Open Air Preachers? Surprising List

Open air preaching has seen a resurgence in the Reformed community over the last few decades. This should not surprise us, however. Open air preaching has been used by God throughout most of church history. While readers are familiar with the open air exploits of George Whitefield and the Apostle Paul, several other important figures have also preached in this manner.

Patrick of Ireland, for instance, was said to have “collected the pagan tribes in the fields by beat of drum, and then narrated to them in their own tongue the history of the Son of God.”[1] Jan Hus, forerunner to Martin Luther, reportedly “left Prague, but he continued to preach in the countryside.”[2] John Wycliffe “encouraged his men to preach wherever they could gather a crowd—on the road, in the churches, and on village greens.”[3] Early fathers Irenaeus and Cyprian were also open air preachers. “Irenaeus was accustomed to preaching in the market places not only of the city of Lugdunum but also of the market towns and villages round about. Cyprian even dared the authorities to arrest him as he preached in the market place during a period of persecution.”[4] Other open air preachers who might surprise you are Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark, showing it can also be done by imminent scholars.

Open air preaching is not novel, nor is it outdated. Its aim is to bring the gospel to the lost. Although it is not the only valid form of evangelism, it is one of the most effective when it comes to communicating the riches of Christ to a large amount of people, whether at a college campus, a downtown, an abortion clinic, or a park.

Despite the resurgence of open air preaching being done all over the world, there is still a tendency within the church to reject it, especially in the West. Evaluating evangelism through the lens of results has led to many pragmatic approaches to crop up, most of them watered-down and unbiblical. It is time we return to the old way of doing evangelism, which is through gospel proclamation and prayer.

The open air preacher should aim to preach in a way that is “gracious, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6), but this does not mean he must be silent or a pushover. The lost have always seen the preaching of the cross as folly, but to those being saved “it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). We hope churches, pastors, and Christians everywhere continue to get behind this biblical and time-honored means of getting the gospel to the lost, because “how are they to hear without a preacher?” (Rom. 10:14).

For more information on open air preaching’s relationship to the local church, apologetics, its history, and even as it regards police officers and hecklers, check out A Certain Sound: A Primer on Open Air Preaching, with a foreword from Dr. Joel Beeke.

[1]J.H. Merle D’Aubigné, The Reformation in England, Vol. 1 (1853; repr., Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2015), p8.

[2]John Mark Terry, Evangelism: A Concise History (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 67.

[3]Terry, Evangelism, 63.

[4]Michael Green, Evangelism in the Early Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), 304. 

Ryan Denton