Friday, October 1, 2010

Book Review: Hipster Christianity

Brett McCracken’s recent book, Hipster Christianity is a study of what happens, as its subtitle tells us, when church and "cool" collide. While at times humorous, it is not a satire, and while at times critical, it is not an ivory tower lampooning. Rather it is a critique from the midst of hip, as McCracken is a young, cool Christian, in tune with what’s “in,” both in the church and in culture at large.

The first third of the book deals with the history of hip, first in terms of the culture at large, then as it has applied within Christianity. It reads a little slowly as McCracken lays the necessary sociological and historical groundwork for a discussion of this type. What I found to be most key in this section though was his observation that if ever there was a culture born to aspire toward the hip, it is indeed America with our emphasis on individualism and personal freedom.

The second section deals with hipster Christianity in the church today, giving examples of what types of things this group of people is drawn to (and repelled by). I have heard some criticism from others in regards to this section (i.e., “I’m hip, but I don’t like some of the things he says hipsters like…”), but I assume that his examples are meant to be broad-stroke generalities, not absolutes. Taken this way, they paint what I would consider to be a fairly representative picture.

Finally, McCracken contrasts what he terms as “Wannabe Hip Churches” and “Authentic Christian Cool.” This is where many who are a part of the hipster movement within Christianity will take issue. I am not terribly (read: at all) hip. It is probably in no small part thanks to this that I found this to be the most important and helpful section of the book. I didn’t take McCracken to be condemning all of hipsterdom, after all, he is a self-professed hipster himself. Rather, he was recognizing that we all (hipster and traditionalist square alike) have a tendency to be too concerned with how others see us, and we must make sure that we fight against this urge, not fan it into flame.

In the end I took the main point of the book to be that nothing is really more cool than the Gospel of Jesus Christ itself. It is truly relevant and truly lasting. Christianity needs to be creating culture, not reacting to it, and if we are to have a hipster culture within our church, it must bubble up from within, not be some façade that we’ve built so as to appease desired consumers.

Hipster Christianity is an interesting study. There were no doubt parts that would offend people on both ends of the spectrum, which I suppose is one indication that in this book, McCracken must have done something right.

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