‘A Certain Sound’: New Book Challenges Christians, Churches to Think Biblically About Open Air Preaching

A new book has been released that teaches modern-day Christians about the biblical practice of open air preaching, and encourages the Church to get out of its comfort zone and take the gospel to a lost and dying world for the glory of God.

“It’s not some kind of weird, radical way of evangelizing. It’s actually very biblical and it’s pretty normal actually if you’re looking at the Bible,” Ryan Denton of Christ in the Wild Ministries of El Paso, Texas told Christian News Network.

“A Certain Sound: A Primer on Open Air Preaching,” co-written by Denton and Scott Smith of Schoolmaster Ministries, provides a history of open air preaching, guidance on the doctrine in the declaration, counsel on the necessary character and competence of a prospective preacher, and exhortation to the local church.

The two men, both open air preachers themselves, said that they found the book a needed resource as such publications are nearly nonexistent in the modern age.

“There is a void when it comes to this kind of literature,” Denton stated.”There are books on open air preaching written in the early 1900s, and 1800s, but nothing up to date. Nothing so far as contemporary literature goes.”

Smith, a former headmaster at a classical Christian school in Florida who began open air preaching nearly a decade ago, told Christian News Network that preaching in the open air is exemplified throughout the Scriptures, including in the life of Christ himself.

“Jesus was an open air preacher. Paul was an open air preacher. Ezra was an open air preacher,” he explained. “You could go down the line through all the apostles. And so, open air preaching was the rule, not the exception.”

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“Even in the early Church, they used open air preaching as one of the primary ways of getting the gospel out,” Denton also noted.

Think as well of John Knox, John Hus, John Wycliffe—“these were all open air preachers,” the men noted.

“God’s always used it, and He’s still using it today,” Denton stated. “Most non-Christians are not going to go to church. So, the question becomes, how do we get the gospel to them? … Where are they going to hear the gospel if not from our mouths? And that’s what open air preaching tries to do.”

Smith and Denton explained that one of the reasons they decided to write the book was out of concern over what they have seen put forward under the banner of “street ministry,” such as the “shock and awe” preachers who call people names and make a scene with their over-the-top signs, attire and behavior.

“Their approach is just to berate people and call women whores, and just to be mean. They’re just mean, and it comes from a bad theology,” Smith said. “That was one of my main [reasons for the book]: to combat this really bad characterization of a Christian open-air preacher: he’s angry at people, he’s unwilling to talk to people. There is that element out there, there’s no doubt about it, and it’s a circus and it’s a shame.”

Denton Photo Credit: Chike Ozuegbunam

“That’s the reason why open air preachers are criticized by other Christians—because of those guys,” Denton concurred. “A lot of times, that’s what comes to mind when someone talks about a street preacher or an open air preacher.”

He said that he approaches his public ministry with the reminder of what he was before Christ saved him.

“Apart God’s grace, that’s exactly how we would be. So, we don’t berate them, we want to lovingly [tell them the way out],” Denton outlined. “That’s not saying that we compromise and don’t talk about sin or Hell, because we do, but we do it in a way that—and I think the Biblical way—is to do it in a way that allows them to know that we truly do care about them.”

“We’re not gloating over the fact that they’re sinful. We’re not gloating over the fact that they’re lost. We don’t want them to be lost. We don’t them to live that way anymore. We want them to know Christ,” he stated.

Denton said that when one exudes a “true concern for [the lost] condition” of one’s fellow man, the hearer can sense it.

“If you have a tender heart toward the lost, you’ll preach in a way that they’ll be able to realize that you do care about them,” he explained, “as opposed to the bitterness that can take place and … this edge and this callousness that is very obvious.”

Smith, who often preaches on college campuses and outside abortion facilities, said that some students will remark to him that they’re “glad you’re a lot nicer than those other guys that come to the campuses.”

“Most people on the campuses do see the difference pretty quickly,” he stated.

Christian News Network asked Smith to explain the right way to share the gospel on the streets. He said that a preacher should always point to Christ as the solution to man’s bondage to sin.

Smith praying with a man

“You do want to speak clearly with people about the reality of the broken law, [that] the whole human race has broken God’s law—every one of us—and you can’t get to God through your own efforts, and you can’t get to God through religion, but God has taken the initiative to send His Son into the world,” he outlined.

“So, if you’re going to do it right, you better be lifting up Jesus Christ,” Smith advised. “Yes, you explain sin, and yes, you use the law to convict people of sin, but we have a solution to the problem. We’re really good news preachers, and if a person doesn’t think of themself as a good news preacher, I don’t think they understand Bible preaching.”

“To me, to do it right is you understand that no matter how dark the background is, no matter how fallen the world is, God has sent the solution into the world, and we are there to proclaim him—unapologetically, winsomely, but clearly we’re there to proclaim Christ and what He’s done.”

He said that the glorification of God must always be the driving force for evangelism.

“I am primarily motivated out of an affection for Christ because I remember how wretchedly lost I was when God converted me, and there was nobody out there preaching that I ever heard,” Smith shared. “And so, I sort of feel like I owe Him.”

“Open air preaching is for the glory of God, and if nobody listens to me, I would still want to do it for His glory, and that’s really what drives me,” he continued. “But secondarily, [though] importantly, if there’s some other person in sin, whose life was ruined like mine was, that they can hear this glorious message of what Christ does for His people, and that they might find peace with God themselves and inherit the gift of eternal life.”

Denton agreed.

“It’s first and foremost to glorify God [and] to lift up Christ, to make much of Jesus Christ,” he said. “But at the same time, we do preach in the open air for the sake of souls. And so, open air preaching is a way for a large amount of people to hear the word of God. One-on-one evangelism can only cover one person at a time. Open air preaching blankets an entire area with the gospel.”

“So, biblical open air preaching is to make much of Christ, motivated by love for God and love for man—the two greatest commandments.”

Denton and Smith advised that open air preaching is not for everyone, and they would not recommend rushing anyone into it. A man who feels like he is being called to open air preach must first examine himself and see if he has both an internal call from God and external affirmation from his godly peers.

Smith further expounded that the person needs to ensure their own house is in order, having both “character and competence.”

“[S]ome of that might be the process that God uses to grow you up before He puts you on the front lines,” he said, noting that God “certainly would expect you to be very well versed with your Bible.”

One should also check their heart as to why they want to preach to the masses in the first place.

“[A]t the end of the day, I think it’s about this burden that God places on people. They have a desire to go forth,” Denton said. “It’s like Jeremiah with the fire in his bones: This has got to get released somehow, so how can I do it?”

“You know what’s driving you. I think it’s just a matter of investigating your heart and seeing if you are doing it fo the right reasons,” he counseled. “Like any kind of ministry … the most important aspect is living a life that’s devoted to Christ in the sense of studying your Bible—not for the sake of being able to preach, but for the sake of your own worship and love of Christ, living a holy life, [and] really just trying to be separate from the world, trying to be separate from all these things that can contaminate our spirits and our souls.”

And “A Certain Sound” isn’t just for open air preachers, Smith said. There are other ways to share the gospel as well. But the men hope that their book will at least motivate its readers to push past their fears and take a step of faith.

“Any person that has a love for Christ and a love for people can evangelize; they don’t have to open air preach. And there’s enough meat in this book to inspire a person to get out of their comfort zone for the glory of God,” Smith stated. “God has promised if you sow bountifully, you will reap bountifully. But if you sow sparingly, you will reap sparingly.”

“A Certain Sound: A Primer on Open Air Preaching” is available now via Reformation Heritage Books by clicking here.

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