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. andrew.peter

    He's right though that it's not about "religion", but a personal relationship with the risen Lord, the Christ. But technically this cliche expression is just a catch phrase. A religion will always be a religion because it's by definition the belief, practice, and worship of a god (or God). But true Christianity is about spiritual sanctification. Being transformed into being more like our Lord, because that is what He does. However, a person can NOT become more like Jesus without believing in His work (death for our sins and resurrection from the dead for our sanctification). No more than a vine live apart from its root.

    July 25, 2011 at 11:05 am |
    • gozer

      Again, why did your "omnipotent" sky fairy need a jeebus scapegoat to get the job done? Guess what: the scapegoat thing is stolen from previous supersti-tions to yours. Christianity isn't original, and its stories are just that, stories for ignorant people.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • andrew.peter

      gozer, have you ever considered that maybe all the ancient mythologies and such have pulled from judeo-christian instead of the other way around? Because God had revealed His plan to the world from the beginning. Because we are sinful and God is holy, there needs to be some reconciliation between the two or else all we're all doomed. But God is loving and did not destroy His creation for a purpose. He had a plan to redeem and make for Himself a people who will glorify Him in a new creation. He endures with much patience the sinfullness in this world so that He may show His glory and power over this world in the redemption and reconciliation of those who believe in Him – the true God.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • Phil in Oregon

      "In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you." Jesus came to make the connection between God(holy) and us(not). He reduced the 10 commandments to 3: Love God completely; love your neighbor as yourself; and love your enemies(this a new command I give to you). So what part of 'love' don't you understand?

      July 25, 2011 at 11:28 am |
    • Tripp

      Andrew-Peter...How can an EARLIER civilization steal stories from your Judeo-god? That makes no sence just like your jesus story and the notion of god.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:29 am |
    • andrew.peter

      Tripp, because God has always been. He has made Himself known from the beginning of time, and so I would argue that similarities of judeo-Christianity with mythologies and such would be more evidence of the truth of God and Jesus Christ. Read Romans 1. Eventhough the Jewish Law did not come until Moses and the Gospel until Jesus Christ, people were worshipping the true God (ie. Job, Abraham, Seth, Noah) from the beginning.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:39 am |
    • andrew.peter

      Tripp, another thought for you: You wouldn't a real dollar counterfeit because there were many counterfeits in circulation, would you? Though the Gospel had not been written yet, the message of the need for a savior/redeemer was revealed by God from the beginning.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • gozer

      andrew.peter, again, explain the scapegoat thing. The question there was, "Again, why did your "omnipotent" sky fairy need a jeebus scapegoat to get the job done?"

      You fail to appreciate "omnipotent" and you've gone on twisting and changing your sky fairy tale to try to fit a set of facts that it never could fit.

      The (obvious) answer is that your whole religion is a series of fabrications stolen piecewise from earlier supersti-tions. No god was involved. The god of your idiotic stories does not exist, and never did.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • gozer

      Phil, re "what part of love don't you understand", well, in the case of the Christian god, that evil bas-tard, many parts, but especially the infinite eternal burning torture for minor transgressions done in a finite life. Any being that calls for that is properly called an AS-SHOLE. That's all there is to it. Take your sky fairy stories and bury them.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Tripp

      Since there is no god the whole conversation is moot. The counterfeit anaolgy is really bad because religion was/is a man made idea. A counterfeit doller is relative depending on who backs it. If there is no god, which there is no proof of, god becomes a worthless idea. Unless you're still living in the 7th century.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
    • andrew.peter

      gozer – I've already addressed your "scapegoat" "omnipotent" issue. You're trying to say if God is all powerful why did he need a means to reconcile us to Himself. I decline to respond because I covered that well enough already and it has fallen on deaf ears.
      The same goes for my response @Tripp.
      Your arguments are circular.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • Tripp

      You cant debate something that doesnt exist Peter... YOu might as well try to debate the existance of FSM.

