Thursday, May 30, 2013

Fundamissional: Tradition and Teachability — Part 2

Traditions are the heritage of a church’s historical interpretation of Scripture and the practice of its faith.  That’s not a bad thing, that’s a very good thing, and it should be celebrated.  Traditions do not develop willy-nilly out of thin air.  They are the interpretations and normative practices of a church that enter into the life and exercise of that church over time.  And none of those things make their way into church life without having first been given to prayer, meditation, and debate by godly, Spirit-filled men.  It is for this reason that we would do well to deliberate as earnestly over the modification or removal of a tradition as was done by our predecessors at the time of its installation. 

Traditions, whatever benefit they may provide, do have the potential to impede obedience and enslave.  Jesus was not anti-tradition but he did warn his disciples to beware of the traditions of men.  We know that Jesus was not utterly opposed to all tradition, because we see that he did observe some of the Jewish traditions of his day.1  What he was against, then, was not tradition, but the elevating of tradition to a level and authority reserved only for God-breathed Scripture (Matt 15:9);2 and the abuse of invoking otherwise innocuous and beneficial traditions to create loopholes in the law so that transgressions might be without consequence (Mark 7:1—13).  Like Jesus, we should not repudiate tradition, but we must be aware that we too have the potential, like the Pharisees, to over prioritize our traditions.  I don’t think that any of us is in danger of flat-out suggesting that our way of doing things is equal in priority to what the Bible teaches, but we may unwittingly hold so tightly to traditions, that speak where the Bible has remained silent, that we run the risk of binding consciences and stymying the Church’s disciple-making mission.

Assessing the value of a tradition
Traditions, as has already been noted above, are developed and integrated into the life and practice of a church over time.  Some of these traditions are temporary and often theologically and practically insignificant in the overall scheme of a church’s purpose in the world.  Traditions such as these might range anywhere from the order of worship for a church’s service, to the spot where the welcoming team sets up their coffee and donut table on a Sunday morning.  There are other traditions which are much older and long-lasting, and which serve a greater theological and practical purpose in the life of the church.  These might range from the hymnal a church has been using for the last fifty years, to the Sunday School program that has been running since the church was planted a hundred and fifty years back.  Each of these examples of tradition was made with some specific purpose and goal in mind.  That is as true for the location of where the donuts and coffee are set up, as it was for establishing the Sunday School program.  Donuts and coffee were placed in the foyer to encourage conversation and mingling between members as they walk in, and to provide a welcoming treat for visitors.  And the goal of that decision was to create an atmosphere for community among members and to bless visitors.  The Sunday School program was originally designed to provide an additional training opportunity for the church to grow in their knowledge of the Bible in an age appropriate setting.  And the goal of that training was to develop and mature disciples through a comprehensive study of God’s word. 

All traditions begin with a noble mission-oriented purpose and goal in mind.  But some traditions, because they were originally designed to operate within a particular cultural context, no long provide the same benefit to the church and the mission that they once did.3  The form and function, which were once very effective no longer work well today.  And in some instances, the culture may have gone so far afield from the cultural conditions which were in place when the tradition was originally installed, that the continuing practice of that tradition actually works against the goal for which the tradition was originally designed.   We must be willing to examine why we do what we do, continually.

In my next article, I will give some examples of this.

1 Matt 23:2—3, 5 — Jesus endorses the authority of the Pharisees who sit on Moses’s seat, which is nowhere to be found in the Old Testament, but is in the Mishnah, Tractate Avot.  He also appears to subscribe to the wearing phylacteries which was never commanded by God, but rather is a tradition that developed out of literal interpretation of Deut 6:8—9, 11:18.
2 cf. Col 2:20—23; Titus 1:13—14
3 Dan Kimball. "When Tradition Obscures Mission." n.p., [6 June 2012. cited 13 May 2013]. Online:
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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fundamissional: Tradition and Teachability — Part 1

One of the most valuable pieces of advice that I received early in ministry was to make a practice of reading and listening to teachers who are outside of my own theological tradition. This has not only exposed me to differing perspectives across the bandwidth of theological opinion but it has also engendered affection and respect for brothers and sisters with whom I do not agree and would have otherwise dismissed as doctrinal opponents.  It has also kept me humble.  While I believe my doctrinal convictions have been rightly formulated, thoroughly tested and proven biblically sound, I want to allow those convictions to remain open to challenge.  Otherwise, I stand to lose the objectivity that was present when those convictions were developed.  I want to find a good balance between certainty and teachability; and I have discovered that this practice of hearing, considering and understanding contrary positions to be a helpful practice toward achieving that end.      

