Brett McCracken is managing editor of Biola University’s Biola Magazine and a regular writer for Christianity Today and Relevant Magazine. hipster christianity is a fascinating read for several reasons. I’ll mention two which hopefully will pique your interest.
“But as with all things cool, no one in Christianity is really talking about this in any sort of direct way. The talk is usually about ‘contextualization’ or ‘postmodernity’ or ‘meeting the culture where it’s at.’ But it all boils down to one simple desire: the desire to make Christianity cool. And this desire is bigger and stranger and more difficult than we’d like to admit. It comes with implications, baggage, and inherent problems that need to be discussed. The question of cool is loaded, and it’s time we stopped dancing around it” (p.20).
And, just what does McCracken mean by “hipster Christianity”? McCracken is not stingy with his answer to this question. Part One entitled “The History and Collision of Cool and Christianity” has a whopping five chapters on discussing precisely what McCracken means by “hipster” and “cool.” “hipster christianity” is not something which “happened in a vacuum” (p. 93) but preparatory events in an historical timetable led into what we call “hipster christianity” (McCracken offers a helpful chronology on a single page chart, p. 84).
When all is said, perhaps the best way to understand “hipster christianity” is by way of description rather than definition. In chapter five—“christian hipsters today”—McCracken decsribes various aspects of being “hip” in Christian sub-culture. Dress—including tattoos and expensive haircuts—and beards are among the important criteria. McCracken also writes:
“Over the years, I’ve come to see [post-church activities] as one of the clearest distinguishing features of Christian hipster subculture. They usually do something as a group after church, and it frequently involves alcohol” (p. 95).
Things they don’t like include megachurches, altar calls, and door-to-door evangelism (p.97). They don’t like American flags in church and prefer “Christ follower” to “Christian” and abhor “soulwinner” among other pat phrases likely to be heard in traditional settings. On the other hand, Christian hipsters “love breaking the taboos that used to be taboo for Christians” (p.98), things like piercings, dressing kinda goth, and sporting tattoos.
Hip figureheads include Jay Bakker, Donald Miller, Mark Driscoll, and Rob Bell (pp.101-106). Finding “hip” Christians is relatively easy if one knows where to look: Christian Colleges and college towns (p.106), study abroad programs and third-world missions organizations (p.109). “Christian hipsters” dress virtually identical to their secular counterparts with Vice magazine as a standard (I could not link Vice Magazine since the front cover includes some striking nudity). Their favorite cities include Chicago, New York, Seattle, Orlando, and Atlanta (pp.111-113). Among the favored churches for “hip christianity” include Mars Hill (Mark Driscoll), Mosiac (Erwin McManus), and Mars Hill Bible Church (Rob Bell). The default theology for “hipster christianity” appears to be Calvinism (McCracken offers five reasons why this is so, p.104).
Second, hipster christianity may be the most transparent treatise concerning what’s going on in evangelicalism today—especially in Southern Baptist sub-culture. As I read McCracken’s monograph, I could not resist observing the applicability to our own convention. At an alarming rate—at least from my perspective—one may see the flaming desire to be culturally relevant, to be “hip,” “trendy,” and “in.” Recall during the GCRTF formation period some of the language employed. As one example, 50+ year old men were—for the first time in their lives I’d wager—taking about being “Christ followers” rather than “believers” or “Christians” or “followers of Christ” or “disciples of Christ.”
Over the same time period, they began wearing more “hip” clothes, losing the “traditional” look of shirt and tie, and this during events which, up until only recently, were considered events which called for jacket and tie. And, publicized only this week, a major megachurch pastor led his congregation to forfeit their historic identity as “The First Baptist Church,” expunging “Baptist” from their cultural and community identity.
The final section (pp. 179-247) offers solutions to the unbecoming place evangelical Christianity has unhappily found itself. And, while McCracken (as an insider) does not see either the problem or solution as I do, he nevertheless offers an honest appraisal and since answers on how to move forward.
I trust I’ve mentioned enough from McCracken’s book to solicit a desire to pick up a copy. I highly recommend this book. If you care to, you can click on the sidebar at the top of the page and it will take you directly to Amazon.com.
With that, I am…