse link to get rid of this troll.

      July 29, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  3. jay lowder

    Less than 1% of confessing Christians ever share their faith to begin with and the ones who are doing so properly, know they cannot convert anyone! The mandate to "Go tell" is non negotiable privilege that blows the trumpet of hope, peace and forgiveness which all the world is in search of!
    Those who have been transformed by the life and teachings of Christ have the greatest tool to unite a bleeding world. I am blessed that the person who shared His story with me was unaware of your "wisdom" regarding their spiritual responsibility.

    July 29, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  4. Muneef

    This was not written by Muslims !!

    Revelation shows that the power behind the throne of the Roman Empire or the beast was the devil himself (Revelation 12:8-9). 

    Revelation tells us the beast’s mentor is the dragon or Satan, who gives him power, authority and a ruling throne (verses 2, 4). The dragon works behind the scenes through the beast, and he will not be mentioned much until chapter 20. But we know that he is the one who is responsible for leading the "whole world astray" (12:8). We can then define the beast from the sea or the Roman Empire as the agent of the dragon on earth.

    The beast from the earth
    Chapter 13 introduces us to the two agents through whom Satan carries out his war against the people of God. The first beast from the sea was grotesque, with seven heads and ten horns. It possessed the combined characteristics of leopard, bear and lion.

    The second beast comes out of the earth. His appearance is not so terrifying. While he speaks with the power of the dragon, he has only "two horns like a lamb" (13:11). This beast is later identified as "the false prophet" (16:13; 19:20; 20:10).

    The main function of the second beast or false prophet is to cause the world to worship the first beast, who represents secular political power. Thus, he is something of a chief priest in the beast’s kingdom.

    The second beast establishes the ideological foundation of the anti-God empire or kingdom on earth. He creates the instruments and rituals of worship in his name. The second beast uses his religious authority to underpin the political, military, social and inst-i-tutional power of the first beast.

    The second beast has been called the antichrist’s Minister of Prop-a-ganda. In many respects his nefarious work is a parody of Christ establishing the kingdom of God.

    Read more;
    http://www.gci.org/bible/rev/beast

    July 29, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  5. joe

    "Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider. How might that change the way we look at others?"
    -Carl Medearis

    “Do not think that I came to bring peace on Earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household."
    -Jesus

    July 29, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • joe

      while i wish christianity was more like your viewpoint, it isnt.

      July 29, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Doug

      “Do not think that I came to bring peace on Earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household."

      This is all OK, because none of these people are your neighbor, which Jesus has suggested that you love.

      July 31, 2011 at 4:29 am |
  6. Muneef

    BBC2 has produced 'a presenter-led do-cu-mentary series' on the life of Muhammad (pbuh)
    which 'draw on the expertise and comments from the world's leading academics and commentators on Islam.'
    You will find all three parts of the do-cu-mentary in the following link.
     http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b012mkh7/episodes/player
     

    July 29, 2011 at 2:24 am |
  7. Steve

    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.......
    I like this statement. I suppose I am an evangelical Christian but not like you could describe it in black and white. I support Israel but not when they are wrong. I challenge the Palestinians to act like a state to be rather than they did in Gaza which was only a tactical maneuver under the control of Hamas. In Israel sometimes my kind are persecuted by some Jews themselves.
    Jesus invited people to come to Him and gave them hints of what He was going to do. Read the whole of John 3 not just verse 16 and think about it.. I guess the last part is evangelical.

    July 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  8. Muneef

    Man O Man

    When without money,
    eats wild vegetables at home
    When has money,
    eats same wild vegetables in fine restaurant.
     
    When without money,
    rides bicycle;
    When has money,
    rides exercise machine.
     
    When without money,
    walks to earn food
    When has money,
    walks to lose the fat
     
    Man O Man !  never fails to deceive thyself !
     
    When without money,
    wishes to get married;
    When has money,
    wishes to get divorced.
     
    When without money,
    wife becomes secretary;
    When has money,
    secretary becomes wife.
     
    When without money, acts like rich man;
    When has money, acts like poor man.

