Answering Objections to Open Air Preaching

FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS, volume 18, number 17, April 25, 2019

We have become the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, 1 Corinthians 4:13.

                        Answering Objections to Open Air Preaching

Here’s how I opened last week. 

I know. I get it. Most of us have seen some really bad, bombastic, judgmental, legalistic, ranting and raving which was supposed to pass for open air preaching. Consequently, when I suggest to men that they join my brethren and me on the streets I typically get a “deer in the headlights” kind of look, and some pretty funny and lame excuses on why they just cannot make it this time. 

On the other hand, maybe you have seen some really faithful open air preachers, men who preach the law of God to bring conviction, who then preach the glories of Christ’s death and resurrection, and who then Biblically call men and women who are listening to repent and believe the gospel. However their preaching is met with indifference on the one hand, or virulent displays of vile, violent hostility on the other. 

And then maybe you ask the street preachers as you pass by, “Have you had anyone get saved today?” Usually the answer is “No.” And you cannot help but reply, “Isn’t there a better way? I mean, you guys seem to be sincere in your love for Jesus and the lost, but wow, the opposition is so over the top. Maybe you guys are actually doing more harm than good. Most of these people are pretty upset. Maybe there’s a kinder, gentler way to get the word out. After all, we live in a postmodern world. People just don’t believe the Bible anymore. They certainly don’t believe in heaven or hell. They think there are many ways to God. And when you guys mention sexual sin, especially homosexuality, the people absolutely go bonkers. They think you hate homosexuals. Have you guys maybe thought about passing out bottles of water at Town festivals or Gay Pride Parades with a label on them saying— God loves you. Have a great day—instead of preaching. People are just trying to enjoy themselves on a nice Saturday morning. Aren’t you guys kind of intruding on their nice, leisurely stroll on a carefree day?”

What about all of this? How shall we answer these objections to open air preaching? 

Objection one—bad, bombastic, judgmental, legalistic, ranting, and raving which passes for open air preaching. No doubt about it. Bad open air preaching really casts the whole enterprise in a bad light. But are we to not engage in open air preaching just because some guys do it so poorly? To say, “Yes,” is like saying that because there is a really bad cook in one of your favorite restaurants, a good cook should not ply his trade.

Objection two—no one is getting saved through your efforts. First of all, whether or not some people are saved through our preaching is not on the preacher. Only God can save. But secondly, we have no idea how God may use His word in the hearts of those who hear us. People may come under conviction of sin at that moment and call on the Lord later, tomorrow, next week, next year, ten years from now. And thirdly, hearing the gospel preached in the open air may be the first link in the chain of salvation for that person. Only God knows, ultimately, what He does with the preaching of His word. 

Objection three—isn’t there a better way? Clearly from the Scriptures, God’s primary means of conversion is the preached word of God. This is proven time after time in the gospels and Acts. Yes, God does use door to door evangelism (Acts 5:42, 8:1-4, 20:20) and He will use variations of that today (survey evangelism, evangelistic Bible studies, Christianity Explored, etc), but according to the Scriptures, which of course ought to drive all that we do, preaching is God’s appointed means of saving His elect (Romans 10:9-17). 

Objection four—your open air preaching is over the top. By this people generally mean it is too strong, too direct, too much of sin, hell, and judgment. But people have always thought Biblical, evangelistic preaching is “over the top.” A cursory reading of the Pharisees’ reaction to Jesus and the beatings and martyrdom the apostles and prophets experienced, proves this point only too well. Secular people applaud the church for feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and teaching children to read, but they hate true preaching. Anyone, including atheists, Hindus, Muslims, and animists can feed the poor, but only Christians can offer the only hope of eternal life.

