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. EBen

    As a teacher in CA, I've had fellow teachers leave pamphlets in my mailbox trying to convert me. I've had fellow teachers not say hello to me because I am Jewish in a very fundamentalist city. I've been excluded from many functions, as well to the point I no longer feel compelled to be liked by everyone anymore. I am so tired of others trying to change who I am. It has taken me a long time to feel proud of my heritage (Greek and Jewish) and I like the philosophy of this article very much. Accept others, respect others for who they are instead of looking for differences. If this iron curtain of differences can take place among so called educated teachers, God only knows what else is going on in other arenas.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Believer

      It is their very education that prevents them from really being followers of Christ. Jesus loves you no matter who you are, most christians don't. Go with the one who won't disappoint

      July 24, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  2. Joe Smith

    This article is funny. It's trying to convince people to not convince people about stuff. lol.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  3. Rose

    ( Jesus said) Go ye into all the world, & preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth & is baptized shall be saved. Mark 16: 15,16 Believe the gospel , the birth, death, & resurrection of Jesus Christ, the only way to heaven. Today is the day of salvation, pray ask God to save you, in Jesus 's name. We all need our Lord and Savior JESUS to forgive us our sins, and take us home to heaven when our life here is over. Please don't leave the world without JESUS in your heart.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  4. SpeakinDaFacts

    If Jesus did not try to convert others...why then did He say...* I am the way, the truth, the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me*....??

    July 24, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  5. A.L

    I agree with the point that we are only messengers not converters for "conversion" only occurs when God opens up someone's heart. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.-Ephesians2:8-"I hope this is what you meant when you claimed, "I speak of Jesus everywhere I go and with everyone I meet."

    Nonetheless, I'm confused with the point of article. You sound very reasonable, but extremely obsolete at the same time. Your argument makes the readers wonder if you are the one converted into believing that Jesus is a mere prophet, instead of confirming your faith that Jesus is the Christ who fulfilled all three roles: King, Priest, Prophet.

    When you are citing non-Christians by saying " Muslims are generally open to studying the life of Jesus as a model for leadership because they revere him as a prophet." Are you claiming that you are admitting to the fact that Jesus was only a prophet? not the Christ?

    Let's admit it whether the world likes it or not, whether the world hates us(Christians) or not, you are either God's child through faith or you're not. "No one comes to the Father except through me -John14:6-" "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.-Acts4:12-"

    If only aforementioned points are clarified, other Christians will be more prone to accepting your statement: thus creating less confusion. For non-Christians, no matter how cogent your argument is, they have no choice but to be disturbed by any faith based article( I don't think I have to cite every single bible verses why this is the case).

    July 24, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  6. Sharon

    This is an incredible approach that has lots of good outcome. The book "Speaking of Jesus" is life changing!

    July 24, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  7. Miller

    I think the article has merit. Not all, but many evangelicals I see preach in public places (e.g., Kirk Cameron) altering peaceful doctrine into nothing more than a a gang banger in Los Angeles recruiting soldiers. In essence, they both use fear based marketing tactics that you will be protected from danger if you join. In essence, anyone that has to use fear to recruit anyone into anything is reminiscent of Nazi Germany brainwashing tactic used by Hitler. Also, the premise that if I was a bad person committing heinous crimes and then say I accept Jesus into my life doesn't wash. If you have bad energy, you have bad energy.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  8. Jon

    This article basically says "don't evangelize, evangelize" and "don't convert people, convert people."

    It sounds like an effort to be popular and accepted.

    Matthew 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."

    Of course, the Bible also calls Jesus the Prince of Peace.

    The point is, Jesus did not come to unite people generically, but to unite people around Salvation through Him Alone, and around God's way to live in the world.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • follow me as i Follow Christ

      I totally agree with that last statement. We arent called to follow Jesus to be a better person. We arent told to evangelize so people can follow Jesus' example of how to live....Its about putting your trust in Jesus for salvation. Sure, Christ shows us how to love, how to live, and how to be a good person. BUT ITS BIGGER THAN THAT. We are DEAD in our transgressions prior to excepting Christ as Lord and Savior.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • mike

      You hit upon the central problem. That is that people believe that Jesus is the one and only way to salvation. With that single belief a wall is built between us and them and there is no room to get around it. Unfortunately, it is what all religions believe–that they have found the answer. Even Jesus would be against that. Moreover, people have it in the nature to believe in things too deeply whether it is religion, communism, democracy, terrorism, or what ever suits their way of life and they are ultimately ready to kill each other over it.

