Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Hipster Church

There's been another fresh outbreak of Christian Hipster labeling. Are you a Christian hipster? There's only one way (remember that catchy slogan, kids? No, probably not.) to find out. The last time this happened, I erupted in a longwinded diatribe. I'll try to be more concise this time.

The thing that I find most distasteful about the whole "Christian hipster" angle, whether it is presented seriously, or somewhat flippantly, as in the quiz that is hyperlinked above, is that it ignores the fact that there are broken human beings out there who desperately want to be made whole by God, and who have tried the traditional models of Christianity over and over again, and found them, and themselves, wanting. What do you do, and where do you go, when you can't embrace Catholicism or Orthodoxy for various theological and/or cultural reasons, when mainline Protestant denominations have imploded upon themselves in never-ending infighting that has entirely lost the storyline, and when Evangelicalism seems more and more alien, dominated by political discourse and bizarre cultural demarcations that have less and less to do with following Jesus every year?

I'm sure there is some element of homogeneity in these emergent/hip churches, or whatever other people want to call them, just as there is in any church or denomination. And maybe that looks like a bunch of pasty white beardos sitting around listening to Sufjan Stevens. But I also know that it's not about being "hip," or any other commodification and branding of the Christian faith. It's about a lifeline, and it's about life. I cordially hate the labels because they utterly miss the point.


Caleb Land said...

As someone who reads and enjoys what you have to say, and reads and enjoys what Brett has to say over at The Search (and the guy who made the hipster quiz, and is about to publish "Hipster Christianity") I think maybe you are missing what he's trying to do.

I would say that Brett McCracken is a Christian Hipster. It seems like (isn't released yet) his book is more about analyzing the good and bad in the Christian Hipster scene, Brett included.

I wouldn't label myself a "Christian Hipster" (though I scored kind of high on his quiz) but I definitely have some of the same disillusionment with church that you are talking about which has driven me to many of the things Brett jokes about.

All that to say, I see where you are coming from, but I think that you and McCracken wouldn't likely disagree too much on this at the end of the day.

Andy Whitman said...

That's fair enough, Caleb. Brett's a good guy, and I appreciate what he's trying to do on one level. Certainly there is something happening demographically in the churches Brett is describing, and "hipster" is a convenient and somewhat accurate label. I just don't want to lose sight of the more important spiritual dimension because of all the cultural trappings. My church fits the description. According to the quiz, *I* fit the description. But I assure you, I am no hipster. The hearing aid, the receding hairline, and the extra 50 pounds of midriff baggage pretty much exclude me from that territory. But I love my church, often in spite of the cultural trappings.

chelsea said...

I totally agree with you, Andy... the only problem is when a "hipster" church becomes enamored with its own hipness and actually takes away the lifeline from people who aren't hip. I would consider our church to be a "hip" church and i think its gotten more balanced over time... and certainly the majority of the people who go to our church have authentic, genuine welcoming hearts... but I have had more than a couple people tell me that they don't feel cool enough for our church. I even know one guy who found himself changing clothes several times sunday mornings because he didn't feel cool enough. i agree with you that this is just human... either people feel intimidated because they aren't dressy enough or together enough or educated enough or cool enough... but to think that our version is free of the arrogance that we find elsewhere is taking missing the log in our own eye.
the hipster movement (of which i believe i am a part of) is at fault and comedic when it thinks that it is above everyone else and is smug about its own relevance rather than embracing what you are talking about... a real, human pursuit of Jesus that includes and affirms who you are and meets the culture where it is.

roadkills-r-us said...

tried to take the test, but most of the questions needed a "None of the Above are even close" so I gave up. I suspect if just picked the "least distant" answer (there are no close answers for most questions) his server would explode.

I haven't read any of Brett's stuff yet, but I have to agree with Andy that even the label, "Christian Hipster" seems more likely to divide and turn people off than help much.

Caleb Land said...


I totally agree and honestly felt a little awkward taking the quiz. I wear the same five polo shirts every day and teach public school kids in an unglamorous job but I scored high on the hipster test because of the books I like. I guess, as with all definitions, generalizations can be helpful for study, but really break down on the individual level.

Pilgrim said...

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Andy. I completely agree. BTW, I'm 72/120. About what I would have expected. (I took Emergent Spirituality 791 in seminary.)