      July 25, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • Tripp

      And Peter, when I hear grwon adults talking like you, ("we are all doomed"), I will always question your and others like you, your mental health. It boggles the mind that grown adults acutally have their own fairytale. As if the ones when you were kids were not enough. It acutally says in your bible to throwout all reason and beleive in god. And thats exactly what you have done.

      July 25, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • gozer

      andrew.peter, how dare you call my argument circular. You are the one with the god stories wherein your only "proof" is the self-contradicting book of fairy tales known as the bible. Therein is your circular argument.

      Answer my earlier question else we can safely assume that you have no answer and that you are a wimp. The question was,

      "Again, why did your "omnipotent" sky fairy need a jeebus scapegoat to get the job done?"

      July 26, 2011 at 9:45 am |
  2. Gary

    Wow, Mr Carl Medearis has a serious problem. First, he needs to take off those rose colored glasses. Second, he needs to stop drinking so much of the communal wine. I've spent more time in the middle east than most people. And one thing that was prevelant in every Muslim/Islamic country was the sectarian militants. For Mr Medearis to say "Christian Militants" were the "fiercests", well that shows his lack of fully understanding the "fear" christians live with in a Muslim/Islamist country. It is constant and it is real. But in shear numbers...less than 1 percent of all militants in Muslim/Islamist countries are Christian. Why, read the Quran. This "holy" (sic) book paints anyone of "non-Muslim/islamist" faith as "Infidels" and therefore they have a value of less than fecal material and, can be murdered for no other reason other than that. It is a very integral part of their idealogy, a very strong part of their religious heritage, it is the instigator of their hatred for western civilization. Period

    July 25, 2011 at 11:05 am |
  3. Joe

    Idiot – what are you doing with Hezbollah!!!???? They're murderers. Only on CNN, where terrorist organizations are glorified..

    July 25, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  4. Joel

    I think you have it right, sir. History is riddled with religious arrogance and the burning of the (insert newly adopted policy here) heretics. If God wanted us to rule by death and destruction, I am sure He would just do it Himself. We, as people, are purely incompetant at understanding God but we try so hard- to force everyone to see Him the way we do. Live by example not by finger-pointing.

    July 25, 2011 at 11:02 am |
  5. Tom

    Quite a contrast in the smiles/posture in the photograph. I tend to agree with this article in general. However, it needs to be applied both ways. It's not just Christians doing the conversions. There is an a sect or fringe element of Islam that is also trying to push it's agenda.

    July 25, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  6. Flip

    Spot on Carl. Too often people "get saved" and then begin to look for the things they have to do to prove their salvation. Like you said, Jesus came to end that train of thought... that religion. If we would just focus on knowing and following Jesus because of what He's done for us, then telling others about Him and sharing our stories with others would be natural. And we would be more concerned about knowing and loving people instead of just trying to convert them. This is probably the best article I've read on CNN's religion blog. Keep them coming Carl.

    July 25, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  7. al in memphis

    In readings some of these comments, it is clear that man can not see much beyond his own thoughts of who he think he is.The Bible account of the days of Noah and the prevalent of unbelief in God is not very different from today.

    July 25, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  8. Anna

    "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 find this very telling. Yes, of course it is easier. Telling your Muslim friends that Jesus is the only way is difficult, telling them that if they don't repent of their sins and trust is Jesus as their LORD and Savior that Gods wrath abides on them, more than difficult. But we are never called to do easy things.

    July 25, 2011 at 11:00 am |
    • gozer

      Rational beings are not "called" to promote any deity, your Christ fiction included. And why again does your "omnipotent" being need you to be its marketing department? A little incapable, that "god" of yours is, that you've created.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • andrew.peter

      You're so right Anna!! If they only knew what wrath awaiting them in that day.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • Jon

      I agree. The "easier" line stood out immediately.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • DamianKnight

      Agreed, Anna.

