Book Review: Being the Bad Guys, Stephen McAlpine (Good Book Company 2021)

Stephen McAlpine’s Being the Bad Guys is a deeply unsettling book. His argument is striking, and the author has captured well the mood of our times. In our modern world (10) “Christianity is the bad guy (or at least fast becoming so). Christianity is the problem.” No longer does the title Christian command the cultural capital it once did. Now our views are archaic, our beliefs outdated, and our deeply held convictions ‘unloving’ and erroneous. The challenge of this short book is simple: we must cling to the Gospel message in a world that so clearly hates it. But it will not be easy.

Bad Guys with a Good Gospel

Not only does our culture oppose our Gospel hope, it actively seeks to replace it. (18) “We are being offered a rival gospel: a narrative that seeks first to expose the Christian gospel as bad news, and then to replace it with much-needed good news.” Our individualistic, ‘feel good’ culture is preaching its own gospel, and as McAlpine astutely points out (20), we are all being discipled by this message seven days a week through our social media, news and other content feeds. Our culture increasingly pushes back against Christian morality, because it increasingly preaches a completely different message.

So what ought we to do? In just over 140 pages, McAlpine makes his suggestion. Let us hold fast to the Gospel. This might cost us personally (36 “Signing up to team Jesus in AD 50 resulted in the same cultural rejection as it does now”). It might cost us institutionally (73 “perhaps it’s time to embrace a place on the cultural margins”). But it is so worth it eternally. In a culture that promises us our best life now (82), we are called to endure until our best life that is to come. This is ultimately the plea of the book, and it is convicting. Don’t live for ‘The City’ of this age, one that might look glamorous and bountiful, but one that will ultimately pass away. Live instead for ‘The City” that is to come. Live for our glorious eternal hope. Christian, we will have to endure all kinds of suffering for a little while, but it will be wonderfully worth it.

Don’t Retreat

Structurally, the book is divided into three parts. The first two consider how we ended up as the bad guys, and what that now looks like. The third was a personal highlight. In these closing chapters, McAlpine offers some practical advice for living as the bad guys, advice which is rooted in Scripture. This reviewer was particularly struck by the challenge of prioritising long-term church commitments over the fast-paced, transient attitudes of our times. We are called to live differently, and that rubs radically against the grain of our culture. Our response to being cast as the bad guys ought not to be to acquiesce to the sinful standards of our culture, or to retreat into Christian echo chambers. Instead, we ought to equip one another to stand firm for the Gospel, contend for the truth, and love our neighbours well.

It is worth noting that for a book that engages so deeply with the so-called ‘culture wars’ in which we find ourselves, the author is consistent in explaining what this looks like for us as believers. We may have ‘lost our seat at the table’ – but this does not mean we are being persecuted. McAlpine is clear that (67), at least in countries such as the UK, US and Australia, we ought not to embrace a victim narrative. This is a helpful clarification, and a tone that continues throughout the rest of this book.

Conclusion

This was a compelling read. Though there were moments where I disagreed with particular aspects of McAlpine’s cultural analysis, the overall thrust of his argument is deeply challenging. We must not chase the approval and prestige of a culture that despises the God of Scripture. We must cling to the truth, loving our neighbours even if it costs us. And it will cost us. As our secular world increasingly casts the Christian as the bad guy, standing firm for the Gospel will be hard. But as we look to our Heavenly destination, it is so worth it.

I would recommend picking up a copy of Being the Bad Guys – it is not a comfortable read, but it is, surprisingly, an encouraging one. This book ought to unsettle you. But throughout, one clear truth stands out. Our only hope in life and death is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What else is there of such eternal consequence? If we must learn to be the bad guys in order to cling to that saving hope, then so be it.

Being the Bad Guys is available from the Good Book Company.

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