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. Ashley

    This seems like every other modern article on religion. Love God, let people decide what is best, and He'll sort it all out in the end. I don't really see any new ideas in here, just another guy convinced he has suddenly found all the answers.

    July 25, 2011 at 9:47 am |
    • Reality

      Some answers based on facts:

      Mark 3:20-21

      20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family[a] heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

      This passage as have all passages in the NT has been analyzed by many contemporary NT scholars and has been judged to be authentic.

      Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

      Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospels being mostly fiction.

      Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European, white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!

      So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher/magic man would do or say?

      July 25, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  2. Beatrice

    It's really liberals like CNN that wishes Christians to be silent. But CNN, we appreciate your open forum. Stay fair and balanced.

    July 25, 2011 at 9:46 am |
  3. Beatrice

    Christians, especially the true ones(Evangelicals), will NEVER stop evangelizing. That's what Jesus did and commanded His followers to do. Christian evangelism changed the world and the history for good forever.

    July 25, 2011 at 9:42 am |
  4. William Demuth

    It is a wise man who keeps evangelicals out of his society.

    Mental patients sowing cult sickness can not be rationalized away.

    July 25, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  5. CW

    I do believe that we as christians are to share the love of Christ with all. I do believe that na.g.ging or arguing with a lost person isn't the way to go as well. I do believe in standing up for what the Bible says though....Even Jesus challenged the pharisees and sadducces on their doctrines in religion and spoke out against them. If this guy is about speaking the truth then he won't shy away from it to please someone but speak it loudly to all.

    July 25, 2011 at 9:30 am |
    • gozer

      If you really stand up for what your bible book of evil says, then which animal did you kill and burn as a sacrifice to your as-shole of a god today?

      July 25, 2011 at 9:35 am |
    • William Demuth

      You can preach all you want as long as I can continue to crucify.

      July 25, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  6. Ancient Marinator

    "perhaps we should practice what we preach" Like that guy in Norway? How about you all just hush and leave us alone?

    July 25, 2011 at 9:23 am |
  7. gogogopher

    So why would Jesus kill 42 children with 2 bears? in 2nd kings... really? The Lord sends bears to rip apart children for laughing at a bald headed man. "Go on up thou bald head..." That's it? Two bears come rushing outta nowhere and maul, rip, shred CHILDREN...

    Jesus kills children...... look it up.... and if you believe Jesus is God.... then it's true.... Jesus kills.... "I and the father are one.." "The Word WAS god...

    July 25, 2011 at 8:59 am |
    • William Demuth

      Why would Jesus have one of his followers slaughter children in Norway?

      July 25, 2011 at 9:41 am |
  8. Jessicajj

    Let me suggest something. Jesus never said anyone was going to hell for having the wrong theology but rather for rejecting the grace of God. Ordinary Jewish peasants and Romans who came to him surely didn't understand or accept Christian theology, but they knew they saw God in him and they wanted that. When he did threaten people with hell, they were people who saw miracles that Christ performed and still rejected him, probably because they were more intent on being right in their own minds than in finding God. I personally believe that if someone is seeking God with his whole heart that God will honor that and will save that person, even if he doesn't know or understand the first thing about Christian theology. However, many people who believe every word of the New Testament and yet fail to seek God's grace may find themselves separated from God. Jesus taught the love of God and the necessity for people to have compasionate and generous spirits. Theology ran a distant second.

    July 25, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • Free

      Isn't the idea of a 'grace of God' part of a theology?

      July 25, 2011 at 9:48 am |
  9. myway

    To all Bible quoters out there, let's just start with historical facts. The Catholic Church is a continuation of the church founded by the Romans to help keeping their empire going a little longer. The pope symbolizes a Roman emperor who at the time was also the head of all nationalized religions. That’s in plural. Yes, the Romans cleverly allowed the practice of other national religions besides Christianity. Sort of like, if you can't beat them, join them. The Roman emperor Constantine commissioned the creation of the Bible as a means to unite Christian churches all over his empire. Prior to then Christians had vastly different ideas what Christianity is depending on where they were living and what scrolls their respective churches were using for their teachings. The creation of the Bible was supposed to settle these differences. Unfortunately Roman ingenuity wasn't good enough to avoid conflicts among the chosen texts. Besides they heavily edited the source texts to highlight certain ideas or practices the Romans felt were good for their political ambitions. Of course they couldn't foresee that one day every Tom, Dick and Harry has their own Bible copy on their book shelve. A copy of the Bible in Roman times would have cost more than the average citizen’s lifetime earnings. Much of this hard unifying work was undone with the onset of the reformation and the creation of subsequent Christian factions. In Roman times such dissidence wouldn’t have been allowed. Where am I going with all this? To quote the Bible today as some kind of evidence is the same as quoting Gilgamesh or any other ancient fable. Christians should learn what the ideas of the Bible stories mean to everyday life and practice that. If everyone did that we wouldn’t have to agree on what the meaning of individual Bible verses is. It wouldn’t matter.

