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On labels, categories, and “Hipster Christianity”

Brett McCracken’s suddenly semi-controversial and certainly thought provoking book, Hipster Christianity, has been making the proverbial rounds as bloggers, editors, and book reviewers begin to consider the questions it raises and the implications of its thesis.

It seems to me they are, largely, missing the point.

For a basic introduction to the book, click here.

Fundamental to McCracken’s point is the truth that if church is too enamored with “cool” than its necessary emphasis on the gospel will be diminished. That this is true seems unarguable and so I won’t touch on it here.
Yet, McCracken’s most insistent critics, especially the always insightful and admirable Jeffrey Overstreet ( who, like McCracken, has been a film critic for Christianity Today), are primarily concerned with the idea that McCracken defines “hipsterdom” and then perhaps too broadly suggests that people who bear the characteristics that define said hipsterdom are, in fact, hipsters. In response to gospel.com, Overstreet blogged this:

I haven’t had time to read it all yet, so this isn’t a review. But the “hipster” characteristics described in the excerpts of this book I’ve read so far — the music preferences, the styles, etc — are embraced by many people I know for many reasons, many of them sincere, authentic, even admirable. To slap a label on the lot of them as if they’re all alike is, I’m afraid, misleading and damaging.

I have a problem with the logic of this criticism.

While it is true that McCracken does define the world of hipsterdom (as he should), even tracing its history and heritage and the many characteristics that most often define people who consider themselves hipsters – or are considered by others to be hipsters – such a definition does not necessarily suggest that people who bear those characteristics are always hipsters.

Overstreet is rightly saying that just because someone listens to a kind of music most hipsters listen to does not mean he is a hipster. But McCracken wouldn’t disagree. Essentially, I think the disagreement is over nothing, created ex nihilo so to speak. A fallacy, if you will. McCracken sets out to identify and report those characteristics that can be most commonly attributed to various kinds of hipsters. He doesn’t suggest that just because one has those characteristics means one is a hipster.

Overstreet specifically mentions a quiz/test on the book’s website that, in a lighthearted and, I thought, clearly ironic fashion suggests that it can help determine what kind of hipster you are. Overstreet rightly suggests that such a quiz cannot “tell me who I am.” He writes:

If I see an online quiz that claims to show me whether or not I am a “Christian hipster,” I’m going to ignore it. I don’t believe a checklist can tell me what I am, why I make the decisions I do, or whether or not I am selling out. It will probably only *encourage* [asterix his] me to look to such surveys for self-definition, to worry about what I *look* like to the culture around me.

But this surely was never the intention of the quiz. Such a tongue-in-cheek quiz, for such a book, by such an author as McCracken, is not designed to define a person. Rather, it is for someone who is interested in seeing, in a humorous way, what kind of hipster they might beaccording to the specific definitions the book presents. The flaw in Overstreets criticism, in my mind, is in the suggestion that McCracken, or his quiz, means to lump anyone into anything. After all, if you head over to the site and take the quiz, I think you will find that, with the slightest honest tweak to any number of questions, you are any number of hipster incarnations.

The book seems to have three main goals: to trace the history of the various incarnations of hipsterdom, to define what it often looks like in our current culture, and to question what role it ought to play within the culture of our churches. How can McCracken be expected to write such a book without first defining his terms according to a criteria he deems most appropriate? The fact is that there is such a thing as a so-called hipster subculture, that it is widely considered “cool,” and that is a large and ever-growing subculture within the Christian church. And as Overstreet writes in the same blog post, the discussion must be had and it should inspire us to “think about our choices, our sincerity, and our priorities.” But if it is to be had we must, we absolutely must, define out terms – something McCracken sets out to do in this book.

To that end, as a tool, labels are useful, as are categories. That’s why they exist and why they are and ought to be used. They are organizers, tools for definition (which, as Aristotle argued, is the necessary first step in any argument). And, I would argue, McCracken uses them as nothing more.

