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. steve

    DAM Have you even read the Bible? How could a book, written thousands of years ago, still hold up to every bit of criticism, study etc and still be valid for life in the 21st century. The wisdom and truth in that book is astonishing. I am a scientist and engineer and I appraoched it with skepticism but, after careful study and scientific methodology I have no choice but to consider the book....supernatural. It is too perfect. Life according to its precepts simply makes too much sense to discount..

    July 25, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Bruce

      LOL @ "scientific methodology."

      If that's how you read the book, you are doing hermeneutics wrong.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Dam

      U are definitely not a scientist and u are completely ignorant of history The Bible wriiten by some ignorant morons states that the earth is flat and it is the centre of the universe. The Indians/Chineese knew this fact even before Jesus was born. When Alexander invaded India he thought he reached the end of the world and was surprised to know the the earth is round and it revolves around the Sun. The bible was written 400 years later and still got it all wrong. The church jailed the great scientist Galileo for proving the Bible wrong in the 17th century. It was not until the 18th century that the church finally accepted the truth. Even today evangelicals are saying the earth is 4000 years old and God created it and more nonsense of Adam/Eve etc.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • News Flash

      Great. Let's hear about ONE double blind study from your "scientific methodology".


      Yeah, that's what I thought.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:40 pm |
  2. Gg_Lock

    In theory this sounds great, but most Christians, at least in the South pretty much draw a line in the sand and say you are either Christian or going to Hell. Also religous tolerance is great in theory, but at some point people get to voice their opinions and the majority of this country being white and christian or similiar, this gets voiced the loudest right or wrong. Fox news for example, caters to those who proclaim they value everyones relegious values, but not really. People of all relgions should simply be academics, giving out information if requested, but not sells people. If God needs a salesman, he/she/or it will call you, until this happens stay home.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  3. Mystery

    It's all about money...
    Missionaries are converting people of other religions to Christianity by giving them money and food.
    That's why Christianity is growing in poor and under privileged society in poor countries.
    Religion has led to so many wars and for what? The belief in a book that someone wrote?
    Most of the contents are made up stories anyways regardless of what religion's book you read.
    So, let's treat these books as fairy tales and stop right there... it's okay to follow what you believe, but it's stupidity to dedicate your life and mess others...

    July 25, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  4. Jerry

    Telling other people about the Good News that Salvation is by God's Grace through faith in Jesus Christ is about LOVE. Let me ask you this: If you read a book that brought you to a belief that literally saved your life and gives you peace, joy and a hope for the future, would you love me enough to tell me about that Joy or would you keep it to yourself?

    July 25, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  5. Angela

    The reason, the sole purpose we are here on earth is because God made us to express his LOVE to each other. It really is simple.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
    • Mike

      I agree we should express love and tolerance of one and another but I do not believe that some man floating in the sky has brought us here.

      One word answer to what is wrong with world today.


      July 25, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  6. dave

    Well written and point taken. As a Christian, I find it next to impossible to "evangelize" because of the stigma of being a "bible thumper". It's much better to demonstrate Jesus's love in my life simply by living the life for others to see. If they are interested, great, but, I can still pray for them and should.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  7. Cornerstone View

    Live life well, reflecting the values of your faith, and others will want to know your source of strength and inspiration. Live it badly, and people will laugh at you and the pretty words you spout but do not follow yourself. Live your faith, and stop worrying about evangelizing. Your life IS your testament. Words are easy. Actions, are where it gets real.

    July 25, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
  8. Dam

    Slavery was considered okay by the christian evangelists 100 years ago in the US. Western socities have reformed and become more secular but that does not mean the wrongs in the name of Christainity never happened. Both Islam & Christainity was spread by force. Whenever a king accepted a certain religion it was forced down on his subjects thru force & taxation

    July 25, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Jeff

      And "owning" your wife/wives was considered ok before Jesus. And ever heard of a guy named Martin L. King. Kinda helped with the whole racism and second class people issues. Just cause some people in a given religion get things wrong doesn't mean the religion is wrong.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
  9. Rob

    Matt, you must not know that being a Christian means you accept Jesus as your savior and believe that he is the son of God. So you can't just drop him from the converstation and use it as a guide to living. You would not longer be telling people about Jesus, which is the point. How does that make someone not truely a Christian?

    July 25, 2011 at 12:01 pm |
  10. Deacon Gerry

    Jesus said "Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

    July 25, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  11. TJ

    Putting whatever religion you are or what you believe aside, if you look at what is written about what Jesus did and said then what Carl says makes a lot of sense.

    July 25, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • JJ

      This author is splitting hairs to justify evangelicals and missionaries. This is why taxpayer dollars should not be going to faith-based initiatives. They can not stop talking about Jesus no matter how much they promise the government that they won't do it. Your tax payer dollars help to spread the word of Jesus every day and in every way. Now each successive president thinks that they have to continue the practice or face the wrath of the religious communities. It is like the blasphemy laws in Pakistan. You can not speak badly about Mohammed. If you do, they will send you to a monkey trial and have you sent to prison or killed. Now that these religious laws (initiatives) are in place within public laws they will be hard to remove.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
  12. steve

    DRSTAT, Your broad based approach to the matter is based on a single person. You don't know what you are talking about. All evangelists I know are not in it for the money BECAUSE THERE IS NO MONEY IN IT!!!!! The money, which comes from the Church bask in the States, is used for helping the indigenous people. Those are the missionaries I know. They know they can't jam Jesus down anyones throat. What they do, they do out of love for their fellow man.

