Monday, July 25, 2011

MY take on Carl Medearis' take

e·van·ge·lism / Noun
The spreading of the Christian gospel by preaching or personal witness.

After recently reading an article on CNN's Belief Blog, I felt compelled to respond as quickly as I could.

Quick responses can easily work for you and against you. On one hand, your ideas are fresh in your mind and it's easier to get them all out instead of losing some over the few hours you might've waited in responding.

On the other hand, quick responses are usually shot from the hip, a result of acting out too quickly without giving enough thought to the topic(s) at hand.

I hope my response isn't too crazy, but please feel free to let me know if I totally miss the point or do something silly like truly offend you.

Before going on any further, I encourage you to read the article your self:
My Take: Why evangelicals should stop evangelizing

In his blog Carl Medearis seems to be examining the negative perceptions of evangelism and wonders aloud about what the right approach should be.

Since you took my earlier advice and you've read the article for yourself, I'll focus on a few specific pieces of Mr. Medearis' post.

Medearis begins his article with an exercise that he hopes will show the reader how polarizing the term "evangelist" or "missionary" can be.

This isn't new. In fact evangelists, pastors, and prophets have historically been people that society hasn't viewed very favorably. In fact, the closer the person's message was to the voice of God, the more unpopular they were. Christ uses the parable of the tenants in Matthew 21 as a vivid description of the abuse the prophets of the Old Testament endured as messengers of God.

But to the believer, the office of evangelist or prophet is one of honor.

Yes, there is a wide difference between the two connotations, but that difference has existed for generations.

As Medearis continues, he writes "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."

I believe this is a poor understanding of the story of the Good Samaritan. If anything, throughout the Gospel Christ teaches us that these "walls" never existed. In fact, we're all in the same boat, we're part of the same community: sinners in need of a savior.

As Medearis proceeds, he writes "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."

The fact is, faith in Jesus EQUALS conversion. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5 about the effects of this conversion saying "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come."

Our faith in Christ, if  genuine, does indeed begin to convert us from one thing to another. From darkness to light. From death to life. From estrangement to restored relationship.

Medearis posits that perhaps its our view of Christ that leads to evangelism being so negative.

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

I counter that position with the one held by Christ: “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." (Matthew 10:34)

Christ indeed wants to draw, or unite, all men unto himself. But there are a lot of folks out there who have no personal desire to be united with Christ. In fact, one person's desire to be united to Christ will undoubtedly cause friction and hostility in another person. Christ teaches us that this is to be expected.

Yet, we ought to live our lives as Christians in love. That's why it's so important for us to properly perform our duties as ministers of reconciliation, as Paul puts it.

Medearis writes that he is no longer is obsessed with converting people to Christianity and has instead found "that talking about Jesus is much easier and far more compelling."

Unbelievers and those of other faiths can talk about Jesus until they're blue in the face. We can all agree that Jesus of Nazareth existed. But it has to go deeper than that.

James tells us that even the demons believe, and, he adds, they shudder! It seems demons have more sense of God's reality than some folks do.

Please know that Christ is more than an example for us humans to live up to or pattern our lives after.

John Stott writes in Basic Christianity "Not only would much in the Gospels remain mysterious if Christ's death were purely an example, but our human need would remain unsatisfied. We need more than an example; we need a Savior."

The fact that Christ is God, and that He came to this place to die for our sins, is a reality that every human being will have to grapple with. That truth must be dealt with. By faith, we accept that truth and begin to live under the power of the Holy Spirit as we're transformed from one thing to a glorious other.

Finally, Medearis writes "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?"

The truth is, without Christ, we're all out. And our need for Christ is only apparent when we can admit our sinful nature.

Medearis concludes his article by stating the obvious: "Inviting people to love, trust, and follow Jesus is something the world can live with."

I completely agree. But I believe evangelism is something we need to be vocal and visible about.

If we begin to wrap evangelism up with political correctness, we do a great disservice to the Message and to those who desperately need to hear it.


  1. In reading this article I decided to wander down the path of simply “following the behaviors of Christ”. The thoughts going through my head led me first to think: “What did Christ do in the physical world that is noteworthy, admirable, or worth imitating?” I’ll list a few that came to my mind:

    - He led and taught thousands of people
    - He stood against legalistic values and hypocrisy
    - He gave his life for an honorable and selfless cause (…what an understatement by the way…)

    Those things are great, but if that’s all Christ’s story boils down to, and if that were all we did, in the end, we are all dead.

