Brett McCracken’s new book Hipster Christianity is generating a lot of discussion on the web and among the under-40 crowd of Christians, both the hip and the decidedly un-hip. Coming from a neo-Calvinist background, I am always interested in discussions about the intersection of faith and culture.
So,out of curiosity, I took the Hipster Christianity quiz (http://www.hipsterchristianity.com/quiz.php) and found out that I score rather high on the Hipster scale, which I found a bit puzzling because “hipster” is hardly a term that I, or anyone that knows me, would use to describe me. By my own admission, I am decidedly up-hip. While I do enjoy reading N.T. Wright and Rob Bell I also find a couple of old Dutch guys (Bavinck and Berkouwer) to be quite cool, in their own way. I am committed to social justice not because it is trendy, but because of the work of organizations like Citizens for Public Justice and my denomination’s “Office of Social Justice”. I smoke the occasional cigar and drink beer not because of peer pressure, but because I find great pleasure in smoking and drinking. I prefer to use the NRSV, both in print and on my i-Phone, because I think it is the best English translation of the Bible available. My knowledge of clothing trends is a result of being a youth pastor, not because of a personal fashion sense. I am sympathetic to the “Emerging Church Movement” because it raises some very important questions about North American Evangelicalism, not because it appeals to my generational preferences. My voting preferences are pragmatic not reactionary. I have never listened to a Sufjan Stevens song because I am partial to heavy metal. While I understand McCracken’s grid for how I qualify as a Hipster Christian, I am a bit puzzled as to why I qualify as a hipster Christian. Why do these things in and of themselves make me a Hipster Christian especially since my preference for them is not based on the criteria as outlined in the book? Am I simply a product of my age and culture? Am I merely a passive and uncritical consumer of “cool Christianity”? I would think to think I’m not; apparently, McCracken would disagree.
Although the quiz is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, having read and listened to interviews with McCracken as he promotes his book, I not entirely sure that the quiz is solely designed to be simply a humorous exercise. It seems as though there is something else afoot – either a clever marketing strategy or a means of making me repent from my hipster ways. The quiz has diagnosed me as a Hipster Christian and McCracken has the remedy to this newly discovered disease. Or does he?
To be honest, his approach seems to be the same old evangelical habits of binary thinking and the creation of straw men (does using the term “binary thinking” make me a hipster?). As rhetorical and heuristic devices they have their place. However, McCracken doesn’t seem to use them solely in this way; he really believes there is such a thing as a Hipster Christian and that the Hipster Christian is damaging Evangelicalism. He even goes as far to identify himself as a Hipster Christian (however, he would also classify himself as one of the few “authentic” hipsters as opposed to all the “wannabe” hipsters). And yet, those who fall into the wannabe pigeonhole seem to reject this label. Tony Jones comes to mind and his tirade of tweets using the hash-tag #notahipxian to provide evidence that he is not, contrary to McCracken, a hip Christian (I believe you Tony!). McCracken’s strategy is nothing more than anti-thetical critique – set up a straw man as the object of criticism, say a few nice words and then lay complete waste to it. This is an uncharitable and even lazy form of critique that fails to constructively engage with those with whom one disagrees. It seems as though McCracken has the Emerging Church Movement in his sights and as an under-30 evangelical wants to dismantle the EMC for good in a way that the old guard (D.A. Carson, John Piper, Al Mohler, el. al.) have been unable to. The critique of one’s peers holds more weight than the critique of some older suit-wearing guys; McCracken finds himself in good company with Kevin deYoung and Ted Cluck in their distaste for all things “hipster”, “emergent” or “radical”. Pigeonholing is always an effective way to rally the troops around a shared enemy, even though, in reality, there is no one to fit the description. The imposing of labels on someone as a means of critique is nothing more than a form intellectual bullying. But it certainly helps sell books…
So, how effective is McCracken’s critique? According to these reviewers, not very.