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The Crazy Street Preacher (Don’t Be That Guy)

Crazy Street Preacher

There’s nothing wrong with street preaching. In fact, it does a lot of good.

But today street preachers have a bad name. Sometimes it’s justified and sometimes not.

I’ll grant that all of the pop-culture depictions of Christians and Christianity that I’ve seen are wildly inaccurate. And a short clip on YouTube that shows a street preacher acting out isn’t the whole story. However, I think I’ve identified three distinct kinds of crazy street preaching you’ll want to avoid.

Crazy Street Preacher
Image Credit: https://nakedonbloorst.wordpress.com/

Street preaching was popular before the Internet, TV, radio, the printing press. It was a powerful way to spread a message.

Even after the printing press many could not afford books but tracts became popular. And so public preaching remained common.

Today it’s much more efficient to upload a speech to YouTube where it can reach millions vs speaking to a few dozen people on a street corner. I would grant that there are significant differences between an online interaction and one that’s face-to-face.

Despite this apparent disparity efficiency you’ll still find street preachers on the corners of most if not all big cities.

There are at three kinds of street preachers that give the rest of them a bad name: the screecher, the offender, and the hype man.

The Screecher

Definition: Make a loud, harsh, squealing sound.

The louder the better, yes? This is the impression you might get if you listened to some street preachers.

There are different variations of the screecher:

  • Loud & Proud: They start loud and maintain their ear splitting level.
  • The Ramp-Up: They start soft but get louder as they get into a rhythm and gather a crowd. Pretty soon they reach a level of diminishing returns.
  • The Passive-Aggressive: They get loud then instantly softer when confronted with a heckler. The purpose is to make their opponent look irrational.

Example: Ruben Israel

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeCZb3VzvpY

The Offender

Definition: Being offensive to your audience merely for the sake of gaining attention.

Saying something outrageous is a time tested way of getting attention. The purpose is to get the attention of your audience so you can communicate something.

For example, think about a commercial where humor, sex, violence, was used to get your attention and sell you an unrelated product:

  • Sex used to sell perfume
  • Violence used to sell a children’s toy gun
  • Humor used to a new sitcom
  • All of the above used to sell beer

Example: Westboro Baptist Church

Example: Jed Smock

Jed Smock has been around for a long time preaching on campuses around the country. He’s so famous he’s even had a documentary made about him. Jed uses a combinations of offensive or shocking speech.

The Hype Man

Definition: Someone who supports the primary speaker with exclamations and interjections, and who attempts to increase the audience’s excitement with call-and-response chants.[1]

Example: Hebrew Israelites

They’re entertaining to watch and their colorful clothing make them impossible to miss even if you’re deaf. Hebrew Israelites are self-professed racists who take to the streets to “wake up” their people.

The Tools of the Hype Man:

  • Call and Response: When Hebrew Israelites preach they have one speaker and one or more men ready to look up and read scripture out loud, like really loud.
  • Amen: When their speaker says something especially important their “crew” goes into action the same way a crowd cheers a rapper who spits a particularly good line.
  • Being Loud: Hebrew Israelites are really loud. They don’t seem to use bull horns or portable microphone/speaker setups.
  • Cutting: Hebrew Israelites like to say that they “cut” people by using Scripture against them.

Don’t Be the Crazy Street Preacher

Street preaching has its place but don’t be a screecher, offender of hype man.

Instead follow the advice of these verses:

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. —Colossians 4:6 (NASB)

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. —Ephesians 4:29 (NASB)

He who guards his mouth and his tongue, Guards his soul from troubles. —Proverbs 21:23 (NASB)

Please comment if you think I’ve missed a species.


  1. My definition is taking almost entirely from the Wikipedia definition of a Hype Man in the context of Hip Hop and Rapping https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hype_man  ↩
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How to Handle Apathy in Evangelistic Encounters (Video)

World Record Attempt at Apathy

Apathy and Whatever-ism

Apathy is the antipathy of substantive conversation. Deep conversations require at least two interested parties. In evangelism it can be challenging to convince someone that it’s important to have a discussion.This is true of any topic: politics, economics, religion, etc. What if the other person says, “Who cares?” Before a substantive discussion can take place, the illness of “whatever-ism” must be cured.

World Record Attempt at Apathy
World Record Attempt at Apathy

3 Ways to Cure Whatever-ism

Apathy and whatever-ism are manifestations of a “so what?” attitude. Overcoming apathy, therefore, means showing someone why they should care. Dr. Groothuis (professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary) has three ideas for how a lackadaisical attitude can be overcome:

  • Appeal to their sense of shame
  • Appeal to their sense of prudential self-interest
  • Pick the right environment

Video Transcript

Here’s what Dr. Groothuis said when we asked him how to handle someone who’s apathetic about God.

You certainly need to pray for insight, for discernment, for love of the other person. I think sometimes the apologist wants to hit someone over the head and say, “listen to my arguments!”

[Tweet “Sometimes the apologist wants to hit someone over the head and say, “listen to my arguments!””]

