February / March 2019 - Vol. 102

Christ in the storm on the Sea of Galilee,
                  painting by Rembrandt 
The Gospel as the Costly Adventure of Discipleship
by Dan Keating
This article is excerpted from the Introduction to The Adventure of Discipleship ©2018 by Daniel A. Keating and published by Emmaus Road Publishing, Steubenville, Ohio, USA. Used with permission. While it was written from a Roman Catholic perspective, the material can be beneficial for Christians from other traditions as well. – ed.

If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.
 – Mark 8:34–35, ESV
To hear and believe the good news of Jesus Christ (the Gospel) is to set out on the costly adventure of discipleship. “Being a Christian” or “becoming a Christian” involves much more than staking a claim to a religious identity. It means more than taking on a set of practices or attending services – though practices and services are essential. When Jesus says, “Come, follow me,” he is inviting us to become his disciples. When we respond to this call, we leave behind our own plans and enter into an adventure not of our own making. This adventure of discipleship is costly – it requires the cost of our lives.

Think of Peter and Andrew busily casting their fishing nets into the sea – or James and John mending their nets by the seaside. Jesus walks past and calls them to follow and their lives are never the same (Matthew 4:18–22). Or consider Matthew sitting at his tax booth, minding his business. Jesus approaches and says, “Follow me,” and Matthew’s life is turned upside down (Matt 9:9). Or recall Saul of Tarsus, chasing Christians all the way to Damascus. Jesus reveals himself in blinding light and piercing words, and the arch-persecutor becomes the great Apostle (Acts 9:1–9).

These, of course, are the dramatic stories of the first followers of Jesus. All too easily we bracket them off as exceptional and unique encounters with Jesus, fit only for the first generation. We do the same bracketing of the saints through the ages: these are the especially holy men and women who experienced a dramatic, life-changing encounter with Jesus. Yes, there is something exceptional about the first disciples and the saints throughout history. But if we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we recognize that the kind of experience they had is a model for us as well. You and I are also given a personal invitation to follow Jesus the Lord on a path of costly, adventurous discipleship.

Why this book? Because in my experience many people, especially young Christians today, lack an imaginative vision of the Christian life. They reduce their faith to one of its parts: to a set of beliefs, or to a moral code, or to attending religious services, and so on. These are all essential but they often lack the element of personal discipleship that the Gospels so clearly display. Crucially, we often think about being a Christian primarily as something we do, something we choose, something that we arrange and put in order. We place ourselves in the driver’s seat and we construct our life – and our understanding of God – according to our own ideas and preferences. We forge our own religious identity in the same way that we select ingredients from a salad bar.

But this is entirely the wrong way round. The life of a disciple begins when Jesus breaks in and calls. We become apprenticed to him and learn from him (and from our fellow disciples) what is true and good and right. He takes us on a path we did not expect to traverse. For sure, our choice is an essential part of this, but it is the choice of whether or not to follow Jesus on his terms. Will we follow as Peter and Matthew did, or will we turn and walk away in sadness like the rich young man?

The thesis of this book is that the adventure of discipleship to Jesus Christ is the true and real story of the world. All other adventures that we create, read, and retell are reflections and refractions of this one great adventure. To become a follower of Jesus Christ is not the private expression of the religious or spiritual side of my personality that I express whenever it suits me. No, becoming a disciple means that we are taken up – swallowed up, really – into Jesus’s own life. And it means embarking on a path not of our own making. We are not in charge of the itinerary.

C. S. Lewis, a Christian writer of the twentieth century, recounts a crucial episode in his conversion from atheism to Christianity: it suddenly dawned on him that the story of the Gospel is the true story of the world. Lewis had rejected the Christianity of his youth, but he loved the ancient myths and lived imaginatively inside of them. Through the help of his friends at Oxford (one of whom was J. R. R. Tolkien), Lewis came to recognize that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is actually the “true myth,” the real story that all other myths merely reflect. Once Lewis recognized this, many of the obstacles to faith fell away and he was enabled by grace to open himself to the approach of the God he had long been denying.1

This book is a product of my own love for adventure. I owe a great debt to C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and many others who have fed my imagination from early boyhood to the present time. My hope is that by presenting the Christian life in terms of the costly adventure of discipleship, others will be able to see and embrace this adventure for themselves and may be inspired to offer themselves freely and fully to the Lord who is worthy of their whole lives.

