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. RonnieReagan

    So...CNN can publish dozens of articles about the increases of the muslim faith in Christian countries, but when it comes to Christianity the articles are about NOT spreading the word; NOT converting people, NOT following in the foot steps of our Christian forbears.

    CNN proves once again that they are not agnostic, they are pro-religion, specifically PRO-MUSLIM and ANTI-CHRISTIAN. CNN is in clearly in favor of relgiion, and specifically the Islamic faith. Conclusion – if you are either Aetheist or Christian you're out of luck when it comes to CNN.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:14 am |
    • Dandy

      Ronnie Reagan ... you are a bozo ...
      This guy is getting close to being rational.... at least he sees the mistake in evangelizing, but he is not quite there. No need to push Jesus or Islam or anything. Let people live and help them when you can...

      July 24, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  2. jay a.

    It's a shame that a couple of experiences can cause a Christian to quit going to church. We are called to not forsake the assembling of ourselves. You will never find a perfect church, nor will you find a perfect man.

    For the missionary, yes Jesus did bridge the gap as with his evangelizing the Samaritan woman so we are called to Evangelize. But be careful about this uniting idea. In Matt. 10:34 he says, "Do not think I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." This is not a militant sword, but a spiritual sword to divide the light from the darkness, to seperate the wheat from the chaffe. It's a warm fuzzy feeling to think that we can all sit around a campfire and sing Kumbaya, but that's not exactly what the gospel of Jesus is. His gospel is show/share his love for others while also preaching the truth. The truth that he preached was that Jesus is the only way to heaven, and no man comes to the father but through me. So at some point a Muslim, Hindu or whatever must realize that Jesus was not just a prophet, he is the Son of God and their only hope of salvation is in him & through him, not learning about him as a model of leadership.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • Dandy

      How many years after Jesus lived was Matthew written?? Any idea?? And you quote it as if Jesus actually said it..

      Extremely unlikely...

      Think about it...

      July 24, 2011 at 10:20 am |
  3. Jason

    Christians, Muslims, Jews, Atheists... Listen to this man!
    As evidenced by the photo at the top of the article, Medearis is one of the few people in the world who has been able to bring fundamentalist Muslim leaders to the table for honest, lasting dialogue.
    What is even more amazing to many in the west, is that he has done this by simply talking about Jesus!
    Medearis' track record in doing this is long, diverse, and amazing: just read "Muslims, Christians, and Jesus" and "Tea with Hezbollah"

    July 24, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  4. joe poca

    fairy tales of ancient days. if there is one god, one spirit and one truth... how come one can rarely find two christians that see or believe in the same perception. sounds like the holy spirit of multiple personality disorder.... a god with schizophrenia.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • joe poca

      too bad jesus (god) was an illiterate. no intelligent creation there.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:19 am |
    • evy


      July 24, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • Bibletruth

      Honestly read the ten commandments...that is all you have to do, and you will find probably find 95% of people disagreeing with what you just read....that is, they will disagree with you if you believe God desires that the ten commandments are the standard of rightousness

      July 24, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
  5. Freethinker

    The church changed the Bible so much that the real message of Jesus is long since lost in translation and in the books that were removed from the Bible. If you want to know what Jesus really taught without the dogma created by the church, read the Urantia Book.


    July 24, 2011 at 10:11 am |
  6. Gregson1

    I have practiced Christianity since 1972, my mother and aunt have embraced Messianic Judaism, and I teach history at the college level, including classes dealing with Islam and the Middle East and World History, which incorporates lectures on Confucianism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism. I have found that all of the above religions incorporate philosophical systems that are generally beneficial to society in terms of giving people a stable framework within which to view life and the universe, hope for some sort of "salvation" after life, and teaching people how to care for and relate to each other. Now, if I was like most academics, my analysis would stop here and I would quite rationally judge all of these faiths and philosophies to be the same, ergo "many paths" to God that are all equally valid. However, in my youth I was something of a Christian mystic...meaning I attempted to ACTUALLY FIND AND COMMUNICATE WITH this God in Whom I had believed via prayer, fasting, etc., versus continuing to base my faith primarily upon my own mental assent to doctrines I had been taught in my youth (which is what most Christians do). Well you know what? I FOUND HIM AND I TALK TO HIM AND HE (SHE, IT, WHATEVER–GOD IS BEYOND SUCH DESIGNATIONS) TALKS BACK TO ME...ABOUT EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING I NEED HELP WITH IN MY LIFE. And I did this through faith in Jesus Christ, God's Son. JESUS CHRIST is what these other systems (and even some forms of Christianity) lack...and I have found that God cares very little what religion or philosophical system you mentally subscribe to...as long as you accept Christ (the BRIDGE between man and God) and wish to please Him, you are in relation with God and God will work out the rest. Christians (or Jewish followers of Yeshua) need to stop spouting doctrine and LET CHRIST SHINE THROUGH THEM (try reading the Sermon on the Mount over and over and asking God to help you live accordingly). When this occurs, the Believer becomes a LIVING witness and people will start coming to them instead of the other way around. YOU CAN CALL ME CRAZY, ATTEMPT TO RATIONALLY DEBUNK CHRISTIANITY (and believe me, I hold a Ph.D. and a second Master's degree–I am fully capable of debating you) BUT I KNOW WHAT I'VE GOT AND WHAT YOU DON'T HAVE–A LIVING, BREATHING RELATIONSHIP WITH THIS "SKY GOD" WHO YOU SAY DOESN'T EXIST. Jesus Christ loves you, died for you, and wishes to bring you into relationship with Himself and God the Father. BELIEVE IT AND YOU WILL SEE IT.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • Amistavia

