Sunday, 7 November 2010

Wondering whether I'm a Christian hipster . . . !

I've been reading Brett McCracken's critique of the emerging/cool/lefty Christian movement in the US over the last few days - Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Colide (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010). There've been plenty of critiques of the emerging church over the past few years, the most far reaching being Don Carson's pretty scathing, Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church (2005), but McCracken's book has the decided advantage of being written by a self-professed cool hipster Christian, so its the critique of an insider, and therefore all the more insightful for that.

So am I a hipster Christian - umm, well, I doubt it!

So what does a hip Christian look like? Well McCracken defines them by what they like. They like music, movies and books, Christian or not, well respected by their artistic communities. Thomas a Kempis, C. S. Lewis, Stanley Hauerwas, Jim Wallis, N. T. Wright all figure prominently. They loved movies and music (one good thing about reading the book is that I've discovered Sufjan Stevens' music - more of that in a later blog perhaps).They love acting Catholic,and are often fascinated by Eastern Orthodoxy. They love poetry readings, worshipping with candles, good wine, smoking a lot, breaking taboos - like dressing accordign to the latest trends, and in some cases more unusually, getting tattoos, and buying organic food! They like working for churches, or other non-profit charitable organisations. You get the picture . . .

The book has three main parts. In the first McCracken gives a history of 'cool', non-Christian and Christian, tracing it all the way back to the Enlightenment - surprise, surprise!! He then describes what contemporary Christian cool looks like, before rounding off the discussion with a lengthy personal critique. However, I couldn't help but feel that the book actually blurred its categories at times. Much of the book discusses the various champions of emerging Christianity and its multiplicity of spin-offs, but then McCraken seems to want to talk in more general terms about Christianity and coolness. These are surely two very different things? This is exemplifed in the place given to Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church in Seattle. For McCracken, Driscoll is certainly hip and cool, but where Driscoll departs from the emerging conversation is in his adoption of a very uncool theology - Calvinism, complementarianism, and an unshakable confidence in that very uncool method of communication, preaching. Driscoll dresses up old theology in contemporary clothes, but its still very traditional theology. The emerging crowd by contrast says that it's the theology and message that needs redefining to connect with the twenty-first century hipster crowd. This is surely the thinking behind Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis (2006) and much of the writing of Brian McClaren. Can Calvinism and th emerging conversation both be cool? Maybe what seems cool on the surface is just that . . . cool on the surface.

I thought, though, that McCracken's final section where he offers some critique of the hipster Christianity phenomenon was the most valuable part of the book. For this assessement he has come in for some stick, especially for his apparently simple conclusion that what hipsters are really after is just 'authenticity', the form that that 'authenticity' takes matters very little. But that would be to underestimate the extent or perceptiveness in McCracken's critique. In his assessment McCraken shows a large indebtedness to David Wells, The Courage to be Protestant: Truth-lovers, Marketers and Emergents in the Postmodern World (2008), which is no bad thing. He ends up offering a series of pretty far-reaching criticisms: the 'goal of becoming a cool church almost always costs more than it is worth and frequently results in an inadvertently uncool Christianity' (p. 190). Christianity and cool may actually be mutually exclusive he says in one place (p. 191). Christiantity is much more radical than trendy hipness. Christianity is only cool, he argues, when it celebrates all thats good because its good, not cool; when its focussed on Jesus, not Jesus as a way of reinforcing our individuality; when its different from the world, not breathlessly trying to catch it up, and when its willing to say no to sin. McCracken concludes:

The desire to be cool, hip, fashionable, and recognized . . . its all a vain pursuit and a waste of time. It comes from a very human place, but its a distraction and a self destructing futility. Our instinct towards cool will only be satisfied in Christ. As new creations, saved by grace and guided by the Holy Spirit, we are called to lives of selflessness and love and renewal. Here - in service of Christ and with God as the centre and core of our being - our identities become more fully realized than we've ever known (p. 247).

Now that's Christian cool . . . . !!

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