Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Addendum to Hipster Christianity Post

The last post provoked quite a bit of response, leading me to realize that I was not clear about what exactly (or inexactly) hipster Christianity is.

Hipster Christianity is a largely a response to the seeker-sensitive movement that has characterized the evangelical church of late Baby Boomers and early Gen-Xers. The seeker-sensitive movement sought to give the church a more contemporary and inviting look for people wary of hymns, fiery sermons, door-to-door proselytizing, enforced tithing and other nasty stereotypes. Large suburban churches, Contemporary Christian Music, flashy children's programming, elaborate multimedia presentations in services, movies like Fireproof and Facing the Giants - these are the tropes of the seeker-sensitive church.

Hipster Christians aren't fond of all that. As McCracken characterizes them, they are usually young people who grew up in seeker-sensitive churches and have rejected a lot of what they found there - the lameness of Christian pop culture (even the mainstream stuff, like Switchfoot), the lack of depth and Biblical teaching in seeker-sensitive churches, the impersonal nature of huge services, the apparent indifference of evangelicals to social justice issues and the homogeneous right-wing views of church members. As a supposed remedy, Hipster Christians tend to have pretensions to intellectualism, to favor small churches with unconventional service styles, to espouse leftish politics, especially with respect to the environment, and especially, to immerse themselves in the cutting edge of pop culture. Hipster Christians are typically into the kinds of bands that get good press on Pitchfork and Stereogum, not what's hot on the iTunes charts, and the kinds of films that play at the dingy arthouse theater, not blockbuster productions. They tend to have liberal arts educations, to live in urban areas, and probably to start families much later than is typical for Christians. Seeker-sensitive churches have tried to follow artistic trends and use them to bring in the public; hipster Christians want to create them, and often to abandon them once they catch on.

As I said in my last post, I identify strongly with certain aspects of Hipster Christianity. There are problems with seeker-sensitive churches, some of which the hipsters diagnose correctly. I like small services, exegetical preaching and weird artistic stuff and I hate the way that some Christians equate Christianity with the Republican party, even though I'm a Republican myself. Simultaneously, I don't like the way that Hipster Christians often condemn their old churches and fail to understand the problems to which they were responding. I also recognize that a lot of the differences are really just matters of taste. I dislike Hillsong, but you're welcome to them. I usually don't like video clips in worship services, but if they help some people learn, that's fine.

I think that the biggest problem with hipsters and with Hipster Christianity is that they tend to discard artifacts of pop culture as soon as they are widely adopted. It's always on to the next band, author, style of worship service, because if a lot of people are into it, it's clearly deficient. And this practice becomes problematic when creating fashions becomes more important than practicing discipleship. If you find yourself saying that an author is very "last year" when the author is in the peak of her popularity, you're too into your image. It's elitist, it's endless and it's contrary to the history and sincerity of Christianity.

I still haven't gotten my hands on the book, but when I do, I will post a full review. I saw an interview with McCracken and it's clear that he's not endorsing or condemning hipster Christianity; he's trying to understand it.

1 comment:

  1. Reminds me of recently when I attended a church worship service and the series was on "God's Gym". The minister announced that this was the last week in their series but the sermon had little or nothing to do with "God's Gym", being spiritually fit, or anything. I wondered with all the treadmills and weights on stage if the church was trying to create the "awe" through props or through the message.