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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. obamalosers

    Seriously? The author must have read the Cliff Notes on the Bible, because he got it wrong. Jesus himself stated, "Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division." Jesus knew that there would be a liberal movement that would cause hatred, but that steadfastness in faith would prevail. If anyone believes strongly in anything, there will be others who will try to tear it down.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  2. Kate

    I believe in God. I've found members of traditional religious sects to be narrow minded, exclusionistic, and in many cases hypocritical. I prefer not to be a member of any group. Some people may think that just because I'm not part of a traditional religious group that I'm not a good person. However, I always try my best to be moral and honest, kind and generous in all things I do. I don't have these principles to save myself from a Hellish eternity. I do it because I want to treat others as I'd like them to treat me. I really dislike people trying to 'save' me. I can't stand Bible thumpers. They know no more than I do, and I'm quite satisfied with how I live my life. I'm not worried about my soul. They should worry about their own!

    July 24, 2011 at 10:30 am |
  3. Richard S Kaiser

    Hello Masxon,

    My Being of a Gentile Persuasion does in no way condemn you in quoting Christ Jesus saying Gentiles are as Dogs. Yes, Paul may well Have Bridged the “Social-Gap” In His Timeframe BUT; I do not agree with your analysis. I do Affirm your saying; “Christianity today isn't remotely related to the historical Jesus, but has been molded to the agendas of 2000 years of various power structures' interpretations.”

    We ALL Do Live in a Precarious Time; With FEWER and Fewer and fewer People Seeking Godly Precepts; greater and Greater and even GREATER Becomes the NEED for ALL people to SEEK That which is Righteous and Upright In Social Standings.

    AS Becoming “like gods” We are upon the Bottoms of the GOD and God and god Totem Poles in Theological Renditions.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  4. Ganymede

    I told Jesus I wouldn't go to church and he shook my hand.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:28 am |
    • HE

      Ditto.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  5. Art

    "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves." (Matthew 23:15)

    Sound familiar?

    July 24, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  6. Freethinker

    The authority of truth is the very spirit that indwells its living manifestations, and not the dead words of the less illuminated and supposedly inspired men of another generation. And even if these holy men of old lived inspired and spirit-filled lives, that does not mean that their words were similarly spiritually inspired. Today we make no record of the teachings of this gospel of the kingdom lest, when I have gone, you speedily become divided up into sundry groups of truth contenders as a result of the diversity of your interpretation of my teachings. For this generation it is best that we live these truths while we shun the making of records.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  7. tony

    We need a religious revival in the USA. About time we burnt all evangelicals and conservative christians at their own stakes.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  8. Freethinker

    The thing most deplorable is not merely this erroneous idea of the absolute perfection of the Scripture record and the infallibility of its teachings, but rather the confusing misinterpretation of these sacred writings by the tradition-enslaved scribes and Pharisees at Jerusalem. And now will they employ both the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures and their misinterpretations thereof in their determined effort to withstand these newer teachings of the gospel of the kingdom. Nathaniel, never forget, the Father does not limit the revelation of truth to any one generation or to any one people. Many earnest seekers after the truth have been, and will continue to be, confused and disheartened by these doctrines of the perfection of the Scriptures

    July 24, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  9. John19V26

    Jesus is the Word, every Word from his mouth was directed toward the conversion of all his children and to point them toward their creator. Man was not made for man, man was made for God, we belong to him. Yet, he respects our free will to accept or reject. Some will reject it, so yes, some are in and others out, but only because of their rejection to God's love. He knew some would reject him, that is why he told his disciples to "shake the dust from their feet" and move on to the next town. However, he did not close the door, for as long as one remains on earth, conversion is possible, forgiveness is his mercy. (John 20 V 20-23) "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. He breathed on them and said, receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive are forgiven, whose sins you retain are retained." He founded a Church and to that Church he gave the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. Look to the Rock of St. Peter and you will find Truth.

    Jesus mission was one of evanglization and to convert people, read Matthew 5 through chapter 13.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • stacey

      Thank you Thank you Thank you!!! I can't even believe someone would say that jesus mission was not to convert!!!! And this is the exact reason why God is cursing America as we speak....Wake up world and watch for he will be hear soon!!!! Amen Jesus forgive the person who wrote this article, you are always in my heart!

