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. Danny

    I think this guy never read The Great Commission that Jesus gave. Matthew 28:16-20. Verse 19 says, "Go ye therefore and teach all nations..." Doesn't say, "Leave them alone and keep to yourself." Some will accept, some will deny. It's there choice. You win the battle either way. Even if they don't accept Christ, then they cannot deny that they have heard the gospel. This guy is trying to be a "politically correct Christian" and that is not what God intended. He's afraid of offending someone. Yes, there are extremists, but Jesus sent us to share the good news in love. He stirred up quite a bit in his lifetime. This guy should stop shaking in the shadow of the enemy and keep on fighting. Christian is not a term meaning weak.

    July 26, 2011 at 9:16 am |
  2. Noble9

    Christians start by sending "peaceful" missionaries, but it always ends in bloodshed. Across Europe, Asia, and the Americas the Christians used "conversion" to create new vassals, which in turn funded the conquest of those would not accept their God. Robbery, destruction of homes, torture, and murder were the tools used against those wished to keep the faith with the Gods of their tribes. Please read about the history of Christianization if you doubt me.

    Yeshua bin Yusef (Jesus) was a little brown man from a faraway desert who has brought nothing but enslavement to my people. We have our own Gods who are slowly, but surely awakening after hundreds of years of oppression under the yoke of Christianity.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • Barry

      Is that what happened in the first centuries of the Roman world?

      Was it not the Romans, who tortured and executed the peaceful Christians?

      July 26, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
  3. Carl F

    GREAT article! Thank you! It's unfortunate that SO many "Christians" are still stuck in the 14th century about these things. Keep it fresh, brother!

    July 26, 2011 at 8:50 am |
  4. Traysea73

    I find it interesting that Jesus, who many of you consider a fake and a fraud, could stir up so much conversation, anger and emotion. That's because His name holds power (the name above ALL names) and He is the Son of God, my Savior. He loves you, regardless of your view or opinion of Him.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:50 am |
    • gozer

      and he reserves eternal burning torture for you if you so much as doubt him. What an as-shole. No thanks. Keep your silly supersti-tions to yourself and get off my doorstep. The smart people of the world moved on from religion long ago.

      July 26, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  5. blf83


    July 26, 2011 at 8:47 am |
  6. Chuck Stecker

    Well said. That applies anywhere including the streets of any city or town in America.

    July 26, 2011 at 8:45 am |
    • blf83


      July 26, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  7. Dennis Pence

    Jesus said – "I am the TRUTH, the LIFE and the Way (not a way) – NO MAN cometh to the Father, but by Me". He is either telling the truth or he is lying – He was not a prophet, but the Son of God – and we must stand firm on that – if not, let everyone choose their own way and He becomes irrelevant.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:59 am |
    • Epidi

      Well, I'm not A MAN, I'm a woman. And I beg to differ. People who come knocking on my door to "spread the word" annoy me to no end. When they learn I am Pagan and that, no, I do not want to convert thank you very much, then I must be one of those "devil worshippers". If you're trying to "save souls", at least educate yourself about the people you are trying to convert and their culture. I have no issue with Christians. Or Muslims, or Buddists, or Atheists, etc. I just don't want someone else's spiritual values rammed down my throat as I would not ram mine down anyone else's.

