If we’re not careful, a Christian meditation on the theme of “adventure” can quickly devolve into shortsided idealism about the supposed excitement of following Jesus, how inherently adventurous it is to take risks for Jesus, or something of the sort. To be sure, there are moments of enthusiasm and ecstasy, Spirit-led risk taking, and a host of remarkable experiences that can play a role in our journey of discipleship. We may righlty refer to all of these experiences as “adventure” in some sense of the term. But such experiences are not normative for all followers of Jesus in every time and place (you might refer to my previous post, “A Faithful Lack of Enthusiasm”). And if we develop a theology of “adventure” along these lines, we risk pigeonholing adventure into categories of self-fulfilmment and our “personal relationship with Jesus,” robbing adventure of it’s much broader and richer implications for our lives. The key to udnerstanding the role of adventure in the Christian life is to start where the adventure actually starts – in the life of God and the unfolding drama of redemption. I like how Stanley Haurewas puts it:
“What we do when we educate kids to be happy and self-fulfilled is to absolutely ruin them. Parents should say to their kids, ‘What you want out of life is not happiness but to be part of a worthy adventure. You want to have something worthh dying for.’ It’s awful when all we have to live for is ourselves; that’s what the Gospel reveals to us. The Good News tells of the adventure that humans have been made part of through God’s grace, through Christ, and through the church. God made each Christian part of God’s sacrificial life so that the world might know that it is not abandoned and there is salvation. That’s who Christians are. Doesn’t that sound like a joyful thing? I use the language of joy because happiness is just too pale to describe this adventure” (Hauerwas, The Hauerwas Reader, 530).
Hauerwas refers here to “the adventure that humans have been made part of…” This adventure, of course, is the adventure of God’s reconciliation of the world in Christ. It is a stunning narrative of creation, rebellion, and redemption; a story of of kings, queens, prophets, priests, and judges; a story of sin and salvation, of God’s deliverance of a people prone to wander yet patiently and faithfully holding to a promise, of the return of a king and the inauguration of an eternal kingdom of righteousness and peace.
And so the call to adventure is the call to find our place in this story of “God’s rescue plan,” as my two-year-old daughter’s Jesus Storybook Bible calls it. We embark upon this adventure not by creating new adventures for ourselves, seeking new thrills, taking foolish risks, or becoming masochists for Jesus, but by faithfully pursuing our role in the ongoing adventure of God’s mission to the world. To this joyful end, our calling is to rehearse the story of redemption in the story of our lives, positioning ourselves to be immersed in the hopes, fears, faith, and joy of God’s people, and to be a faithful witness to Jesus – the one who both narrates the world and plays the climactic and decisive role in it’s unfolding drama.
“Remember when you got a chemistry set rather than a bicycle and you thought, “I hate this thing.” But one wintry day you started playing with the chemistry set and discovered that it was really interesting. Suddenly you were trained to have wants you didn’t know you should have. That’s what Christianity is all about: it’s an adventure we didn’t know we wanted to be on.” (Ibid, 531)
With all of life’s pressing concerns and distractions, and even our worldly visions of “adventure,” it’s easy to dismiss God’s ongoing mission of love for the world as the chemistry set we didn’t think we wanted. And yet as we return to this story and seek to rehearse it in our lives through repentance, worship, community, love, and witness, the Holy Spirit will renew in us all sorts of desires and joys we didn’t know we wanted or were capable of. In this way, God calls us into the adventure while simultaneously training us for it. We become as we behold, to paraphrase the Apostle Paul.
Every night, I read my daughter a bedtime story. Often, we read stories from one of the children’s Bibles on her shelf. All of them are full of pictures. As we turn through the pages, my daughter is quick to point at people in the pictures – kings, queens, children, Jesus and the disciples, and a host of other biblical characters – and identify them, “Mommy, Daddy, Maggie,” and so on, often reciting all the extended family members she can recall. She does the same thing with the characters in the nativity scene we displayed in the weeks leading up to Christmas. It’s occurred to me how profound this little exercise is, as I’m reminded of the vital importance of studying the scriptures and hearing the gospel not as a distant observer, but rather as a disciple of Jesus seeking to find my place in the unfolding drama of God’s love for the world. Both she and I are being trained together for the adventure we didn’t know we wanted, but which the world so deeply needs.