Archive for October 30th, 2010

This post is offered to raise some questions on the subject of evangelism in general and open-air preaching in specific.  Questions that I have been pondering – off and on – for some time.

As a student of church history and the communication of the Gospel, it is apparent to me that many of the scenarios taking place in today’s public arena are new.  This does not make them wrong, it just makes them new.  Whether it is an itinerant preacher on a public campus or believers preaching to the crowds who file into a sporting event – this scenario of evangelism/preaching is unprecedented in both general church and biblical history.

I say it is unprecedented, not because men and women have never publicly proclaimed the Gospel – they have, so this is not new.   What is new, what makes it unprecedented is the relationship between preacher/evangelist and his audience. What is new is the starting position of the audience, the presuppositions they bring to their hearing of the Gospel… in this sense the contemporary scenario is unprecedented.  A least in the history of the western church.

From a pragmatic perspective It makes me wonder what is the intended outcome of open-air preaching to the masses?  If the masses do not share a biblical worldview, if they do not share a foundational morality, what is the expected outcome of preaching biblical prohibitions?  If they have “been-there, done-that” as far as the concept of judgment or  Hell is concerned, is that threat going to have any effect?

This leads me to a theological perspective; why preach law and condemnation to people who are incapable of responding anyway?  If we were commanded to do this, doing so would make more sense to me even if it were not pragmatic and appeared theologically nonsensical.  Those issues would not matter if there were command or precedent in the Scripture.

Yet, from a biblical perspective I cannot find any parallel example or command.  There are examples of public preaching in the Scriptures to be sure, but all the examples I can think of either involve preaching to a people who have a common worldview (e.g.,  prophets preaching to Israel, Jesus preaching to the crowds, Paul in the synagogues) or preaching in a context where the audience expects such a thing and is predisposed to consider them (e.g.,  Paul on Mars Hill).

Even more problematic is the fact that such preaching, as it is often carried out, seems to be inconsistent with the command to be salt and light, to be an aroma of life, to be ambassadors for Christ, to live in such a way that even unbelievers glorify God because of our contribution to society.  Scripture is full of metaphors like these that illustrate how the church is to strive to be viewed by outsiders.  And setting out to preach to complete strangers in such a way that is guaranteed to just make them mad, or in such a way as to just be easily ignore, does not fulfill any of these metaphors.

I do not want to assign or discuss motives, I exhort you to refrain as well.  I have no doubt that those who preach at me as I head into a game are very sincere.  I have no doubt the banners they wave about Hell and sin and Jesus and death are designed to show the love of Christ.  I understand that they see themselves as agents of God proclaiming the truths of Scripture.  Maybe they are – hence raising the question.  Yet, is that really the kind of glory and attention God is seeking?  Is this really the aroma he wants his church to emit?

As far as I am concerned the jury is still out.  But as I ponder these questions I am being influenced by these facts: 1) open-air preaching to stranger-pagans who are not interested in the message has no biblical example or command and 2) we are to behave in a manner that, in as much as possible, causes the world to thank God we are here.   And I just do not see how open-air preaching is consistent with either of these.

  • Share/Bookmark