Introduction, chapter one, and interlude one of Dangerous Territory: My Misguided Quest to Save the World by Amy Peterson


Peterson sets up her book, Dangerous Territory, in an interesting way. The introduction and first chapter read like a coming-of-age-memoir—complete with hints of romance, a foreshadowing of a crisis, and an expectation that the reader and the narrator will discover something by the end of this book. And then the author places in interlude one, a break from the close narrative structure of the beginning, zooming out to focus on a larger issue and theme permeating the more specific narrative.


Why does Peterson do this? In a sense, she is setting the tone that this book will not be what we expect—it is neither a modern-day missionary myth re-told nor a story of a failed missionary (not that either of these is bad—I wrote a book all about the latter!). Instead, with her carefully written interludes, Peterson makes it clear that she is writing both a critique of modern western evangelical missions while celebrating the best of what drives so many to want to find God in other contexts than the ones in which they were born.


Peterson points the history of the modern American white evangelical missionary genre back to Jonathan Edwards and his biography of David Brainerd. Why is this history important? Peterson says that “calling it a myth doesn’t mean it’s a lie—only that it became iconic and, through repetition, came to symbolize our deepest convictions about morality and the nature of reality.” (31).


Discussion questions:


Which section stood out to you as a reader—the first chapter or the first interlude? Why is that?


Over on Goodreads, we are having a fascinating discussion about the missionary biographies we read growing up. This week, let’s talk about books that approach the missionary myth in a critical or unexplored way.


A quote that stood out to me was this (taken from Peterson’s journals when she was 22): “How can I learn to expect big things of God without thinking big things myself?” (25). What quotes stood out to you? What do you sense is the author’s posture towards her younger self?


Next week we will be discussing chapters 2-4 and Interlude #2. Join us next Monday, October 16th, for that discussion.