      Someone so clearly delusional shouldn't be allowed to teach.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • tony

      Another child "grooming" criminal of the most vile kind.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • Theodyn

      I'm an authentic, practicing Witch, my friend – and I have all the same things you describe and more. The same peace, the same relationship with deity, the whole works (without the emotional baggage of hell, the devil, and a never ending pressure to 'convert' others, of course.) Given we both have the same spiritual benefits, which one of us is right? After all, your religion killed and tortured thousands of my kind down through the centuries – all because we believed 'differently' than you do.

      True wisdom and peace comes when you find and embrace the spritual path that's right for YOU – and leave others to find their own, or none at all. I believe most folks problems with modern day christianity is that they won't take 'NO' for an answer and are intent on pushing their religion on people who don't even want it.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:23 am |
    • Gregson1


      Yes, I'm sure you can claim to have had some of the same sort of "spiritual" experiences I have had (and know there is much more I did not say, as I figured people who haven't experienced this sort of thing would describe me as "delusional"). But WITH WHOM? Satan himself can appear as an angel of light. This isn't about religion, my friend; it's about relationship. GOD CARES ABOUT YOU, and He is not so much interested in you coming to faith in some sort of man-made edifice as coming to know you via His Son, Jesus Christ. Whatever witchcraft does for you, God can do much more.

      July 24, 2011 at 12:04 pm |
    • Bibletruth

      For Theodyn...How do the ten commandments of God fit in with your comfort?

      July 24, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • Magic


      I understand that you think that you are talking to a divine being; but that this being talks back to you is a bit much. Does it tell you anything that you haven't already learned or that you couldn't figure out, using your logic and imagination? Does it tell you what is on the far side of Arcturus? Does it tell you how to speak Urdu? Does it tell you all the numbers in pi? Does it tell you the ultimate procedure for proving its existence to everyone?

      I remember the euphoric feelings of thinking that I was communicating with this being, but I have discovered that they are self-generated emotional responses. There is no-one there. You are talking to and hearing yourself.

      The positive aspects of this 'relationship' - kindness, generosity, peace - can be beneficial; but proclaiming that it is the 'ONLY WAY' and that it MUST be followed as spoken to YOU, has caused untold strife and misery.

      A relationship with reality and natural consequences is better.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  7. Alex

    Religion is a plague

    July 24, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Bibletruth

      So are taxes? lol

      July 24, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  8. LookAndSEE

    The light that broke through the "Dark Ages" was the "Protestant Reformation".
    Some people like darkness because their deeds are EVIL!
    The truth will set you FREE.
    The Bible warns us about deception @ the end of time w/ the "Mark of the Beast".
    Do you know what that is? Go To http://www.amazingfacts.org
    Go to http://amazingdiscoveries.tv/ and watch "Rekindling the Reformation"

    July 24, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Freethinker

      The deception in the end times wont come from the sources you think it will......it is coming from the church.


      July 24, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • tony


      July 24, 2011 at 10:18 am |
    • Bibletruth

      There you go....excellent advice.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  9. Richard S Kaiser

    G Adesina writes; “In Matt 28:18-20 Jesus sent His disciples to go and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and Son and Holy Ghost. This is the great commission. Merely inviting someone to follow Jesus without letting him/her know what it entails simply amounts to watering down the message. If you encourage your listeners to follow Jesus but at the same time hold on to whatever their old beliefs were, that cannot be authentic christianity. No man can serve two masters, it is either you are a christian or you are not. We shouldnt try to dilute the message in order to be accepted by people of the world. When we preach and teach the gospel the way we were commanded by the Lord, those who will believe will still believe, and those who will not will still not believe.” On July 24, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Hello G Adesina,
    What in the KJVB or Otherly Gospel are Men and Women to SEEK FIRST?