To suggest that most so-called hipsters (a term he consistently and rightly says is slippery at best) tend to like certain kinds of clothes, art, food, lifestyles, etc is no different than suggesting that most African Americans tend to vote democrat and most white evangelicals tend to vote republican. It’s fact. Statistic. Both are true, as is the fact that most hipsters prefer a specific sets of lifestyle choices. McCracken is not saying, however, that all hipsters like the same kind of music, clothes, etc., just as studies do not suggest that all African Americans voted Democrat, etc. Most do, though, and one cannot study cultural trends, as McCracken is doing, without observing the broader consistencies of a demographic.

Indeed, the fact is that the vast majority of people who listen to the Arcade Fire or The National, who wear “superfluous” scarves in the summer in LA, or who attend church in bars or clubs with coffee shops and “sex talks” tend to be a part, in some way or another, of the hipster sub-culture. To observe this is simply not the same as making a sweeping declaration about the character of the individual people who are a part of such things; it is an observation McCracken has no choice but to make and upon which he has no choice but to build his arguments.

And he is not judging the hipsters as individuals, nor is he, in point of fact, judging the movement itself so much as he is, after considering the reams of evidence such as it exists, judging the influence of modern hipsterdom on the modern church.

And he is right to do so, for if “cool” manages to overwhelm the gospel in our places of worship and community then why go there anyway? We have other places for that.

It’s not that there isn’t a place for hipster culture in our churches. But it must be just that – relegated to it’s rightful place, alongside politics, rock music, and business-savvy marketing.

What do you think? I could be wrong, no doubt.

In no way do I mean to disrespect Mr. Overstreet. I consider him my very favorite blogger and film reviewer and a leading light within the world of Christ-led art-makers. I offer my thoughts humbly and with the acknowledgment that he is much wiser than I.

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5 thoughts on “On labels, categories, and “Hipster Christianity”

  1. Stephen says:

    Very astute observations re: Overstreet critiques. However, if McCracken’s definition is SO slippery and amorphous to elide criticism of the choices that he made in defining his terms (or at least introducing them, which is what I think he’s doing), then the usefulness becomes eroded.

    In other words, if these criteria do not direct one to consideration of fitting in the category, then they’d be meaningless.

    Rather, McCracken needed to be clearer that what he’s identifying is a subculture with multiple tropes, symbols, and expressions, some of which he points out in the text. It is an indicative list, not an exclusive one.

    Now, the problem that I have is that while the ideologies behind the symbolic scarf might also connotate “cool”, that is not usually the goal with most hipsters that I know, and especially not most Christian hipsters. Rather it comes the other way around. They define themselves by the search and frustration with organized religion but don’t want to toss it out and sing praise songs all the time. So, they seek the authentic.

    In pursuit of the authentic (or at least the illusion of authenticity), they pick up these other icons of expression that have become the butt of so many jokes.

    That said, there has been, I’m sure, a cycle of the “hipster” where people, especially younger, are working from the outside in, “Hey, I like Arcade Fire,” and starting with the symbolic before (if ever) engaging with the ideological quandries at the heart of the sub-cultural values. In these cases, maybe the “coolness” is the shiny object. I don’t know.

    I’d probably be considered a Xian hipster, although I’m too fat to be cool, and when I and my friends were discovering these bands, writers, magazines, movies, etc, they were not cool. They were not a trend but rather a confluence of trends. A comic book/graphic novel friend met a vinyl nerd who lived with a programming geek, whose brother was a philosophy major who worked at a coffee store with a conceptual artist who was inspired…

    What was “cool” was the overlapping and intersecting rhizomatic network that mirrored and grew with the Internet, not the meme’s. We wore scarves because it was Chicago and cold, and no one ever bought the scarves in the Salvation Army box, so we got them cheap or someone wanted to learn to knit.

    It wasn’t planned or orchestrated. The problem that I have is that McCracken, especially in the press, fails to emphasize the discontent and legitimate reasons behind that discontent that lead for a search for alternative subcultural connections not provided by our local church.

    The question of whether the church is “cool” or “not cool” is meaningless and thus not really worth the detail and effort taken in the book. My hipster friends and I want to know what YOU (plural) are going to do to make the church authentic NOW.