      July 24, 2011 at 10:34 am |
  10. Rsticbob

    Nice picture...should be captioned " Some of my best friends are barbarians." Either of you could be saying that. The best thing you could do is stop spreading the word, and get a job. Specializing in 2,000 year old aberrant historical facts does no one any good, and actually brings harm to the chances of the world EVER getting along.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  11. Art

    Your evangelizing is the life you live.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  12. Elvis A

    Yeah, allright, and we did originate from The Oceans, or perhaps, yes, we did originate from The Apes? End of time is near, and no other predictions as of what still yet to happen, come as close as the book of Apocalypses. So, in between all these arguments, if you are given a choice of good and bad as ultimate results, I think you all know what you will decide for. GOD LOVES US ALL but, on his second coming he will not return as such.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  13. Saundra

    Sometimes we need to just be what we are. Other times we need to act what we are. Both have an effect as to what we represent. If others are intrigued then they are drawn to the Chrstian's same belief system. It is that simple. God is within you and is there and you must remember that you could cross over to the other side which would only draw you to being truly one with him. But you would know that if you were far enough along on tyour spiritual journey. God bless anyone who influences others to believe in the one God that fathered us all.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  14. Jay

    "Go therefore and make disciples....... TEACHING THEM TO OBSERVE ALL THE THINGS I HAVE COMMANDED YOU..."

    Christ wanted people to CHANGE their way of worship to what is acceptable to God. A prime example was the Apostle Paul FORMERLY Saul, a Jewish Sadducee. He CONVERTED and became a 1st Century Christian.

    True worship of God involves your every way of life. This article is another example of how christendom waters down the bible and doctrine to preach feel good messages.

    Babylon the great, your days are numbered.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • HZ

      True Christianity is not judging others and not assuming that God will judge them based on your opinion/interpretation of what you know as opposed to God's knowledge and deep understanding of that person's heart. Salvation is by grace and not by works. You cannot get to heaven by doing a bunch of good deeds nor do you necessarily go to hell because you did bad things. Scripture says 'judge not lest you be judged'. Not 'judge everybody and pat yourself on the back for following rules'.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  15. JanetMermaid

    I have never been looked at so condescendingly, or treated with so little respect, as I have by "good" Christians who are determined to "save my soul". I am NOT Christian - or any associated flavor. I am perfectly happy with my personal belief system. I read, studied, and meditated before deciding which path I believed was personally best for me. I believe I was born just fine the first time. I do not believe I need to be saved from anything. Yet I am regularly accosted by those who "know" that they have the One Right and Only True Answer and are determined to shove me into that same mold. I had one man ask me to explain my beliefs. I politely gave him the 30-second "schpiel". His response? "I know that's what you believe is right but it's really satan deceiving you." How insulting, demeaning, patronizing, condescending, and rude can you get! So to all the "good" Christians out there: How about if you live BY EXAMPLE and keep your religious "truths" to yourselves. If I like what I see in your life better than in my own perhaps I'll ASK you about your life and beliefs. Otherwise, STFU.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Guest

      Well-said, Janet!

      July 24, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Roberta

      I couldn't have said it better myself. _____________ (fill in the blank) bless you!!

      July 24, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • ChristineF

      Best. Post. Ever.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  16. gregor sharkey

    2 Thessalonians 3:1
    As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.
    Apparently, he hasn't really read the bible or he would have read the part about spreading the gospel.
    .

    July 24, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Sybaris

      I would imagine he has but has found that the ramblings of mysoginist patrons to a myth do not apply today and cause more harm than good. By your logic (and your Bible) you would also have to adhere to not wearing blended materials, not shaving or cutting your hair, ban cripples from church, etc., etc..

      Thanks for cherry picking

      July 24, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • HE

      What message? Perhaps the message of "love" not religion.
      Jesus existed before Christianity. What Christians practice today is Pauline-Christianity not %100 true to Christ's teachings.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • michelle

      And apparently, you haven't studied much either beyond a literal reading of a text that was written 2nd and 3rd hand at best and compiled by church founders with an agenda. As much is left out as went in. It might do you some good to actually study religious texts and their origin.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:31 am |
  17. afkbrad

    Rick Perry had it right in his speech a few weeks ago. He said what was on everyone's mind. Democrats hate conservatives and they don't want to get along with us. Why then should conservatives work with Democrats when all they'll do is lambaste you through the media? Amen Governor Perry.