Objection five—aren’t you guys doing more harm that good? Yes, that could be true if the preaching is unbiblical in content and delivery. Having said this, however, it is still true that our all powerful, sovereign God can strike a straight blow with a crooked stick. He can and often does overcome the frailties and faults of bad gospel preachers. But also remember that Paul, who was beaten and whipped many times, said that his preaching was a savor of life to some and savor of death to others (2 Cor. 2:16). Those who practice darkness hate the light because the light reveals the corruption within their unbelieving hearts (John 3:19). Of course, then, they will oppose the preaching of the cross. 

Objection six—maybe there’s a kinder, gentler way. Yes, people try that all the time. They speak of self-actualization, self-discovery, self-esteem, living your best life now, and all manner of psychobabble. There is, however, no power in that approach. There is no hope of victory over sin, Satan, and death. There is no hope of transformation, no reason for confidence that when one closes his eyes in death, that he will be face to face with Jesus. So, why then do so many prefer the “kinder, gentler” approach? Jesus did not. He called the Samaritan woman out for her sexual sin. He calls the Pharisees “white-washed sepulchers.” Some give a “kinder, gentler” message ultimately, because they fear man. They are afraid of man’s frown. 

Objection seven—our postmodern world does not believe the Bible, it does not believe in heaven or hell. So what? What difference does that make? Do you think the pagan Gentiles, powerful Romans, or the intellectual and philosophical Greeks bought into the Bible? People in every culture, throughout history, have rejected the Bible as the word of God. Why? Because the natural man does not receive the things of God. They are foolishness to him (1 Cor.2:14). But what other authority do we have? Do you really think your philosophical arguments and evidences for the existence of God and the veracity of the Bible will convince anyone? Their minds are blinded (2 Cor.4:3,4).

Objection eight—people reject the idea that Jesus is the only way to God. Yes, of course they do. They have always rejected that message. The Greeks had altars to all their gods, even an altar to the unknown god. So, if we believe the world, then of course, we must soft-peddle the notion that Christianity is exclusive, that Jesus is the only way to God. This definitely does not play well in our culture. But again, what is our authority? Jesus Himself proclaimed that He is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). 

Objection nine—people go bonkers when you mention sexual sin or homosexuality. That’s because people do not know history. They cannot answer the questions of “Where did we come from, why are we here, why is the world in this state, where are we going?” So we must proclaim to them the first three chapters of Genesis. But again you may object, “That is circular reasoning. There you go again, claiming the Bible as your authority.” But everyone uses circular reasoning. In fact you cannot argue your point, no matter what your final authority is (God’s revelation in the Bible or some sort of world view manufactured by man) without using it. We all, wittingly or unwittingly, interpret everything we experience in the world from our own presuppositions of truth. An atheist, for example, will see the same beautiful sunset as a Biblical creationist, but come to a different conclusion as to how this happened and what it means. 

Objection ten—maybe you should just pass out bottles of water at the Gay Pride parade which read, “God loves you. Have a great day.” This is so lame. There is no power in this. A muslim could do this. Christians in Pakistan are not getting killed for passing out bottles of water. They are martyred because they are preaching Jesus as the only hope for sinners. 

Objection eleven—aren’t you guys intruding on people’s nice, leisurely stroll on a carefree day? Yes, that would be true if our message is psychologically or culturally driven, if we are merely giving an opinion or philosophical perspective on the meaning of life. If, however, we are speaking of eternal issues of life and death, if we are warning people to flee from the wrath of God and to run to Jesus for refuge, then no, we are not intruding on people’s personal space. If I stand in front your house at 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning while you are drinking a cup of coffee and talking to your spouse and I proclaim that Alabama is the greatest football team in the history of college football, then you have a right to be upset with me for intruding on your space. If, however, I am warning you at the top of my lungs with great urgency in my voice that your house is on fire, and that you must flee immediately or you will perish, then no, I am not intruding on your personal space. To say nothing in this scenario would be at the least indifference to your plight, but at worst, a lack of love and compassion for your danger and impending death. 

So, let’s get past the opposition to open air preaching and encourage men to get out there and preach Christ crucified, come what may, but always in the power of the Spirit.   

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