Monday, September 6, 2010

On Hipster Christianity

I was amazed to find that my friend and fellow writer Carson had recently posted about "Hipster Christianity" as a movement.


I read an article (which I am unable to find) about "Hipster Christianity" a few months ago and proceeded to write a bitter post about it, which I subsequently deleted without posting. What follows is perhaps a more measured set of thoughts regarding this "movement." Perhaps.

I use the word movement loosely for two reasons.

Firstly, the Emerging Church seems to have been the previous "movement" in Christianity, and it lasted perhaps 5 years, if that. Though my exposure to Christian subculture has been to a small community of conservatives for the most part, it seems like most people missed the point entirely of the Emerging Church when it was around. Indeed, when I can read an article citing Rob Bell's book "SexGod" as an example of Hipster Christianity and as shock value, when Bell was previously lumped in with the Emerging Church, it seems like we're talking about nothing of substance, more than people moving from one fashionable thing to another. If I remember correctly, the point of the Emerging Church was for Christians to embrace those around them, to listen instead of reacting and respond with understanding, as opposed to the knee-jerk represented so often in pop-culture that is sadly typical of many religious people. Has this movement died? Has it institutionalized already? I have observed very few people in my time in Christian subculture that responded to Emerging and newer writers that challenged the "status queue" (rather new itself, relatively speaking, even if we're speaking of Luther), and only a few reactions. Some chose to say that Postmodernism is dead and that the Emerging Church is irrelevant to anything, some chose to call the Emerging Church heresy for no good reason that I could find, and still others simply bought it, hook line and sinker, with obviously no understanding of what it is. This third reaction leads me to my second point.

"Hipster Christianity" seems to me to be the logical extension of those that liked the Emerging Church without understanding the Philosophical background and the reason it existed. There are now multiple stereotypes of a hipster Christian, and another subculture within a subculture has formed. This is not a movement, this is a subculture. A movement implies change, a subculture is a binding force with social acceptance at the center. Movements frequently operated counter to social acceptance, and in general are seeking truth in some way.

Hipsters have been around for a while, and it's just a new word for people that enjoy fashionable things. This is fine, let them do what they like. But to call this thing a "movement" seems sadly indicative of the lack of intellectual freedom and critical thought present in not just a lot of Christianity, but in many that choose to throw their support behind things without thinking about it.

I'll not doomsay our culture, for I have no authority to make predictive claims that will put my foot in my mouth later. However, I am understandably dissatisfied with a subculture that would make things that are intended to arouse critical thought, such as the work of Rob Bell, into a mere fashion statement, and denigrate critical thought to the level of merely being contrary. It is understandably frustrating to me, having had my life literally changed by reading the work of Bell and others like him.

In conclusion, I do believe the Emerging Church movement is completely dead, and has been dying a slow death for some time, culminating in this "Hipster Christianity" fad. Or perhaps my age is finally beginning to show. Either way, I can only look to those people that do still practice critical thinking and choose to respond to circumstances rather than reacting without seeing or understanding. Perhaps one day I'll return to church because of those people.

Comment is invited. If you know more than I do about this, please feel free to share.


  1. Well, I suppose I ought reply to this...

    Here goes the stream of consciousness approach:

    - You said the Emerging Church only lasted 5 years, or 2005. Really? Mars Hill started in '99. Seems to me the movement's dates back to at least the late '90s.
    - The Emerging Church was started by Gen Xers, but was late in the game for them. So it seems natural to me that there's going to be some blurring between them and Millennials.
    - I wouldn't say the Emerging Church movement died. I would say it's in recession and is becoming institutionalized, but not necessarily in a negative way. Like the Jesus People movement, its spirit is becoming part of the Church. (I admit my *very* limited perspective on that one.)
    - I think the same is true of Postmodernism. It's in recession as an intellectual movement, but has become part of society. I wouldn't say it's dead so much as it just is.
    - "'Hipster Christianity' seems to me to be the logical extension of those that liked the Emerging Church without understanding the Philosophical background and the reason it existed." Interesting point. Agreed.
    - Is hipster Christianity a formal movement? Perhaps not. I guess that's a question of what qualifies as a movement. But it's certainly reflective of a generational shift, I think. And whenever there's a generation shift, movements seem to inevitably come out of that. The reason I use the term is because I perceive that a recasting of Christianity is taking place. It doesn't seem to be unified by popular leaders, institutions, published materials, or the like, but it does seem to contain this transcendent cultural ethos that I've sensed all around the country among Millennials who've come from an evangelical background of some sort. Maybe my use of the term reveals too loose a definition, but that's why I described it as a movement.
    - I would also point out that movement are notoriously difficult to identify on the front end. In retrospect historians and sociologists look back and are able to discern clear patterns and characteristics, but that's because, as they say, hindsight is 20/20. Things tend to be a confusing blur when you're in the midst of it. I think that Brett McCracken is trying to do is the difficult task of pioneering the identification of Millennial Christians' religious perceptions and practices, much like Robert Webber did with Gen Xers whom he described as "the younger evangelicals" and eventually became the emerging movement. My take is that it's tough work that will undoubtedly require revision, correction, and nuance down the road, but I think these discussions remain important even if they're clear as mud.
    - When I describe a movement, my schema is not only something that people rally behind but a cultural shift that is more implicit... Already much of said that, basically. Just trying to clarify...
    - I'm beginning to see the Emerging Church as the bird that laid the "Hipster Christianity" egg, if you will. What hatches from that would require prophetic insight.
    - I truly hope someday your wounds will have healed enough that you'll be able to search out and find a church that Yancey would describe as a "grace-filled community," and from there I hope there the Holy Spirit will complete the healing. For now, I hope there are some professing Christians who you can gravitate toward even if it's from afar.

  2. Good points I think. Not really sure how right either of us are on these particular points regarding the progression of Christianity and the movements in question in particular, though I will say I was guesstimating with the Emerging Church's time period.

    If there is one thing that is clear, it's that Christianity has an identity crisis on its' hands, and I think one that's been a long time coming.

    As for my wounds and their influence on my writing, I doubt I could very well explain where I am in a mere comment, but I am working on another post regarding religion that you may want to read if you're interested. For now, I'll say that I would not have written this post if I remained in the apathy I was in upon graduating from TFC. Don't get me wrong, I'm still bitter and angry, and I still feel rejected by most of Christianity, but I care, which is quite different from how I was a few months ago. So maybe that's something, even if it hurts.

  3. Movements and their labels come and go. As a Catholic, I choose my confirmation name after the infamous Pope Alexander IV. Alternately driven by the writings of Ayn Rand, JRR Tolkien and Carlos Castaneda, I abandoned Christianity as I pursued as hedonistic a lifestyle as I could afford. This soon grew tiresome and the self-destructive tendencies of my temperament, overly dangerous. I came into contact by means of the ubiquitous tract distributing door to door evangelism with the Agape Force.
    A charismatic offshoot of the Jesus People Movement, I was impressed by their creativity, intelligence, and sincerity. The tract was a version I can't find now of the following MLK quote, "A voice out of Bethlehem two thousand years ago said that all men are equal....Jesus of Nazareth wrote no books; he owned no property to endow him with influence. He had no friends in the courts of the powerful. But he changed the course of mankind with only the poor and the despised." Not knowing until very recently that it was an MLK quote, the revolutionary part resonated very strongly with me. So, I got "saved." Water baptism, evidence of speaking in tongues... My wife, who had just had our son, thought I had lost my mind!!