    Is it not written; “But seek ye first the kingdom of GOD, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”

    Therefore, should not Mankind and Womanhood Search Everywhere for the Kingdom of GOD? Should We Recognize Others as we Perceive One’s Self to Be? Are We not in Needs of More Than Just THE BREAD? Should We Partake of the BLOOD Without Drops Being Spilled?

    July 24, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • tony

      The more powerful the god, the bigger the collection plate. But which comes first???

      July 24, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  10. Pamela

    Come Lord Jesus!

    July 24, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • hahaha

      all over my face....

      July 24, 2011 at 10:21 am |
  11. Question everything

    "Without religion, we would have good people doing good things, and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

    July 24, 2011 at 10:03 am |
    • tony


      July 24, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  12. Mike

    Great read ... sounds on tract! Jesus was awake ... didn't do His will but that of His Father. The will of the Father was that of Life and that more abundantly. Love wins out over hate ... is stronger and will not die! Others will be awaken by love, not hatred. Love will win! Not someone’s narrow view of what they think the bible says.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  13. PraiseTheLard

    Carl Medearis is a _____________


    July 24, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  14. Rich

    Religion is delusion.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • Amistavia

      A dangerous one at that.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:02 am |
    • Bibletruth

      True religion is not. False religion is. True religion provides peace, joy, love, contentment. False religion does not because it is not in synch with the ten commandments of God. In fact, false religion has to "abolish" the commandments, or abolish one or more of the ten commandments, or claim that it is impossible to keep the 10 commandments. Every false religion has that about it.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  15. AmyLynn

    JESUS AS SON OF GOD AND GOD preached the Gospel of LOVE



    GOD(Jesus) IS LOVE... If you do not believe on Jesus ...you do not believe God as he "was" and "is" God in Flesh

    A true Christian does not Judge but shows Christ EVERYWHERE..then God calls whom he iChooses to accept the message of Jesus as Lord and Savior

    July 24, 2011 at 10:00 am |
    • mizzpicklezz

      The best way to "convert " or "disciple" the world is to follow Jesus wholeheartedly and love people where they are Even Ghandi said that if Christians were truly like Jesus – India would have converted by now!

      July 24, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • Scott

      "Belief in an angry God makes an angry man." - Thomas Paine

      July 24, 2011 at 10:12 am |
  16. Matt Slick

    He is saying don't evangelize? Jesus told us to evanglize and make converts. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you," (Matt. 28:19-20). What did Jesus command? He said "repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15), love God (Matt. 22:37), love your neighbor (Matt. 22:39), pick your cross and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23). Jesus said to do these things..and much more. Evangelism IS talking to people about Jesus. Making converts IS talking to people about Jesus. It is God who grants repentance (2 Tim. 2:25) and belief in people (Phil. 1:29; Acts 13:48). Our job is to present the truth and accept the fact that God converts, not us.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:59 am |
    • Amistavia

      Great points, except for the little bit about there being absolutely no evidence that your religion, or your god are in any way real.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:01 am |
    • David

      Yea, that's what they call faith Amistavia.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:11 am |
    • Amistavia

      David- Check two posts down and you'll see how much I value faith.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:13 am |
    • tony

      Just quit grooming (sorry evangelizing) under-age children who can't yet reason for themselves

      July 24, 2011 at 10:24 am |

    . i would like to show an example why people cannot stand Christianity. I have lived in New Braunfels, Texas for a few years and what I am about to disclose stopped me from attending church. 1st, I found bumper stickers commenting that a democrat could not be either a Christian or an American. 2nd, The day Obama was elected president my children came home from school noting other children placed signs or banners "The Antichrist Is hear" on the walls. 3rd, the churches I visited would not pray for our president. This is the short list. The first order of biz for any Christian would be to pray for our president. Pray that he be given the wisdom to guide us out of this economic tsunami. No leader on this planet has faced what our current president was handed by another administration (not his fault), never, in the history of mankind! All I hear in New Braunfels "its all Obama's fault." I no longer attend Church. If this behavior pushed me away, what would it do to one whom has not attended five promise keepers. For those of you who do not know what promise keepers is: It was started by a College football coach in Colorado. It began to bring men together to face our issues, not by sticking our fingers in another mans chest, but to allow us to look within on our own terms and see the truth as we see it. One could say, looking at a mirror magnified 1000x's. My first visit included 75,000 men at the LA coliseum, an event that would have a life long effect on any man from any walk of life. Not once, did I ever feel as if someone had a finger in my chest. I was one of six thousand men that walked forward to accept a new path in my thought process. For many months afterwords someone had me by the hand and could not let go, what a journey.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:58 am |
    • Dandy

