Yes, the book’s name is “Hipster Christianity”. No, you shouldn’t let that stop you from reading it. Surprisingly, carrying this hardcover, bright red volume around school with me has raised more eyebrows, brought more questioning remarks and sourced more offhand jokes than anything else I’ve read so far. even though this book was written by the managing editor of Biola Magazine, Brett McCracken, most of Biola’s students have never read it (although most seem to have heard of it!) People’s automatic reaction is, I think, much like mine when I first heard of this book and preformed expert avoidance maneuvers to NEVER read it. They are skeptical after hearing just the title of the book. “Hipster Christianity” seems like a joke, laughable as one girl said of this book. I will say it. I was wrong. I was expecting some sort of pithy, contemporary, relevant and watered down book that claimed to have revolutionary ideas about Christianity and how it was okay to be cool as a Christian. I was convinced I would be done with it in a few short days of reading in between classes. What I actually discovered once I began to read it was a very intelligent appeal to Christians that is contemporary and relevant and anything but watered down, which does contain good ideas about how it is okay to be cool as a Christian (I struggled through this book for a good three weeks of off and on reading). The reason my two descriptions sound so similar is because Brett Mccracken takes the time in this book to rehabilitate the definitions of words like “cool” and “relevant” to mean what they should have all along rather than “re-inventing the wheel” and “upsetting the apple cart”. He shows us what the terms used to define cultural acceptability mean and how they should be redeemed to retain eternal value.
This book is comprised of three parts. Part One: The History and Collision of Cool and Christianity; Part two: Hipster Christianity in Practice; and part three: Problems and Solutions. In Part One Mccraken goes into an in depth definition process of the term “hipster” which includes it history and origins, where it is now, and how it has been adopted by Christians. In the second part he looks at specific examples of the hipster movement in churches and Christian circles by fleshing out what hipsterdom looks like for Christians and what it has produced. In the third and final part of this book Mccracken breaks down why it is problematic for cool, as we know it, and the church to be in collusion and how we should be defining terms like cool and relevant. He also reminds his readers that Christianity is not a product that we are trying to sell and therefore does not require or even allow for a consumeristic approach.
One of the main points to take away from this book is that the church is founded upon lasting and eternal truth. The church is something that does not fluctuate according to the fashions and fads of the time. Mccracken observes a phenomenon in the church which has placed the church on the fringes of how we define ourselves and rather than shaping the culture, the church is being shaped by it. Not only that but it seems to be willingly throwing itself into the hands of the wrong potter. The church is being shaped by the society around it rather than by the God who is at the core of it.
God’s church is the point. Our individualistic society has successfully undermined this truth by infusing people with the idea that the most important person is yourself and that everything you consume and engage in should be for your own sake. This is easy to tell people because everyone is born with an intrinsic desire to be happy and the world says that you can become happy by doing what you want to do. The church cannot coexist with the selfish ideas that the individual based hipster culture propagates. In the problems and solution part of his book Mccrcken necessarily redefines cool not as a consumeristic term but as something that comes from the insides of a person. He writes “we shouldn’t obsess about fitting our image into the culturally acceptable or desirable ideal. Christianity’s appeal comes not from culture but from within–and the minute we start looking outside our own identity for affirmation about our relative relevance, we immediately begin to lose our cool” (246). Christianity is not something that is wishy-washy or changeable, its based on an everlasting and perfect God who always has and will exist. This means that the church is not compatible with conforming to the changes that go on around it in a fundamental way. That is why it gets weird when churches try to morph into something cool in order to appeal to people outside of itself. The attraction or coolness of Christianity does not come from whatever surface ornamentation we can add to it but from its intrinsic value as real honest-to-goodenss plain and simple truth from God himself. Since this faith is not based on the changeable it cannot be mixed with it, as Mccracken says trying to mix Christian and the world’s definition of cool doesn’t work “its ugly! Its like mixing oil and water” (199).
What all of this doesn’t mean is that Christians cannot have fun or enjoy good things like beautiful art for its own sake and delicious food with wine and friends. God created those things for our enjoyment because he really wants us to be happy in an eternal sense that is meant to include our physical faculties. We have been designed to love and appreciate what is good and beautiful because our God created it! What this does mean is that Christians should not look like the rest of the world. They should not be cynical, selfish, arrogant, transient and hedonistic. It is possible to enjoy good things while still living in a way that honors God and thereby brings us joy.
This is an excellent book that will take you some quality time to read and it is well worth it. I struggled a lot with the midpoint of this book because I was so depressed by it. I was reminded of Ecclesiastes where Solomon says that there is nothing new under the sun. It was begining to seem as though there was no reason to try and be original because everything has been tried and because maybe originality was even bad in and of itself! However, I kept reading and climbed out of that pit of despair into the conclusion of this book, which is hopeful and admonishes us to live good lives in God, enjoying good things with the wonder that God has gifted us with. I hope you will decide to read it!