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Open Air Preaching

I was asked on Twitter what I'd say to someone who asked me to defend the practice of open-air preaching.  I could do no better than quote Spurgeon:

No sort of defense is needed for preaching out of doors; but it would need very potent arguments to prove that a man had done his duty who has never preached beyond the walls of his meeting-house. A defense is required rather for services within buildings than for worship outside of them. (Lectures to My Students, p254)

Or maybe George Macleod:

I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap; at a crossroad so cosmopolitan that they had to write his title in Hebrew and Latin and in Greek; at the kind of place where cynics talk smut and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died. And that is what he died about. And that is where churchmen ought to be, and what churchmen ought to be about.

Steve McCoy did some great posts on the subject back in February.  In one of them he links to Manchester Pastor and Street-Preacher Kevin Williams.

Williams' hour-long video (embedded at the end of this post) is fantastic on the motivation, rationale and practice of street-preaching.

And here is a 5 minute excerpt where he discusses his "Zero-Apologetics" approach to evangelism.  Don't you love an evangelist who coins the phrase "Zero-Apologetics"?  Glory!


Here's Williams' whole video


You can download as an mp3 here.

8 thoughts on “Open Air Preaching

  1. chris oldfield

    2 queries
    1) the word of god is the sword of the spirit - isnt that the gospel for paul? the word of truth the gospel of your salvation, the word of god which is at work in you who belive, rightly handling the word of truth... dare i say the bible isnt the word of God, the gospel is the word of God, the preaching of Jesus is the word of God, found clothed in holy scriptures Jeremiah 22 isnt the sword of the spirit except in as much as you preach from it the gospel? If you talk about the law but never the gospel you've not given them the word of God which is the sword of the spirit.
    2) in that same vain, if by apologetics you mean "16 historical reasons you can trust daniel is historical, or why 6 day creationism is true", then that's not evangelical apologetics: if by apologetics you mean "responding to why people dont believe in God" then (a) they may never have heard the gospel - which God, what faith, etc. but (b) if you think the reason people dont believe in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who raised him from the dead is anything but sin, lies & idolatry, then the answers (apologetics) will be anything but the gospel. BUT sin, lies and idolatry are deep things (here's the insight of presuppositions) - it's not simply "ah you're stupid", or "ah you just want to sleep around..." I have never heard for instance, Ravi Zacharias give historical reasons why you can believe Daniel, or arguing for 6 day creationism or anything so futile. I have heard him present and existentially persuade people of the false realities, the fake counterfeit self-denials involved in false faith, in false saviours, in escaping sin by psychologising it, or by blaming others, or by treating it as illusion, or by lawkeeping, or by denying it. Beware straw men. No wonder this guy wasnt seeing people converted, his apologetics weren't evangelical, they weren't wielding the sword of the spirit. But the reason he now is is not because he's "saying the magic words of the (hebrew?greek?) God in the bible", but because he's presenting Christ. and Hallelujah for that. To call for a zero-apologetics approach may be a helpful gimick but an unhelpful direction when it's something the scriptures themselves call for. It's as unhelpful as saying we're going to have a zero-predestination approach, because we dont mean what many people mean by it, despite the fact that it's all over Paul's letters.

  2. Glen

    Hi Chris,

    On 1) I think the three-fold word (which is Barth building on Luther) conveys what you're saying - the written word must be proclaimed as the word of Christ. In the unity of the three forms the one Word is heard. You cannot have the written word if it's not in the strictest relation to the eternal Word (Christ) and the proclaimed word (preaching)

    On 2) I think given the slipperiness of the term apologetics then *any* statements about it will be misunderstood. Rather than "Zero-Predestination" I think the parallel statement which might illuminate how slippery is is might be "Zero-Works". "My evangelism is Zero-Works" could be a simple re-statement of Faith Alone. Or it might, if viewed from a certain angle, be considered the preaching of license. But if we listened in for a while to his preaching we'd figure out which it was. And even though the phrase is deliberately absolutizing, I'd argue there's still benefits to it - even considering the possible misunderstandings.

    It's also important to note that this guys is very reformed. It's explicitly pre-suppositional apologetics that he used to try.

  3. Chris Oldfield

    yep. i'm not wholeheartedly a fan of presuppositional apologetics because I dont think you should/could presuppose the gospel. You've got to be told it.

    so I think the problem with presuppositionalism is the same problem that apologetics faces as I outlined it above - it begs the question what to presuppose, so even if you take "scripture" as your authority, then that risks missing the question "what is scripture actually saying" - eg law or gospel? or even...6 day creationism, or historicity of daniel.

    That's why I'm both a fan but also a critic of the theology of everything approach developed in John Frame/Vern Poythress/theologynetwork's approaches - they seems to think that there is such a thing as a biblical view on everything - like a biblical epistemology, or a biblical physics, or a biblical meteorology, etc. I simply dont, taking Schaeffer's line that the bible is a very efficient book, making us wise for salvation through Jesus Christ.

    The gospel is intellectually credible, socially plausible and morally/aesthetically desiriable, and faithful apologetics takes on quesitons/objections to its credibility, plausibility and desriability, by showing it to be so, proclaiming the gospel in such a way that takes those questions seriously and portrays the appealing beauty of Christ. What I'd call unfaithful apologetics pretends the gospel is intellectually guessable (here's where I'd push presuppositionalists), socially popular and morally convenient.

    In other words, if he's reformed/presuppositional but never got to talking about Christ, then that's precisely the kind of apologetics that I'd have a problem with, and maybe that does reflect a law/gospel problem - perhaps mine is a more Lutheran than Reformed approach to the law...? I'd just say it's more evangelical. Like James Denney, "I have no interest whatsoever in any theology that doesn't help me to evangelise". For me therefore, what many people call apologetics is merely doctrine. The proclamation is Christ, the response is faith. The apologetics (reason for faith) is the gospel and the sound doctrine therein. (which is why the Cross of Christ by John Stott is in my opinion the greatest book of apologetics I've ever read).

  4. Glen

    :) I think your comment here shows what a broad range of things "apologetics" can reference.

    I'm all for "proclaiming the gospel in such a way that takes those questions seriously and portrays the appealing beauty of Christ."

    I also love this:

    "what many people call apologetics is merely doctrine. The proclamation is Christ, the response is faith. The apologetics (reason for faith) is the gospel and the sound doctrine therein."


    I'm not anti-apologetics in this sense at all! Any more than I'm anti-works in an Ephesians 2:10 sense. On the basis of the gospel, out flow the answers and out flow the works.

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  6. Pete Bowman

    I've been thinking about Street Pastors recently as our church has a number of people involved with it and a couple of people have asked me whether I might get involved. I suppose it's not a bad thing to do, but I'm not sure there's anything specifically Christian about it, as they purposefully aim to not preach (well if by "not preach" they mean "not be judgmental" then fair enough, but I suspect they mean more than that). I've seen the quote "Street Pastors do not preach the Gospel, but aim to be the Gospel" in a few places - really!? Do even evangelicals have so little confidence in Jesus?

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