"The Faith of Leap" by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch

Michael Frost and Alan HirschFaith of Leap, The: Embracing a Theology of Risk, Adventure & Courage (Shapevine). Baker Books, 2011. 224 pgs. 

In The Faith of Leap Frost and Hirsch encourage the reader to leave the idols of security and safety behind and live out our adventure with God. They remind us that faith always involves risk, that God calls us to make a leap for him and, in that leap, to have the "faith of leap". In order to develop these themes, Frost and Hirsch explore the difference between community and communitas, as well as liminality and how these things affect our churches and are lived out in our mission. Their final chapter then points us to our own communities as the places in which we live out this adventure through the "risk of neighborliness." 

There is much to be praised in this book.  Chapter five is clearly the highlight, as Hirsch and Frost directly assault our idol of security in an argument and encouragement to get over our risk-averse tendencies. Indeed, far too many churches and Christians are more concerned with safe-guarding their own existence rather than with being actively involved in the mission of God, no matter the cost. However, what these churches have lost is emphatically not their sense of adventure. What they have lost is their sense of calling. Thus begins my disappointment with this book. 

In the preface Hirsch bemoans the fact that out of tens of millions of books exploring theology they were unable to find a single study on the nature of adventure itself. Assuming Hirsch was correct as he wrote this preface, he is still correct as I read this book, and perhaps with good reason. What you do not have here is a serious study of the nature of adventure - "its role in shaping our thinking about God, our experience of life, or our participation in mission, church, or discipleship." (13) Instead, you have a recasting of Christian mission in the language and framework of adventure and risk. In doing this, Frost and Hirsch draw on excellent sources, and yet they seem to fail to learn many of the lessons therein. 

One of my favorite quotes on this subject, which appears in the introduction, comes from The Lord of the Rings. I am sure you know it. Frodo and Samwise are approaching Mordor, discouraged, hungry, tired, and ready to finish their quest and die. Samwise then says to Frodo:

"The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo, adventures as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of stories went out and looked for because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of sport, as you might say. But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually - their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. And if they had, we shouldn't know, because they'd be forgotten. We hear about those as just went on - and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. You know, coming home, and finding things all right, though not quite the same - like old Mr. Bilbo. But those aren't always the best tales to hear, though they may be the best tales to get landed in! I wonder what sort of a tale we've fallen into?"
We can learn many true things about adventure from this quote. Adventure is not something you seek but something that happens while you faithfully answer a call you did not look for... strike one. Adventure is not something that those in it often find enjoyable or desirable, but what you must do in being faithful.... strike two. Adventure is not, primarily, about deeds of daring-do but about trudging on, faithfully, through difficulties.... strike three. 

Perhaps there is a reason for there not being any sustained and serious theological examination of the idea of adventure. Perhaps it is because Tolkien got these three truths exactly right. If adventure is not something you seek but, instead, something that happens to you, then whence this book? If adventure is not enjoyable or desirable, when rightly understood, then why are we trying to dress it up otherwise? Further, why would we encourage more of it? And if adventure is about faithfulness in the face of difficulties then why would we try to embed adventure in our churches instead of embedding faithfulness and perseverance?

The answer, I think, also lies in the same quote from Tolkien. People who hear adventures, instead of living them, think of adventures in ways which are unrealistic and wrong. This is further compounded by Hollywood. We watch adventure movies in which hours, months, or years of training are compressed into a montage of flowing images put to catchy music (you can't beat classic Rocky for this) so that we can quickly move on to the 'adventure' part of the story. Of course, the same is true even in biblical stories. Joseph spends years toiling away in obscurity, remaining faithful and persevering, before any 'adventure' occurs. This is the way of real life. 

A serious theological study of adventure would have to include a study of our cultural distortions of adventure, our misplaced desires for impossible levels of excitement, and our inability to maintain the years of faithfulness necessary in preparation for whatever 'adventure' God may have for us. It would also involve many of the things Frost and Hirsch included in their book, such as an attack on the idol of security, a calling out of Church's lack of mission, and an examination of how 'adventure' is part of community formation.  I suppose that what I am saying is that this book contains only half of the story. In so doing, this book can, unintentionally I am sure, be setting people up for disappointment and disillusionment. If we come to Jesus for adventure and find, instead, that we are called to years of faithfulness in which we, ourselves, may or may not see any of the fruit of our labor then our expectations, false though they were, will have been dashed on the hard rocks of discipleship and we may, in some ways rightly, feel ripped off and move on believing God did not deliver on his end of the bargain. Of course, grace will lead many through this problem despite the damage we will have done, but that is no excuse. When we falsely represent the call of Christ, and what to expect in answering it, we are playing an incredibly dangerous game.

Does the church need to stop being so risk-averse? Absolutely. Do we need a missional understanding of both church and God? Most assuredly. It is while encouraging these that this book shines. However, in order to overcome these problems what the church does not need is a renewed 'sense of adventure' or a desire to be heroes. What we need is a renewed call to faithfulness, a renewed understanding of our Lord, and a renewed willingness to carry our cross for Christ. While these were touched upon throughout The Faith of Leap they fell well behind the focus on adventure. 

Conclusion: 2.5 Stars. Not Recommended. In terms of missional churches, understanding God, or theology there is nothing new here. It is simply re-framed material and, in my opinion, re-framed in an unhelpful and dangerous manner.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. 
Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group."  


martin said...

I think the authors are saying that faithfulness is risky whereas your interpretation of faithfulness sounds safe.
If you faithfully live out the Sermon on the Mount your adventure will begin very quickly.

Unknown said...

This is a very well written and thought provoking post...
Thank you!

Andrew Demoline said...