Reviewing: The Faith of Leap: Embracing a Theology of Risk, Adventure, and Courage
Written by Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost
How many kids remember their dads saying, “Jump! I’ll catch you.” What a thrill for a child both to fly and to be safe at the end of the flight! Fast forward a few years, when perhaps the most common complaint one hears from church kids is that church is boring. I rarely disagree with them. Does that surprise you coming from a pastor? Regrettably, American Christians and their leaders have fallen victim to two insidious forces—centuries of tradition and decades of prosperity. Neither tradition nor prosperity are inherently harmful or evil, but either may easily revert to idolatry without many even suspecting their mistake. It is so easy to accept the way things are and the way things “have always been” without ever examining those things more carefully. Then, when a young person or even a less compliant adult finds these established customs unpalatable, we react like they were challenging the gospel itself. Most of us are long overdue in looking at the situation more closely and more honestly.
Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost cut to the heart of the problem in The Leap of Faith: Embracing a Theology of Risk, Adventure, and Courage. Their premise cuts to the heart of what it means to be a Christian community of gifted disciples who are truly committed to reaching others for Christ, with the clear suggestion that such a community is not simply a “safe place” for worship. Rather they would restore the sense that living as a believer is living on the edge, a kind of adventure that takes risks and that requires courage in living it.
Personally, I have been troubled for some years regarding the word “peace” as it is almost exclusively understood among believers. For most, it is serenity or quiet, closely related to security. As the nearly predominant understanding, it omits almost totally the idea of peace that comes from ending conflict or warfare. Instead of becoming blessed peacemakers, Christians are often merely conflict avoiders, pretending to be serene in the face of unreconciled, broken relationships and varying degrees of strife. In the quest to avoid controversy, the Church has become rather tepid and sadly pointless. Jesus said we must “make disciples” wherever we go. His is an edgy, challenging mission, but we have settled for occasionally asking a neighbor or co-worker to our less than exciting church (unless we can afford glitzy entertainment with a spiritual message).
As Hirsch and Frost explain, the remedy is not programming adventure any more than it is to program worship. Just as worship must arise from the hearts of those in the pew, not the efforts of the leaders in front, so must adventure arise from a genuine pursuit of authentic, Biblical mission. The Faith of Leap is one in the Shapevine series that seeks to mine, creatively, the best ideas from missional, emerging church, church planting, urban ministry, and simple church movements. In this, knowing that searching occurs when something important is lacking, they recognize the legitimate elements that have driven such thinking but, in this book at least, avoid the questionable aspects.
To derive a “theology of risk,” the authors focus on two terms, previously unfamiliar to me—liminality and communitas. Liminiality refers to “a threshold experience,…composed of any or a combination of danger, marginality, disorientation, or ordeal and tens to create a space that is neither here nor there, a transitional stage between what was and what is to come” (page 29). It is not danger for danger’s but instead an environment where the creative, corporate effort to sustain genuine outreach keeps people from getting comfortable and then working only to satisfy their desire for ease and safety.
By operating in a liminal environment, people discover something greater than community that is little more than a description of a class of people; instead of “huddle and cuddle,” communitas develops “in adventurous mission and liminal discipleship” (page 84). This is the true sense of brotherhood that soldiers find in the dangerous of the battlefield and others discover in pursuing a quest. Living in genuine mission-driven liminality, believers become interconnected in communitas.
The authors do an outstanding job of drawing together the threads of church life to create a different image that the one we often see. The are not sanguine in assuming this transformation will occur based merely on a new paradigm; wise leaders will draw the people into liminality and guide them in fashioning ministry appropriate for their own community. They will also recognize the ease with which people will be tempted to settle back into a new comfort zone, so that constant vigilance will be needed.
As I began reading The Faith of Leap, I was excited to see someone offering a fresh vision of church life for the many young people that I’ve always enjoyed teaching and encouraging. At my age, I was not looking for adventure; I was never attracted to mountain climbing, sky diving, or underwater exploration. Ironically, I realize that I have been drawn into liminal adventures, simply by pursuing the work to which I believe God has called me…especially Biblical peacemaking and, lately, tutoring refugees and internationals with a goal toward creating a school to teach them English. Just as I never sought to be nonconformist—what my generation claimed their conformist rebellion was—but merely tried to follow Christ, I have found myself to be both a genuine iconoclast and adventurer (but no threat to Indiana Jones!).
Part of the disappointment for those like me is that congregations fail to embrace the missions that arise within them, beyond the duly appointed, official program. Pastoral leaders often bring their own priorities, apart from any sense of community or neighborhood need or gifting among the people. I have left on a couple of occasions where it was clear that the leaders were more interested in drawing me into their vision and had little interest in mine. The authors strongly advance an alternative view where everything rests on the people’s gifts and the neighborhood’s needs. In this paradigm, mission, worship, community, and discipleship all are integrated by mission.
As I have so long believed that pastors must be or become a part of the neighborhood, not transients waiting for their next step up professionally. Churches must reject the idea of ministry that occurs only in the building, and instead to become engaged in their neighborhood. Fighting with their neighbors over parking or prostitution is not allowed. Sunday must stop being the only expression of church life, largely led from the front; rather people will return from a week engaged in sometimes risky mission activities to find refreshment, worship the God who has taken them safely through their mission adventures, enjoy the communitas among fellow travelers on their quest, and disciple those coming to Christ. Motivated by the love of Christ that rejects fear, believers will find adventure much closer than a faraway mission field.
I’ve already written too much, but it is wholly inadequate to summarize The Faith of Leap. I found it to be an encouraging and thought-provoking book, but I struggled to read it, almost as if I was being drawn away into other activities. I believe this is an important book, and I’m likely to read others by Allen Hirsch and Michael Frost, as well as exploring related resources on the Internet. Today’s American Church is largely in retreat; the culture has taken an anti-church posture and enjoys mocking us and our beliefs. Christians may still represent a majority, nominally at least, but ours are no longer the dominant view. We will not take back the culture or restore our influence through the ballot box. A comfortable, passive church will fade into oblivion, practicing a religion less and less Biblical or effective. We need to become the bold, adventurous church described in Hirsch and Frost’s The Faith of Leap.