  2. Thanks for taking my blog post seriously. Let me clarify a few things:

    I am a fan of Brett McCracken. Hopefully I can, while taking issue with a couple of things he’s written, still be a friend of Brett McCracken. (Friends take issue with things I’ve written all the time, and if they’re thoughtful critiques, I’m grateful!) A few years ago, I highly recommended Brett McCracken to Christianity Today’s editors in hopes that he would be given substantial assignments. (Double-checking… yep, I have those emails right here.) I think he’s a good writer and an insightful thinker. I always have. And I wish him the best.

    None of that has changed.

    The blog post you quoted was triggered by several things:

    1) The wave of marketing materials for Brett’s book

    2) The Wall Street Journal article he wrote

    3) The Christianity Today cover-story articles.

    4) A pet peeve.

    Let me start with the pet peeve. I have a few pet-peeve words.

    One of them is the word “hipster.”

    I have only ever encountered it as a put-down, a derogatory remark meant to suggest that the folks in question are more interested in the pursuit of cool than they are in authenticity and substance.

    I usually hear it as a sort of judgmental snort: “Hipster.” In other words, “Superficial. Image-conscious. Trend-slave.” (In secular circles, I rarely hear the term “hipster” without hearing a more specific term—a f@#$ing hipster.)

    Regardless of the definitions Brett describes in his book, that’s my association with the word. And I’ve heard the same from many other people.

    So, imagine how I felt when Brett’s *marketing* campaign asked me to see how I would score on a “hipster” meter?

    Imagine how I felt when friends of mind were scoring high on the “hipster” meter simply because they have a love for great literature, great music, and great movies?

    It made me very uncomfortable. I don’t want anybody looking at what inspires me and determining, “Ah, he’s one of those superficial, cool-seeking types.”

    “Types.” That’s the last thing Christians need to be making of one another.

    Imagine, then, how I felt when a high-profile Christian publication like, say, Christianity Today, published this list?

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/september/10.28.html

    Seriously.

    Look at those lists.

    Do they look “tongue-in-cheek” to you? If so, tell me where you see that.

    “Hipsters” love “Ingma Bergman,Jia Zhangke…”

    Really?

    Ingmar Bergman? I wonder how many of the people Brett calls “Christian hipsters” have seen more than one Ingmar (with an “r”) Bergman film.

    Jia Zhangke? Jia Zhangke? I encourage you to poll 100 “hipsters” in the “hipster church” of your choice and ask them to name two films by Jia Zhangke. Or even one.
    You shouldn’t have trouble finding “hipsters,” apparently, since one of their defining characteristics is that they like Shakespeare.

    Shakespeare?

    Shakespeare.

    And N.T. Wright. And Thomas Merton.

    Now, almost all theology professors and pastors I know are scoring hipster points!

    More stuff that Christian Hipsters like: C.S. Lewis. Dostoevsky.

    Wow, sounds like we’re describing Reverend Eugene Peterson, who was born in 1932, and who wrote The Message. Hipster. (By the way, I believe he also enjoys Over the Rhine. More damning evidence against him. If it turns out he also likes Annie Dillard, boy do we have him pegged!)

    In other words, this CT list gives us this list to help us understand Christian “hipsters.” It gives us a list of some of the best writers, best musicians, best filmmakers… the stuff that somebody who studies and appreciates excellence is very likely to appreciate.

    I don’t like derogatory nicknames. And I don’t like lists that will, whatever the writers intended, incline readers to associate great artists with superficiality.

    I make fumbling efforts every day to encourage people to appreciate good literature, beautiful music, and substantial filmmaking. And I feel awe and gratitude for artists like Over the Rhine, and Annie Dillard, and Krzysztof Kieslowski, who provide just that. So I am a bit put off by a list that points to these as the identifying choices of superficial, cool-seeking people. What do these lists really accomplish? How are they helpful?

    (It’s even more aggravating when you’re informed that one of the chief identifying characteristics of a hipster is that he denies he’s a hipster. Ooh. What a clever move! You’re a gerbil. Know how I know? You deny being a gerbil! What a powerful argument!)