      You are right on .... the same BS happened in Northern Indiana when Obama was running for office.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Salt

      I understand your frustration in your former church. I live north of you several hours. The fundies do think that Obama is the antiChrist and I hear it everyday. May I suggest to you that you go and check out some of the main line (Non fundamentalists or literalist) churches in your area. I know in New Braunfels there are ELCA churches of which I am a member but I would encourage you to also check out Episcopal, some Methodist churches and Presbyterian or PCUSA churches or even a UCC church if there is one in New Baunfels. I am sure other churches would love to have a member who has a working brain coupled with faith.

      It is tough being a thoughtful American who has faith in Christ in Texas right now. Even our governor can't see past his religion to be a governor to all of his poeple.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  18. Masxon X Hamilton

    Perhaps we studied a different historical Jesus. The one I studied had next to no interactions with gentiles and even is quoted comparing them to "dogs." I think it was Paul who bridged his interpretation of Christianity to the gentiles – probably because he wasn't welcome among the Jews as a former tax collector. Christianity today isn't remotely related to the historical Jesus, but has been molded to the agendas of 2000 years of various power structures' interpretations. It's remarkable that a man that left zero writings behind and had little written about him until several generations after his death – has any authentic historical credibility at all. In fact, it shows the complete absence of critical thinking brought on by religious fervor – typical in most religions. No doubt Jesus existed, but his real story is lost to countless editors of convenience – including the current ones like the author.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • Rob Scot

      A historical clarification: most of the new testament (writings about Jesus) were not written "several generations after his death"; Paul's earliest letters date from around A.D. 50 or 60, and most of the rest of the new testament, including the gospels, were written in the late first or early second century. Many of the people who actually lived and listened to Jesus were still alive as witnesses at the time of these writings. Also, a question: you claim Paul was a former tax collector, something I've never heard before. What is the basis of this claim?

      July 24, 2011 at 10:15 am |
    • Salt

      Paul was a Pharisee not a tax collector. Jesus did call the woman a dog but when she replied that even the dogs eat the crumbs or what falls from the table he responds to her faith. He told the story of the Good Samaratian and visited with the woman at the well who was a Samaritian woman... Samaritans were despised by the Jews. He healed the son of the Roman (centerion?) commander. Jesus went to the "other side" where the Gentiles lived and cast out the spirits of the demoniac man... Why do you say Jesus had no interaction with anyone but Jews?

      July 24, 2011 at 10:33 am |
  19. Amistavia

    One of the two most destructive myths of all time- the other, of course, being Islam. The sooner we purge these fairy tales from humanity, the better off we'll be.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:57 am |
    • Corvus1

      Assuming all non-Christians and non-Muslims are perfect, which they are most decidedly not. You post certainly proves that.

      Ignorance, greed, and hatred are the real problems, and all three are found in every belief system in dismaying numbers.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:05 am |
    • Amistavia

      Whatever my faults may be, they're not magnified by the insideous nature of faith. I may make decisions that are wrong, but I never have to worry about abdicating all personal responsibility and morality because a man-created god told me to commit an atrocity.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:09 am |
    • leecherius

      No evidence exists to disprove God's existence...just saying

      July 24, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Amistavia

      Right, and no evidence exists to disprove the Tooth Fairy. Do you acutally think your point had a point? Christian thinking- wow!

      July 24, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • Jen

      Amistavia, you have your right to not believe in any religion at all. I understand what where you are coming from and have questioned this in the past. However, I personally believe that Jesus did live and did not write countless articles explaining himself because he was about love. He showed love to people that others turned their backs on. He asked very little of people and loved all people with whom he had contact. Christianity is many things to many people. I am a person who believes strongly in the separation of church and state. I am a Democrat and I am a pro-choice woman. I don't want or believe in prayer in public schools. I believe if we sanction one religion and make everyone pray that religion's prayers, the majority could some day force everyone into claiming Islam or Scientology as the religion of the United States. Very scary stuff. However, I don't believe that Christianity is a fairy tale. I believe in Jesus Christ and I try to follow his ways of loving and respecting people. Even those different than myself.

      July 24, 2011 at 10:32 am |
  20. becca

    divider and uniter.... nice opinionated article, but i think you have a wrong idea of what missionaries do.
    missionaries' sole purpose isn't massive converting. more like their hearts count to serve and love god to teach and preach for jesus, which doesnt make you end up dividing or outcasting ppl.

    July 24, 2011 at 9:56 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.