It’s still evangelism

Carl Medearis, a Christian who used to evangelize to Muslims in Lebanon, appears to make a bold claim in his recent piece at CNN: evangelists should cease evangelizing.

The article caught my eye, but after reading it I’m underwhelmed. Medearis tries to make a distinction between evangelizing to people about Jesus and encouraging them to follow Jesus. Seriously? Here are some of his words:

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.

How exactly are you supposed to convince a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Jew to be an “apprentice” of Jesus without asking them to change their religious identity? Jesus is the central figure of Christianity: one might even say that being Christian means being an apprentice of Jesus.

Inviting people to love, trust, and follow Jesus is something the world can live with.

No, actually it’s not. I suspect that if you invited people in many of the most heavily populated parts of the world to love, trust, and follow Jesus, they would chase you out of their homes, because they’d be Muslims or Hindus, and they’d feel insulted.

If Medearis was truly making the claim that we should consider following Jesus’ moral guidelines, like we might consider following Ghandi’s moral guidelines, or John Stuart Mill’s, or John Rawls’s, then I see his point. But he’s asking us to love and trust Jesus, not just follow his teachings. He wants us to believe in the Jesus Christ of Christianity: the supernatural savior of mankind. In fact, he says:

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.

Really? How can Medearis not see the contradiction here? Faith in Jesus is a foundational aspect of the Christian tradition. So how exactly is a Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist supposed to “have faith” in Jesus without changing her socio-religious identity?

Medearis doesn’t really want his fellow evangelists to stop evangelizing. He just wants them to call it something else. As he rightly points out, evangelism has garnered a bad name with so many people these days, and rightly so.

——-

Edit: Another way of looking at the above issue is to imagine a Muslim inviting Christians to love, and have faith in, Mohammed. Somehow, I don’t think there’d be many takers.

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