Hipster Christianity: Can Following Jesus be ‘Cool’, by Bret McCracken

Bret McCracken’s book Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide (Baker, 2010) is sure making people think. Here’s a thoughtful review by Joseph Sunde and an follow up interview with Bret in Leadership Journal.

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Hipster Christianity: The Quest for Authentic Christian Cool

A great review of Hipster Christianity by Joseph Sunde in Remnant Culture.
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When I first picked up Brett McCracken’s new book, I was expecting a simple, cheeky romp through the various fads and frivolities within modern Christianity. The title itself, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, sounded an awful lot like the pretentiously reflective, light-and-trite nonfiction that Christian twentysomethings flock to nowadays.

But McCracken takes hip seriously, and he has a strong message for Christians who don’t.

“[W]e have to think harder,” says McCracken. “…even with something that might seem trivial, like ideas of “hip” and “cool,” Christians need to think long and hard about what it all means for our objective on this planet.”

McCracken certainly has a lighter side, and anyone who has read his blog or his movie reviews will know that he has a great ability to write wittily and pithily on all things art and culture. But although he enjoys cracking church-culture jokes as much as the rest of us, McCracken is largely on a mission to find an answer.

The question, as McCracken sees it, is this:

Is Christianity cool in today’s culture? And I mean naturally cool? As in — are people attracted to and desirous of it on its own accord? Or must it be cool in the marketed, presentational sense? … perhaps Christianity is hopelessly unhip, maybe even the anticool. What if it turns out that Christianity’s endurance comes from the fact that it is, has been, and continues to be the antithesis and antidote to the intoxicating and exhausting drive in our human nature for cool (for independence, for survival, for leadership, for hipness)?

Before answering this question directly, McCracken uses the first part of the book to offer an extensive history of hip, beginning in the Renaissance and proceeding all the way up to the modern church. Moving from Rousseau’s anti-aristocrat pose to Brummel’s eighteenth-century dandyism and bohemianism, McCracken eventually hangs the hat of hipsterdom on the birth of America, a country that McCracken describes as “born to be hip.” It is in America, McCracken argues, that “the Romantic ideal of hyperindividuation” reigned supreme.  The American Revolution spawned new ideas about freedom as an ideal. Writers like Emerson and Thoreau exalted the notion of the “nonconforming individual.” Poets like Poe and Dickinson confronted social taboos with artistic flare.

Then, of course, there’s capitalism…

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Can Christianity Be Cool?

An interview with Brett McCracken, in Leadership Online, by Brandon O’Brien

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In his new book, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide (Baker, 2010) Brett McCracken continues the generations-old conversation about the relationship between Christ and culture. In particular, McCracken, managing editor of Biola magazine, explores the preoccupation of some churches with being relevant, trendy, and, well, hip. Can churches be cool without becoming lukewarm? Brandon O’Brien asked McCracken how what he discovered impacts the local church.

Is being “in the world but not of it” still a useful way for the church to think about its relationship to culture?

Maybe. But we need to be clearer about what we mean by “in the world” and “of it.” I’ve grown up hearing that phrase quoted anytime discussions about the relationship of Christianity to culture come up, as if citing it answers the question. But what exactly does being “of” the world mean? Are we “of” the world if we drink a beer occasionally? Are we “of” the world if we spend all weekend watching sports on TV?

As for being “in the world,” I think it is getting harder for the church to understand its place both within and distinct from culture. In our post-Christian culture, the church is no longer the heartbeat of the worlds of, say, art and academics, as it was for many centuries in previous eras. Now that the church occupies a more peripheral relationship to “the culture,” which is now largely secular, it’s naturally going to be harder to figure out just how we as Christians should approach and evaluate culture.

What elements of culture do pastors and churches find most seductive?

These days, being up-to-date on technology is a huge allure, and for obvious reasons. Things like social networking (Facebook, Twitter), iPhones, iPads, and podcasts have direct application to ministry because they make communication more efficient and more relevant to tech-savvy audiences. And technology is relatively easy to adopt.

A deeper temptation is having “relevant” tastes, wanting to be savvy to what music is cool right now, what films people are talking about, or what the right hairstyle is. It’s incredibly hard to keep up with these trends. So when we try to seek after it, we’re usually a few steps behind.

Are there any cultural values that the church should try to appeal to?

Many younger people would like to see the church more interested in the arts and culture, which is healthy and can be done without compromising Christian principles. Younger people also really would like to see church life become more intellectually robust. I’ve gone to churches where the congregation is entirely twenty-something hipsters and the sermons are 90 minutes long and intellectually stimulating. This goes against the claims that this generation has no attention span or is uninterested in being challenged in church.

Finally, some younger people like history and tradition and a sense of the longevity of Christianity. That’s why some favor liturgical worship styles. They want church to transcend the rapidly changing fads of the day.

So churches don’t need to adopt the latest trends to attract young people?

A church is truly relevant when it seeks first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. It becomes irrelevant when the tangential worries (packaging, PR, what brand of coffee is served in the foyer, etc.) take precedence over living and preaching the biblical gospel.

The life-transforming, history-altering, salvation-offering gospel of Christ is eternally relevant. An “authentic” church is one that preaches the gospel and is honest and open about its imperfections and open with one another in love and accountability…

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