    July 25, 2011 at 7:58 am |
  10. Reality

    Truth in the 21st century via a prayer:

    The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians during the past 200 years)

    I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven.

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.


    July 25, 2011 at 7:38 am |
  11. ruff

    Prior to reading this, i have been mulling this over in my spirit for some months... i believe the basic idea of this article is the beginning and future of Christianity . if we Christians want to be of serious relevance in the future, the simple idea of love according to 1st Corinthians has got become the focal point. According to Jesus.." even evil men love those who do good to them....love your enemies and those who hate you....by this shall all men know ye are my disciples that you have love one for another"

    July 25, 2011 at 6:15 am |
  12. Catholic

    Amazing, this article. Just about as intellectually dishonest as I can imagine it could be. Amazing how important it is to read the Bible in context, too.

    "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations ..."

    This is the quote we are given in the article, as the author tries to convince us that Jesus never intended to found a religion. Watch what happens when we read just a little bit further:

    "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; ...” – Matthew 28:19-20

    By the way, the second example of what we should think Carl is ... what a load. This is emotionally driven, sensationalist hyperbole to the likes I've never seen. Oh wow. 🙂

    July 25, 2011 at 6:12 am |
    • RFBJR

      Amen, Catholic. Watered down Chrisitianity, that's what we should stand for? It just doesn't make sense.

      People forget that Jesus overturned those tables in the temple owned by the moneychangers. Jesus was very tough, He stood toe to toe with the devil and backed him down with the Word of God. I don't think people understand the fundamental mission of our Lord Jesus Christ when the Word became flesh; it was not to bring peace and unity to the earth. Let's read His words:

      Luke 12: 51-53 – "51Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: 52For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. 53The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law."

      Wow, I would say that is a prophetic and completely accurate statement! His mission in that time was to come as the Lamb and sacrifice His perfect life for the sins of man. Don't get me wrong, He is the Prince of Peace and will bring peace upon the earth in His second coming. However, he will come as the Lion and bring peace by the sword. I'm glad to stand for Him and be on His side. And I will fulfill the Great Commission as his servant and share the good news that Jesus is Lord and no other.

      I take my orders from Jesus, not from Carl Medearis or any other so-called "Christian."

      July 25, 2011 at 9:46 am |
    • gozer

      Oh, that jeebus-on-a-stick scapegoat story again. Let's try this again:

      your "omnipotent" being needed to kill something to remove "sin", why exactly? Why not just do the job without that nonsense? Or is your god not so capable?

      And this god you've created thinks eternal torture by burning for transgressions in a finite life is fair punisment? Really? Any modern court would consider that barbaric.

      Take your god fables and shove them.

      July 25, 2011 at 9:55 am |
  13. pugs

    Though no one has said it.. what about the recent waves of evangelical atheists .. they are just as bad><

    July 25, 2011 at 5:51 am |
    • Tom Kotner

      Recent waves of evangelical atheists? I wasn't aware of this but I believe it is a good thing. It means many people are finally thinking for themselves and / or that those who already been are no longer afraid to speak up. Atheists have traditionally been too shy about their beliefs and have kept quiet for far too long..

      July 25, 2011 at 6:51 am |
    • Bible Clown

      There's no such thing as an evangelical atheist, but you get extra points for being crazy. So I'm going to force you to disbelieve at gunpoint now? I bet you need lots of cops and laws to protect your children from me, right? Man, you crazies will literally believe ANYTHING.

      July 25, 2011 at 9:26 am |
    • William Demuth

      I have NEVER had someone knock on my door and ask my children to NOT believe in God.