There is one unassailable barrier to knowledge.  And that is to assume that you’ve arrived at a comprehensive and exhaustive knowledge of a particular topic to be considered.  In many cases, this barrier is not the consequence of hubris but of tradition.  Alternative interpretations of Scripture and dogmatic formulations are sometimes rejected solely on the assumption of theological tradition and not on the basis of overwhelming exegetical proof.  In these cases, right interpretations of Scripture are wrongly refused before they are ever given a fair hearing.  Everyone has traditions and we are all subject to the influences of those traditions and the loyalties that those traditions arouse.  And sometimes we dismiss another's theological position based on the supposed interpretation or assumption of our traditions rather than on an airtight biblical argument which would show an opposing position incorrect.  The only sure way of preventing this from happening is to be aware that our traditions exist and that we each share the potential for promoting our traditions over the traditions of another. 
Sometimes we simply dismiss the merits of another tradition because the language used to describe the practices or teaching within that tradition are foreign to our own.  Because our theological vocabulary is the thread that knits our doctrine and tradition together, it is unsettling when someone comes along and begins to weave their foreign language into the tapestry of our religion.  In some instances, the language is not altogether unfamiliar, it is just used differently to describe concepts of common faith and practice that we would otherwise agree upon.  Words are sometimes given different meaning, or different nuances of a word are favored over nuances which we would prefer.  Community, organic, living the gospel, incarnational ministry, contextualize and other buzzwords put those who do not share the missional vernacular on edge.  And often, this unsettled response results in the wholesale dismissal of a teaching that would otherwise be worth our consideration.

We are right to be on guard when unfamiliar language is being used, of course.  There is, after all, no shortage of warnings in the New Testament against false teachers and their distorted doctrines.  Timothy is instructed to watch his teaching closely and to persevere in it, because in so doing he would save both himself and his hearers (1 Tim 4:16).  The stakes, then, are infinitely high here, so having a defensive posture toward foreign ideas and unfamiliar language is not a wrongly conceived or unwarranted position to take.  It is altogether appropriate because it is an apostolic mandate to be vigilant in our defense of the faith (Jude 3).  Problems arise, however, when we have the threat level of our theological defenses set so high that we reject, out of hand, any teaching that comes to our door from somewhere outside of our own tradition.  When unfamiliar language, teaching, or practice is presented, then there is a tendency for the excessively defensive to rebuff it based upon nothing more then its unfamiliarity.  And there is perhaps no other area of evangelical tradition where the dynamics of this defensive response is more readily experienced than in the realm of ecclesial convention.  That is, there seems to be an undue defensive reaction to questions of how the life of the church is to be expressed in the world.  And when alternative forms of church structures or models are presented, then we have the propensity to buck against them because “That’s not how we’ve ever done it before.”  These types of responses are presumptive because they often reject innovations to ecclesial practice uncritically.  There are no questions over whether the introduction of innovations should be considered; there is no wrestling over the bases for our current ways of doing church; there is only an appeal to the past.  In instances such as these, I have to ask myself whether we are genuinely interested in expressing the church rightly, faithfully, and biblically; or, if we are simply bent on doing church in a way that is comfortable and familiar?  

“The person who claims that they have no traditions, is slave to their traditions.” — James White
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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Fundamissional: Navigating the Missional and Evangelical Waters

There is a place in the Gulf of Alaska where two oceans meet but do not mix.  This happened because fresh water glaciers melted and flowed to join the ocean water.  Because of the difference in the salinity and densities of these two water bodies, a surface tension developed between them that acts like a thin wall which prevents them from mixing.  The boundary between the two is outlined by a thin layer of foam.  It’s kind of poetic isn’t it?  Two powerful bodies of water, relentlessly standing together, but unable to become one.1 

I’m navigating my ship in the confluent boundary waters of two different oceans.  On the port side is the missional church movement and on the starboard is traditional evangelicalism.  At first glance the two bodies look completely different from one another.  The dissimilar mineral content and salinity of the two oceans tint the water and cause a slight contrasting in color.  There are some differences, that’s obvious to anyone looking at the them, but the essential nature of the two bodies is exactly the same.  They are each large and wet, they both support life, and they both will move when the wind moves over the face of their waters.

