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Introducing: Christian Hipsters

I am writing a book about Christian hipsters. It’s a book I’ve been thinking about for years, planning in my head, and “researching” by every means necessary. I signed the contract with Baker Books in September, and since then I’ve been visiting churches throughout the country, seeking to understand “cool Christianity” in all of its skinny-jean, big-haired glory.

Over Christmas break, I picked up the new Welcome Wagon album. For those who don’t know, Welcome Wagon is a Brooklyn duo made up of an admitted hipster Presbyterian minister and his wife. The album is produced by Sufjan “Christian hipster icon” Stevens, and it is super nerdy and ironic and earnest and cool. The album came out on December 9 and promptly made my top ten of the year.

On December 28, I visited Jacob’s Well church in Kansas City, one of the hippest congregations in America. On the way to the church, I made a tongue-in-cheek comment about how the worship band would probably eventually start playing Welcome Wagon songs. Sure enough, one of the first songs we sang that night at Jacob’s Well was the Welcome Wagon version of the nineteenth century hymn “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed.” I was giddy. Was the pipeline of Christian hipster subculture really this efficient? A mere two weeks after the album is released, and it’s already showing up in the repertoire of hipster churches in the Midwest? What does that mean?

It’s the kind of thing that makes me happy I’m writing a book about all this.

In 2009, as I’m writing and researching this study of cool Christianity, and talking with pastors and visiting churches all over the country, I will be sharing bits and pieces of it with you on this blog. I’ll start by sharing an excerpt from the article that started it all in September 2005–“A New Kind of Hipster”—which I wrote for Relevantmagazine.com: 

The new generation of “cool” Christians recognize that copycat subculture is a backward step for the Church, but unfortunately the alternative requires a creative trailblazing for which most are far too tepid. Thus, we’ve settled for a reactionary relevance—a state of “cool” that is less about forging ahead with the new than distancing ourselves from the old. We know we do not want to be the stodgy, bigoted, bad-taste Christians from the pages of Left Behind. We are certain we do not want to propagate Christianity through catch phrases and kitsch, and we are dead set against preaching a white, middle-class Gospel to the red-state choir. Perhaps most of all we are tired of burning records, boycotting Disney and shunning Hollywood. We know exactly what the relevant new Christianity must not be—boring, whitewashed, schmaltzy—but we feign to understand just what we should be instead.

The problem with the Christian hipster phenomenon is not as superficial as the clothes we wear, the music we download or the artistic movies we see, nor is it that we exist largely as a reaction against something else. No. The problem is that our identity as people of Christ is still skin-deep, that our image and thinking as progressives does not make up for the fact that we still do not think about things as deeply as we should. The Christian hipster pretends to be more thoughtful or intellectual than the Podunk fundamentalist, but are we really? We accept secular art and (gasp!) sometimes vote for a liberal candidate, but do we really think harder because we are “hip”? I don’t think so.

OK, so I concede this: Evangelical culture needed to be rebelled against, and the result is at least a step in the right direction. But our generation must be careful to remember that we were never called to be a cool subset of the larger culture. We are to be a counterculture—in and not of the world, accepting yet not acquiescent, flexible but not compromising, progressive though not by the world’s standards. True relevance is not about making faith fit into a hipster sphere as opposed to a fundamentalist box. True relevance is seeking the true faith that transcends all boxes and labels.


Comments

Hey Brett: Great piece.

One line stood out to me...

"Evangelical culture needed to be rebelled against, and the result is at least a step in the right direction."

I think it is this posture for change that can be a petri dish for reactivity. The moment we are "rebelling against" rather than "improving upon" we run the risk of disgarding both the good and the bad. This appears to be a historical tendency that frequently results in Christians starting from scratch separately rather than working through differences and improving together. Maybe today's Christians (of all generations working together) can break that cycle.

I look forward to reading your book.

I don't know Joan, I'd have to disagree. I don't think one can improve upon the Christian subculture, or make it better. I think the very nature of it makes it impossible to improve. Nothing about it, from my perspective, works to engage culture effectively. Wouldn't the only way to improve it be to counter it (or perhaps more harshly, rebel against it)? One has to start from scratch.

And Brett, as an admitted Christian hipster along with some of my good friends, you're definitely one of the first, if not THE first to group us all together as such a pin-point demographic. You're book could be huge. But are you at all fearful that you're making a huge generalization? You've done more research than I have, but are the majority of these hipsters really trading a reactionary, surface lifestyle for deep, life-transforming theology. I know my friends, who are unsatisfied with the subculture, enjoy sufjan, and indie films are also incredibly deep people who care deeply about theology and are actively working it out in their day to day lives. Now, granted, my friends include you =)

Hey CJ: Just wondering how you define "the Christian subculture."

Stephen Baldwin.

haha, no. Besides the big 4 (Books, Music, Film & TV), the best way I can define that is with a quote from Mike Erre's new book:

"For many the revolutionary Jesus has been replaced by the garage sale Jesus. The term "Christian was originally a noun; now it's also an adjective. We have Christian pocketknives, pens, purses, T-shirts, potpourri, board games, Halloween costumes, suckers, chocolates, bandages (with a picture of Jesus on them so "cuts heal faster"), wrapping paper, dog collars, energy drinks ("infused with the fruit of the spirit") fans, key chains, calculators, watches, staplers, golf balls, jelly beans, MP3 players, bath salts, breath mints, bubble gum, lighters, guitar picks, tennis shoes, air fresheners, poker chips, yo-yos, socks, soap, moisturizing lotion, shea butter repair cream, tea, belt buckles, candles, sunglasses, nail clippers, water bottles, protein bars ("inspired by Scripture"), underwear, bottled water, packing tape, perfume, shot glasses, coffee filters, acne medication (effective because it contains "powerful faith Scriptures and a victory prayer") tire rims, alarm clocks, tire gauges, and...Christian hair-growth products!"

When we came back to the US after spending several years working at a mission hospital in the Muslim world, I walked around a "Christian" bookstore and saw the kind of items you list above. It made me sick and angry to see these things. Christianity is seeing your brother banished from home, imprisoned, tortured for his faith, escaping to exile as a refugee, never to see his family again. Then feeling the irresistable pull of the Holy Spirit to come to that same faith. Christianity is having your property stolen without legal redress, being tortured, imprisoned and/or killed for one's faith, driven into hiding in the hills, having one's children endangered and impoverished and counting it as gain because of the incomparable value of what has been received through Christ. It is not buildings, songs, "culture," pastors, church staff, performing artists, literature, graphic arts, big hair or little hair, hip clothing or rags. Christianity is a relationship wth the Rock of our Salvation.
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On December 28, I visited Jacob’s Well church in Kansas City, one of the hippest congregations in America. On the way to the church, I made a tongue-in-cheek comment about how the worship band would probably eventually start playing Welcome Wagon songs. Sure enough, one of the first songs we sang that night at Jacob’s Well was the Welcome Wagon version of the nineteenth century hymn “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed.” I was giddy.1 3 dimethylamylamine powder

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did i used the word right ????

and btw oxymoron means : something that comes in sharp contrast in an otherwise good defined thing

to the example , the teacher is the good defined thing that it should be able to call words right but in contrast of her profesional she speaks like an 18months imigrant ,

midnight sun is by no means an oxymoron. It is a perfectly natural thing that happens every day of the year. Half of the year it happens on the north pole, and half on the south pole. Plus it extends away form the poles the closer to midsummer/midwinter you get, until it reaches the north/south polar circle

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About
Brett currently works full-time for Biola University as managing editor for Biola magazine. He also writes movie reviews for Christianity Today and contributes frequently to Relevant magazine.


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