Last year Brett McCracken caused a stir when he wrote about a growing trend within the Church called hipster Christianity. I got a huge kick out of it, because he pretty much described me down to a T. Finally last month Brett's book Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide came out, and it can best be described in just one word:
What could have been either a hilarious satire of a current fad, or a thought-provoking look at churches trying to be relevant to culture, turns out to be just an okay musing on elite hipster snobs. I've read Brett's stuff in Relevant Magazine, so I know he's really a good writer. This book, unfortunately, ends up being a misguided attempt to seriously examine how the Church should respond to culture.
For starters, the book starts off on the wrong foot. In the first two chapters, Brett goes through the "history of hip," which includes the French bohemian poets, the Beat generation, the hippie movement of the sixties, and the current hipster trend. I understand Brett's just trying to provide some background, but I really didn't think it was necessary. Besides, in these chapters he basically suggests that being cool is just a selfish ambition to be better than everyone else.
Things start to pick up when he talks about the Jesus People movement of the '60s, and how that led to the current hipster Christian trend. He goes on to explain what defines a Christian hipster: they prefer Sufjan Stevens over Michael W. Smith, N.T. Wright over Joel Osteen, liturgy over megachurches, and Wes Anderson movies over Fireproof. He also devotes chapters to social justice and the Emerging Church movement . . . which is where the book goes downhill again.
Brett suggests that the emerging church movement is just about making Christianity cool, and the current interest in social justice is just a fad. I disagree. While there are plenty of Christians who talk about fighting poverty but don't actually do anything about it (I can be like this sometimes), I know a lot of other Christians who really are committed to social justice. They're not trying to be hip and cool; they've actually held children in their arms as they died from AIDS. As far as the emerging church movement, while I understand why some Christians disagree with some of the theological views of Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt, they are not just trying to make Jesus hip and cool. The emerging church is about rethinking what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st century. I've interviewed both McLaren and Pagitt, and I feel they really are committed to being the salt and light of the world.
Now Brett does get one thing right. During the final third of the book, he talks about churches that try way too hard to be cool. We all know the type: the pastor makes awkward references to "Desperate Housewives" and Paris Hilton, the youth group has an "X-treme Faith" theme, lots of laser lights and smoke machines, etc. So how can churches be cool without overdoing it? Brett says it's pretty simple: just stay true to the Gospel.
By the end of the book, I couldn't help but wonder, "So what?" Maybe he should have taken his own advice and focused more on authenticity than a passing fad.