Speaking of Jesus – the art of not-evangelism

Carl Medearis book - Speaking of Jesus - the art of not evangelism

One of the most inspirational speakers that I have heard in all my years at New Wine has been the speaker Carl Medearis. Medearis spent twelve years based in the Lebanon and travelling around the Middle East talking to people about Jesus. His stories of what he did whilst in the Middle East were inspiring, challenging and though-provoking.

Carl has a passion for speaking about Jesus and his new book is all about that. I read his “Speaking of Jesus” (subtitled “the art of not-evangelism”) whilst on retreat in Italy last week. It is a provocative book (for some) and details much of his view about evangelism in the culture of the Middle East and the USA.

He has just published a new book “Speaking of Jesus” subtitled “the art of not-evangelism”. I read it whilst in Italy and felt provoked as well as encouraged by it. It is well worth reading and thinking about. Carl Medearis is potty about speaking about Jesus. His real gripe is with the institutional side of life.

Imagine yourself on a soccer team. You’re the goalie. You’re a major part of Team Christian.

Your opponent is known as the Rest-of-the-world All Star Team… Team Muslim… Team Hindu…. Team Secular Humanist.

He questions how we look at the life that we are in. He argues too many of us have an in/out type of faith with firm boundaries; with a them and an us attitude. He sees that too often faith has been used as a way of marking boundaries rather than helping people to follow Jesus. He quotes Donald Miller who tells of an experience at a Bible college.

I presented a gospel to Christian Bible College students and left out Jesus. Nobody noticed, even when I said I was going to neglect something very important.

Medearis argues that too often for too many people Christianity could be run, on a practical level, without reference to Jesus.

When Carl first worked in the Middle East he started finding that discussing his faith involved so many other accretions that the focal point of Jesus was missed. This caused Carl to question whether he was missing something.

Is the modern system really built on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, or is it a complicated conglomeration of ideas and flaws from different centuries and different perspectives?

Carl’s view is that even such words as Christianity have become laden with additional meanings that make it unhelpful in following Jesus. This was especially true in the Middle East where Christianity has too many connotations with westernisation and with sectarianism and also in the United States where it is all too often associated with right-wing political and cultural views. It meant that he spent all his time trying to work through the minefield of getting through people’s pre-conceptions before even talking to them about the Gospel.

He sees that some of this is due to what people hear. He says

The ones who truly had ears to hear Jesus typically were the hurting, the broken, the desperate. What united the misunderstandings of the disciples, the religious leaders, and the political leaders was an inability to hear the message of the Kingdom the way Jesus presented it. They all heard power.

So what is his solution? Talk about Jesus instead. Talk about the way that you are trying to follow Jesus. Talk about being a disciple rather than being a Christian. He makes the point that:

Evangelism, as a method, is dangerous because its something we “do” to other people. Nobody likes to be “done”.


Making disciples…. is a journey of relationship that encompasses support, trial and error and difficulty…. Discipleship is a journey that requires change… Discipleship invokes time commitment.

The way that this works out in the Middle East Carl Medearis’s approach is fascinating. He ended up talking to all the people that we have been taught to distrust and fear – Hamas in Lebanon, Shi’ite clerics in Iraq. He talked to them all of the Jesus that we see in the Gospel accounts. Starting there. Starting with what Jesus did and said rather than with doctrine and our own understanding. We can easily forget that other regions of the world have their view of Jesus.

We have forgotten how important it is that Jesus came as a human and lived a personal human life. While the cross is the favourite symbol of Jesus in the Western arena, to the Eastern mind, Jesus is like Robin Hood, Ivanhoe… He is the stuff of legend. He is the personification of a holy prophet, and yet he is a man of the people. He is a hero.

He continues:

Living a life like Jesus must begin with being a student of Jesus. This is the seed of discipleship.

To that end he wants us to re-define how we do our faith. Away from putting people into boxes and into becoming followers of Jesus. Learning from Him and sharing what He is up to around us. He powerfully points out that Jesus spent so much of His time with people on the margins, people who were hurting and broken, people that were the opposite of safe and comfortable.

It is an important reminder to us that faith is messy and dangerous and exciting and uncomfortable. That the key is our following of Jesus. That it is Jesus who reconciles all people to Himself. That it is not our role to break into teams and have an in/out – but that it is Jesus who wishes to reconcile all people. Therefore to talk of Jesus is to give people the opportunity to react to Him rather than the layers of other cultural/political/sociological ways that people react to church and other things.

It’s a great, provocative read and the stories in it are great (we have the CD’s of the stories that he tells in the Middle East that he shared at New Wine if anyone close by ones to borrow them. If you haven’t heard him then he is well worth listening to).

The one thing that I was left wondering about was whether I feel the same way about the terms that he is worried about using. I certainly think that Evangelical has certain connotations in this country. Christianity has more of a mixed connotation. But in a highly secularising arena such as Europe where so many people have so much less knowledge of Jesus than in the Middle East or Europe I am not sure that speaking of Jesus won’t be seen in a similar light. Over 50% of the population of the UK has never been connected with the Church. That means that there is a huge lack of knowledge of what Jesus (let alone the Church) is about.

What do others think?


4 comments on “Speaking of Jesus – the art of not-evangelism

  1. youthguyerik
    August 25, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    This was a thought provoking essay. Thanks for sharing it. It seems like folks often forget Jesus, who is the center of Christianity. Without him it’s just more weight to carry. Great post.

  2. Steve
    August 25, 2011 at 4:13 pm #

    Will, this is shocking stuff. Next we’ll have vegetarians not eating meat and goodness knows what else.

    We need to stamp it out before it’s too late!

  3. Will Cookson
    August 26, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

    Thanks youthguyerik for that.

    Steve, you do realise that some people I know of think that you can eat fish and meat, as long as its from Waitrose or Sainsbury’s, and still be a vegetarian don’t you???!!


  1. Speaking of Jesus « hardkover - September 21, 2011

    […] are other people saying?  CNN Article on Carl’s Book (and its 73 pages of comments), Will’s Blog, Sister Chat, Rick […]

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