This is a very ‘chatty’ but profound book written by an Australian pastor and blogger. It runs a mere 133 short pages and does not pretend to be an in-depth treatment of the topic. As befits a blogger, Stephen McAlpine writes in a style that is punchy, packed with unforgettable phrases, overflowing with sharp insights, and using as few words as possible! Nonetheless it is a book which Christians (ministers and laity) will find helpful in understanding how it is that ‘recently, Christian views aren’t seen as merely false but dangerous – our opinions no longer worth considering but rather in need of silencing’. McAlpine gives a concise and readable explanation of what is happening in western culture and, more importantly, how to live faithfully to Christ in such a post-Christian environment. This book is a must for anyone who is bewildered by the seismic changes which have taken place over a mere generation or two.
Paralysis or retreat into a Christian ‘bubble’ or ghetto are clearly not the answers. The author does not give simplistic answers. He helps us to navigate a complex and highly secularised society by offering a wise, strategic, and Biblically-based, approach to ‘living in the world, but not of the world’. The aim is not merely for the church to survive, but to thrive.
Part 1 of the book gives a coherent and well-reasoned explanation on how we have got onto ‘the wrong side of history, the wrong side of so many issues and conversations’: LGBTQI rights, late-term abortion, assisted suicide/euthanasia, religious freedom, moral norms, gender/sexual identity. ‘The way we see ourselves is no longer how others see us. And it’s all happened in record time.’ Our progressive culture seeks the ‘kingdom without the king’ (‘Reappearing Church’, Mark Sayers). The public is, unknowingly, presented with two versions of the ‘good news’, with the secular version taking up all the media space.
Part 2 gives a succinct look at what living in the world as the ‘bad guy’ looks like. Essentially we live in a world with two parallel, but contrasting, views of what constitutes human flourishing. Our secular society focuses on human freedom, self-identity, personal autonomy, gender identity, diversity, and human identity, but takes a diametrically different worldview from that of classical Christianity. To challenge the new secular quasi-religious orthodoxy is to invite hostility, censorship, legal retribution, and professional suicide. ‘The only way to stop being a bad guy in the eyes of the world is to become what the world says is a good guy. And right now, that means compromising in all kinds of areas where the world beckons one way and the Bible points another.’
In Part 3, the author outlines some practical strategies on how churches could respond. He bases these on the book of Haggai. None of these steps are radical or novel; we are to:
- Make a costly and sacrificial commitment to building up fellow Christians (the temple of the living God),
- Discover afresh a love for Jesus, be willing to be shaped by Him and His teachings, and joyously proclaiming His goodness,
- Show the reality of God’s presence in the world by serving our desperately needy society in a costly, practical, and Christ-honouring way.
Such a community of believers makes our faith in Christ more plausible (i.e., one which is attractive, intriguing, and compelling to non-believers).
McAlpine appears to advocate passive resistance (though not defeatism) rather than active opposition to changes in society. Nonetheless, he articulates a vision on how the church can remain uncompromising and joyful in the face of opposition whilst making our church community credible, and our faith believable.
We live in a ‘cut flower culture’ which still enjoys the fragrance from the flower, but severed from the roots the flower can but die. The rootlessness and loneliness inherent in western societies inevitably follow when you live lives divorced from the source of meaning, purpose, and identity that can only be found in Christ and Scripture. Yet Christians are often seen as the bad guys by society today. As the author deftly puts it, ‘It isn’t about how to stop being the bad guys – it’s about how to be the best bad guy you can be’.