      Keep the hell away from my kids, or you will end up in a body bag.

      Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, you are all garbage to me.

      July 25, 2011 at 9:44 am |
    • RFBJR

      I understand exactly what you are saying pugs. There is a constant attempt to prove atheism by the belief bloggers. Let me reword that; there is a constant put down of Christianity by the belief bloggers. Let me take the side of a person that does not want to be converted: To all you atheists out there, I don't care what you think, stop talking to me about what you believe, I don't care, leave me alone. I promise I won't try to convert you to Christianity. You can believe what you want as long as you allow me to believe what I want. I beleive that there is a God that created all things. I believe that Jesus is the Christ and died for the sins of the world. Don't believe it if you don't want to, I don't care.

      July 25, 2011 at 10:04 am |
  14. Sehine Hailu

    Dear. Brother?? (Mr. Meadris). There is no compromising on our Lord's teaching. If you have ( as you siad were a missionary) read your Bible, He never, never comprised on the way to the Father. Those who believe accept that Jesus Chirst is Lord and God will inherit the Kingdom of God. Evangelists (if they are tru evangelists) do not preach religion, but the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christianity is not and should not be a religion by FORCE but by FAITH. May God help all of us at this END TIME to be ready for the Second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus christ!!!

    July 25, 2011 at 5:50 am |
    • Halleluljah

      Do not the signs of the times show he has returned in the same manner as he left? That is what the angels told the men of Galilee. Acts 1:11
      In what manner did he return? Without public fanfare and only his faithful disciples nowing.
      Dan 2:44

      July 25, 2011 at 6:34 am |
  15. Raza


    July 25, 2011 at 5:46 am |
  16. kafir4life

    You lived in Lebanon alright, but you missed out what is really happenning....The Chrisitan militias you are talking about, are the Christian Maronites and were guilty for trying to protect themselves and their people, Christian of course, from Dhimmy submission against the I$lamic hegemony of the native Shiites, Sunnis, imported Sunnis (Palestinians), and before that the Ottomans Turks, and before that the Mamelooks..etc.., all carrying the beautiful $haria edicts under their arm.. they are the only non-mu$lim religious minority in the middle east that refused the Dhimmi submission status and elected instead to defend itself in it's own land for centuries..indeed they commited a lot of crimes and they were guilty of atrocities..but to simply say well everybody is bad and ram a moral equivanlence leftist formula to dilute the guilt from the guilty parties just to prove that we are part of the problem, that's what is unChristian....

    July 25, 2011 at 5:41 am |
  17. Robert R.

    I hate religious zealots, whatever their religious affiliation may be. Self-righteous, often narcissistic and extremely judgmental of others different from themselves... all of that based on their "faith".

    July 25, 2011 at 5:33 am |
  18. studdmuffins

    Must we include the Romans?

    July 25, 2011 at 5:24 am |
    • Not Catholic

      Yes, what have the Romans ever done for us?

      July 25, 2011 at 9:28 am |
    • Free

      Without Roman sponsorship of Christianity would it have spread nearly as far? Don't forget that it was Constantine's urging that led to the canonization of the Bible as well.

      July 25, 2011 at 9:39 am |
  19. Karla Katz

    The photo of the smiling author, arm and arm with a terrorist (see Webster's definition of Hezbollah), says it all.

    July 25, 2011 at 5:18 am |
    • Raza

      Hizbullah means party of Allah, God, Creator, the one whom Jesus used to follow strictly.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:45 am |
    • rami

      so sad, you missed the point. Go and have more cheap beer.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:59 am |
  20. Joseph

    However, Jesus is the divider for Hell and heaven,through him only we can go to the heaven.Missionaries should work to gain one man from hell..Missionaries should ask to non-believers where you go today if you die?. Their belief will not save them from hell, unless they believe in Lord Jesus Christ and walk with him.

    July 25, 2011 at 4:54 am |
    • Shadist

      Always nice to see someone miss the point.

      July 25, 2011 at 5:30 am |
    • rami

      woow, i can see you thinking. You can type, but can you read?

      July 25, 2011 at 6:01 am |
    • palan

      Some body should correct this guy.He doesn't know write.Please somebody correct it and post

      July 25, 2011 at 9:26 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.