    On the flip side, if we truly examine what Christ did and truly follow in his footsteps we will be humbling ourselves, putting our trust solely in God (and more specifically in Christ), and as a result almost certainly doing the things Christ did. Encouraging people to *Truly* follow Christ is the best thing we can do as Christians. James said faith without works is dead. Interestingly, the inverse is true as well: work(er)s without faith are dead.

    Paul said “whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” (He’s referring to whatever he may have “received” as a result of his previous “good” actions in life) … Continuing: “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage,” (“Skybalon” in the Greek by the way… look it up) “that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Phil 3:7-9)

    Now, I have to ask myself: “What is Carl Medearis’s intent in the article?” Is his intent to invite people to follow the physical accomplishments of Christ? Or is it to invite people to *truly follow* Christ? If it’s the former, you could do someone no greater DIS-SERVICE than to encourage them to give their life for a cause only to have led them into eternal separation from Christ by not encouraging them to realize their only hope of salvation is through faith in Jesus Christ. If it’s the latter, then he’s absolutely correct and he’s just talking semantics, methods of bringing people to Christ, and how he feels most comfortable encouraging others to follow Christ.

    Finally, how do these two similar actions actually sound when talking to a non-believer? The first might sound like: “Jesus was a great man worthy of having his actions imitated. We should pick a worthy and noble cause, encourage others to do the same, and give our lives if we have to… We ought to be like Jesus!”

    The second sounds like this: “Jesus Christ is Lord and is worthy all praise and worship. He is our only hope of salvation and only source of eternal life. We ought to try to do the things he did to show him and ourselves that we actually believe. And if you don’t know how to do those things, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.”

    I don’t know which of these interpretations Medearis adheres to (or maybe a completely different one), but I appreciate the article on multiple levels. I appreciate his intentions, which I believe are good. Any opportunity a believer can have a healthy conversation with a non-believe about Jesus is a good and well spent opportunity. I also appreciate that his article and ensuing conversation led me to spend two hours digging through bible verses and looking up interpretations rather than wasting time watching TV.

  2. Awesome thoughts, Señor Reed! Thanks for sharing! If asked to sum up my thougts in 5 words or less, I'd say "Let's not be ambiguous. Pizza."

  3. I also found myself alternatively nodding and shaking my head:

  4. Really enjoyed your article, Adam! The quote from D. Bonhoeffer in "The Cost of Discipleship" was perfect! Thanks for sharing the link; I hope others reading this post take the time to enjoy yours as well.

  5. I'm not going to have quiet as elegant of a response as either Robbie or Adam but I think I can still share my point of view.

    I think I read the piece a little differently than others (right or wrong). To me "Evangelizing" comes with a lot of string attached. Maybe that's from growing up in the midwest in the 80's but I guess evangelizing was synonymous with converting someone to your particular denomination. It wasn't good enough if someone was a Christian, they had to be a baptist or presbyterian or whatever. I struggle with that as I don't see that anywhere in the Bible. In fact if you look at Galatians 5:2 you see Paul chastising the early Christians who were trying to say that Jesus wan't enough but you also had to follow the law (circumcision in this case). Paul was making the point that you can't add additional requirements to what Jesus laid out else you do away with salvation by grace.

    The way I read the piece, the point that was trying to be made was "Don't focus on converting someone to take on an identity you think they should, focus on showing them Jesus and let him convert them to the person he wants them to be". I agree with him that we don't need to try and convert people to a particular religion/denomination, we need to continually share (and more importantly "show") Jesus to others and let grace shape them.

  6. Wow, Chris! I hadn't even thought of that angle, but its so true! I grew up in a church like that as well (and I'm still trying to grow out of some of those mentalities). Thanks for sharing again! Finally! A conversation worth having in Google+! Ha ha! :)

  7. Amen Chris! I evangelize weekly and daily unofficially. I can sum it up for me: Show and tell.... then get out of the Spirit's way. Keep your eyes on the goal. Don't let little differences get in the way. Satan loves confusion. Its very simple. Jesus is the only way! end of story.
    John Rineer