Friday, December 17, 2010

Hipster Christianity?

What does it mean for the church to be hip? Is cool Christianity something we should even strive for? These are a few of the questions that frame Brett McCracken’s Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide (Baker Books, 2010). The book has received a lot of attention, garnering both praise and criticism. While some of the generalizations and presuppositions McCracken makes through the early portions of the book may miss the mark, the book lands on solid ground as McCracken comes to his conclusions in the latter chapters.

The book takes us through a historical look at the concept of cool and what it has looked like in practice over the years. Though nowhere near exhaustive, it provides a broad view that helps paint the picture of hipsterdom and some of its main tenets of freedom, individualism, exclusivity, and rebellion. Hipster Christianity then describes what hipsters look like in today’s society, generalizing them into twelve basic categories based on the author’s experiences. (Insert ironic criticism here.) McCracken then takes us on a tour of what he considers the rise of hipster Christianity dating back to the 1960’s. Those who grew up in evangelical homes during the 80’s and 90’s will at least relate to, if not appreciate McCracken’s references during this time period. The middle portion of the book focuses on what so-called “hipster Christianity” looks like today in practice, starting with a brief but helpful profile of several different well-known churches.

As stated before, the book holds the most weight in the concluding chapters as McCracken takes a look at whether the concept of “cool” can be reconciled with Christianity. In short, McCracken states that it cannot. Though he does allow that following Christ is a “cool” venture all to itself, he argues it’s not the same type of self-obsessed notion of cool that we have come to highly regard as a culture. If we’re not careful, and if we don’t hold tight to Scripture, the church can quickly lose its identity as found in being the body of Christ, and instead be focused on how attractive we look to the outside world. He suggests that churches who are trying to be cool simply for the sake of marketing to young believers or seekers, or to satisfy the fleeting desires of the “marketplace” are no different than corporations advertising their latest products. To be a radical for Christ means to deny oneself, and be fixated on the eternal aspect of God’s kingdom, rather than the vain, in the now, fleeting pursuits of “hip.” For many individuals and churches, this will be a tough pill to swallow.

Youth pastors and pastors alike would do well to read the final five chapters of this book. It will help them take a closer look at the decisions their churches make and hopefully encourage them to base those decisions on the unchanging Word of God rather than their personal desire to be cool or to appeal to the outside world.

--Chris Wagner

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