    Anyway, if I work really really hard to believe that these “hipster profiling” lists mean anything at all, then, by these lists, 99% of the Christians who attend Seattle Pacific University, where I work, are hipsters. Including the staff and faculty.

    There’s a reason The New York Times declared the word “hipster” as dead recently.

    http://topics.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/08/17/everything-old-is-hip-again/

    Leave it to Christians to embrace a word as suddenly timely and relevant after it’s already become stale everywhere else.

    Now…

    Do I believe that there *are* Christians doing shameful things in the name of Christ simply to score “cool” points?

    YES.

    Am I dismayed by many of the *behaviors* Brett and his Christianity Today bandwagon are describing
    – the embrace of superficiality
    – the debasement of church services with crass language
    – the way Christian culture runs after whatever the world finds trendy even as it gives lip service to condemning worldliness?

    OF COURSE.

    A book that helps us address these problems is welcome, so long as it is written with great care, so as not to make damaging generalizations.

    But by slapping this label – which is widely perceived as a derogatory tag – on a group of people, and then by providing definitions that profoundly confuse the issue, the WSJ-article/CT-article combination have created a situation that will almost inevitably cause misunderstandings about Christians, their likes, and their motives. Instead of calling behavior into question, they’re stamping a Scarlet “H” on a lot of people who are seeking the substance and beauty of God in art and culture.

    Why do we need this label? What is new about any of it? Isn’t it true than in almost any social group, people will seek popularity in stupid ways? How is this a new “movement”?

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Brett arrived at a profound conclusion in his book. Remember, I think he’s a good writer. But the “Stuff Christian Hipsters Like” list might as well have listed: Milk, cheese, beef, and ice cream. Again, how is that helpful?

    By calling out Lauren Winner and Rob Bell in his WSJ article, Brett has named thoughtful, admirable believers who have inspired many and transformed lives for the better, and introduced them to the readers of the Wall Street Journal as cool-seeking shock artists just trying to make Jesus look “hip.”

    So, my admittedly heated reaction here is not a review of Brett’s book. It’s a reaction to a wave of emails, blog posts, marketing materials, and articles in the Wall Street Journal and Christianity Today, which, while they may have been well-intentioned, are bound to cause serious collateral damage. And even if they meant it tongue-in-cheek (look at that CT page again, I’m still not sensing that), I believe they’ve taken an important issue and confused it.

    Meanwhile, all of this is happening in a time when I am bombarded, daily, by invitation to take quizzes that help me define myself, discover myself, label myself, and associate myself with things that have little to do with my mind and heart. I see these endeavors as clutching at fashion accessories and making declarations about identity. We are so eager to define and judge without taking the necessary time to consider the mind and the heart.

    While calling superficiality into question, the wave of “Christian hipster” concern that came my way over the last few months has encouraged that very appearance-judging superficiality.

    I really hope that McCracken’s book ends up profoundly challenging minds and hearts. Because the confusion that the whirlwind of press around it is stirring up is going to make arriving at a clear-eyed understanding of these issues that much more necessary.

    Fortunately for Brett, the marketing campaign for his book is the epitome of attention-grabbing design trends.

    But as multiple jobs and deadlines allow me very little reading time, I tend to read what appeals to me. And the Christianity Today articles made me so sick to my stomach that the prospect of reading *more* about this subject seem really, really unpleasant. So I doubt, at this point, that I’ll end up reading the rest of the book, or reviewing it.

    I’ll leave that to you.

