Hipster Christianity

“Hipsters reject the purpose-driven megachurch and McMansion evangelicalism, and long for a simpler, back to basics faith that is more about serving the poor than serving Starbucks in the church vestibule”    If you didn’t see the article in Christianity Today (9/2010) about Hipster Christianity, its helpful for understanding a growing subset of Christian churches who primarily aim at the under-50 crowd:  The author is Brett McCraken, and he knows what he is talking about because he has a book out on Christian Hipsters.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/september/9.24.html  

Authentic transformational engagement with the world is a priority for Christian hipsters, many of whom grew up in suburban megachurches where there were no poor, environmental concerned was considered a form of idolatry, and not drinking or smoking were considered more important than helping those with AIDS.  McCracken suggests a few identifying points of a hipster church:

  • Does it have a on-word name that is either a Greek word or something evocative of creation?
  • Does the pastor frequently use words like kingdom, authenticity, justice and drop names like N.T. Wright in sermons
  • Does the church advertise a gluten-free option for communion?

McCracken says a lot of churches are doing the following to make sure their church can check off the important items on the hipster checklist”:

  • get church involved in social justice and creation care
  • show clips from films during services
  • sponsor church outings to microbreweries
  • have the worship pastor decked in clothes from American Apparel
  • be okay with cussin
  • print bulletins on recycled cardstock
  • use Helvetica fonts as much as possible
  • be on facebook and twitter

As for christian hipsters themselves, McCracken describes them:

  • drink beer
  • get tattoos, have luberjack beards, vintage dresses
  • ride fixed-gear bikes
  • reat raw and organic foods
  • take interest in environment, AIDS and globalization

  The theology of hipsters McCracken describes:

  • preaching emphasizes covenantal and ‘new creation’ ideas, attempting to construc a more ecclesiological or community-centric view of salvation (somewhat more Catholic, seeing the Christian Church’s role as one of renewing the world and healing and restoring it, and seeing that as a task for the Church as a community of grace to the world)
  • less focus on soul-winning and heaven, more focus on renewing the broken creation.  McCracken says, “Thus, the world matters.  It’s not a piece of rotting kindling that we will abandon for heaven one day.  Its the site of a renewed kingdom.”

This edgy feel leads  hipster pastors to talk about some things we don’t always hear about from the pulpit: “One thing we can fairly say of hipster Christianity is that it frequently strives for shock value.”  As an example, McCracken mentions a sermon he heard while visiting Seattle’s Mars Hill Church “A Christian Hipster Mecca pastored by Mark Driscoll, the polarizing Howard Stern of neo-Calvinist Christianity” :

“Driscoll’s message was on the Dance of Mahanaim in the Song of Solomon (an “ancient striptease,” as he referred to it, and “one of the steamiest passages int he Bible”). During his sermon, Driscoll…talked about how wives should be ‘”visually generous” with their husbands (e.g., they should keep the lights on when undressing and during sex).  I never thought I’d hear a preacher talk about these things from the pulpit.  And that’s exactly the point.”

Hipster Christianity is, like the Jesus People of the 60’s and 70’s, trying to provide an authentic faith without facade or unneccessary restraints of tradition.  But questions arise about what restraints there are distinguishing the life of these Christians from their non-Christian-hipster counterparts.  Of course these hipsters are singing songs– often hymns instead of megachurch praise choruses– and trying to figure out how to live their lives to serve Christ.  Like at any church, some go for the social aspect, sure, but there is a genuine desire to be relevant to culture in a way they feel their parents churches were not.  McCracken writes,

“Christian hipsters are rebelling against a mainstream Christianity that they see as too indistinguishable from secular mainstream culture (i.e., consumerist, numbers-driven, Fox News-watching, immigrant-hating, SUV-driving), but their corrective may not turn out much better.  Some hipster Christianity is as indistinguishable from its secular hipster counterpart as yesterday’s megachurch Christianity was indistinguishable from secular soccer-mom suburbia”

These are tough words from McCracken, but he does genuinely see Hipster Christianity as a subset of contemporary Christianity with promise:

“The challenge for hipster Christians is to figure out what it means, in their cultural context, to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:24). We are new creations, and the old has passed away (2 Cor 5:17). How does that mesh with the Pabst-guzzling, Parliament-smoking nonchalant image that seems important to many hipsters?”

These are important questions to ask.  It is one thing to demonstrate lives lived in the Freedom of Christ– but we must always ask– to what end?   On the other hand, we have to acknowledge the way in which a lot of the hipster churches at least have goals of being more relevant, more transformational, and less insular and cut off from the world around us.  In that sense they are truly evangelical– engaging culture with the message and life of Christ.  But they are not doing this in street evangelism or tract-handouts, but rather through trying to be more involved with the poor and needy, cultural problems and environmental stewardship issues.  Another thing to consider is that there are non believers who come to these hipster churches who in many cases would never have otherwise entered a church.  If the hipster church is their gateway into a real Christian walk and knowledge of God, then praise be to God.

May God have mercy on us all, no matter how hip or unhip we are…

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