September 3, 2021

Thanks: From the Bald Guy

It was a real honour to have Being the Bad Guys awarded Australian Christian Book of the Year last night at the Sparklit Awards. The standard of writing in Australian Christian books is high at the moment, and I think part of that is down to our “distance” from the bigger evangelical platforms. It feels like we have some air to breathe and that enables us to be creative in a less crowded market. Thank you Sparklit for having the vision to carry this off.

I have to say that some of the younger writers up for other awards were astonishing, particularly Remy Chadwick, whose recital about God’s words to Job at the end of that biblical story, were simply wonderful; poetic, theologically rich and emotionally alluring all in one. I look forward to seeing his work published widely one day (along with the works of many others who recited last night).

The genesis of my book has really been my blog. The material in my blog is the reason why The Good Book Company asked me to write a book. And much of that stems back to this blog post that really set me thinking about how Christians go forward in this cultural moment. When that post went viral, as opposed to absolutely everything else I have written ever which had stayed decided non-viral, it made me realise that the conversation around our place in this new cultural landscape in the West, was one we had not been having. Or if people had been having it, it was more likely in the halls of the academy.

While I enjoy writing, the guts of my work these past three decades has been in local church pastoral ministry. And in a sense, Being the Bad Guys was written with the everyday folk of church in mind. Pastors are having to equip their congregations (and help congregation members to equip each other) for an increasingly complex world, armed with the same tools as previous generations. Now there are complexities in every generation, but there was something of the chimera about our own times, something about the complexities that was hard to pin down.

And as I’ve chatted with others, wrestled with the issues, and sometimes gotten my responses wrong, it’s become clear that God’s people need to drill ever deeper into their identity in the Lord Jesus in coming years, because “identity” is the key issue we are dealing with: What it means to be human, what it means to be gendered, what it means to be me.

The solution is to have confidence in God and God’s Word. That will stand us in good stead as we establish ourselves as His people. I often talk about “thick, rich communities” or “alternate ethical communities”, and I truly believe that being distinct is what we are aiming for as God’s people. Different. Not so much divergent from all of the goals of our society, but presenting different solutions, solutions grounded first in the worship of the God of all glory. I often quote Mark Sayers memorable line that the post-Christian modern society wants “the kingdom without the King”, and indeed it sums it up well.

I also believe that the next thirty years will be telling for us as the church in the West. We will have to have our house in some sort of order internally as we face an increasingly confident, yet ironically brittle, post-Christian framework. For here’s the thing: most people who don’t spend hours on Twitter or Facebook waging culture wars, are just looking to fit in, to survive and to not be shredded. It’s as simple as that. The future looks more roller-coaster than cable car ride. Is the church ready for that spiritually, relationally, intellectually and emotionally? We have a sovereign King who rules and reigns, so we can be.

Thanks for all your love and support and congratulatory messages. I dedicated Being the Bad Guys to my lovely wife Jill, and as we celebrated over reheated lasagne (with a pretty good fresh salad) and a glass of cheap bubbly last night, it occurred to me that, just like a marriage, it is the incremental little moments that shape us and set us in directions, more than the tumultuous seismic shifts. It’s true of marriage, true of Christian life, true of the church. Just like in the best writing, it’s the little details that make the difference. Attend to those daily and we can live for Jesus in a world that will increasingly say we shouldn’t.

So, now it’s on to writing up the draft for my next one! 🙂

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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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