Being the Bad Guys (Book Review)
Stephen McAlpine’s book helps Christians consider the new reality of being seen as “bad guys”, and how to be the best bad guys we can be.
I urge you to read this book.
The speed of unprecedented cultural changes in the Western world in the past quarter of a century has left Christians on the back foot, grappling to understand what is happening around us and how to respond to the rapid erosion and challenge to Biblical values and morality.
Western secularism and biblical Christianity have diametrically opposite views on many things, especially on sexual ethics and gender identity. We live alongside people shaped by cultural ideas that are alien and often hostile to our own. Christianity is no longer seen by society as an option but rather as a problem; biblical ethics not merely outdated but shameful, harmful, and repressive; our views not simply wrong but dangerous.
Christians (not without cause) can be portrayed as angry, entitled, grumbling about our loss of status and influence. We are accused of being slow out of the blocks in dealing with systematic racism, silent about mistreatment of homosexuals, and guilty of compliance in institutional child abuse. We are astonished that the way we see ourselves is no longer the way others see us.
On the wrong side of history
A core theme of Stephen McAlpine's book is to show how, in the past 25 years, Christians have gone from being tolerated to being viewed as the “bad guys” who stand as a threat to progressive, freedom-loving liberalism.
We may not realise it but today Christians are on the “wrong side” of history. McAlpine provides an insightful, timely, and very readable analysis and explanation of what is happening in our world.
But as a pastor, he is keen to help Christians think about how to respond to this new reality and help one another live with grace, generosity, and distinctiveness in our communities and workplaces. His challenge to pastors and teachers to “prepare your people for the week they will be having, not the week you will be having” needs to be urgently heard and implemented.
The bad guys
The book divides into three parts: how Christians got to be the bad guys; what being the bad guys looks like; how we might be the best bad guys we can be.
McAlpine traces “how we got here” as the final flowering of the Romantic Period of the late 18th century when poets such as Wordsworth and Byron valued expressive individualism and a deep trust of one’s emotional responses.
However, he identifies massive technological advances as the reason our “age of authenticity” (you must be yourself) has happened so suddenly in our day. Philosophical shifts that have been underway for centuries have been fast-tracked by instant digital technology; ideas that once took years to filter into mainstream culture are conceived, birthed, and implemented at breathtaking speed.
Independence and sexual freedom - once only possible for those protected by wealth from their social and relational cost - is now available to everyone. The freedom and joy programme has become “another gospel” that drives secularism. The individual is now enthroned. Our compass for who we are is not pointed outwards, but inwards. We have become the source of meaning, our own meaning, and we only let people into our lives if they affirm and confirm our self-appointed True North.
In turning the spotlight on Christians as the bad guys, McAlpine deals with some of the key reasons they are seen in that way. The rise of “victimhood” and the rejection of self-denial in favour of self-actualisation are opened up and explored. But the core issue lies in the rejection of the biblical created “binary world” of male and female in favour of a “rainbow world” in which sex and gender is a matter of personal freedom and self-selection.
Challenging this view is regarded as not merely misguided but wicked, risking suicides and mental health issues in those holding those convictions. Gender identity is now the deepest most important reality about “the self”, central to the new secular religion.
Finally, McAlpine the pastor turns to how the local church might encourage Christians to honour God in the face of such cultural hostility; how to be the “best bad guys” we can be. Christians are to expect hostility: the cross is proof that anyone who wants to be a disciple of Jesus must face the possibility of deep hostility from the powers of this age.
Don`t be surprised, but rather rejoice (Luke 6:22-23)!
Churches in modern Babylon
But as Western culture fractures into toxic tribalism, local churches can and must be places of attractive, deep communities, besotted with Jesus, making much of what he has done for us. A “gathered people”, prepared by applied preaching and pastoral care and support, to live grace-filled generous lives in modern Babylon.
This book would be great to read in small discussion groups that might then become prayer support groups to encourage one another to stand for Christ in the home, workplace, and community.