    July 25, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  13. Ken Wood

    Everyone needs to just calm down! Everyone has their own beliefs! Everyone is causing problems for everyone else, this needs to change. Christians need to let muslims live and believe the way they want to live and believe and muslims need to let christians live and believe what they want to live and believe. The cycle of hate needs to stop!!! Live and Let LIve!!! In the immortal words of Rodney King: "Can't We All Just Get Along?" I know to most of you this sounds rather naive, but, it's very very simple... leave each other alone and let them live and believe what they want to believe... simple as that...

    July 25, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • tintin

      couldn't have said any better!

      July 25, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Jeff

      Its not that simple... evangelism is not about how rough their life might be before they die... its about what happens after they draw their last breath. If you believe that people who don't follow your God will burn for eternity then you are just a jacka$$ if you are not trying to help them escape that fate. Trying to convert someone isn't about thinking they are evil, its about loving them and trying to save them!

      July 25, 2011 at 12:02 pm |
    • Dam

      Thats what eastern religions & Jewism believe but both proselytizing religions Christainity & islam think that if u dont follow my god u will not go to heaven. The reality is there is no God. When people understand this simple truth it will all be okay. Most people in the world have been killed bcoz of religous nonsense.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
    • ohmguy

      I agree. Why is it the most Christians are not at all like Jesus. Stop all the hate and let people just be. If any one thinks that their way is the only way to find GOD then they are wrong. It is a journey within ourselves. The journey to enlightenment of the God within each. May each of you find the God within you. No need to convert others just yourself.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  14. Statepov

    "Some of the fiercest militias were (and are) Christian".... Are they Christians defending ground traditionally held and now under attack or are they attempting to take the ground of others, because this would make a difference in terms of motivation and justification. Those under attack would, due to loss of motivation and members over a long period of time, of necessity be fiercer.

    July 25, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  15. tintin

    Proselytisation is the root cause...and all abrhamic religions want their followers to proselytise so until that is stopped religious extremism will grow

    July 25, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  16. RainMaker

    Don't destroy your selves by greiving over those who don't want to understand or who don't want to bridge the gaps. Say 'Peace' to them and move on. Save your energy. There are enough open minds on this planet. Talk to them.

    July 25, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  17. Jane

    That’s why we have the parable of the Good Samaritan. Buddy, this is NOT a parable. What sort of person are you anyway?

    July 25, 2011 at 11:55 am |
    • Jlo

      The smart kind you simpleton

      July 25, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
  18. steve

    I think that there is an evangelism that does talk to people one on one with people around them. It is beautiful to watch, people helping people selflessly doesn't go unseen, being the love of Christ makes other people want more to try God. By doing so you will be heaping coals upon them. This saying you will make them hot and on fire for Jesus. To jjue: I am not being sacrificed and my parents are conservative mennonites. I am choosing based off my parents intrest, but they think it is important and i do to. They had a great influence on me growing up. The reason why children are as a result of governments around the world, because there are children everywhere unfortunatly. Because if they are victimized others will see like my ancestors the anabaptists. Many more came to Christ because of persecution.

    July 25, 2011 at 11:55 am |
  19. Xavier Lopz

    Once again we see the alliance between the US left and Islamic fundamentalism with CNN carrying the water. This 'opinion piece' is nothing more than agitprop. CNN is descending into a crazypants lefty version of Fox News.

    July 25, 2011 at 11:54 am |
    • steve

      foxnews isn't as right as u may think....besides in my opinion this world has a lot of problems right now perhaps we need more of a moral thought as we continue on. Even if it is only a thought at the way we work through life.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:57 am |
  20. matt

    My question then is this: why can't everything you hope to obtain through missionary and evangelical work be done without the name Jesus? Why must it be through an organization? Or in the following of some faith? Why can't you simply pass on a generally accepted interpretation of the ideas presented in your book as a guide to living without introducing the many flaws in its original presentation? Drop the concept of Jesus Saves and the many prejudices that come along with it... and simply seek to help the world through action... Too much to ask? Then you aren't truly a Christian.

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

      Well not everyone else is willing to help. I do believe the most people to other countries of any other group of people are missionaries.

      July 25, 2011 at 11:58 am |
    • Richard S Kaiser

      Hello matt and readers,

      I must openly agree with you matt that Christian evangelism should take a "back seat" when the USA or any other 'Christian Nation' goes forth into otherly places to garner help to those in need.

      July 25, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Erica

      Do I misunderstand you, Matt? Or are you saying, "You aren't truly a Christian" unless you are willing to carry out missionary and evangelical work without the name Jesus? That if you find it "too much to ask" to "drop the concept of Jesus Saves and the many prejudices that come along with it" you aren't truly a Christian? OR, are you asking, if you are willing to compromise as much as this article suggests–why not just drop Jesus completely? Because I'm on board with you if you're asking the second question. But as to the first; a Christian (being one who truly believes Jesus is his creator, savior, and sustainer) is commanded by his Lord to, " Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Every true Christian longs to help our hurt and broken world–it's just that he knows it cannot be done apart from what God has told him to do. What ultimate good is peace between people-groups if it comes at the cost of peace with God?

      July 25, 2011 at 12:37 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.