Jesus gave His followers a straightforward but immensely challenging call to discipleship: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34 NIV). This was not an easy word to accept. Self-denial and taking up the cross is painful. So it’s not surprising that during the three years of Jesus’ public ministry, many would-be-disciples turned away because of His demands.
The same is true today. Faced with the dangers of following Jesus, many respond just as one man bluntly said to one of the authors of Hazardous: “That’s too much to ask” (49).
This book intends to wake up the people who would say “That’s too much to ask.” Hazardous reads like it was written to convince lukewarm Christians that Jesus meant what He said. While presenting many of the challenges of following Jesus, the authors seem to have borne in mind that their audience doesn’t consist of people who are already prayer warriors or ascetic prophets.
The “practices” listed at the end of each chapter are sometimes simply encouraging instructions to pray or read scripture in new ways, stretching but always within reach. Other chapters end with thought-provoking questions for reflection. Those who take the time to seriously consider such questions will be grow through answering them, but won’t be at a loss for answers. The practices which the authors suggest readers use to grow in following Christ are creative, but they still use the same basic building-blocks of discipleship which many Christians use to maintain their walks with Christ: prayer, the Bible, reflection, and learning from the community of the Church.
Unlike other recent hard-core discipleship books, Hazardous doesn’t have astounding stories about extraordinary Christians living in inner-city poverty or travelling the globe rescuing children from slavery. Though the word hazardous is sprinkled generously throughout the book, the challenges described throughout it are the sort of everyday challenges ordinary Christians in the modern West might face. Anecdotes from the authors’ lives frequently serve as illustrations of these challenges. The personal examples keep it relatable for the majority of us who are not yet saints. (It is mildly frustrating, however, that in this co-authored book one never knows which author was writing these anecdotes in the first person. Cooper and Cyzweski don’t identify who wrote which portions.)
Because it’s so accessible, Hazardous could be great youth group reading, or a worthwhile introduction to the cost of discipleship for new Christians. But the book also gives encouragement to those of us who have been at it for a while. While reading the personal stories in the final chapter, “The Rewards of Discipleship,” I wrote myself a note on my bookmark: "Am I obedient in these ways? Do I trust God that much? ... This challenges me to really love Jesus."
Even more important than their personal stories, Cyzweski and Cooper interpret the stories of biblical characters in ways which make them relatable for any reader. For example, Chapter 1 examines Judah’s life through the lens of his own discipleship, tracing his development from a person who would sell his own brother into slavery (Gen. 37) to a mature person who would willingly go into slavery himself to keep his other brother free (Gen. 44).
In Chapter 2, the authors examine the sacrifice that Elisha had to make – leaving a life of prosperity and power – to become a disciple of Elijah (1 Kings 19). Chapter 4 presents discipleship within the family through a creative look at Abraham’s family in the book of Genesis. From these stories we learn more about postures than tactics.
Hazardous is not a field manual. Cyzweski and Cooper don’t often spell out precisely how to apply the principles discussed in the book in various contexts. The goal of the book is less to promote a unique method of discipleship and more to inspire faith and encourage readers to adopt attitudes of trust and commitment in their discipleship. In many ways, Hazardous calls people to trust in God in ways which the great saints of the past have, though because of its non-denominational flavor, the examples of historic saints’ lives are rarely mentioned. A deeper engagement with Christian history would surely have been fruitful, but the focus on scripture is sufficient for the authors’ purposes and directs readers to the primary sources and stories of our faith.
New Christians will find both basic instruction and tested wisdom for following Jesus in the challenges of daily life in Hazardous. Those of us who’ve been following Jesus longer will find encouragement that our “labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). If anyone takes seriously the stories of faith contained in Hazardous, they will be challenged. No attentive reader will be able afterward to tell Jesus that His call to take up the cross is “too much to ask.”