Brett McCracken has written a book called Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. I haven’t read it but I have read excerpts and commentary on it. James Smith has read it, though, and is a bit critical. He seems to find McCracken’s critique of Hipster Christianity “a jaded ethnography written by someone who spent a youth-group-lifetime trying to be one of the cool kids.” Ouch. Essentially, Smith claims that McCracken seems to think that someone would only adopt the hipster lifestyle if the point was the ever elusive quest for cool. But…
The Christian hipsters I know are pursuing a way of life that they (rightly) believe better jives with the picture of flourishing sketched in the biblical visions of the coming kingdom. They have simply discovered a bigger gospel: they have come to appreciate that the good news is an announcement with implications not only for individual souls but also for the very shape of social institutions and creational flourishing. They have come to appreciate the fact that God is renewing all things and is calling us to ways of life that are conducive to social, economic, and cultural flourishing as pictured in the eschatological glimpses we see in Scripture. They resonate with all of this, not because it’s cool, but because it’s true.
I can’t help but think there is some impulse to be cool going on with both McCracken and Smith. It actually starts with the culture of cool. Then the evangelicals try to ape it. Then the McCrackens of the world, who used to contribute to the aping, critique the aping. Then the Smiths of the world critique the critiquing. That’s actually how cool works: buck the trend. At the risk of contributing more mirrors upon mirrors and maybe sharing the impulse to be cool, I have a critique of Smith.
Evidently, there are hipsters who are way more genuine, more than just posers. I have some sympathy for this point. I once had a college professor who, having come up through the ranks of the late sixties, was probably the only real hippie I ever knew during the early nineties when sixties hippiedom was being warmed over. One sign was that he never really fit in with all the posers who adored him. He was a homesteader who laughed at John Denver’s poser idea of homesteading and was generally an epitome of individualism that seemed to elude the group-think of the posers. Still, the problem for me isn’t that someone like McCracken doesn’t account for genuine hipsters, but rather that those that Smith does account for sound a lot like those transformationalists who are guilty of immanentizing the eschaton. The genuine Christian hipsters that Smith approvingly describes seem to think that heaven implies earth and that the gospel has some direct bearing on or obvious implication for worldly cares, which is not too unlike my genuine hippie professor’s utopian notions of world order. True enough, there is a qualitative difference between genuine articles and mere posers. But when the genuine articles are said to have discovered a “bigger gospel” than the rest of us and it is suggested that it implies ways for temporal human flourishing I hear the Teacher saying, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” So much for bucking trends.