I am an evangelical and a fundamentalist,2 and I am not ashamed to say it.  I was raised in a conservative evangelical Baptist church, I happily maintain relationships and interact with fundamentalist and traditional evangelical friends, and I continue to benefit from the ministries of men like John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Mike Horton, and John Piper.  At the same time, I have been deeply influenced and persuaded by the teaching coming out of the missional church movement.  Men like Jeff Vanderstelt, Steve Timmis, Tim Chester, and Alan Hirsch have challenged me and blessed me immensely.  I will never think of the church and our mission in the world in the same way, for having been taught by these men.

What's the big deal?
For some of you reading, who are unfamiliar with the missional church movement, it may not be clear why I should make a distinction between the missional church and traditional evangelicalism; or why it should be remarkable that anyone would find themselves navigating their way through the two.  Let me try to explain it, briefly. 

First, what do we mean when we speak of the missional church?  The missional church is paradigmatically unique among churches.  While all evangelical churches recognize that we have been commissioned by Jesus to go into all the world and preach the gospel and make disciples of all peoples, and every church is carrying out that charge in varying degrees of commitment and priority, the missional church is distinct in that it identifies and prioritizes itself primarily around the mission of God.  That is, the missional church holds that we are intrinsically and principally missionary in nature.3  We are a missionary people sent by a missionary God.

This missionary identity affects everything that happens in the life and organization of the missional church.  If it is true, that identity informs who we are, and who we are determines what we will do, then it makes sense that a missionary identity will result in a missionary response.  And when this identity permeates through the organism of the church, it affects everything.  It affects how we live, how we worship, how we preach, how we structure and organize our churches and Sunday gatherings; nothing goes unaffected because every decision is pressed through the grid of the apostolic commission.  And since missional churches worship, preach, and organize with mission in mind, they tend to develop practices which break from some of the historical conventions of evangelicalism and traditional church forms.  It is for this reason that most missional churches would also fall into the category of the emerging church movement.  That is the rub for some conservative evangelical teachers, and this leads me to my next point.

Second, why would it be remarkable for anyone to be found moving through or between these two movements simultaneously?  It is not remarkable because I am some sort of pioneer.  I don’t think that my position is unprecedented, or that I am the only one working between these two movements.  Its remarkability is, rather, subject to a person’s opinion of the missional movement.  Some folks, from more conservative circles, do not like the movement for reasons other than its DIY missional ecclesiology.  They are, instead, disturbed by some of those who have been identified with the movement.  Their concerns are not without cause.

The missional church is not a monolithic movement.  Like evangelicalism, there is a vast range of theological perspectives and methodologies which represent themselves under a common banner.  In the evangelical movement you will find men such as Sinclair Ferguson, Arturo Azurdia, and Steve Lawson; men who are conservative pastor-theologians and stalwarts of the faith.  But you will also find teachers such as T.D. Jakes, Greg Boyd, and Kenneth Copeland within the movement; men who are considered heretics by the majority of conservative evangelicals.  Similarly, the missional movement is an admixture of both good and bad.  There are men such as Tim Keller, Terry Virgo, and Matt Chandler who are widely respected and who are helping to drive the missional advance.  But you will also find neo-liberal pastors and teachers like Rob Bell, Tony Jones, and Doug Pagitt associated with the movement.  Unfortunately, it is this latter cohort of heterodox teachers who grabbed the majority of the press early on in the missional and emerging church movements.  These men unabashedly reject core doctrines of the faith and promote a missional church which is nothing more than a warmed-over version of Rauschenbusch’s social gospel.  And since these guys are associated with the roots of the movement, and promote similar ideas, and share a common vocabulary, the entire movement has been indicted through an unwarranted association. 

That is why most conservative evangelical teachers are suspicious and critical of the missional church, as a whole — we do things a little bit differently and we have some wolves mingling in and around our sheep.  And that, I suppose, is what makes my journey a little bit unique.  I am a conservative evangelical Christian but I am also a missional churchman.  I have associations and friendships on both sides of the divide, and I am being influenced by teachers and ministries on both my left and my right.  Honestly, I sometimes feel like a man with no country.  My conservative and traditional evangelical friends look at me with a head-cocked curiosity, not knowing what to make of me.  And some of my missional and emerging church friends, I would not be surprised to find out, that they might have wondered if I was an undercover MacArthurite sent to infiltrate and subvert the movement.  I am honestly, simply trying to navigate my way as wisely and faithfully as I am able, in the border region between the two movements.

