I finished Brett McCracken’s forthcoming book Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide a few days ago and decided to sit on it and let it steep for a few days. I needed some time to think about what Mr. McCracken was saying and whether I agreed with it or not.
Part of the problem is that I am a Christian hipster according to McCracken’s definition, so I am suspect to a certain bias. The book made me a little angry in parts when he seemed to just stick labels onto things I hold dear, like my infatuation with sport coats and my aesthetic sensibilities. As much as I don’t want to have the label “Christian hipster” placed on me I’m listening to LCD Soundsystem’s new album as I write this and, well, that pretty much makes me a hipster. And I have a blog that discusses worship, vocation, and liturgy, so that takes care of the Christian label. But do both of those combine to make me a Christian hipster?
Yes and no. I am a Christian hipster in the sense that my worldview of Christianity acts as a lens for my hipsterness (I rolled my eyes at characterizing myself as having hipsterness, but McCracken forces me to, so just roll your eyes with me). But being a Christian hipster is so lame, like Christian movies, Christian music, and Christian comedy. And lameness is the antithesis of hipsterness. Can I go the artist’s route and just say “I am a hipster who happens to be a Christian?” I hope so.
McCracken did not write this book as a grand pontification. It’s well researched. Very well researched. I was amazed by the research. I had no idea the history of coolness and hipness that has influenced Western civilization since the Enlightenment. McCracken did his homework.
The problem I found with the book was that I came into what McCracken defines as “Christian hipsterness” through the back door so to speak, much like I became part of the emerging church conversation by reading James K.A. Smith and not Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt or Tony Jones. If you have to blame any one for my becoming a Christian hipster you should blame John Piper. You read that correctly: John Piper made me a Christian hipster.
I was inundated with the high arts as an honors student in college and within two years had developed a very high criticism of art. I belonged to the Francis Schaffer, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers and C.S. Lewis camp of seeing creativity and creation as the chief end of man. I was turning into a snob.
Then one of my roommates gave me Piper’s book The Dangerous Duty of Delight and it simply blew me away. I could still delight in the high arts (classical music, museum art, ballet, theatre, etc.) but Piper’s writing delicately chided me to realize that those who I looked up to as cultural critics relished the simple delights of life as part of the chief end of man. Not only did I need to read and critique at old epics like C.S. Lewis did, but I also needed to learn how to delight in drinking brandy and smoking a pipe until the wee hours of the night. Piper’s book put me on a path to delight in all things as God’s gift, and to champion excellence in art, food, furniture, music, literature and so on. If I was called to delight, I was going to delight in the good.
So I began to develop what McCracken labels hipster tendencies. I stopped listening to so much pop music and got into indie rock and alt country. I stopped liking any old movie and started watching classics. I began to want to cook more than tuna or chicken salad. I wanted to drink more than Rolling Rock or Heineken. I wanted to eat more brie and less cheddar. I wanted to delight in the best. Not because it was cool, but because it was good to delight as part of our experiential worship of God.
McCracken admits this as much, and it is the second great strength of his book. He wants us all to think. Coolness and the counter-culture can become badges of honor and status symbols if we don’t think about them. McCracken did his research, delving deep into the theory of coolness, and what we find is so much of the blatant and pathetic commercialism and capitalism that hipsters are supposed to cringe at. The whole hipster system is stuck in the very system it’s supposed to be against.
And that’s why being a Christian hipster might not be such a bad thing at all. Being a Christian gives me the privilege of already being outside the system. I don’t need the world to tell me I’m cool, because I am a citizen of the kingdom first. The opportunity found in being a Christian hipster is that we have more than coolness at stake. Writers like Andy Crouch implore us to be culture makers as Christians, and that is a call worthy of any vocation: to not just critique, to not just be hip or with it, but to actually make culture. That’s the end that McCracken points toward as well. He wants those that can be defined as Christian hipsters to be of the thinking and doing kind and not of the following and trendy kind. We should be at the forefront of culture not to be cool but to be culture makers. So here’s to my Christian hipster status, and yours as well.
Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide