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. Sean

    The Catholic church isn't evangelical. That means over a billion people look inwards instead of trying to push your own ideas onto other people.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:52 am |
  2. JD

    Radical kind of thinking... I struggle with NOT thinking that 'they' are wrong & I know that 'we' aren't right all the time or even a majority of the time. Just sooooo confusing. Jesus has it down, for sure, just need to follow Him.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  3. Beatrice

    Evangelism made the Christian West superior over all and the whole world a civilized place with sane con-sti-tu-tions. The West have forgotten how barbaric they were without the evangelism of Christianity. Evangelism by Christians continues on until the Kingdom comes.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:46 am |
    • TrueBlue42

      There is no "kingdom". Our morals came from a mixture of innate goodness and studying the historical effects of evildoing in the world.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:50 am |
    • Beatrice

      Humans are evil; there is no goodness in them unless religion(Christianity) teaches them. You Americans are hopelessly naive because you never suffered under ruling atheists. Atheists are evil.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:57 am |
  4. Mustafa

    Mark 16: 9-20 that says that Jesus told the desciples to go and make desciples of all nations is a fabrication. Check New International Standard version of the Bible. It doesn't exist in ancienct manuscripts. Jesus always said he came only to the lost sheep of Israel and he told his disciples not to preach to the gentiles or the samaritians because he was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:43 am |
    • Beatrice

      Mustafa, that was only for Jesus' earthly lifetime because of the prophesies. Read Matthew 28, Luke 24, and Acts 1. Jesus commanded to evangelize everyone until the Endtime. You partial readers will never be rescued from self-imposed ignorance.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  5. Beatrice

    Evangelism is a lifeline of Christianity. Christians will never be silent especially in an evil society like the present world.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:43 am |
    • TrueBlue42

      You Christians did your part (and continue to do so) to contribute to the evils in this world. For that reason, we Atheists will also never be silenced.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:51 am |
    • Beatrice

      Christians rescued. Atheists kill. A total difference.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:55 am |
  6. Data1000

    If you grow up with Muslim parents, you'll likely be a Muslim. If you grow up with Hindu parents, you'll likely be a Hindu. If you grow up with Christian parents, you'll likely be a Christian. It's pretty simple really. Indoctrination is a powerful thing.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:43 am |
    • I'm Outside

      100% correct.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:47 am |
    • JF

      Most people are too blind to see that.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:49 am |
    • Beatrice

      Data, that's only true for Judaism, maybe. Christianity keeps spreading all over the world by willing conversions, thought the world give them the most severe persecutions. The immoral West is losing the Christian heritage for their downfall.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:54 am |
  7. alfredo

    That is why I follow Jesus Christ not the man's doctrine, why this article? GOD use your life an a different way to bring people to Jesus. Not exactly the way you may like him to use others people's life. at the end HE IS GOD and He can do anything HE wants for our own good. and like someone say's we have the HOLY SPIRIT and if we listen to him we will not have any confusions.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:43 am |
  8. Ron San Bruno, Ca

    It looks to me as Jesus the divider make more at the box office, then his brother Jesus the uniter. So let it be written !

    July 25, 2011 at 12:40 am |
  9. Zainab

    When I got to the blank I was thinking : an angelical...
    Religion is never evil or wrong or corrupt. Human beings are.

    He is no different than a muslim who goes speaking of the words of allah. I believe that women and men of religion are not evil (despite their religions) they believe in their doctrine as much as any other. I am muslim, but I have never once thought that Christianity, Jewish, or any of the other Abrahamic religions to be false, or evil. I think that there is far too many similarities in these religions for me to be disrespectful to any of them. And the Quran does not condone disrespect of any of the prophets. People can be single minded, opinionated, corrupt and evil, and these evil people do sometimes have religions they cling to weather it be islam, christianity or Judaism. That does not mean their religion is evil or that it fosters evil people, it just means we as humans are prone to evil deeds. I respect and uphold the teachings of all the Prophets and I revere only one true God. The ultimate unequaled God who I know to be the creator of all things.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:34 am |
    • Spiffy