    Or David Dunham:
    http://www.christandpopculture.com/featured/hipster-christianity-did-you-know-that-youre-a-hipster/

    Or David Sessions:
    http://www.patrolmag.com/times/2150/brett-mccracken-hipster-christianity-review

    Or Michael Leary, who wrote:
    “Part of what rubs me the wrong way here is that using artists as identity markers for a social distinction tends to delegitimize their work. Putting someone like Jia into a list of ‘Stuff Christian Hipsters Like’ commodifies him, turns him into a lapis American Apparel basic t-shirt rather than the slate one. And I am uncomfortable with how quickly these lists lead to us vs. them conversations. I prefer the one about reconciliation …”

    I’m glad you enjoy my work, David. Thanks for the encouragement. The world is not dark yet, but it’s getting there, and while I often say things I regret, I’m trying to focus most of my writing on what gives me joy and nourishment. I couldn’t care less if that makes me cool or not. The way my books are selling, I doubt I’ll ever be in danger of ending up on a list of what defines hipsters, rightly or wrongly. Thank God. (My sympathies to the artists whose work *is* stamped as “the stuff of hipsterdom.” How insulting.)

    And I hope that none of my friends will look at those lists at CT and assume that people who like those things are hipsters. Most of the folks I know who appreciate Shakespeare, and Over the Rhine, and N.T. Wright, and Jia Zhangke are folks who care passionately about substance, not coolness.

    In closing:

    I once dated a woman who wore a nosering. I later learned that people in my family and their community were talking about the fact that “noserings” are a sign that someone is “part of the drug culture.” That woman felt very, very judged when she found out about this ridiculous “buzz.” She liked the nosering. She liked how it looked. So did I, actually.

    Is it true that many people who do drugs also wear sporting pierced noses, lips, etc? Yes. What happens, though, if we then publish something that says: “Stuff Drug Addicts Wear” – and list “noserings.” What happens?

    In this situation, it threw fuel on the fire of this person’s cynicism about Christians and their shallowness. From which she never recovered. In Christian culture she encountered so much energy spent on what people wore, listened to, watched, and liked, and what dark motives they might have for these things, that she felt constantly judged and alienated, and left the church.

    Jeffrey

    • Greetings Jeffrey,

      Thanks for your response.

      First of all, I feel like we have some common ground in that we both believe that the things – the books, music, films, etc – that Christianity Today posted on their website as things “hipsters like” are not things that make someone who likes them a hipster. But I don’t think Brett’s saying they do – and that’s what my post was getting at. I think he is right to say that most christian “hipsters” do enjoy those things, or so the evidence suggests. But that suggestion doesn’t necessarily mean that he is also saying anybody who likes them is a hipster.

      Nor do I necessarily think that Brett is saying that the term “hipster” is a negative term. Unless I am misunderstanding, you seem to be saying that since “hipster” is a negative term, then anyone who likes OTR or Lewis or Arcade Fire and is therefore considered a hipster is therefore being insulted. Am I mistaken? I don’t think McCracken would agree with that, nor do I think his book is arguing that.

      I too have questions about the packaging and marketing of the book and the comments about Winner’s book title (although I’m not surprised that her book title has received similar criticisms to the comments that Derek Webb received for his usage of a particular word in his most recent record). Perhaps Brett would be well served to clarify the purpose of those quizzes and lists if, indeed, there is one beyond marketing.

      I do think that the discussion will be effected rather dramatically by the way one takes the term “hipster” itself. You take it is a negative, derogatory term. I don’t, although upon reflecting, i certainly can understand that perspective. And therefore I can certainly understand how one could feel insulted by being lumped into the “hipster” category.

      Perhaps one of the ways that CT’s lists and Brett’s quiz can be helpful is in identifying the ways that the so-called “hipsters” are not so much different than those of us who are not hipsters. After all, shouldn’t we rejoice that young people consider CS Lewis, Over the Rhine, and the rest “cool.” This is a good thing, I should think, slippery as the term “cool.”

      That young “hip” Christians are reading the same literature as Eugene Peterson is a good thing. That they are thinking through the ideas of Annie Dillard is a good thing – even if some of them do so because they think it’s “cool.” Truth is truth whether encountered for the right reasons or not.

      One final thought, as this is all I have time for right now.

      I think that the marketing of the book, together with the book’s thesis and the various articles that have been published in the WSJ and CT (among other places) are creating some confusion. After all, at times it seems like Brett is celebrating “hipster” culture. At other times, it seems that he is critiquing it. I imagine it’s both. I don’t think he actually that negative towards hipster culture as some might think. Rather, I think he is concerned merely with it’s place within Church.

