I became a Christian in year 11 of high school. At the time — the early ’90s — the typical response from my non-Christian friends was a shrug of the shoulders and a half-sincere ‘good for you’. Sure, I felt some teenage angst about being different. But opposition? Hardly any.
After high school, I joined the army. Here I experienced a little more pressure for my faith. My Christian views on sex were often mocked, and became fodder for endless jokes and banter. But the banter was mostly good-natured, done by fellow soldiers who couldn’t understand why sex is only designed for marriage.
Fast forward to 2010.
Then in my early 30’s, I step onto a university campus fresh out of Bible College, as a campus chaplain. Before the year is even underway, I find myself verbally attacked by a gay rights activist, who sees my orthodox Christian sexual ethics as bigoted and hateful. (He even tried to have me kicked off campus).
At the time, I couldn’t believe what was happening: being attacked for merely holding to the Bible’s view on sexuality and marriage? How foreign! And yet, as a colleague pointed out, ‘what happens on campus doesn’t stay on campus’. In other words, these (bad) ideas eventually go mainstream.
Boy, I remember thinking to myself, I hope he’s wrong.
Alas, here we are in 2021.
And my former colleague, it seems, was right: what happened on campus didn’t stay on campus. It saturated the wider culture.
From legalised same-sex marriage to ‘Safe Schools’; from Israel Folau to the recent laws in Victoria criminalising anything less than the affirmation of a person’s sexuality and gender identity. Our culture has moved from being indifferent to Christianity — or at worst, seeing it as stupid — to now seeing aspects of it as harmful and even dangerous. In key quarters of modern Australia, Christians are now the ‘Bad Guys’.
Into this fraught moment comes a book written by Stephen McAlpine, a Pastor, blogger, and keen cultural observer. The title of his book says it all: Being the Bad Guys — How to Live for Jesus in a World that Says You Shouldn’t.
Christians feel shock as new laws are passed across the Western world which preference LGBTQI rights over religious freedoms. There is anger over unsuccessful challenges to late-term abortion and euthanasia laws. There is worry that efforts to keep Scripture in schools will fail, or that moves to cut funding for religious charities will succeed… The question we may ask is not simply, “How did this happen?” But “How did this happen so quickly?”.
(McAlpine, Bad Guys, pp. 16-17.)
McAlpine’s book is a gift to the Australian and wider Western Church at this difficult time. It’s relatively short (at only 140 pages), yet profound. He weaves together a coherent account of how we got to where we are, and how Christians might respond.
1) How Did We Get To Be The Bad Guys?
McAlpine divides the book into three parts. In the first part McAlpine asks the urgent question how did we get to be the bad guys? Central to his argument is that in leaving the Christian Gospel behind, Australian (and western) society hasn’t become amoral, a ‘zombie apocalypse of societal collapse’, but has rather taken on another gospel. It’s a new gospel with the shell — and indeed the fruit — of the old Christian Gospel (rights, dignity, freedom, love and equality), but without Jesus. The Kingdom without the King, as it were. It’s a gospel focused on ‘authenticity’, the idea that human flourishing is all about fulfilling our internal desires (especially sexual desires). And since the Christian Gospel involves a denial of self, the gospel of authenticity is hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ — and hostile to His followers.
As to why we became the bad guys so quickly, the answer is found in social media, in which ‘YouTubers and Instagram Influencers spread concepts virally… to teenagers sitting in their bedrooms.’ One only has to think of the various social media campaigns over the last few years promoting things like same-sex marriage, to see the cultural power of digital tech.
2) What Being The Bad Guys Looks Like
In part 2, McAlpine takes a deeper dive into what being the bad guys looks like. Namely, in the modern secular mindset Churches and Christians are the oppressors — both historically, and today, thanks to the Bible’s view of sexuality and gender. With bigoted views like these, we’re told, we have no business wanting a seat at society’s table.
But instead of playing the world’s game of victimhood (a temptation for Christians), McAlpine argues we should embrace life on the margins of society, where Christians have often found themselves historically. Not only does this take the pressure off of fighting a losing culture war, but we’re able to prepare ourselves for the ‘tsunami of broken and wounded who wash up on our shores’ when they realise the empty promises of the authenticity revolution.
3) Being The Best Bad Guy You Can Be
In Part 3, McAlpine explores what it means to be the best bad guys we can be. He examines what this looks like for Churches (namely having strong ‘thick’ communities, and serving those who are suspicious of us), and what it looks like for workers in an increasingly hostile workplace, using the prophet Daniel as the example.
Being the Bad Guys is accessible and insightful, aimed at both gospel-workers and church members. McAlpine does an outstanding job guiding Christians through the maze of our modern secular world, where we’re facing suspicion and hostility. In taking us back to the Bible, he shows the reader that our experience — unsettling though it may be — is the joyful norm for the followers of a crucified Messiah. And he shows us what it looks like as Christians, as Churches, and as workers, to adapt to this new environment.
If anything, I wish it were longer: there’s so much to discuss in this space — especially around Christian engagement in the public square. Being the Bad Guys is well worth a read, especially in our cultural climate.