      The problem is, and many Christians of all denominations don't like to say this, is that Christianity is offensive and exclusionary. We look at the scripture, John 14:6, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." That is an exclusionary. And we all know Jesus offended people, especially the Pharisees, all of the time. Unfortunately, the truth is offensive. Many churches have started becoming permissive of things to try and bring people in. That is not the way Jesus set it up. He set a standard; a very high standard. And we are expected to do our best to meet that.

      To me, that's like saying, "Oh, getting a doctorate is hard. Let's lower the standards to get more doctors." It doesn't make any sense to me.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:22 am |
    • Anna


      Also, evangelism is NOT: I'm right, you're wrong – get it right, stupid! Evangelism is: I love you, with a love that Christ gave me for you. I was once lost, like you, dead in my trespasses, like you are. Somebody cared enough to tell me about Jesus Christ and how he died on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins that I will be judged for. I care enough about you to get out of my easy, comfort zone to tell you about THE way to heaven. Even though I will be persecuted for the message, it is life changing and eternal. I'm pleading with you to count the cost, you can get out of your works and all other attempts at gaining favor in Gods eyes. Turn from your sins and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior to save you from Gods righteous judgment and wrath.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:36 am |
    • gozer

      Tell that "love story" to all the slaves that jesus wants you to have. Quite the loving god too, that wants to torture you forever if you don't bow to him in a brief lifetime. Fsck your stupid god fable.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • DamianKnight

      Well said, Anna. John 15:18-25.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
  9. Papa N.

    If you follow too closely the letter of the law, you violate the spirit of the law. Does that sound familiar to anybody who's studied the gospels? How about the way Jesus condemned the religous authoritative body of his day with passion? Why did Jesus condemn the Pharisees? Because they followed tradition with such zealous fervor that they lost all love for their fellow man who looked to them for guidance. It's a story that sounds familiar and more relevant today than ever.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  10. John

    Christian missionaries have one thing – give hope, kindness and charity – building houses for the poor, providing food to the hungry. I never have seen a Muslim missionary... How are these two even remotely comparable?

    July 25, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  11. b-spring

    What I find most compelling about this article is that the author is not only telling Christians to stop "evangelizing," but to accept Muslims who "evangelize" through means of violence and war. Please do not take this as anti-Muslim banter, I admit fundamentalist Christians do the same thing in the name of God. This includes so many different factors. However, the picture with him next to an extremist is extremely off-putting. Why not promote tolerance with not posting a picture of a dumbfounded smiling person who is standing next to a leader who wants to kill off all of our Jewish brothers and sisters in the Holy Land. CNN is a disgrace, full of drivel and articles that do not have an solid footing. Please for the love of God stop with the nonsense!

    July 25, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  12. andrew.peter

    From the mouth of Jesus. The great Unifier of all people to Himself. More than able to provide a true peaceful reconicilation among all people. Matthew 10:34-39

    34 “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; 36 and A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD.

    37 “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.

    The Apostle John (1 John 2:15):
    Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • jdhartlv

      Are we not all a piece of God? So would not loving one another count as loving God? Do not make the assumption that you understand the true mind of God because it is written in a book. Books a written by man, not by God.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:27 am |
    • andrew.peter

      @jdhatlv – We are not all a piece of God. He is our sustainer and created in His image, but we are only the creation.
      I can "assume" to know the mind of God, because He has made it known in His bible. If was concerned for us, and wanted to save us, wouldn't He give us direction?

      July 25, 2011 at 11:43 am |
  13. Ironically

    he's still evangelizing - just with a different message.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:57 am |
    • Herewe Goagain

      Precisely. He's switched teams.