    Man, O Man, never can tell the simple truth !
     
    Says share market is bad
    but keeps speculating;
    Says money is evil
    but keeps acc-umu-lating.
    Says high positions are lonely
    but keeps wanting them.
    Says gambling & drinking is bad
    but keeps indulging;

    Man O Man !
    Never means what he says
    and
    never says what he means!
     
    THERE ARE NO MIRACLES IN LIFE.
    LIFE ITSELF IS A MIRACLE!

    July 28, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  9. Byrd

    I woudl suspect that evangelizing loses them more adherents, and friends, than they gain. And in a multicultural society like America, it shows a blatant disrespect for all other belief systems but their own. It is quite possible to study, discuss and practice religion, theology, philosophy, mythology, etc., without requiring conversion of anyone, but that's a point seemingly lost on those who should perhaps, given the animosity they often purposely generate as in the case of Koran burnings, be worrying more about their own souls than the souls of others. I suspect that the true depth of religious belief is found more in the heart than the often twisted words which come through speech and the pen.

    July 28, 2011 at 7:22 am |
  10. Piet de Jager

    Sometimes I wonder why the Bible is so intertwined into the Trinity. But I have stopped wondering. G-d gave Moses the 10 commandments, of which the first two is probably the most important. Love, love, love.......And Jesus, who off course became the Living Word amongst us, said that "I bring you a NEW command....Love one another so that the world can see that you are my disciples....." therefore I believe that we will only draw people to G-d through Christ if we love them. Unconditionally the way G-d Loves us. We will only make an impact through this deed of love, for it is the speaking of many words and doctrines that has sowed the confusion......keep up the good work. Jesus loves you

    July 28, 2011 at 3:43 am |
  11. Muneef

    They say;

    Atheism can hide behind the musk of theism to pass on their political views which they can not achieve through atheism alone...
    "Impression is that Religion is used more as a vehicle to unjustly assign some religious moral weight," to support political views".

    July 27, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  12. Voice of Truth USA

    I think we need to correct some things before drawing conclusions from this article:

    "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."

    "fiercest militias" are not Christian at all. To say so makes me suspect of the author. We can still love the people of the world without being of the world. And Jesus Himself said, essentially, either you are with Him or against Him, so he drew a line with a two-edged sword.

    "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.”"

    C'mon, this is splitting hairs. I guess CNN's "Religion" feature only approves articles that split hairs. When Jesus made this statement, he was giving them a strategic mission. The tactical implementation is best explained when Jesus approached the woman at the water well. He didn't go up to her and say "Woman, I'm am your Messiah. Bow down!" Instead, he simply asked her for water, and a conversation ensued until she realized on her own who He was. Likewise, we Christians should approach 'making disciples" the same way.

    "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?"

    True: As I explained with the water well scenario above, Jesus did indeed meet people where they were. But as for the rest of this quote, Jesus also made it clear that there are those who are FOR Him and those who are AGAINST Him. Thos in the latter category are of the spirit of Anti-Christ. But He also tells us to love our enemies, so we also must love those who are AGAINST Him.

    July 27, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  13. Muneef

    Just occurred to me that this whole man show about Islam & Muslims was simply executed as a Sign of the Rejection of "Turkey" from joining the European League...am sure he does not mind Islam but not that of "Turkey" as a Race and Religion.... Seems some big one's mind the joining of "Turkey" and that is why all this pressure applied to make Muslims life more difficult in Europe with so many regulations... Some are taking into consideration the balance of powers and religions...
    Why can't Europe say no to America if do not want the joining of "Turkey" to League...why buy time prolonging with excuses and conditions while from inside they fight any thing called Islamic from appearance to rituals...?!

    July 27, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
    • Muneef

      Norway Killings Shift Immigrant Debate in Europe

      July 27, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
  14. Pete

    Why pick on Evangelicals? Why not just say Christians if your going to make a broad sweeping statement about a group of individuals with a wide range of views and opinions?

    Personally I don't recognise Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Baptists or any other group or denomination. I do however recognise individual Christians, most of which unfortunately decide to distinguish themselves with such labels.