What I have discovered 
Here is what I’ve discovered along the way.  Those two oceans that meet in the Gulf of Alaska, there is very little that separates them or makes them different from one another.  Salts and other suspended minerals change the density and color of the water, but that is all.  That’s not to suggest that the differences between the two are insignificant or inconsequential.  The differences do matter and they do change the way the water will behave.  Water is water.  And traditional evangelicalism and the orthodox missional church are essentially the same at the molecular level.  Both movements love Jesus, both has a desire to see that his name be made great in the world; both want to see sinners reconciled to God, and both wants to see his glory cover the earth as the waters cover the sea!  Very little divides us, just a thin superficial veil and a little bit of foam.

Where I am headed
With that said, let me make my intentions clear.  I want to expose you, my conservative evangelical and fundamentalist friends, to consider what I have seen.  I am not simply making an appeal toward having you extend the warm hand of Christian fellowship to the missional church, I want to persuade you to consider linking arms with it.  I’m afraid that many of you have dismissed the movement without cause.  Perhaps, you don’t care for the cheeky language of the missional conversation; or you despise the liberal theology of some of our supposed leaders; or you think that your church is already effectively working out the Savior’s commission where you live and in the world.  Whatever your reasons might have been in the past, for dismissing or ignoring the missional church, I want you to lay them aside.  Lend me your ear.  I am not a fire breathing disenfranchised ex-fundamentalist who is now thumbing his nose at traditionalists because he was forced to burn his rock-n-roll cassette tapes in the 1980's.  That is not my heart at all, but I know that that is what some of you have come to expect from some of us in the emerging and missional church.  I love you and respect you because we are united as one in the Body of Christ.  I will not attack you, but I want to challenge you.  You might not agree with all that I write or share many of my conclusions, but I pray that you will walk away from this conversation having learned something about yourself and the missional church.

Over the coming days and weeks, I will be writing a series of articles that address this topic.  I hope you will comeback and read some more and share the articles amongst you and your friends.

For more reading on the missional church see: 

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Friday, May 3, 2013

Open-Air Preaching and the Missional Church

The combining of the words ‘open-air’ with the word ‘preaching’ is likely to elicit a wide range of images and opinions in the mind of the person reading them. For some they bring to mind the great evangelists of the explosive revivals of the eighteenth century — Wesley, Whitefield, Tennent, and Edwards; or the prophets of the Old and New Testaments — Jeremiah, Isaiah, Peter, and Paul. While for others, these words conjure up negative images of angry street heralds, with sandwich boards strung over their shoulders, thundering down threatenings of heaven upon all who would wander unawares into their field of preaching. Whatever one happens to think about, few typically associate the practice of preaching in the public square with the missional church movement. Because the missional church places such a high priority on practicing evangelism in the context of ongoing discipleship — on mission and in community — the thought of preaching to strangers who are dissociated from church or discipling relationships may seem at first to be counterintuitive.  It should not be.

I've been particularly struck by the stories of Whitefield, Wesley, and Spurgeon, and their practice of taking the gospel out to the fields and cities, in the open-air. Their boldness was certainly remarkable, but their confidence in the gospel and its ability to arrest the hearts of the people to whom they were speaking is truly humbling. This leaves me searching for how the missional church can implement this ancient practice in our postmodern context. It is easy to take these men and their ministries and to turn them into exemplars for how we should do our evangelistic outreach today. This is not a wrongly conceived notion, but there are some things one ought to consider before taking to the street with soapbox and sandwich board in hand.  

Four Considerations  
First, the revivalists of the Great Evangelical Awakening and Great Awakenings were preaching into a particular context where open-air address was not uncommon. The citizenry of eighteenth century England and of the American colonies were used to being addressed in the open-air by town criers, traveling salesman, and itinerant performers. So the idea of a person vying for the attention of the public by means of public address was not at all unexpected. As difficult as it may be to imagine, consider a time when no television, Facebook, or Netflix existed; and where few books were available. Anything and everything quickly qualifies itself as entertainment in a place such as that — even if a person were disposed to rejecting the message preached, an itinerant evangelist and his attendant crowd is certainly still something to watch. 