      Except human beings create religion. There is plenty evil in all religion for just this reason.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:35 am |
    • Colin

      Thank you Zainab! I am a Christian and agree with you wholeheartedly. There are so many similarities between various religions and I pray that we can use them to unite, rather than create a destructive wedge.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:57 am |
  10. jude

    judging by the past yes evangelicals should stop. spreading the word of god historically has lead to the deaths of millions. honestly muslims nor any other non-christian culture cares for christianity. we have seen this and it is happening today but with muslim extremists. instead of spreading your religioin why not spread knowledge and education to better their countries?

    July 25, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • Tom R

      Jude; your comments refer to "millions" being killed because of evangelical christians. This is grossly inaccurate, and simply not the case. It does make for a good headline. However, it's simply not true. Were we to compare all those killed (approximately, of course) by religious wars in which "christians" were involved or somehow initiated, we'd find the number, even generously, at less than one million. Compared to all "christian" wars (and I say christian in quotes because saying I'm a christian doesn't make me one any more than saying I'm a Buick makes me one), let's look at some other famous killers. Hitler, by historical standards of slaughter, was a piker. Most say he was responsible for approximately 10,000,000 (or ten TIMES the number of all christian wars). Mao? Approximately 30,000,000. But the real champion here was Stalin, with upwards of 100,000,000. One HUNDRED million! None of these "gentlemen" were, of course, in any way religious. So, I think it wise to check actual (approximate figures) before using generalities in an argument. Or, to use them fairly, comparing them to something.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:53 am |
  11. joyce

    This article is an opinion piece nothing more, nothing less.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • Anthony

      Really? Duh!

      July 25, 2011 at 12:46 am |
  12. Dan

    Nice to see a person following the One that gave the Great Commission ( Mathew 28 16-20 ) and doing what He said to do.............I love he Promise Jesus gave with that commission, and Know I am with you always... Go Carl and Chris, to the ends of the world.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:11 am |
    • Spiffy

      There is no God. Sorry

      July 25, 2011 at 12:28 am |
  13. Ali Eshghi

    My fill in the blank is: Carl Medearis is a moron.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • Muneef

      No he is a US service man under a private religious coat.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:09 am |
    • Spiffy

      Where does it say he is a U.S serviceman?

      July 25, 2011 at 12:30 am |
    • Muneef

      Undercover NGO's....

      July 26, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
  14. tony

    Which came first? gods or priests? And what does an all-powerful god need collection plates for?

    July 25, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • John F. Fay

      Not so much that the all-powerful God needs collection plates as that his people need practice in being generous. It doesn't come naturally.

      – John F. Fay

      July 25, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • Spiffy

      So he is making us give up our money that could be spent other where because he is too lazy to do anything.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:31 am |
  15. Joel

    So based on his half baked ideas on what being a missionary is, he wrote this article. According to the bible, bad people don't go to heaven, good people don't go to heaven. Only Christians(disciples of Christ) go to heaven. I am not going to debate what a Christian is. This is why Christians evangelize, so all may have a chance to go heaven.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:58 pm |
    • Spiffy

      Do you have any proof of heaven?

      July 25, 2011 at 12:32 am |
  16. Cyrus

    Converting Muslims to Christianity is like preaching to the choir. You fool!

    Jesus Christ is THE most revered prophet in Islam. There sections dedicated to him, Mary, and John the Baptist and Islam speaks of his divine birth and miracles. It is required of all Muslims to not only believe in all the prophets (yes, that includes Jesus), but also believe in the books they preached. So, a true Muslim can never say that he/she only believes in Islam or Mohammed and not the prophets/scriptures before him. It's one of the foundation of Islam. But you wouldn't know that, would ya?