      We know for a fact that he loves great music, that doesn’t mean that he isn’t concerned with how it is used within the the Church. Does “Cool” music have a place within our church services just because it is “cool”? Is “cool” enough, is the fact that cool fills seats enough? He argues it’s not and I agree with him. Gospel first.

      That said, logic or not, we must be careful not to lump anyone into some sort of type. On that I agree with you. But do you think (and I ask this with sincerity and interest, not smugly) that most people will read a list like the one CT published and think “oh I like that so I must be a hipster?” or, “oh crap, I’m a hipster?!”.

      I’m not sure.

      As I wrote above, Brett had to define the term “hipster” and he chose to do so, in part, by identifying things that most hipsters like. Defining terms can be difficult, especially one as “slippery” as this. I guess I don’t know how else I would define it.

      Essentially, the term “hipster” is an abstraction and so it’s difficult to pin down. One can’t define “hipsters” according to their geographic location, skin color, etc. There are no universal characteristics that one can begin with. So, like the term “republican”, one must define this term based on the tendencies, interests, common ground of the people who consider themselves – or are considered – a part of the group.

      Perhaps Brett should write a whole book just defining the term! Brett, your move! =)

    • Brett says:

      Thanks Jeffrey for your comments. David’s done a very nice job of articulating much of what I would say in response (thanks David!). But because I have huge respect for you (and I am thankful for your sending emails of commendation to the CT editors back in the day!), I want to respond to some of the specific concerns you have about my book (which I hope you will read!):

      On using the word “hipster”:

      I understand why people hate this word. “Hipster” is an incredibly loaded, confusing, contested term. Volumes could be written on the word’s meaning (or lack thereof). My definition of a hipster in the book is “fashionable, young, independent-minded contrarian,” which is admittedly vague and broad, but I think that’s appropriate given how vague and broad the term actually is in our culture today. My project with the book was broader than the “hipster” movement, which I agree is proliferate to the point of exhaustion these days. I wanted to write a book about how the notion of “cool” interacts with the Christian life, on an individual and institutional (church) level. That’s the overarching aim of the book. But because I have also observed the evolution of “hipster” culture for the last 10 years and particularly the “Christian hipster” culture, I wanted to use that as a “current” entry point to the larger discussion of cool and what it means, etc. It’s unfortunate that “hipster” has such immediately negative connotations in some peoples minds, because I think it is still a serviceable term that works better than “cool” or “hip” or some more outdated term. As David said, some people take the word hipster as always negative and derogatory, and others don’t mind it, or just playfully accept it. Whatever we think of the word, it is at least useful in getting the conversation going about the underlying ideas of “cool” and its manifestation in the Christianity of our late-modern world, which is all I really set out to do.

      On “Stuff Christian Hipsters Like” lists / defining Christian hipsters through what they consume:

      These lists–such as the “Stuff Christian Hipsters Like” sidebar in the CT story–are meant to represent some things that Christian hipsters might like, NOT to say that anyone who likes these things is a Christian hipster. The “Stuff White People Like” blog recently listed the World Cup as something “White People Like,” but from this do we assume that this blog is saying that if you like the World Cup that you must be white? I don’t think so. That’d be ludicrous and illogical.

      My lists do not say “If you like the following things, you are a hipster.” There are plenty of non-hipsters who like Ingmar Bergman or Jia Zhangke. But almost every hipster I knew in graduate school loved these filmmakers, so I think it’s fair to include them in a list of what hipsters like. And I don’t think it diminishes or trivializes those filmmakers. Hipsters usually have good, discerning taste, after all, so if anything it seems to be a good list to be on.

      I too “make fumbling efforts every day to encourage people to appreciate good literature, beautiful music, and substantial filmmaking,” and my hope is that some who read those lists will for the first time be introduced to the names of bands, books, or film directors that they might check out. If you read Chap. 9 of my book, “Reframing Christian Art,” I think it’s pretty clear that I’m admiring hipster taste in art and suggesting that this is one arena where the church can be greatly benefited from hipster Christianity.