Second, these men were preaching in a context unlike our own. In the milieu of a debauched eighteenth century Europe, where both culture and the church were in serious spiritual decline (think of the culture as it was recently depicted in the film Les Misérables), the messages of Whitefield and Wesley were considered fanatical by both the Anglican and nonconformist churches.1 This forced them to take their preaching out of doors and to the fields. 

Third, these evangelists were preaching into a culture which assumed Christianity. So the greater portion of those who gathered to hear Wesley and Whitefield preach, probably had some idea of what they were going on about. The majority of their hearers were born and baptized into the Anglican Church and most likely attended the weekly services at the parish churches where they lived, so most did possess some degree of theological awareness and some sort of theological vocabulary. They were largely only Christian in name, however. The compromised churches of the period had delivered to them a sub-biblical shell of Christianity that lacked the doctrinal potency and biblical fidelity necessary for salvation to occur in their hearts. Many were, therefore, placing their hope of salvation in their baptism and their membership in the church. This provided the revivalists with the opportunity to undermine their false assurance and deliver afresh, Christ and him crucified. 

Fourth, their message was not merely aimed at winning the lost; nor was it intended to win back the culture — though both of these were certainly considerations for Whitefield and Wesley. Their primary concern was rather pointed at reviving and building up the church. This is evidenced especially in the ministry of Wesley, who began organizing revived believers and converted people into small cell groups — called societies — along his itinerant preaching routes. These groups, led by men who were trained by Wesley or his writings, provided pastoral care and training for people who were not receiving proper discipleship and care from their parish churches. Likewise, Spurgeon instructed his students to “...begin open-air preaching in newly developed areas, or in a place where it was known that there were a few believers living ready to form a church.”2 In both cases, Wesley in the eighteenth century and Spurgeon in the nineteenth, preaching in the open-air was a preliminary step in their church reviving and church planting strategies.  

Public Preaching and the Missional Church 

So how is one to think about preaching in the public square today? And how does it fit within the paradigmatic forms of discipling to faith at work within the missional church? In the first place, it must be established that if the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus, who make disciples of Jesus of all nations upon the earth, then there can be no objection formed against open-air preaching in principle. There may exist valid complaints about how, when, and where open-air preaching should take place, but there cannot be any biblical arguments made about its practice. 

To answer the first question, namely, “How should one think about public evangelistic preaching directed at strangers, while remaining committed to discipling disciples to maturity?” it will be helpful to think of Mission as being the overarching evangelistic principle of the Church. And this Mission provides the auspices for three differing approaches to discipleship — these may be referred to as the Proactive, Reactive, and Active missions. Proactive mission is what one generally associates with missional living and missional church forms of discipleship — engaging neighbors, friends, and family in the everyday, and in community, with gospel intentionality. Reactive mission, on the other hand, is discipleship on the go. It is unplanned and unorganized, reactive discipleship. It is engaging strangers (people with whom one is unlikely to establish an ongoing relationship) in gospel conversations. At the coffee shop, at the grocery store, or wherever one happens to be, where strangers are present, that is where Reactive mission takes place. Reactive mission can take on the form of tracting or spontaneous public gospel proclamation. The third category, Active mission, involves premeditated strategic evangelistic planning. This can take place in a variety of different forms as well. It can happen on a college campus, by setting up and preaching in a free speech zone; it can happen by organizing a formal debate between a Christian apologist and a humanist professor; it can happen by inviting friends to Theology and Beer talks at a local pub; or, it can happen by enrolling in a psychology class at the local community college and presenting the Christian worldview when the dialogue moves in that direction. The sky, here, actually is the limit. 

To answer the second question — “How does open-air preaching fit within the paradigmatic forms of discipling to faith and maturity at work within the missional church?” — one needs only to recognize that public preaching provides the possibility of establishing new discipling relationships. These relationships may be established with the unconverted who are interested in hearing more; they may be initiated with those who are converted on the spot under the preaching of the gospel; or, they may be established with disengaged disciples or wayward churchmen who are revived through the open gospel proclamation of public preaching. In each case the goal is exactly the same. Preaching is done to announce to God’s elect that salvation has come in Jesus Christ. Public preaching, then, should always be done, with the goal of gathering the elect of God into a gospel community, where they may be discipled to maturity in the context of the ongoing mission of the Church. This was the inceptive step in Spurgeon’s church planting methodology, and it was the strategy of the Apostle Paul on his missionary journeys. So we ought not think that public preaching is outside of the acceptable practices of the missional church. 

