Extreme Missions?: a book review

When I read the introduction of Dangerous by Caleb Bislow, I thought I was going to dislike this book. He talks about dirt-bikes and extreme sports and living a risky Christian life. I was afraid that this was just another version of testosterone-infused faith.  I didn’t feel like reading another ‘tough guy’ talk about the need to reach out to people with an MMA level intensity.  Thankfully, there was more to it than that.  Bislow does talk about danger and living a ‘risky’ Christian life, but he isn’t describing risk for the sake of risk (even if he is a bit of a daredevil).  Being ‘dangerous’ is about reaching out and engaging people in places where no one else is willing to go–the dark, dangerous, despised places. Bislow describes this as the ’13th floor,’ referencing both the places we avoid (many high-rises do not have a 13th floor) and Hebrew 13:13 which says, “Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.”

Bislow issues the challenge to go to the unreached, the broken, the war-torn, the sick and the dying.  His desire is to shake us free from our complacency. He wants us to have a Christianity that is more like William Wallace than Fred Rogers.  And he has experiences that testify to the sort of risky witness he’s advocating. The book is chock-full of stories of places he’s taken profound risks in sharing the love of Jesus with others.  Many of these are abroad on mission in Africa. But you do not need to go abroad to take gospel-sized risks. He also has stories of evangelism and service at home.

There are several things I like about Bislow’s approach. He runs a missions training program in Nebraska called Stranded where he strands people in the wilderness in teams, recruits local farmers to play the part of a harassing tribe and helps missions-minded people begin to take some personal risks which parallel some of the dangers they’ll face abroad.  It is sort of like Survivor but no one gets voted off the island. Secondly, I like that Bislow comes across as a regular guy. He shares about places he’s taken profound risk (i.e. sharing the gospel in villages where they beat the last evangelist who came to town); yet he also shares how fearful he was at the prospect. This isn’t a book about how courageous he is, it is about how faithful God when we take risks in faith. Third, I appreciate that he upholds the need for evangelism and social-justice. He wants us to share our faith, but he also wants us to serve the outcast, the broken and downtrodden.

There are things I could criticize about this book. As I heard story after story of missional encounters in different settings, I wondered if Bislow’s approach was more hit-and-run evangelism, than long-standing-commitment to a particular place.  Moving from dangerous place to dangerous place, is exhilarating and exciting.  Standing with people for the long haul is hard, mundane and, sometimes, boring.  Sometimes standing up for the vulnerable and committing to a people and a place looks more like Mr. Rogers (the late ordained Presbyterian minister who dedicated his life to advocating and nurturing children) than it does William Wallace. I like what he says about risk, but had questions about other aspects of his approach.

But this book is not the sort of book that is designed to impart a vision for ministry in the shape of Caleb Bislow’s ministry. This a book that is designed to challenge others to step out and do something. Questions about ministry approach are important, but these questions can also be excuses for in-action (i.e. I don’t like his approach, so I won’t do anything).  I think the prime message about stepping out and going ‘outside the camp’ to share the love of Christ with others, is a commission any follower of Christ needs to hear and act upon. This is the kind of book that you give to high school graduates and college students who you are  encouraging to stake their lives on what really matters. To that end, I recommend the book. There are still too many Braveheart quotes and extreme sports analogies for my taste. I give it 3.5 stars.

Thank you to Bethany House for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

 

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