Hipster Christianity and the Brethren in Christ

(Courtesy of BakerBooks.com)

Last year, Baker Books published Brett McCracken’s Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. According to the publisher’s website, the book provides “a thorough examination and nuanced critique of an increasingly prevalent but under-studied incarnation of contemporary Christianity: the Christian hipster.” The book was a major success, garnering a Christianity Today cover story and several best-book-of-the-year nods.

But just what constitutes a “Christian hipster”? In a review of the book recently published in In Part, the official Brethren in Christ magazine, Jeff Miller offers this definition:

“Christian hipsters” . . . [are] young people in the Church today who embrace certain shared values and attitudes. For one, fashion and art are huge among Christian hipsters. Skinny jeans and scarves are common, while listening to tunes from Sufjan Stevens and U2 is almost required. They celebrate a wide array of artistic forms and appreciate the works of authors like Ron Sider, N.T. Wright, and Anne Lamott.

Christian hipsters aren’t big fans of altar calls and door-to-door evangelism, and they tend to look up to people like Shane Claiborne, Mark Driscoll, Donald Miller, and Rob Bell. Theologically, they often resonate with parts of the emergent church conversation and to the idea of missional living, which centers on living for God’s kingdom right now. Consequently, they are known for being passionate about social justice issues, such as poverty and creation care.

More on hipster Christianity and its connections to the Brethren in Christ Church, after the jump.

After this definition, Miller — a Brethren in Christ pastor — offers an honest personal assessment of the movement:

To be honest, in many ways, I was hearing McCracken describe me. These were the things I was passionate about, the people I respected and read, and the things that I did or didn’t like. I soon thought, “If this was what it means to be a Christian hipster, then sign me up!” Cool never looked so good.

Elsewhere in the review, Miller admits that hipster Christianity isn’t as rosy as it seems: “. . . coolness is often undergirded by un-Christ-like traits, such as individualism, pride, vanity, and a focus on the now. If that is what cool means, then it has little room for Jesus and His kingdom.” But ultimately, he concludes, hipster Christianity is a “fresh wind that is blowing through Christianity. And though it’s a wind that has its flaws and potential hazards, it is full of Jesus and has the ability to speak to the younger generations in a powerful way. And that, I think we can all agree, is pretty cool.”

But not all Brethren in Christ pastors see hipster Christianity — and McCracken’s analysis of it — in the same light. At his blog, Rod White — pastor of Circle of Hope, a Brethren in Christ congregation in Philadelphia — admits that he shares some of the “qualities” of a Christian hipster, but takes exception to the application of the qualifier:

I suppose Circle of Hope qualifies as a hipster church, if anyone does. But I meet most of the qualifications, too: I love Thrift Stores, I have a tattoo, I’ve been known to drink (but I won’t touch a cigarette and you should stop that!), I bike, I disdain big-box Christianity, I misappropriate primitive culture at times, I like Sufjan. But I don’t have little glasses and I am not 25. Reading McCraken’s article made me feel like I might be stepping in poppycock.

It is hard to be part of a movement of God’s Spirit in your generation when the sociologists want to trace the history of your “fad” and level you out into just another interesting, predictable development of their theory. . . .

He concludes:

. . . I resent people who tag my property with their intellectual signatures. . . . We’re having our local struggle to be an authentic representation of Jesus in our here and now. I am a living example of how your tags don’t fit. I hope you are having your own life. I liked it better before you discovered how to investigate and make a buck off mine.

Read Miller’s entire review here. And check out the rest of White’s thoughts here.

Readers: What do you think? Based on the definitions above and your own experiences, does the Brethren in Christ Church harbor and/or nurture “Christian hipsters”? Is this good or bad? Share your responses in the Comments section!

About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Father to Lucas. Husband to Katie. Prof and administrator at Messiah College. PhD student at Temple University. Member of Grantham BIC.
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