Denver Seminary Outdoor Leadership Concentration

OL 501: Biblical, Theological, and Philosophical Foundations of Outdoor Leadership

3 Credit Hours, Fall 2011

Instructor: Dr. S. Ashley Denton

Email Dr. Denton


Wilderness Ministry Institute

Dr. Denton’s Book, Christian Outdoor Leadership: Theology, Theory, and Practice

Center for International Youth Ministry

Nexus Vivus International

Dr. Denton’s Facebook

Dr. Denton’s Twitter @OUTDOORLEADERS

Note: This is a Partial Syllabus and Reading List

Course Description

This course introduces students to a practical theology of wilderness journey, a Biblical perspective on the practice of outdoor leadership, a Biblical approach to the implementation of experiential learning in the outdoor leadership setting, a philosophy of wilderness ministry, and the Bible’s unique perspective on outdoor leadership theory.  Course reading, class discussions, and course assignments will focus on the wilderness context and adventure programming as a primary location for spiritual formation and leadership development.

Student Learning Outcomes

Denver Seminary is committed to students attaining four learning outcomes.

Primary: The following student learning outcomes are most directly and substantively addressed.

1.     Biblically and Theologically Grounded (Demonstrate integrated biblical and theological competence):  A comprehensive and discriminating mastery of the biblical, theological, and historical content and interpretive procedures that undergird an evangelical expression of Christian Faith.

a.      This course contributes to the foundational and practical knowledge of this Student Learning Outcome (SLO) by fostering an understanding of the scope and significance of biblical passages pertaining to the theology of wilderness journey, and the practice of Christian leadership in the outdoors.

b.     The quizzes on required reading and the two major exams assess students’ achievement and understanding of the foundational readings and class lectures.

c.     The reflection papers on required reading will increase the students’ ability to recall critical theological concepts regarding the purpose and value of wilderness and adventure ministries.

d.     This course contributes to the functional knowledge of this SLO by exploring the experiential nature of Jesus Christ’s teaching and training methods and various outdoor leadership theories espoused in the biblical text.

e.     The topics chosen for the final paper are geared to address this SLO requiring students to engage the experiential and outdoor aspect of Jesus’ teaching and training methods and analyze the relevance of the outdoor setting and timing of His teaching to increase learning.

f.      The one-day “Personal Wilderness Encounter” assignment will afford students an opportunity to evaluate wilderness journey theological principles in light of their own solitude experience in a wilderness setting.

g.     The group presentation at the end of the class will test the students’ ability to research and synthesize how skilled outdoor leadership can serve as a ministry strategy in today’s world.


Secondary: The following SLO will also be a part of our course due to the nature of outdoor leadership and its components.

1.     Spiritually Mature and Growing (Exhibit a mature and growing Christ-likeness in your character):  Growing personal commitment to Christ, fostered by spiritual disciplines and reflected in healthy relationships, emotional maturity, and personal integrity.

a.      The “application” section of the final paper will assess how students integrate the theological principles and biblical message into their own view of the importance of wilderness experiences in their own lives and in the lives of those whom Christ has entrusted them to shepherd.


Course Objectives

Biblically and Theologically Grounded:

Familiarity with biblical texts that explicitly demonstrate the transformation of

individuals or communities as a result of a wilderness experience or journey.

Ability to synthesize theological principles related to the key wilderness journey texts presented in the course.

To develop an historical understanding and working definition of the term “wilderness” as it is used in the Bible.

To develop an ability to critically review secular outdoor leadership models in comparison to biblical wilderness leadership models, and to formulate a personal wilderness leadership theory that aligns with the Scripture.

An acquaintance with the scope of outdoor leadership skills that are needed in order to safely and effectively introduce others to Jesus Christ and help them grow in their faith through guided wilderness adventures.

Spiritually Mature and Growing:

Developing a personal philosophy of wilderness ministry to be carried out in one’s ministry to make disciples.

To evaluate the importance of Jesus’ pattern of ministry which involved both engagement in mission and retreat into the wilderness for transformation and renewal.

Familiarity with the role that wilderness adventure had in Jesus’ apprenticeship.

To develop an ability to design and implement strategies for combining local relational evangelism ministries with experiential learning in the outdoors.

To research key cross-cultural considerations involved in using outdoor leadership as a strategy for evangelism and discipleship.

Familiarity with the ways in which wilderness experiences afford participants with opportunities for developing rapid & thorough decision-making skills.


Required Texts

Bratton, Susan.  Christianity, Wilderness and Wildlife; The Original Desert Solitaire. Scranton:  University of Scranton Press, 2009

Denton, Ashley. Christian Outdoor Leadership: Theology, Theory, and Practice. Fort Collins: Smooth Stone Publishing, 2011.

Graham, John. Outdoor Leadership; Technique, Common Sense & Self Confidence.  Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1997.


Required Reserve Reading (3 copies on reserve at library)

Leal, Robert Barry. Wilderness in the Bible: Toward a Theology of Wilderness. New York: P. Lang, 2004.


Required Course Pack Reading (available on Moodle)

Deardorff II, Donald; White, John.  The Image of God in the Human Body; Essays on Christianity and Sports.  New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2008:  Sections I-II.

Rolston, Holmes III. “The Bible and Ecology.” Interpretation:  Journal of Bible and Theology 50 (Spring 1996): 16-26.


Recommended Texts

Drury, Jack; Bonney, Bruce; Berman, Dene; Wagstaff, Mark, eds.  The Backcountry Classroom; Lessons, Tools and Activities for Teaching Outdoor Leaders 2nd Edition.  Guilford: Wilderness Education Association, 2005

Kosseff, Alex.  AMC Guide to Outdoor Leadership; Trip Planning, Risk Management, Group Dynamics, Decision Making.  Boston: Appalachian Mountain Club, 2003.

Lane, Belden C.  The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality. New York:  Oxford University Press, 1998.

Louv, Richard.  Last Child in the Woods; Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.  Chapel Hill:  Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2005.

Lane, Belden C.  The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality.   New York:  Oxford University Press, 1998.

Mauser, Ulrich W.  Christ in the Wilderness: The Wilderness Theme in the Second Gospel and its Basis in the Biblical Tradition.  Naperville:  A. R. Allenson, 1963.

Nash, Roderick Frazier.  Wilderness in the American Mind.  New Haven:  Yale University Press, 2001.

Stein, Robert.  The Method and Message of Jesus’ Teachings. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Teale, Edwin Way, ed.  The Wilderness World of John Muir.  Boston:  Houghton Mifflin Company, 1982.

Van, Dyke Henry. Out of Doors in the Holy Land. Scribner, 1909.

Williams, George H.  Wilderness and Paradise in Christian Thought From the Garden of Eden and the Sinai Desert to the American Frontier. New York:  Harper & Brothers, 1962:  Section I, Chapters 1-5.

Assignments and Course Requirements (Available upon request)