Gary Fawver Endorses Ashley Denton’s Book on Outdoor Ministry

outdoor ministryGary Fawver is one of the most respected Christian outdoor leaders of this century. Gary is Professor Emeritus at George Fox University and strong ties to Outward Bound. I respect Gary’s review of my book on outdoor ministry as much as anyone’s.  The insight he offers in the following review will not only encourage folks to read the book, Christian Outdoor Leadership: Theology, Theory, and Practice, but it offers a peek into the heart and mind of a seasoned Christian outdoor leader who, now in his mid-70’s has more perspective on this field than I could ever hope to have.  Thanks Gary for pioneering wilderness ministry for the rest of us, and for this insightful review of my book!

Gary Fawver’s Review of Christian Outdoor Leadership: Theology, Theory, and Practice by Dr. Ashley Denton

Because of my vocational background of leading groups in outdoor adventures—backpacking, river running, rock and mountain climbing, and organized youth camping—I was eager to read Christian Outdoor Leadership by Ashley Denton. Here is a book I wish I had when I began my career many years ago. Denton’s lifelong love of the outdoors, his years of experience in wilderness ministry (much of it in the Colorado Rockies), his vast knowledge of the Bible’s use of the outdoors, and his ability to articulate in writing the theology, theory, and practice of outdoor leadership, make this a valuable tool.

This book does not teach outdoor living skills such as fire building, packing a backpack, or food preparation. It is about how leaders use the wilderness experience to impact the lives of campers. Denton writes from a Christian perspective for biblically sensitive outdoor educators. However, I believe that even those who are nonreligious, such as those I observed during my experience at the Colorado Outward Bound leadership school, could greatly benefit from the many valid educational principles Denton sets forth.

In his preface, Denton builds a strong case for the importance of getting urban youth into the outdoor setting and, much as Jesus did with his disciples, using nature to teach them valuable life lessons. He shares solid theological, psychological, and educational grounds for why adventure-based learning helps young people.

Denton probably does not intend for this book to be carried in one’s backpack. He has skillfully organized many outdoor leadership principles into acronyms for easy transference by the reader to a trail pocket journal. For instance to make your outdoor teaching “stick” use the S+T+IC=K model. Combine Setting & Timing with Intentional Content to tie the Knot of learning.

Come to think about it, the book itself could be seen as a backpack full of ideas about how to conduct successful wilderness experiences. For example, there is enough nutritious trail food in this book to begin feeding the novice in outdoor leadership and satisfy the person who has years of leading outdoor experiences. As I first scanned the book, I picked up dozens of tasty tidbits, from how Bible characters like Moses, Jesus, and Peter were affected by wilderness living, to how I can utilize the A to Z teachable moment with campers.

As I studied Denton’s book more carefully, I found he believes that the Bible, like a compass, points to life-applicable truths experienced in outdoor living. He demonstrates that physical risk and challenge, like water, can quench some of the emotional thirsts of our young people. Carefully prepared and thoughtful leaders can bring young people to insights about themselves much as a headlamp lights the trail at night. The development of a caring, supportive small group in the scary mountains can be like a snuggly warm sleeping bag at night. And what leader doesn’t want to be trusted in the way a climber trusts the rope and her belayer when she shouts “climbing”?

Denton calls for a standard of excellence in the field and invites leaders in churches, organizations, and universities to cast a vision for more experiential approaches to ministry.

Gary K. Fawver

Professor of Outdoor Ministries Emeritus

George Fox University

Newberg, Oregon