    Fast forward through 20 or 30 years. Now a good Christian husband with a good Christian wife ( married @ FBC of Woodville, TX ). Attended a variety of churches from interdenominational to Southern Baptist and AOG. I worked 65+ hours a week as a potato chip route sales guy, we home schooled our son for several years, and father and son bonded over the latest "Hard CCM" music , KSBJ's "LifeForce" radio show, and church concerts by Prayer Chain, Starflyer 59, Rez Band et al. My wife got her MS in Psychology and began practice as a professional counselor. For a vast array of reasons, we were "out of fellowship" for most of this time (actually, still are). In 2007 my "career" with Frito-Lay came to an end and my wife found it difficult to work due to health concerns and some nasty stuff going on at LU. (

    That brings me to the near present. Through facebook I reconnected with the Jesus People by way of Jon Trott, connected with Carson Clarke and his circle, became made aware of the Emerging Church, saw that "nothing is new under the sun" Ecc 1:9. Yet, felt optimism.

    Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
    Man never Is, but always To be blest:
    The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
    Rests and expatiates in a life to come.
    -Alexander Pope,

    Yourself, Carson and facebook friends indicated that intellect was not dead. Across different spectrum the desire and search for a fuller knowledge of Christ was alive and well. Many are still in seeker mode. "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." KJV Phil 2:12 An interactive dialog, a crowdsourcing of truth that transcends the boundaries of denomination and philosophies. There will always be a flow back and forth, at times reaching fondly back into the past then lurching forward as new concepts or revelations become manifest. "Life is a journey, not a destination..." R W Emerson A journey filled with trials and disappointments , that I will not deny. Daily, the light manages to break through the clouds. "To be without desires, is to be content. " Lau Tzu
    So, do not be overly concerned about the power or validity of the movements of the day or the clarion calls for revival. Continue in your fervency to actualize your experience, tap into that which is manifest to be true by your understanding of scripture and the engagement of your rational mind. Do not too quickly abandon that which your heart is telling you, and avoid falling into despair. Realize that seasons of grief are unavoidable &necessary. One thing my Catholic upbringing instilled in me is that life is a mystery. One filled with the passion of discovery is the means by which we hold on to a semblance of sanity.

  4. Thanks for sharing. Certainly an interesting story you have there, and one that is not through changing it seems. It's interesting to me that your wife is a psychotherapist (traditional?), since that's sort of my degree as well.

    Indeed, I agree regarding movements being transitory things. Thank you for the encouragement.

  5. Yes traditional, Her degree is a Masters of Science. So no faux degree in Education or Social Work. (Marsilia, Stephanie Whigham. Measuring the effect of touch and close proximity. MS, dissertation, Lamar University, Beaumont, Texas 1998. )

    Always glad to encourage you young guys. You have much more to offer and I'm privileged to be able to keep tabs on your thoughts.

  6. I apologize to previous commenters whose comments I will not read because they are really long and I believe they deserve more than just a brief skim of the first few lines to understand. So if I repeat, just ignore me.

    I know this wasn't the purpose of the post, but this is the closest thing to a definition I've been able to get out of anybody regarding what the heck the Emergent Church really was and was about. I guess it makes sense that defining it makes it susceptible to institutionalization and "just doing it" because it's written in the rules, which is exactly what Emergent Church leaders and followers wanted to avoid. Now that it is "dead" it is easier to define because nobody will get offended or upset or tell you not to define it.

    That said, thank you Dan, for the definition. I have been waiting some three or so years to understand what Emergent Church was supposed to mean.

    Also, just the word "hipster" makes my spine shiver and my skin crawl. I like fashion and being fashionable, however I have always encountered the hipster culture as liking only things nobody knows about, and then abandoning them once they become popular. It seems that this is done in an attempt to appear and even be a cut above the rest of popular culture. It seems about superiority and sadly, this sounds a lot like the church that so many have been scorned by. How sad. I wonder how often I buy into it.

    "I'M a Christian and I'M going to heaven. Are YOU?

    "I've got Jesus in my heart. You need Jesus in yours."

    I kinda lost my train of thought and where I was going with this, so, uhhhh.... Good job Dan, you're smart and using that smartness to make specialness and junk. :D