      July 25, 2011 at 10:59 am |
  14. jdhartlv

    What right does any religion have to go to another country and tell its people that they have it wrong? The only thing that does is cause more confusion and hate. If you want to help people; feed them, shelter them, cloth them give them food and water. If they want to know about your religion tell them what you are taught, ask them what they are taught. Do not tell them that they are wrong, that is not your right. Build a friendship based on common ground, and mutual respect. Its about "Free Will", look at your religion through their eyes. Would you like it if someone told you everything you have been taught is wrong. To be a good teacher, you have to learn to listen first.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • Muhammad

      well said

      July 25, 2011 at 11:00 am |
  15. Mike

    I see very little in the reader comments but anger, hatred, and of course, mere opinion by those who believe in nothing but worldly concepts that are here one moment and gone the next. God bless you. I will pray for you.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:56 am |
    • gozer

      I'll think for you.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  16. Tripp

    I was going to say "DICK"

    July 25, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  17. FrankWest

    Matthew 28

    19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
    20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:55 am |
    • jdhartlv

      If you wish to teach someone, you do not begin by telling them they have it wrong. Indoctrination, and brain washing go's both way's. God created us with "Free Will", keep that in mind. People must be taught to make their own decision, don't assume just because you read from a book written and translated by man, that you truly know what God meant.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:14 am |
  18. JOE

    The christian evangelical also believed that the bible sanctioned slavery in America and that nothing was wrong with having slaves. The christian evangelical of today still believe in segragation and that all black people should go back to Africa. They also believe that it is a sin for America to elect an African-American president. Just ask Michele Bachmann.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Jen

      You are lumping all christian evangelicals into the liberal, southerner column. Very shameful. You are right. the bible condoned slavery but not quite as we know it from the 19th century southern colonial perspective.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:06 am |
    • Shawn

      Your comment is born of ignorance or malice. Either way, it does not belong in an open discussion. Like comparing all Muslims to Osama Bin Laden, you shouldn't compare all Christians to someone you despise.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:17 am |
    • are you kidding?

      Joe, absolutely untrue on multiple accounts. May I remind you that it was the Christians who brought about the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom and were also instrumental in the US? Please check your facts.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:18 am |
    • FM

      Please always be very sure of what you are saying before you will say it. About Obama, I, as a black man has never supported him becoming the president neither do I say he should not be. I know what it means that a black man should become the president of America, I understand the implications to Christians and the world at large. It is not Obama it is any black man at a set-time like this becoming the president of America. You may not understand now. White and black is a spiritual Law.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:31 am |
  19. dewittL.

    Nice Braces you fool....hangin' with hezbollah... only on CNN.

    July 25, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  20. Jim Marrie

    There are many under the banner of Christian that are no more Christian than a goat. One automatically presumes that those who,are not muslim, Jew, Agnostic , Hindu and etc they must be Christian. A TRUE Christian is one who has seen himself as a fallen sinner and has excepted Jesus Christ as his sin bearer, Christ alone and faith alone in scripture alone. If any one has to work to obtain heaven he is not a TRUE christian. We are told to share this good news with all the people in the world, no exceptions. We are to do it in love and in peace not by force as many others do. As others have said in the comments, reafd the Bibnle.. John 14:6 I am the way the truth and the life no man comes to,the father unless he comes through me. Not to be confused with Muhummand, Budda nor others. There is God and he is one: if we love souls we will tell others God is responsible for the consequences. We are not to war over it as the crusades did under the name of christianity they were not christians but in name only. Christ made it clear that his message would divide family and friends.There was a time when all new the Same GOD! and there will be in the future when all do again. Our job is to proclaim the good news not brow beat anyone into conversion. `

    July 25, 2011 at 10:53 am |
    • gozer

      There are No True Scotsmen. http://fallacyfiles.org

      July 25, 2011 at 11:02 am |
    • James Brown

      Well said!

      July 25, 2011 at 11:04 am |
    • DamianKnight

      Well said! I agree!

      July 25, 2011 at 11:08 am |
    • matt

      well said

      July 25, 2011 at 11:21 am |
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.