I recently came across the blog post “are you a Christian hipster” by Brett McCracken, a guy who is apparently writing a book on the concept of Christian cool. I thought that his description would be all about suburban evangelical kids with nice hair and cool cars, so I was quite surprised that he’s actually talking about the “emergent” end of the spectrum – apparently Christian hipsters don’t like contemporary Christian music and do like Henri Nouwen. There are hundreds of responses to the blog post, ranging from “Hey, I’m a Christian hipster – good for me” to “uh, you’re just describing most mainline denominations” to “Christians should never strive to be hip”.
While I think that the author’s idea is to explore the relationship between the church and popular culture, I also found that he kind of missed out on the roots of what he deems the “Christian hipster” movement. I am not completely sure, from his writing, where he’s coming from, but it seems that he is suggesting that Christian hipsters are doing various “cool” and “edgy” things in an attempt to mimic mainstream hipster culture (as embodied in the skinny-jeans-wearing rebels of today) within a Christian context. This, to me, misses the point.
Many of the “hipsters” I know come from an evangelical background, but have not found themselves at home in either the evangelical movement or Christian pop culture. For many people at Ecclesiax, at least, this journey began with a dissatisfaction with the sanitization of the church and the unwillingness to embrace doubt or accept darkness as part of life. From there, it moves into exploring alternative ways that Christian communities have interacted with each other and with God, and claiming what is relevant to the community in question. As such, the practices that seem edgy from an evangelical point of view are often ones that are practiced in mainline churches, or were popular in other periods of history.
So, yes, there are questions to be asked – why are young protestants moving away from the evangelical church and into a, in some ways, more “catholic” mode of worship? How comfortably can Christianity and popular culture co-exist (but this is only worth exploring if both “Christian pop culture” and the interactions of secular pop culture and Church are considered)? The more established churches would do well to consider why the hipsters McCracken is examining are becoming more prevalent, but to consider them as Christians that just want to be cool is selling short what could be a fruitful dialogue between different branches of the faith.