      July 26, 2011 at 8:48 am |
  8. A disciple

    In marketing terms, when a company is deciding whether to launch a new product or division of its company, it makes an analysis of the environment to determine whether there's a market for its idea and whether it would be successful. God assessed mankind’s fallen nature and has determined that there is a market for redemption; a S.W.O.T. analysis if you will. We only need to pick up a news paper today to agree with God that mankind needs a restoration plan. We only need to pick up a good history book to see the depravity of mankind’s mind. And while there are many religions and philosophies in the world, none compare to Christ's redemption plan. Consider that of all the major religious founders, Jesus is the only One offering resurrection (not the same as reincarnation), and used Himself as a promissory note to those who wish to receive eternal life like Him. No other major religious founder has that testimony: it is recorded in scripture that Jesus was seen, heard, and handled, etc. after three days of being in a tomb. Whether one believes this to be true is another matter. Nevertheless, it is recorded that He arose. Eyewitnesses testified of their encounters and the details of those events were put in writing. Here is One that had His life pre-ordained, written in the history, law, and prophets of old covenant. And despite many that have attempted to discount His fulfillment of the Messianic prophecies, it is without question that He executed each and every detail of the Law and Prophets. Jesus literally changed the world. Does mankind need a savior? How are we doing by handling it ourselves? Not so good, right? We'll never solve our issues through policy or war. It is the law of the heart that's needs to be realigned. As long as our political, financial and legal systems remain, there will always be conflict; for they are designed out of conflict or in response to it. The ultimate conflict is inside of us. Change a heart, change a person.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:30 am |
  9. Rev. Rick

    Interesting take on Christianity, but it smells more like bait-and-switch. At the end of the day, according to orthodox Christianity, you still must accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior. Ah, there's the rub. How does one push Christianity without insisting that someone converts, eventually? Let's not forget that Jesus was not a Christian. He was a Jew with a new take on compassion and loving our enemies. That part I can embrace, as difficult as it may be.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:19 am |
  10. Beatrice

    Jesus' teaching cannot be sugar-coated. His followers possess both unconditional love and the strongest stand for the Truth.

    July 26, 2011 at 7:02 am |
    • Craig

      If Jesus' followers possess unconditional love, then I think the number of actual followers of Jesus can be counted on one hand.

      July 26, 2011 at 8:35 am |
  11. rei-girl

    Well written, Medearis. An insightful, thoughtful first-hand account of a life experience many people will never know of. Jesus is a phenomenal leader!

    July 26, 2011 at 3:44 am |
  12. Altee11

    This makes sense, but since the evangelical pursuit is also about power in numbers this will not likely work. Too many others believe their religions need numbers to compete, especially when people of a religion seek to convert, chase out or kill off those who do not belong to it.
    This is most evident in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia right now. It is somewhat evident in China. It is less evident elsewhere, right now.

    July 26, 2011 at 3:21 am |
  13. Spiffy

    God isn't real. Stop living in your fantasy.

    July 26, 2011 at 1:20 am |
    • rjw

      Spiffy, No one can prove there is a God, but, I believe that God can prove to you he exists. Just ask him to do that every day for one month. Your 'prayer' could begin with 'I don't believe you exist and I think this is crazy, but I would just like to be sure.'
      Keep asking for an answer and you will find it.

      July 26, 2011 at 8:10 am |
    • Nicky

      First, one would have to define what one means by God. It seems as though the majority of the posters here are referring to the Abrahamic God however and that God does not exist. Our earth is more than 6000 years old so right away, one of the primary tenents of biblical belief is false and so the rest of the biblical premises are built on quicksand, so to speak. Also, to those saying that you cannot disprove God...as the group making the positive claim for this deity existence, the onus is on you to prove it. I could walk around claiming to have superpowers and then tell you to disprove it and it would make the same amount of sense. At no other time except when speaking of supernatural beliefs are we asked to disprove a negative.

      July 26, 2011 at 9:17 am |
  14. Valera

    Thanks for writing this, Carl!
    With your help I learn to speak of Jesus rather than sell my version of Christianity.

    July 26, 2011 at 1:19 am |
  15. Tony

    "I believe that doctrine is important, but it’s not more important than following Jesus."

    What's separates Christianity from the cults? Answer: Doctrine.

    What must you have in order to follow the actual, historical Jesus? Answer: Correct Doctrine.

    Without correct doctrine, an individual will not know which "Jesus" to follow.

    July 26, 2011 at 1:18 am |
  16. Reality

    Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Truth

    2. Jesus was an illiterate Jewish peasant/carpenter/simple preacher man who suffered from hallucinations (or “mythicizing” from P, M, M, L and J) and who has been characterized anywhere from the Messiah from Nazareth to a mythical character from mythical Nazareth to a ma-mzer from Nazareth (Professor Bruce Chilton, in his book Rabbi Jesus). An-alyses of Jesus’ life by many contemporary NT scholars (e.g. Professors Ludemann, Crossan, Borg and Fredriksen, ) via the NT and related doc-uments have concluded that only about 30% of Jesus' sayings and ways noted in the NT were authentic. The rest being embellishments (e.g. miracles)/hallucinations made/had by the NT authors to impress various Christian, Jewish and Pagan sects.

    The 30% of the NT that is "authentic Jesus" like everything in life was borrowed/plagiarized and/or improved from those who came before. In Jesus' case, it was the ways and sayings of the Babylonians, Greeks, Persians, Egyptians, Hitt-ites, Canaanites, OT, John the Baptizer and possibly the ways and sayings of traveling Greek Cynics.


    For added "pizzazz", Catholic theologians divided god the singularity into three persons and invented atonement as an added guilt trip for the "pew people" to go along with this trinity of overseers. By doing so, they made god the padre into god the "filicider".

    July 26, 2011 at 12:18 am |
  17. Reality

    Luther, Calvin, Joe Smith, Henry VIII, Wesley, Roger Williams, the Great “Babs” et al, founders of Christian-based religions or combination religions also suffered from the belief in/hallucinations of "pretty wingie thingie" visits and "prophecies" for profits analogous to the myths of Catholicism (resurrections, apparitions, ascensions and immacu-late co-nceptions).

    Current problems with the "Reformed" and "Born-againers":

    Adulterous preachers, pedophiliac clerics, "propheteering/ profiteering" evangelicals and atonement theology,

    July 26, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • ktisis

      It is illogical to judge a philosophy based on its abuse (quote, Ravi Zacharias). More plainly stated, all the hypocrites in the world do not provide conclusive evidence of the falsity of a belief system. An unfaithful husband does not disprove the existence of marriage, a deficient professor does not invalidate the concept or value of education, and the existence of those who claim to follow Christ but yet exhibit morally-reprehensible behavior speaks nothing against the truth in Christ, rather it speaks volumes about that particular individuals failure in meeting that standard...period. Indeed, the fact that you are repulsed and offended by these aberrations (adulterous preachers, etc) is evidence that you have within you a moral compass which reveals an awareness of that standard which has been universally set, and can only be accounted for by a moral lawgiver. god-and-logic.blogspot.com/2011/06/problem-of-morality-for-atheism-pot-of.html

      July 26, 2011 at 1:04 am |
    • Reality

      Summarizing Christianity with 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 26, 2011 at 7:39 am |
  18. Joshua

    Amen sir, I agree with you one hundred percent.

    July 26, 2011 at 12:12 am |
  19. WOZ

    Down with the evil islam!

    July 26, 2011 at 12:06 am |
    • Oleg

      Let me help you out sir: Down with evil fundamental Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, state-sanctioned atheism, and any other belief system that can be used to coerce people into committing atrocities!

      July 26, 2011 at 12:17 am |
    • Rev. Rick

      @ Oleg – Well said.

      July 26, 2011 at 8:14 am |
  20. Whostartedyourchurch?

    "Jesus the uniter of humanity, not Jesus the divider. How might that change the way we look at others?"

    WRONG! Read your Bible again, Jesus says in Matthew 10:34-36 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's enemies will be those of his household."

    July 25, 2011 at 11:56 pm |
    • Anna

      So true!

      July 26, 2011 at 5:18 am |
    • Rev. Rick

      @ Whostartedyourchurch – Actually Jesus never said that. "Matthew" says that Jesus said that. But then again, who was Matthew. We don't know who Matthew was either, nor what his agenda was when "quoting" Jesus.

      July 26, 2011 at 8:18 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.