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. joesmith

    if I were a betting man, this guy is a cia operative..

    July 24, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  2. J.W

    I have noticed that Jesus never said that people who do not believe in his divinity will go to hell. Evangelicals are harming Christianity by preaching this.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • truth squad

      Try reading a bible instead of making up nonsense.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • J.W

      ok Truth Squad if you are so smart give me a verse.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • Dave

      John 3:16

      July 24, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • J.W

      John 3:16 does not use the word hell or anything similar

      July 24, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  3. willie

    Religion, regardless which brand, has always been a governmental type organization used to control people using fear of a purposed afterlife.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • truth squad

      Utter nonsense.

      True Christians have ALWAYS been persecuted, tortured, and put to death in every major political system where control is most needed.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • willie

      Apparently truth squad has difficulty reading. Not only does he not understand my comment but he apparently never read about the inquisition, divine manifest or the crusades. An awful lot of killing and torture just to control those who don't believe their religion.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • Dave

      Just ask Native Americans

      July 24, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  4. Joe

    @ Luis WU, You are welcome to be a non believer but that does not give you the right to demean me for believing. I believe because as a well educated person with my own mind and my own moral standards, I have chosen to believe than not believe. I do not in any way shape or form deride you for being a non believer, but do not put me or anyone else down because we have chosen to believe. Yes its 2011 but many Truths have withstood the test of time and that my friend can not be challenged.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      People put down and insult non-Christians by telling them they'll be tortured forever if they don't believe (nice guy your god). I put down ignorance and stupidity at every opportunity, which is what the Christian religion (mythology) teaches. Belief in an invisible, supernatural being in the sky. Invisible – (convenient). Where are the burning bushes, the rivers turned to wine, or blood? Where are the sticks turning into snakes, the cloud and the pillar of fire (Flying saucer?). Where are people being healed or raised from the dead?? If it happened in biblical times, it would be happening now. You've been bra!nwashed since birth to believe in the myth so of course you believe it. If you'd been raised in India, you'd believe just as strongly in the Hindu myth. Get a brain people, use some logic and reason for a change instead of blindly accepting old myths.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  5. Jeff

    And there is the rub. Just like a used care salesmen anyone that uses high pressure tactics has an agenda. Plunking down a church in the middle a musslem community is about as high pressure as it gets.

    As a former Catholic I can appreciate what they are doing, but at the same time as an adult I understand now why so many of the marterred saints who spreading the Word were chopped up by the locals. They got what they deserved.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • dljr60

      But Jeff, there are Christian churches side by side with Islamic mosques. Lebanon is a Christian and a Muslin nation.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
  6. robert

    religion is the intellectual equivalent of smoking. It is an idiotic thing to do but people have the right to it in a free society. The important thing is to minimize the damage to others.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • Richard Dudekins

      Right, it certainly can do its damage. As can atheism and other ideologies.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:47 pm |
    • robert

      @Richard, Atheism is not an ideology, it is a position. Best to know what you are talking about before sharing your ignorance.

      July 24, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  7. PaulC

    Throughout history people have had more to fear from religious nutjobs than any other group.
    When a person tells you he speaks to God and knows Gods will you should grab your wallet and family and run for your life.
    God save me from organized religion.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  8. willie

    That would be the greatest step toward world peace. Religious people believe, they don't know. No one does. It's OK to speculate, but to say you know is delusional. There has never been anything found that proves jesus ever existed in the first place. Only talk and speculation from many generations removed. Those pretty red letters in your bible aren't what jesus said, they mark what others who were not alive at the time said he said. Get it?

    July 24, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  9. Paulo

    Since when did American evangelicals do anything Jesus would do? From the ones I see and read about and their leaders and politicians they're anything but Christian.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • truth squad

      There is the problem, the media only sees what they want to see and makes sure you do too.

      There really are only two observations to have.

      Either you know a true Christian and hate them because they convict your sin. So you look for any miniscule mistep in order to shout hypocrisy. No Christian ever said they were perfect, else why go to Jesus at all.

      Or your only version of a Christian is a straw man concocted by TV and movies and you are all two ready and willing to believe.

      If you were really in search of truth, a true Christian wouldn't scare you.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • James Joy

      I would agree with you. Jesus main message was that one should love God and love others. That one cannot love God unless one loves others and it is through our love for others that we demonstrate our love for God. He said that the problem with religion at that time was that the religious leaders were caught up in a list of do's and don'ts and forgot all about loving others. That the reason for this was that they loved wealth. He then stated repeatedly in many different ways that one cannot seek to be wealthy and also love God and by that others. That when one loves God and others wealth becomes unimportant and when one seeks wealth others become unimportant. That all sin was based on the seeking of wealth and instead of loving others. Today we talk about being a Christian nation we are a nation that worships the God of Mammon and Evangelicals are no different from any other group in that worship. As a child of a missionary, I have seen for years how Missionaries think that becoming a Christian means turning people into Capitalists.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  10. Lucy

    Jesus said, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." End of story.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      According to an ancient book of mythology. No thanks, I'll take logic and reason over mythical nonsense.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • willie

      You don't know that. Jesus, if he ever lived in the first place, left no writings.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • PaulC

      A lot of the religious nutjobs interpret that to mean "if they don't convert they are not really people and you are free to kill them".