Missional means living as sent. And if we are a sent people it means that we are missionaries who have been sovereignly chosen by God to serve a particular people at a particular moment in history (Acts 17:26—28). So public preaching, from a missional perspective will have a certain local and incarnational interest. Steve McCoy, when writing on the same topic says, "We [missional pastors] see ourselves as local. [I am not talking] about itinerant open-air Gospel bombers who hit-and-run and let the locals figure it out. I'm talking about pastors who are called to love their cities toward Jesus getting the Gospel in the open-air again. So the ultimate goal in evangelism, of whatever sort, is to make disciples. Disciples are made in relationships, though it may start without it (Acts 2). And that means we aim that our hearers in open-air preaching will eventually (Lord-willing) join our churches and connect in Gospel-centered community with us. Our open-air preaching will be winsome to those being saved, though it will be foolishness to those who are not (1 Cor 1:22-24)."3  

Defining Open-Air Preaching 

It will be helpful, at this point, to define what qualifies as open-air preaching (which will hereto forth be called public preaching, see appendix). It is noteworthy that there are no didactic texts where the Church is instructed on how evangelism is to be conducted; there are no standard operating procedures, nor directions on evangelistic method which are explicitly provided by the Savior or the Apostles.4 Therefore, the biblical precedent for preaching in public is limited to the descriptions of how preaching occurred in the ministries of the prophets, evangelists, and Apostles, in the historical narratives of the Prophets, Gospels, and Acts. While the prophets, Apostles, and evangelist — not least of whom was Jesus — practiced preaching in this particular form, one should not feel beholden to their methods which were employed and accepted as norms in their premodern contexts. As long as the message is sound, contemporary evangelistic preaching may take place anywhere, at any time, in small groups and in large, being loudly proclaimed or softly spoken, and in variety of different forms.5 

This presents the reader with both good news and with bad news. The good news is, is that no one has to feel guilty if they don’t feel compelled to stand on a street corner, with bullhorn in hand, preaching the gospel to the lost in their city. The bad news is, is that everyone still has lost people in their city. And the gospel compels the Church to warn them of both the judgement and salvation that attends the coming of God’s kingdom. So public preaching can happen anywhere, at any anytime, under a variety of different circumstance. It may take place on the street, in a field, across a dinner table, at Starbucks, at a pub, in a city park, or in a college class room, over social media; with strangers or with people who are already know. There are no rules. There is simply an expectation that the gospel will so grip the hearts of the redeemed that they can do nothing but proclaim the excellencies of Jesus. 

Some Considerations Before Preaching 

Effective missionaries are those people who know how to read both their bibles and their cultures. They know their theology and they no how to apply it rightly in their given contexts. Cultural norms and taboos exist and good missionaries are aware of what these are. As was noted above, one must not too quickly assume that the methods which were effective 100 years ago, much less 2000 years ago, will be as effective today. It should be recognized and affirmed by all, that the great open-air preachers of the past, who are most often put forward as examples for our following, were operating under circumstances which are far different from those which exist today. At the same time, one mustn’t get carried away by these facts and assume that the practice is altogether unprofitable for the mission of making disciples in the twenty-first century. And if public preaching is not to be abandoned, then one must be willing to consider how, when, and where it should be practiced. Because the purity of the gospel can be easily tainted by an improper or wrongly conceived preaching approach, evangelists ought to be willing to give some time for wisely considering the how, when, and where the gospel is proclaimed. 


Preaching publicly in the city’s square has both historical and biblical precedent. While there exists no explicit directions or instruction in the Scripture for how evangelistic efforts are to be conducted, the Church today has inherited a rich history of examples of how it has been successfully accomplished in the past. Therefore, the missional church would do well to evaluate and consider more intently how the practice of public preaching may be implemented in the local church’s active mission of making disciples of Jesus in their cities. 

Charles Spurgeon said, “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 meetinghouse. A defense is required rather for services within buildings than for worship outside of them.” How now shall we respond?  