      David is right to say that “this disagreement is over nothing, created ex nihilo so to speak. A fallacy… McCracken sets out to identify and report those characteristics that can be most commonly attributed to various kinds of hipsters. He doesn’t suggest that just because one has those characteristics means one is a hipster.”

      On the book website and quiz:

      The website and all the interactive features on the website are, first of all, marketing for the book. As an author with the sincere goal of wanting to reach the widest possible audience with a conversation I care deeply about, I wanted to create a website that intrigued people and got them thinking about the whole idea of “hip” Christianity. I wanted it to be informative and descriptive, but I also wanted it to be fun and lighthearted. The quiz is in no way meant to be taken seriously as a measure of one’s hip aptitude, whatever that might mean. If anyone takes the quiz and actually thinks it is some sort of a authoritative measurement, or thinks better or worse about themselves because of it, then that’s unfortunate. But I think most people recognize the tongue-in-cheek nature of it and do not take it as something meant to seriously pigeonhole anyone into any category.

      On “stamping a Scarlet ‘H’ on a lot of people seeking the substance and beauty of God in art and culture”:

      This is the most frustrating misunderstanding of my book. It is simply not about this. It’s very clear if you read the book (or even if you read the CT article) that I’m not out to deconstruct all things hipster. There are a lot of good things about hipster culture that I highlight in the book (their appreciation of art and “the finer things,” their passion for justice and social engagement, their curiosity about the world and willingness to ask questions, etc), and nowhere do I argue that the authentic pursuit of certain music, movies, and books (“seeking the substance and beauty of God in art and culture”) is a bad thing, whether hipster or not. Jeffrey, you among all my critics should know that I care deeply about art and culture and the pursuit of God through the cultivation of aesthetic appreciation. You know me. Almost every book, band, and film director on the “Stuff Christian Hipsters Like” list is something I’ve personally been edified by, and every prop/book/DVD/CD in the “Anatomy of a Christian Hipster” section of the website comes from the collection of yours truly. If what I’m doing is critiquing or diminishing the value of these things as part of a wholesale dismissal of some ghastly hipster phantom, then that would be quite the self-defeating exercise.

      On the WSJ article:

      The Aug. 13 piece in the WSJ (“The Perils of Wannabe Cool Christianity”) drew from a very specific part of the book (Ch. 10: “Wannabe Hip Churches”) where I analyze some of the ways churches have sought to be hip/cool/edgy in very self-conscious ways. A common thread in the book is the tension and distinction between inauthentic/marketed cool (i.e. “wannabe hip churches”) and authentic/natural cool (such as Ch. 12: “Authentic Christian Cool”), the former being the type the WSJ article was about. With respect to the much-discussed mention of Rob Bell and Lauren Winner’s books… In retrospect I would not have included those titles in the context of that article. I love Rob Bell and Lauren Winner, and I’ve read and thoroughly enjoyed “Sex God” and “Real Sex.” In the book I describe Winner’s book as “rigorously honest and personal…. revolutionary for young Christians everywhere who desperately seek a frank, productive dialogue on the subject.” “Real Sex” is a brilliant, important book and I regret that the WSJ piece seems to diminish it as mere marketing gimmick. I was simply trying to paint a picture (using specific examples) of what I’ve observed as a noticeable shift (particularly in relation to the “we never talk about sex” evangelicalism in which I grew up) toward more visible and intentionally direct discussions of sex in the evangelical discourse.

      Why did I write the book?

      Way back in March 2009, before we had even picked out the name of the book, I wrote this blog post about my goals were in writing the book: http://stillsearching.wordpress.com/2009/03/05/why-i-am-writing-this-book/

      I hope this helps clarify some of the issues and worries you have. I want you to read the book (even though I fear that you’re already so tainted by the tangential media about it that you’ll not be able to approach it with fresh eyes), but even more than that I want to remain friends with you. So let me just reiterate that I have the highest respect for you and your opinion, and I’m so thankful to God for the part you’ve played both in my own life and in the life of the church at large.

      -Brett

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