Being the Bad Guys

By Tom Day, 08 May 2021

Being the Bad Guys

‘It’s come as a surprise, we’re not sure how it happened, we don’t like it and we don’t feel like we deserve it – but we are the bad guys now.’[1]

In case you hadn’t realised already, Christians are now not just seen with indifference but with hostility – we are the bad guys. A news story came out just a couple of days ago about a school chaplain who was reported to the government’s terrorist watchlist and forced out of his job for defending the Christian view of gender and sex.

Stephen McAlpine’s book Being the Bad Guys is written to Christians like us, to equip us to accept the situation and be ‘the best bad guy you can be – to refuse to be surprised, confused, despairing and mad about it, and to find a way to be calm, clear-sighted, confident and even joyful in it.’[2]

McAlpine helpfully splits his book into 3 sections. Part one is ‘How did we get to be the bad guys?’[3] Part two is ‘What being the bad guys looks like.’[4] And finally he concludes with part three ‘Being the best bad guy you can be.’[5] The structure of the book first shows us the reality of the situation, then the main focus is how we respond and live for Christ in that situation.

Another gospel

The culture has not simply abandoned the gospel entirely.[6] Instead we are being offered good news - ‘a rival gospel’[7] The problem is not that the world is abandoning Christian ideas wholesale – but that it is taking desirable Christian ideas and divorcing them from the framework of the gospel. For example, culture insists upon ‘freedom’ and ‘human dignity’ but ‘freedom and human dignity are kingdom concepts. These are ideas grounded in the Bible’[8] and so they are stolen fruit from God’s kingdom. They want the ‘kingdom without the king.’[9] And what they place as king instead is individual freedom and autonomy. This rival gospel is ‘a new religion – one built on commitment to individual autonomy and celebration of personal authenticity at any cost.’[10] This is helpful for us to know as we engage people with the true gospel. We can show them where the origins of their ideas come from and can show how they work properly in the context of a world with God rightly on his throne.

Don’t be surprised

We are not to be surprised by hostility for holding to the gospel – but should rejoice. Sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it, but it is what the Bible says. 1 Peter 4 verses 16-17 shows us why. ‘However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. For it is time for judgement to begin with the family of God…’[11] When suffering comes for being a Christian it is God exercising his judgement over his church. This is not the same judgement outsiders will face for rejecting the gospel, but a refining judgement. ‘The struggles we are experiencing as the culture turns against us are an opportunity for God to refine us – both individually and as a church – in order to bring glory to God through our joyful obedience in the midst of suffering.’[12] We can rejoice in suffering for being a Christian because we know 1) God is in control of it and 2) he is using it refine his church.

God’s plan for human flourishing

In section 2 – What being the bad guys looks like – McAlpine shows us Genesis’ binary account of creation in contrast to the culture’s view of multiple, diverse options of identity. The whole of Genesis 1 and 2 provide a binary account of creation, there are ‘equal and opposites everywhere: light and dark; day and night; land and sea; earth and heavens; animal and human; male and female; and – most significantly – Creator and creature.’[13] This is the ordered creation God made within which humanity was to live. Living in line with binary creation, especially in the area of gender identity, ‘should, as a result, lead to human and creational flourishing.’[14] As the culture drifts further and further from this order, and as it abandons God’s design for creation, this drift will cause the opposite of flourishing – destruction – for people and creation.

Actually, our greatest concern should not be that abandoning the biblical account of gender will make it harder for us to hold to it. Rather, that ‘the rapid rejection of this binary understanding of the world will both destroy and be used to destroy those who have been made in the image of God.’[15] Indeed, we should be those who showcase the goodness of living in line with this binary understanding of the world. By doing so others will see the folly and destruction of living any other way.

Keep on living as the bad guys

In the last section of the book – Being the best bad guy you can be – McAlpine highlights a common temptation for God’s people when suffering for Christ. It was a temptation that was common for the Israel after their return from exile, the temptation to ‘Bunker down. Fit in.’[16] Under pressure from a foreign ruler they stop building God’s temple – ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the LORD’s house.’[17] They feared the opposition they might receive for obeying God and building his temple. But the shock is that only 2 verses later God shows they are willing to build their own houses – ‘Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin?’[18] The danger is that we fear opposition for living for Christ and seeking to build his church, that we ‘bunker down’ and ‘fit in’ so that we can avoid opposition by busying ourselves with building our own lives instead, be it career, family or comfort.

McAlpine lays the challenge that our priority should be the building of God’s church since it is God’s great plan for winning against opposition to the gospel – ‘I’m convinced that the sheer simplicity of committing to meet with God’s people will win hands down. The church is the New Testament temple of God, and we neglect this building project at our peril.’[19] And as we do this ‘a strategy that preferences God’s people, proclaims God’s praises, and promotes God’s promises is the foundation for a church that is not at risk of losing its nerve and leaving aside God’s building project in a suspicious age.’[20] The overarching vision is that we have a greater building project to get involved with than just our own lives, a building project that will be far greater and far outlast anything we make for ourselves! So, let’s get stuck in despite the opposition.

Another highlight was the reflection on Daniel in Babylon as an example to follow in our own hostile culture using Daniel 6:21-22. It is clear Daniel was faultless before Darius. We should be concerned to prove ourselves faultless before a hostile culture to show that any accusations of being un-loving or hurtful are just not true – ‘If after refusing to be swayed on ethical matters, you are scorned, disciplined, demoted or even let go from your job, it must be in spite of the way you live, not because of it.’[21] But Daniel was also fearless because he had a big view of God. His concern was for pleasing his true king before his earthly ruler – ‘A big view of God means we do not fear other people, but we do not despise them either. Humans become the right size.’[22]

On the right side of history

We live in a world where culture calls us the bad guys, but that is the desperate spiteful cry of a dying world. When the world tells us, we are on the wrong side of history, we know that truly we are on the right side! ‘We wait for the day when he [Christ] will says to those whom the world said were bad guys, “Well done, good and faithful servants.”’[23] What an encouragement to be the ‘best bad guys’ and serve Christ wholeheartedly in a world that is hostile to us.

[1] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad guys: How to live for Jesus in a world that says you shouldn’t, (The Good Book Company, Epsom, 2021), 11.
[2] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad Guys, 11.
[3] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad guys, 15. The section is from 15-44.
[4] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad guys, 45. The section is from 45-76.
[5] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad guys, 93. The section is from 93-140.
[6] See, Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad Guys, 18.
[7] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad Guys, 18.
[8] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad Guys, 19.
[9] Mark Sayers, Reappearing Church (Moody, 2019), 24.
[10] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad Guys, 28.
[11] 1 Peter 4:16-17.
[12] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad Guys, 42.
[13] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad Guys, 52-53.
[14] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad Guys, 53.
[15] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad Guys, 54.
[16] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad Guys, 95.
[17] Haggai 1:2
[18] Haggai 1:4
[19] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad Guys, 99.
[20] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad Guys, 108.
[21] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad Guys, 118.
[22] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad Guys, 121.
[23] Stephen McAlpine, Being the Bad Guys, 142