While many proponents for public preaching will readily acknowledge that the evidence for the practice, as it is found in the Scripture, is limited to descriptive historical-narrative texts, they will yet demand that public preaching be restricted to the particular forms as they are found in the Bible; anything short of a facsimile of the biblical model should be considered insufficient. In effect, they are demanding that contemporary evangelists impose bygone forms of preaching upon a twenty-first century context.6 An attempt to support this position is often made by directing the attention of those suggesting alternative forms of public proclamation to the word translated as preach in the New Testament, kérussó (κηρύσσω). Kérussó, they rightly point out means “to proclaim after the manner of a herald always with a suggestion of formality, gravity, and an authority, which must be listened to and obeyed.”7 However, they wrongly insist on having the volume of one’s voice, the location of the proclamation, and the number of persons being addressed as necessary conditions for preaching to take place. It is true that first century Roman heralds did announce their messages loudly enough so that hundreds of people could clearly understand the news they were delivering. However, the emphasis of the verb’s action is not upon the loudness of the herald’s voice, but rather upon the publication of the herald’s message.8 It simply happens that, in most situations, it was necessary for a herald to elevate their voice to a level that was sufficient to accommodate the environment where they were speaking and the size of the crowds they were addressing.9 In addition, kérussó is not the only word employed by the NT writers to describe these evangelistic events. Both euaggelizó (εὐαγγελίζω)10 and dialegomai (διαλέγομαι)11 are also used, and each provides a different nuance to what can possibly be considered public preaching.  A composite of each of the words, therefore, is to be preferred to kérussó by itself.

It is equally erroneous to demand that public evangelistic proclamation must happen out of doors, on the street, or in a field. Jesus, Peter, and Paul each preached in synagogues and in homes; and, at least in the case of Paul, at a school. Therefore, contrary to the argument put forth, preaching is not dependent upon the level of one’s voice, the location of where the message is delivered, or the number of people being addressed.

1 Without Credit. Porterbrook Learning Foundational Year Part 3. “A Brief History of Church Planting in Britain: Part 2” (Porterbrook Network, Sheffeild, UK, 2013) 239.
2 Porterbrook, 239.
4 In fact, in the case of Paul, there is not a single command given in the corpus of his epistles that the church should engage in evangelism at all. There is only the assumed expectation that evangelism will naturally happen in response to belief in the gospel. — Köstenberger and O'Brien. Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission (IVP, Downers Grove, IL, 2001) 191—196.
5 Some advocates of traditional forms open-air preaching will insist that public evangelistic preaching must take place on a particular biblical way. See the appendix for an examination of their objections.
6 It is not our opinion that the gospel is necessarily compromised by importing foreign forms into the native twenty-first century context. However, one must not forget that a message cannot be easily separated from the method, medium, and conditions of a message’s delivery. If the method, medium, or the condition under which a message is delivered is consider to be rude, unwelcome, or intrusive, then the message has significant potential to be contaminated by the perceived rudeness, unwelcomeness, or intrusiveness of the method, medium, or condition.
7 Κηρύσσω — “THAYER’S GREEK-ENGLISH LEXICON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT,” Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, n.p.
8 Kérussó like many Greek words will communicate a variety of nuanced meanings depending upon its particular morphology (tense, mood, voice, etc.) and use in the context of a given body of text. The context of kérussó does, in many cases, suggest that the message being preached was delivered with loudness and to large crowds, however, there are also instances where the word simply means to publish or announce with authority — Mark 1:45; Luke 24:47; 1 Cor 1:23, 5:12; cf. Rev 5:2 - kérussó is qualified, here, by describing the volume of the angle’s voice.
9 Suggestions to the contrary are etymologically fallacious.
10 euaggelizó is the LXX gloss for the Hebrew word biser (בִּשֵּׂר), which means — to bring good news, to announce glad tidings; Vulg.evangelizo (etc.); used in the O. T. of any kind of good news: 1 Sam 31:9; 2 Sam 1:20; 1 Ch 10:9; of the joyful tidings of God's kindnesses, Ps 39:10 (); τό σωτήριον Θεοῦ, Ps 95:2 (); in particular, of the Messianic blessings: Isa 40:9; Isa 52:7; Isa 60:6; Isa 61:1, etc.” — “THAYER’S GREEK-ENGLISH LEXICON OF THE NEW TESTAMENT,” Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, n.p. / Rom 10:15 connects kérussó with euaggelizó.
11 From whence our word dialogue is derived.

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