      July 24, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • Daniel

      Preach the Gospel, not religion or personal opinions. Preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It did not say go and convert, and it doesn't even say to Gentiles or the Jews or even humans specifically. It says all creatures.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  11. Grace

    Christian living is all about love in 'action'

    July 24, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • robert

      more like ignorance and intolerance.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  12. Luis Wu

    People should not evangelize because the ignorant nonsense they're preaching is what's causing all the problems in the world today. If you want to wallow in a fantasy world, believing in invisible, supernatural beings in the sky, that's your right. But you don't have the right to try and push your stupidity on everyone else.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  13. KRIK

    I'm offended by all religious proselytizing. Believe whatever you want, but keep it to yourself.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • truth squad

      I am offended by people who are offended by people who prolystize. So be quiet and mind your own business.

      If you don't want to convert, don't, but leave that decision up to other people as well. Otherwise you are just as meddlesome.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      @truth squad
      That's fine, but it's the PROSELYTIZERS who are at the door, on the phone, and bugging me at school, when all I WANT IS to be left alone.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
  14. David

    I was raised in a Christian household and attended church until my high school years. It was at that time I became aware of the hypocrisies of what was preached and what was practiced. I came to realize that many church going Christians do not practice what they preach. Just because one attends church does not make one a good christian any more than attending a NASCAR race make you a good car racer.
    Perhaps we would be better served by following good responsible values, judging a person by the their actions and the kindness in their hearts.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
    • Dereck

      David, I once had a preacher talk about the exact point you are making. About the apparent hypocrisies of church-goers. This is what he said to those that have views such as yourself, "I'm a hypocrite, you're a hypocrite, everyone in this church right now is a hypocrite, so why don't you come on in and make yourself at home!" He said it as a "serious-joke" by the way. Everyone laughed because it is completely true. If we could live like Jesus we wouldn't need grace. Being as we cannot live that way, then yes, I am a hypocrite along with every other person in this world. This does not make church a bad place by any means.

      I hope this makes sense and I do agree that we should live by better values and judge rightly (The Bible does not say do not judge, it says we should judge rightly).

      July 24, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  15. Joe

    People are missing the point, It is NOT an Evangelical or Christian's responsibility to convert anyone! The Holy Spirit can do that once the person who hears the message of the Good News and accepts it. As for those that claim that Muslims will be going to hell if they do not believe guess what YOU ARE JUDGING!!! You do not have that right as a fellow human being to make God's decisions. Who will be going to hell or not is GOD'S Decision and Only his to make! You have no right to say that to anyone! You do not know, you have no access to the book of life, you do not have an inside track into the mind of GOD. Let me know if you know something different than those facts! Other than that shut up already with your sanctimonious judgements because the Good book also states that You will be judged by the same measure you use to judge others. Meaning you state someone is going to hell and guess what? You may find yourself there instead!

    July 24, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      YOU are missing the point. All religions are just ancient mythology, period. Hinduism, Christianity, Islam Buddhism, tribal religions, just ancient mythology. This is the 21st century, not the 12th. We don't need ancient myths to tell us how to live and we don't need invisible, supernatural beings in the sky. Wow, if you don't believe, you'll be TORTURED – FOREVER. Nice guy your god. Get a brain people. Use logic and reason for a change instead of letting an old book of nonsense tell you how to live.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • David

      Anyone notice it's all the religious nuts shouting at us with their CAPS? What's up with that? Oh, I get it, you're trying to raise your voice for effect like the brainwashing idiot you listen to each Sunday morning.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • truth squad

      David, I believe your anti-Christian intolerance is the effects of years of brainwashing by public schools and movies and TV all made by non-believers.

      Your ignorance is only exceeded by your arrogance and hatred of those who disagree with you.. I pray you repent

      July 24, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • David


      No my anti christian opinions are based on having it shoved down my throat my whole life.

      Repent to who exactley? Someone I don't believe in? I might as well pray the ToothFairy.

      Just one long discussion over who has the better imaginary friend.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  16. JLP

    In spite of all that has been written here ,the only thing that matters is what Jesus said" I am the way,the truth and the life and no man gets to the father except by me".

    July 24, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • David

      No one knows what Jesus said... only what we've been told he said.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Casey

      Jeusu never said that. The New Testament is a culling of works written long after Jesua was gone by people who has an adgenda. Christians are so unsure of what they believe, low self esteem, that in order to convince themselves that their faith is right they insist it's the only way to believe. Christians are afraid to doubt and really study the life of Jesus because their faith is so shallow. God gave you a brain, use it.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • BOb the prairie dog

      Jesus didn't say that. John says that Jesus said that. Huge difference.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • dljr60

      @David, but we only know what we are told that Plato or Socrates said, or Buddha, or Muhammed, or Confusicious, or Newto, or Galileo, or Walt Whitman and so on?. Do you only believe some one you hear in person, read on the Internet or TV?

      July 24, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  17. John

    I appreciate the perspective of someone who is not in the pockets of politicians. We seem to have too much mixing of the politics and the religion. In the words of Tony Campolo, it's like mixing crap and ice cream. The crap stays crappy but the ice cream is ruined. The more people like this that can incite a non-political dialogue about Jesus, the better off the world will be.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  18. Cathy

    Too bad more Christians don't think like this, evangelicals turn off more people than they convince.

    July 24, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  19. paulotics.com

    Another interesting take on attacks in Norway, religion, and media | Damn, he isn't Muslim: http://t.co/faLflyC

    July 24, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
    • PaulC

      He's not a muslin but he is a religious fanatic willing to kill infidels . Same difference to me.
      Sometimes only a hat separates one religious nut from another.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
  20. paulotics.com

    Another interesting story stemming from attacks in Norway | Damn, he isn't Muslim: http://t.co/faLfIyC

    July 24, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75
About this blog

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.