For most of his career, Stephen Baldwin, the youngest of Hollywood's four famous Baldwin brothers, cultivated a reputation as a bad boy, both on screen and off. In a new book, "The Unusual Suspect," he writes about "snorting enough cocaine to throw the entire population of a small South American country into anaphylactic shock."
But Stephen Baldwin, the man born into Hollywood royalty, has been born again. Just how exactly did the guy who played a crook in critically-acclaimed "The Usual Suspects," and a stoner in the bomb "Biodome," become an evangelical Christian youth minister?
Six years ago, Baldwin's wife, Kennya, became a born again Christian. Then came 9/11. Baldwin says he concluded that if terrorists could topple the towers, then Jesus could come back tomorrow.
"Jesus is coming back and if you really know what that means, and if you are experiencing and understanding what that's all about, that's pretty urgent," Baldwin says. "Fires are burning all over America. This is biblical stuff." He points to three major recent tragedies -- 9/11, the tsunami in eastern Asia, and Hurricane Katrina -- as signs that Jesus is returning.
Baldwin's change of heart (and mind, and lifestyle) has inspired a lot of skepticism. The Daily Show asked, "What the f*** is wrong with Stephen Baldwin?!"
But Baldwin insists his new direction is based profoundly in his experience.
"It's real, it's changed my life, it's transformed my heart, I'm not who I was," Baldwin says. "No longer … do I feel the pressure of, 'how fancy are my shoes? Or what kind of car am I driving? Or how much money do I make?' None of that matters to me anymore … I'm having a daily experience with the spirit of God that's more priceless than anything I've experienced before."
After his conversion, Baldwin says he quickly found that Christianity lacked a certain edge. So Baldwin decided to fill Christianity's gnarly niche by starting a youth ministry that evangelizes with skateboards, bikes and motorcross.
"I'm here to reach the youth culture of America that's dying everyday spiritually," Baldwin says. "They're overdosing, they're committing suicide, they're doing this and that. And the thing that transformed me was coming into the understanding the things of God and the spirit of God. And I want to share that with people -- and I want to share it in a fun way."
We interviewed Baldwin on a skate ramp in Houston, a recent stop on his evangelical road show, "Livin it Live." Baldwin says the stakes are high: no less than a "spiritual battle" for the souls of young people.
Before the "Bikers for Christ" and the "King of Kings skate team" could start the show, Baldwin insisted his riders take a safety precaution of a higher order -- an invocation.
"I just ask that every skateboard and bicycle and motocross bike lord have a legion of angels all around them," Baldwin said, as he led a group prayer.
The "gnarly" niche, unconventional though it may seem, is proving very effective.
Baldwin is now one of the most influential up-and-coming evangelicals in America. He and his holy rollers regularly sell out stadiums, and he's put out one of the best-selling skateboard DVDs of all time.