I should say at the start that this book is not intended as a primer on every aspect of the Christian faith or a substitute for the Catechism – though the Scriptures, the Creed, and the Catechism are the foundation for everything I will say. Rather, my hope is to describe what it means to be caught up in the costly adventure of following Jesus on the path of discipleship. Along the way I will call upon some of the adventures told (and retold) in our culture today, to show how they help us grasp what it means to be caught up in that great and true adventure of following after Christ. But the most profound examples for us are the holy men and women of the Scriptures and throughout the ages: the saints. They exemplify in the most perfect way what it means to follow the path of costly discipleship. Each chapter, therefore, will conclude with a brief portrait drawn from these saints to serve as a lamppost for us along the path.

The chapters in the book are ordered to give a coherent and connected picture of what it means to follow Christ as his disciples, but each chapter also stands on its own and carries its own message. Readers will profit most by reading the chapters in their given order, but they can also skip over chapters that they find less interesting and still find benefit.

This book is addressed primarily to Catholic readers, and a Catholic understanding of the faith will be assumed throughout. But I have learned much from Orthodox, Anglican, and Evangelical fellow-travelers – I am greatly indebted to them. I hope that what I write will be insightful and inspiring for all Christians – and for anyone who loves adventure.

1 For Lewis’s account of his conversion, see C. S. Lewis,
Surprised by Joy (New York: HarperCollins, 1955)

Dan Keating (Doctor of Philosophy, University of Oxford) is professor of theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan, USA and an elder of The Servants of the Word, a lay missionary brotherhood of men living single for the Lord.

Table of Contents

 Introduction: The Gospel as the Costly Adventure of Discipleship
Chapter 1: The Anatomy of Adventure
Chapter 2: A Venturesome Faith
Chapter 3: A Costly Discipleship
Chapter 4: RoboCop, Superheroes, and the Incarnation
Chapter 5: Providence, Hope, and the Gift of the Spirit
Chapter 6: Trials and Suffering in the Costly Adventure of Discipleship
Chapter 7: True Friendship in the Adventure of Discipleship
Chapter 8: Friendship and Communion with God
Living the Adventure

The Adventure of Discipleship by
                              Daniel Keating
The Adventure of Discipleship

by Daniel A. Keating
Emmaus Road Publishing, Steubenville, Ohio, USA, 2018.

The book is available in print or ebook at Amazon and Emmaus Road Publishing.

“Using the lens of ‘adventure,’ Daniel Keating presents a wonderfully fresh vision of Christian discipleship. He is equally at home drawing from Scripture, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and contemporary adventure tales like Lost and Batman Begins—appealing especially to young adults who are seeking more in their spiritual life. The Adventure of Discipleship is the sort of book that engages, invites, and challenges. You may want to buy several and give them away to your young adult friends.”
 Professor of Sacred Scripture, Sacred HeartSeminary, Detroit, MI

 “This book is about true friendship, how to endure suffering, and how to offer our lives to God along the path of real peace. At the same time, drawing upon The Lord of the Rings, superhero movies, and other rich storytelling, Keating shows that most of us don’t actually want peace—we want our lives to be a meaningful and glorious adventure. The inspiring achievement of this book, then, is to demonstrate that life in Christ provides the peace that is also the greatest possible adventure.”
 James N. and Mary D. Perry, Jr. Chair of Theology,Mundelein Seminary, Mundelein, IL

“Daniel Keating is an excellent scholar with a keen pastoral sense. His book, The Adventure of Discipleship, exemplifies both of these virtues. Keating carefully articulates the story—the adventure—of what it means, in all its various facets, to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ and he does so as a man who has lived this journey himself and has pastorally shepherded others to live this venture as well. As all adventures are exciting, so the reading of this book is itself invigorating. One cannot help but be caught up into the adventure of following Christ, no matter what the cost, for one perceives that it is a journey of faith, hope, and love together with Jesus himself. This is an admirable book for those Christians who wish to be more fully Jesus’s disciples and an effective book to place in the hands of those who are being evangelized. Both will set out on the grand adventure that is Christianity.”
 Scholar in Residence at Capuchin College,Washington, DC, and Former Member of theFaculty of Theology at Oxford University and of theVatican’s International Theological Commission

 “The sense of adventure has been drowned out in modernity, but an ember remains, ready to burn brightly and engulf us. The Adventure of Discipleship reminds us that our lives are a drama so significant that Jesus Christ came into the world to take us on adventure with him. The only adequate response is a no-holds-barred life of discipleship, on mission to bring others into the embrace of Our Lord—and Keating’s book helps us begin this adventure!”
 Founder and President, Fellowship of CatholicUniversity Students (FOCUS)

Top illustration: The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1633
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