    Democrats don't want to know anything about my conservative culture. Democrats can't understand my philosophies. Democrats refuse to go to our churches, listen to our music, watch our sporting events, try our food, or join us at deer camp. If they don't want to learn anything about us it's their loss and we'll continue to stay divided forever.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • SDGuy

      ummmmm troll?

      July 24, 2011 at 10:26 am |
    • HZ

      Are you serious? Funny there is no mention of Democrats or Republican political parties in the bible. Maybe Jesus doesn't support your idea that Christianity should be divided along political lines.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  18. Super Patriotic Vetern who died for your rights

    Nobody gives a crap about your imaginary friends. Keep it to yourself.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  19. Correction

    What the author fails to mention is that according to the Bible, until Christ surrendered his life God was in a covenant relationship with the Isrealites. Jesus encouraged them to get the sense of the covenant rather than living just by the Law. When he was killed the covenant was done away with. His footstep followers most certainly did encourage conversion both among the Jews, then the Samaritans, then among the Gentiles and pagans. Peter even spoke of the symbolic gesture of baptism being neccesary for salvation.

    Where do these so-called 'educated' writes come up with the fundamentally flawed arguments?
    Read the Bible. You don't need a degree is Religion to do it. In fact, it helps if you DON'T have one.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Correction

      Forgot the key point that while Christ was alive on Earth then, there was nothing legitimate in God's eyes to convert to.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • HZ

      Please. God made it clear in the Old Testament that the covenant was not one sided and if the Israelis broke their side of the agreement he wasn't obligated to keep his side. They broke the agreement MANY times. In fact why were the Romans occupying the promised land? Because they had been invited in by waring factions in Israel that decided to ask Romans for help instead of God. The Jewish people still occupy a special place in God's plan but I think it's wrong to say that how they were operating was 100% acceptable to God. You get a sense of that when Jesus drove the merchants out of the Temple and when the highest religious leaders of the day conspired to have Jesus executed.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • michelle

      Jesus was of the faith of his fathers, which means that he was jewish. His followers wrote the stories and created Christianity. Paul was the world's best salesman, hands down, and a brilliant convert to a faith he largely created. There is no argument that Jesus, if stories are true, was an inspirational and blessed man with a super connection to godliness. But, it was his so called disciples, many of whom had issues and no doubt guilt over his death, who decided to create the beginnings of Christianity.

      The first century of Christianity was a complex time, and the politics alone provide enough reason to distrust much of the simplistic views that a simple and literal reading of partial texts compiled in "the word".

      Open your eyes – the writer of this article has it right.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • HZ

      michelle, Christians are supposed to share their faith if they are led to by God.... but no, they should not be trying to force it down somebody's throat or judging others. When Jesus was on Earth people were doing a lot worse things than abortion, yet Jesus never said one word about most of it which would lead me to think that Christians today should not mix Christianity and politics at all. If you want to get into politics it should not be under any Christian label. The fact a lot of power hungry people have misused Jesus's name confuses people.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:45 am |
    • HZ

      Correction, what you say doesn't jive with scripture. Jesus told people to give up everything and follow him in several specific instances. What exactly was he asking them to do then? My guess is that 99.999% of the people who claim they know something about the Bible don't know anything. The author of the article may be largely correct cause Jesus did socialize with a lot of 'imperfect' people and the religious know it alls of Jesus day had a big problem with that. How can you manipulate and control followers if you teach them not to judge others? That's the big problem they had with Jesus.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:48 am |
  20. michelle

    I think the writer finally found out REAL FREEDOM that God wants us to get and feel !
    Congratulations !
    Jesus Christ's ultimate purpose toward us is giving us freedom !
    It's a basic of everything. It's a God's wisdom.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Dawn McCordic

      Hear! Hear!! If I speak with the tongues of men and angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. I Cor. 13:1-But now abide faith, hope, love these three; but the greatest of these is love. vs. 13. Thank you Carl. If you are reading this article and feel anxious, confused or totally disagree, ask God to open your spiritual ears to His (God's) truth. Too many of us believers think we know, to in reality...we see through a glass darkly. God is ready to show you how to love others, and His Spirit, will draw ALL men unto Him...certainly not MY words or persuasiveness. Other wise it would be "me" , and not HIM....heaven forbid.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:30 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.