Over the years, I’ve been a bit skeptical about celebrities who become Christians and actively proclaim their faith in Jesus. I took this type of “show me it’s true” attitude as I began reading Stephen Baldwin’s book with the subtitle, “My Calling to the New Hardcore Movement of Faith.” I have seen a few of his films and am familiar with his acting brothers.
Page by page, this book wins over the skeptics, and the reality of Baldwin’s genuine Christian experience rings true through these chapters. We learn about the youngest Baldwin brother, who was raised in a middle-class Irish Catholic family in Massapequa, New York. In the opening chapter, Baldwin talks about the depth of his chasing celebrity and a story about seeing Robert Downey, Jr. at the Playboy Mansion. Downey leads Baldwin to a beautiful wine cellar where four playmates are smoking pot. Since Baldwin had stopped drinking several years earlier, he saw the meaninglessness of the situation and left.
Describing his life as blessed and lucky, Baldwin sheds light on his acting career and how it’s given him a platform to talk to American youth --- and actually have them listen. Ironically, most teens recognize him from Bio-Dome, a film that the critics hated. As he writes, “God had me make this film to give me the platform that would later become my life’s work. At the time, I just wanted to goof off with Pauly Shore for a couple of months. God knew that, and He also knew the plans He had for my life, plans He made sure came to pass.”
Baldwin’s faith story is told in detail. His wife, Kennya, hires Augusta, a Brazilian housekeeper who only speaks Portuguese. Since Kennya is from Brazil, she can communicate with Augusta. But the housekeeper has one minor quirk: she walks around the house singing about Jesus. Because of Augusta, Baldwin’s wife begins to read her Bible and occasionally attend some Bible studies. During a year of prayer for her husband, Kennya shows him Jesus; ultimately, during the ninth and twelfth months, he begins to listen.
Baldwin describes his journey to grow in his faith and give control to Jesus. The Unusual Suspect covers the basics of faith for a new believer from Baldwin’s perspective. His stories are unconventional, and his insights about the centrality of the Bible, the importance of prayer and the reality of love for the lost have a freshness that will resonate with many people.
Throughout the book, Bible verses are woven into the text in an appropriate and non-preachy manner. My skepticism turned to enthusiasm as I read about Baldwin’s experiences combined with the skilled storytelling from writer Mark Tabb. Baldwin has had a true encounter with Jesus and is out to change his world. He doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but he clearly understands that the love of God has to be balanced with the fear of God’s pending wrath. Toward the end of the book, Baldwin includes some words that may startle the conservative crowd: “You can think all of this is a bunch of crap. That’s your right. You can slam this book shut and say I don’t know what I’m talking about. You can say that the God of love you believe in would never send anyone to hell. You can take that chance if you want. But keep this in mind: A day of judgment is coming. Don’t blame me when the lever is pulled and you start falling toward hell.”
I found Baldwin’s “tell it like it is” style refreshing and genuine. I wholeheartedly recommend The Unusual Suspect.
Reviewed by W. Terry Whalin on September 19, 2006