    He says "Even the Apostle Paul insisted that it’s faith in Jesus that matters, not converting to a new religion"
    This doesn't make any sense as putting your faith in Jesus is converting to a new religion, it's called Christianity.

    He also says "Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider."
    Try reading the Bible. Jesus said...

    Mat 10:34 Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
    Mat 10:35 For I have come to turn " 'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law–
    Mat 10:36 a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'
    Mat 10:37 Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
    Mat 10:38 and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

    July 27, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
    • joe

      what significance do you think you impart by recognizing or not recognizing someone's denomination?

      It has no effect on the reality of their denomination (whatever it is or is not), no effect on their salvation. All it does, as far as I can tell, is show that you're judgemental.

      July 29, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  15. danny Spangenberg

    I love and respect Carl who has been selfishly doing what he talks about. My take is that we are to "be Christ" more than only talk Christ to unbelievers. Having served in many countries I have found that seekers don't just want to hear opinions but respond to real love and deep respect for Christ by the teller of His deeds in a real and simplistic way in open discussion.
    To only "lecture" is not sufficient but to take the time to socialise and reach out and hear the views of others as well enables a deeper discussion based on mutual respect and honor which can take us further than simply laying it all out.

    July 27, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  16. atthetrailhead

    how do you follow Jesus without following doctrine? You're not following Jesus; if you were, you'd study what that meant by the apostles who first "followed Jesus." Without doctrine, all you're doing to choosing your own way to go and then slapping the label "following Jesus" on it to feel good about it.

    Ever heard of syncretism? Ever wondered why God was so upset about the nation of Israel inter-marrying with other nations? Religion is important.

    July 27, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  17. bert boan

    "End of Religion" by Bruxy Cavey is a perfect book on the subject!! Jesus did not come to start the new religion of Christianity, he came to abolish all religions.

    July 27, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  18. kds

    I think the Evangelizing is actually having the opposite of its intended effect. Rather than drawing people in to listen to the "word of god" it is driving people away from him. I grew up in Canada and used to teach Sunday school. After moving to the USA seven years ago I consider myself agnostic. If I had remained in Canada I believe I would have not
    developed such a negative view towards religion but since arriving here the continual efforts to force Christianity upon the American people by "bringing god back into the schools" and the effort to dissolve division of church and state has made me turn as far away from Christianity as I can. People complain about atheists suing about everything these days but they are only pushing back. I remember the fury of some when atheists started evangelizing with their "god probably doesn't exist so why worry" campaign. Christians were outraged at atheist evangelizing. If as a Christian you can feel that outraged by an atheists billboard then how can you not understand a non Christian being outraged by Christian Evangelizing? Do you remember being a young adult and fighting for your independence from your parents? Can you remember the words, "because I said so" being spoken by them and how furious and rebellious that would make you feel? Evangelizing is doing the same thing to adults today. You can't get married if you're gay because we say so. You can't have control over your own body because we say so. You can't be head of a church if you are female because we say so. Religion comes off as a bossy neighbor and invokes the same response as it did when we were young adults. You aren't the boss of me! When people who are not of the Christian faith are told by strangers they must act and behave a certain way by people who are not necessarily smarter, older in a higher position of authority you are going to have backlash. The country gets very divided, so "us vs them" that even if the other side has a good idea the opposing side won't follow it just for spite. Freedom of religion is important but so is freedom from religion. Evil is done by Christians and evil is done by non-Christians. Eliminating religion won't stop the evil but neither will forcing Christianity upon a population. It is time for both sides to call a truce and live and let live.

    July 27, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Byrd

      Good discussion.

      July 28, 2011 at 8:32 am |
  19. Grant

    I love it! Its all about turning people's arrows so they point toward Jesus and not away from jesus. Carl is a mighty man of God and an incredible evangelist for the kingdom- though he doesnt evangelize. Beautiful!

    July 27, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  20. Mike

    With all of his experience the author still seems very confused about what evangelical Christianity is. Seems like he has tried so hard to find that unique angle or point of view to get attention for his piece that he has lost himself in the process.

    July 27, 2011 at 1:43 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.