      July 24, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
  9. Steve Brinkhoff

    First, Jesus did indeed say people would be cast into a 'lake of fire' if they didn't toe the line.

    As for Jesus being a uniter, not so much. He said he didn't come to bring peace, but a sword. To divide son against father, mother against daughter. Look it up.

    As for his tolerance, Jesus said he came to save the Jews, and that helping gentiles was like throwing scraps to dogs.

    Just another fluffy-bunny Christian cherry picking the Jesus-loves-the-little-children version he likes.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • J.W

      I think that the lake of fire analogy was used in a different context than speaking of those who do not believe in his divinity.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Believer

      He is a divider in the sense of people who believe in him and do not. ANYONE can believe in Christ, if you choose not to, well that's your choice and that is how he will divide people

      July 24, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  10. Nathan44

    Jesus did not convert others because he was a Jew. Christianity was founded many years after the death of Jesus.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  11. Believer

    He is right on the money

    July 24, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  12. joe122

    Evangelizing and conversion's main purpose was to increase the size of the army for constantine in the 3rd century. The bigger the army the more they could steal, plunder and pillage other societies and that's what they did as soon as they got enough proselytes. Muslims are the same way. They just want to control everyone for the leaders financial benefit.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  13. rob

    What else would you expect from man who seems to enjoy the company of Hezbollah’s number two leader?
    Anti-American and Anti-Christian!

    July 24, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  14. A

    Wonderful article...It takes courage to write. No matter what anyone is posting know that you are so right. SO MANY feel this way. Most christians spend there life arguing and shoving their own beliefs down the throat of others. Its sad that MEN have turned something good into something bad. I applaud your strength and tell you to keep
    up the good work:)

    July 24, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
  15. Starboy

    I have no problem with people who wish to go forth into the world to help others. But before they do this they should make sure that those they help have asked for it and both understand and accept the help being offered. If that includes evangelizing then good for them. I would hope though that help to those in need is offered unconditionally simply because it is needed. And doing so to promote some sort of message would be seen for what it is. Taking advantage of people who are down.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • A

      Very well said.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
  16. popseal

    These guys are called "DHIMMI" under Sharia Law. and in most IsIamic societies. Marx and Lenin called them "useful idiots" in the Comunist setting.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  17. Athiest

    My message:

    I do not have faith and I DO NOT want you to have Faith either!!!

    July 24, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • beelzebubba

      Are you referring to religious belief or is Faith someone who dumped you?

      July 24, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • Beth

      Methinks you are not an atheist, but actually a troll looking to stir up anti-atheist sentiments.

      The vast majority of atheists are completely fine with you having your faith, they just don't want you to cram your faith down our throats and to accept that some people might not believe in an all-powerful yet strangly apathetic sky diety. As long as you don't hurt or oppress others, you can worship the flying spagetti monster for all we care. Just keep it to yourself please.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  18. Rick

    Evangelical and missionary religious conversion is just another perverted facet of Western egoism and imperialism on both the individual and collective levels. Don't agree? Fine. Just keep out of my face and live and let live.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • popseal

      That's exactly what Jesus said. "If Rick's house doesn't receive your love, knock the dust off your feet and go elsewhere"....in so many words.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  19. J.W

    People seem to be missing the point of the article. The guy isnt saying that Jesus didnt preach. But Jesus didnt tell people they were going to hell if they didnt believe in him.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • popseal

      He said...."the wrath of God abides on them"!

      July 24, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • J.W

      That was said by John the Baptist. Wrath of God may not necessarily mean hell.

      July 24, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • beelzebubba

      Can you define 'believe in'? Isn't it a mysterious-sounding phrase that hides what you wish and really means: I wish I had an invisible friend, therefore one exists?

      July 24, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • J.W

      believe that he was divine

      July 24, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  20. Nick Estelle

    Well said, Carl.

    July 24, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
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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.