Skinny jeans. Black-rimmed glasses. Intelligentsia coffee. Having church in a bar.
Familiar with these? Then you're probably a hipster. But author Brett McCracken goes beyond the peculiar fashion and music choices of this subculture to look at the effect of hipsterdom on the church in his book Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. I sat down with McCracken recently to discuss what it actually means to be a Christian hipster.
What is a hipster?
I define 'hipster' as an attitude of contrariness and wanting to go against the flow of the mainstream-someone wanting to have independent tastes and styles. It's a kind of anti-institution, anti-tradition, and anti-authority attitude. If you look at the history of hipness- whether you're talking about the sixties counter-culture or the fifties beatniks-it's all about forging your own path against this mass culture that feels oppressive.
How can a Christian hipster still be Christian with such a rebellious attitude?
That's one of the things that is problematic about the very existence of Christian hipsters. Hipsterdom is so much about how you look and the way you set yourself apart in the world, it tends to always be "all about me." It's a self-focused and vain pursuit. I wonder, is even possible to be a humble, selfless, deny-yourself-follow-Christ type of person, and also be a hipster who painstakingly puts together your thrift store outfit in the morning?
Do you consider yourself a Christian hipster?
Yes. The way that I define hipster in the book is kind of broad and I would have to admit that I do fall into some of the definitions I describe.
I am not a person who cares as much about being on the cutting edge of everything because that is exhausting and it's hard to stay on the forefront of things. I used to care a lot more about knowing about all the cool music and film. I since have focused on a few areas of culture that I really care about being on the cutting edge of.
A lot of people can fit the category of hipster without striving to be a hipster. They don't think in terms of wanting to be cool or wanting to be ahead of the pack. They just like certain things of culture or a hip fashion aesthetic. That's more me. I hope and I try not to be in it for the cool aspect or because it's esoteric. I don't care if other people know about it. I just like it because I like it. If that's the way you go about it then it's not such a bad thing.
Did you become a hipster because you were rebelling against past experiences of Christian fundamentalism?
I wouldn't say I am one of the people who is wanting to rebel against fundamentalism. Maybe the one area that I do bristle at is the way evangelical culture kind of could care less about culture and art and the aesthetic realm. That's an area that I really care about deeply. So, to that extent, I'm rebelling against how evangelicalism has typically approached the arts. But I'm not one of those people that thinks everything about church needs to be re-thought. There are a lot of things that I'm very much in line with my parents generation on.
Should churches try to be more hip in order to appeal to the younger generation?
My instinct is that churches shouldn't be going that route of trying to be hip and cool. Leaders and pastors don't need to worry so much about that. Instead, they need to worry about preaching the gospel clearly and living in an authentic way that people resonate with. That goes so much further than wearing skinny jeans and playing a Radiohead song as worship.
What about the current 'cool' churches? Are they a hindrance to the Gospel?
Cool churches are not necessarily a hindrance; they just need to be authentic to their community. If you happen to be a church community that is full of artists and people that like art, then it makes sense to showcase their art at. If you're a church of people who love coffee, then it makes sense to have coffee.
The wrong approach is when you go after that demographic by using gimmicks. You should just be who you are as a church. If you're a church in rural Arkansas, mostly populated by older folks, you obviously shouldn't start doing things out of character with your community just to be more relevant or hip. All of these things are fine to do as a church as long as you're always living a biblical gospel-centered life as community.
This story first appeared on WORLD California.