    July 24, 2011 at 11:54 pm |
    • Sammy

      You do not believe that Jesus is the son of God, much less IS God for that matter. How can we be preaching to the choir? It's a different choir! You believe he was a great prophet and ONLY a prophet. You do not recognize his deity which is what christianity is ALL about.

      July 24, 2011 at 11:59 pm |

      Jesus Christ wasn't a prophet, he was the Savior and Son of God. Get your facts straight!!

      July 25, 2011 at 12:03 am |
    • Bugaloo

      Why call this man a fool? that's certainly not constructive.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • Virgin Mary

      oh Cyrus- we Christians are too busy preaching to know what the other religions are actually about. 9 out of 10 have no idea what you are talking about. I feel as though most Christians are so insecure about our own beliefs that we seem to think it is not important to understand the basics of any other religion, because we fear it will somehow "rub off".

      July 25, 2011 at 12:22 am |
  17. earnest king

    There are many confused preachers out there. So many distortion of the bible by modern preachers. My argument is why do some christians want to rewrite the bible? Are we wiser than the writers of the Bible? Do we think that people will accept the bible when we preach against it or compromise the truth? This book has being scrutinised over and over again and has always outlive the critics. Kings, emperors, nations and recently the communist tried to destroy it but could not. I am not a politician and would not wnat to be politically correct. I belieive that the bible speaks for itself and I do not need any so call expert on bible matters after all Jesus Christ said, "the Holy Spirit will teach me all things".

    July 24, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • Raz car mor

      How can you follow God by yourself?

      July 24, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • Raz car mor

      "the Holy Spirit will teach me all things".

      Baptist is one of Holy Spirit teaching.

      How can you baptize by yourself?

      July 25, 2011 at 12:01 am |
    • Sammy

      Well said....

      July 25, 2011 at 12:05 am |
  18. Kelly4Him

    David Johnson: There is a God and there is satan, a fallen angel who wants to be A god. He knows that he can never be God, but doesn't want to be under the Almighty, so he leaves to be opposite of what God stands for. Evil is 'his' name. If he can't be The One, he'll work to have people follow him and not God. Therefore, he sees himself as a god in charge in his way. God/Jesus gives us free will. You can choose to follow Jesus or you can choose not to. If you are as blind as you think 'we' are, then you have been deceived by the god of evil, satan. And that is his plan. To lead you away from Jesus and 'worship' him instead. Therefore he has won you over to him. So you have now made him a 'god'. that is why people 'evangelize' and go out to the world to preach God's Word, to lead you to the one and only true God so that you will go to heaven and not to hell. I, personally do not push my 'religion' on others, but share Jesus with others who don't know Him personally so they will know the truth. The rest is up to them/you. You have free will. It is your choice. I just pray you will be open enough to look for Jesus and not just dis Him without knowing the whole 'story.' God bless!

    July 24, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
    • frank

      It makes so much sense...I BELIEVE!

      July 25, 2011 at 12:00 am |
    • Muneef


      Yaa he believed....!

      July 25, 2011 at 12:04 am |
    • Kelly4Loser


      Hardly anyone in the western world doesn't know your jesus stories. It's just that the smart people, unlike you, know that the stories are nonsense.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:43 am |
  19. Sammy

    Psalm 14:1 The fool has said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Greg

      I guess not, we're just scientists, doctors and all kinds of other professions that may very well save your life one day.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:46 am |
    • whamo

      Sammy, how about all those Psalms that say god will torment people for all kinds of minor offences, and shoot people in the back with arrows. Do you believe those too? They couldn't get away with torment sh!te like that even in Guatanamo Bay, ya know.

      Your god would have to be quite the mean coward if he existed. Just sayin.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:50 am |
  20. Brian

    Elvis has been sighted. Worship the resurrected Elvis! For Elvis so loved the world that He died fat and constipated in a restroom.

    July 24, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
    • Music

      Elvis doesn't need a resurrection u Moron....he was larger than his/your/ all of our our lives combined...

      July 25, 2011 at 12:36 am |
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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.