But I think you can appeal to people’s shame and say “Shouldn’t you pursue these ultimate questions in life? Why avoid them? Shouldn’t you think about this seriously, use your intelligence in this way?” And I think also you can raise the issue of prudence. If Christianity is true and you don’t come to Christ there are eternal consequences, very unpleasant consequences. If you come to Christ and Christianity is true there is tremendous fulfillment and reward. Now that’s not an argument to become a Christian per se. That is an argument to investigate the possibilities.

[Tweet “That’s not an argument to become a Christian per se. That is an argument to investigate…”]

I think another significant thing is to try to interact with people about apologetics in a calm, intellectually hospitably situation. Because part of the problem of indifference of whatever-ism is that people are over stimulated. Their mind is saturated with all kinds of things. They say, “Oh I don’t want to think about Christianity I’ll think about this and I’ll be involved with this. So an environment that’s quiet, that’s one-on-one, that’s relational, that’s intellectual, I think can help people take things more seriously.

free-28min-video-of-apologetics

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Mistakes A Brand New Apologist Usually Makes (Video)

Three Behaviors for the New Apologist to Avoid

The Man Who Wrote the Book (Literally)

Dr. Douglas Groothuis invested around eight years writing Christian Apologetics. At 752 pages it is a massive treatment. [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]In fact, the good doctor acknowledged that the hardback version could double as a weapon.[/inlinetweet] Both old and new apologists can benefit from reading this volume.

Dr. Groothuis was in campus ministry for many years and holds two degrees:

  • M.A. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin
  • Ph.D in philosophy from the University of Oregon

What Are Some Common Pitfalls a New Apologist Should Avoid?

 

 

Quick Tips for the New Apologist

  • Love: [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Apologetics is about honoring Christ as Lord first.[/inlinetweet] We should also show respect for those we proclaim the gospel to. Newcomers sometimes miss this and come off as only caring about winning arguments.
  • Listen: Dr. Groothuis recommends a calm environment for apologetics. Busy and distraction prone settings make it difficult to listen and communicate. Good listening is like the first step in the phrase: ready, aim, fire.
  • Learn: [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Whether an apologetical encounter is good or bad, there’s always something to learn.[/inlinetweet]

 

Three Behaviors for the New Apologist to Practice
Three Behaviors for the New Apologist to Practice

 

Getting Caught Up in the Apologetical Moment

Discussing ideas that will effect someone’s eternity comes with a lot of responsibility. This is good. Our concern for God’s glory and the souls of others should weigh on us. This responsibility can make us feel excited and even nervous. This is especially common for new apologists. You may recognize some of these physical, emotional, and mental warning signs:

  • Uneven breathing, clammy palms, and a racing heart
  • Nervous laughter
  • An over eagerness to speak and an inability to hear what the other person is saying
  • Facial expressions that don’t match the conversation
  • Shuffling feet, shaking hands, and twitching eyelids
  • Asking questions like a lawyer (e.g. leading the witness)
  • One arm that’s longer than the other from carrying a bullhorn
  • Using Christian terms with a non-christian audience without providing explanations

An experienced apologist is hard to pick out of a crowd (unless they’re addressing the crowd). Their evenness of tone and measured responses don’t stand out. They look just like anyone else engaged in conversation. This isn’t because they’re ambivalent. They’ve simply learned how to be measured in their interactions.

Evangelism With A Loving Heart

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Evangelism should flow from a loving heart. If it isn’t love that motivates us, we’re liable to fall into the trap of pragmatism.[/inlinetweet] Emotion is a powerful way to exert influence on someone. Sometimes it’s the easiest way, but it isn’t loving to focus on just the emotion and leave the will and mind to fend for themselves. The greatest commandment enjoins us all to be well rounded Christians:

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.

— Matthew 12:30 (ESV)

Winning arguments is certainly a part of apologetics, but it can’t be the end goal. It’s possible to win every argument by sheer force of will and not glorify God at all. The end goal (as with all things in the Christian life) should be the glory of God. To the extent that winning an argument accomplishes that end, it’s good.

Video Transcript

I think someone who has just gotten the apologetics bug and is interested in arguments and so on can be insensitive to others such that the person doesn’t listen to other people (just dumps apologetics on their head).

And good apologetics, virtuous Christian witness, always involves loving and caring for the other person, listening to the other person, interacting, trying to figure out what the other person’s worldview is and what their life experiences are. And then your knowledge of defending Christianity as true, rational, and pertinent comes out through the dialogue and through a loving exchange.

Apologetics is not about defeating other people’s arguments. Now you want to win arguments. I’m a philosopher. I always want to win arguments. But I don’t want to win arguments on the cheek, on the cheap rather. I don’t want to just intimidate people and browbeat them. I want to give good reasons, make sure the other person understands, be able to take the criticisms that that person has of my worldview.

So what I’m saying is, we want to develop a deep truth seeking dialogue with others that will draw out what we know and furthermore reveal what we kn… we don’t know. So we need to be humble. And humble doesn’t mean, “I don’t really know what I believe or why, but let me tell you my opinion.” That’s ignorance. But we need to be humble in terms of loving others, not putting ourselves first, and to be willing to be corrected. And if we know something that’s significant, and we have some good arguments, be thankful to God, the giver of every good and perfect gift, that He has made those known to us.

Feedback

What about you? What’s your story? Did you go through some of these stages as a new apologist? Did it go well? What did you learn? Comment below and start the conversation.