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September 24th, 2010
11:15 AM ET

My Take: The Curious Case of the Christian Hipster

Editor's Note: Brett McCracken is author of the recently published Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. He works as managing editor for Biola University's Biola Magazine and writes regularly for Christianity Today and Relevant. He comments on movies, media, and popular culture at his blog, The Search.

By Brett McCracken, Special to CNN

I grew up within conservative evangelical Christianity, and I’m thankful I did. But throughout my youth - and indeed, even now, at 27 - there are things about it that made me bristle. Things like televangelism, angry political picketing, boycotts, horrible Christian movies, copycat Christian music, anti-intellectualism, hyper-politicized discourse, “Left Behind” hysteria about the “end times,” and “hell houses” (don’t ask).

For many of my peers who grew up within this peculiar milieu, it was enough to sour them on Christianity entirely (lamentable, but understandable). But for many others, it simply urged them to rediscover the heart of the faith and explore Christian identity in terms that felt more pertinent to the world around them.


This impulse among younger generations of Christians has led to, among other things, a subculture which we might call “Christian hipsters.” They are Christians who seek to cultivate a strong aesthetic sensibility and intellectual rigor, things that were largely put on the back burner in the church of their youth. They are sooner found at Radiohead or Arcade Fire concerts than at Christian music shows, prefer contemporary art galleries to Thomas Kinkade showrooms, and exercise Christian “fellowship” through conversations about Sartre over fair-trade coffee or a round of craft beers.

Christian hipsters tend to serve scotch at their small-group Bible studies, and are largely supportive of such things (mostly good things, I might add) as locally grown produce, thrift stores, fixed-gear bikes, Jon Stewart, traveling abroad, Wes Anderson films, Wendell Berry books, and tobacco (in all forms except chewing). Many of them are also very image-conscious (in the way that most hipsters are), carefully selecting the right pair of Toms shoes, styling the “tangled/tussled/you’d-never think this cost $50” hairdo, and perfecting the paradoxical “fashionable-but-not-store-bought” wardrobe.

Not all of these Christian hipsters are necessarily trying to be hip, which is an important point. Your average Christian hipster is simply attempting to authentically explore their identity as a Christ-follower who is also an embodied, expressive, creative human being.

But as earnest and understandable as this quest is, there are still things to be cautious about. How does being “cool” or “hipster” fit with what Christianity calls us to? How does the self-focused pride of “cool” fit with the self-giving, other-focused humility of the Christian life? What do we do about the alienating, off-putting character of hipsterdom, which signifies elitism and tends to exclude (even if unintentionally) all those not “in-the-know”? How does this work in a church setting, which of all places should be a site of inclusion, love, and community unshackled by the burden of cliques and “I’m hipper than you” strata? And what of the values of vice and rebellion so seemingly central to the hipster way of life?

These and other questions about the collision of church and cool are addressed in my book, which I wrote as an attempt to document this “Christian hipster” moment and understand the ideas and circumstances feeding into it, but also to raise questions about the very nature of “cool” and how it corresponds to the Christian life.

Is “Hipster Christianity” a contradiction? Are “cool” and “Christian” fated to forever be in tension? Maybe. But maybe not.

There are many positive things that Christian hipsters bring to the faith. They are largely driven by a curiosity about the world and appreciation for culture, for example. They see creative and academic pursuits as God-given and God-honoring in themselves, recognizing that “secular” things - Bob Dylan albums, Rothko paintings, Steinbeck novels, a good Pinot Noir - can be edifying for the Christian life, simply because they are good, true, and beautiful.

I’m also encouraged by the impulse of Christian hipsters toward issues of justice, service, and social welfare. They’re pushing the church to get outside of its fortress walls and get its hands dirty in service of others. For them, the gospel isn’t just something to proclaim from a pulpit; it’s also something to live out, in love and service, for “the least of these” in a needy world.

This might mean spending a semester of service in places like Uganda or Haiti, or it might mean starting up a grassroots ministry to meet the needs of a local community - as some friends of mine in Los Angeles did with “Sock the Homeless,” handing out clean new socks to the vast homeless population on L.A.’s Skid Row every Sunday morning at dawn.
Christian hipsters are motivated by a genuine desire to follow Christ and to reconcile their faith in his gospel with what they know, love, and deem important in the world. As much as “hipster Christianity” is subject to serious questions about the hazards inherent in any generational uprising, it’s also a prescriptive, potentially significant moment in the ongoing story of church-culture relations.

What does it mean to be a Christian in this world? How “set apart” and different must we be? Christian hipsters are having this conversation - or rather, they’re living it. And the rest of us should probably pay attention.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Brett McCracken.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Culture & Science • Opinion • United States

soundoff (405 Responses)
  1. Steve O

    A Christian hipster?

    Like either group wasn't annoying enough on its own.

    September 27, 2010 at 9:36 am |
  2. Why?

    Why argue with each other over who is "right" and who is "wrong". The fact is, none of us really KNOW the truth about anything. Religion and sprituality are PERSONAL. Period. Everyone in the thread that has stated their opinions in such a know-it-all way, sound completely ignorant.. Because really you don't know any more or any less than any other living thing on this planet. And that is where corruption comes from..the people that insist they are "right" be you religious or not.

    September 27, 2010 at 7:40 am |
  3. the truth

    Religions are the cradles of despotism – Marquis de Sade

    September 27, 2010 at 6:15 am |
  4. Ashley

    I think we have a little too much theological discussion and heated arguments about God. If He's not real, then why does everyone argue SO MUCH to prove that He's not real?

    I believe in God because of the change He has made in my life. I believe because I feel that He's with me, that He's real, and that He loves me. I'm not going to argue with the basis of archaeological findings, or ancient author's writings about the Bible, or even the clear presentation we have about God in creation. He's real and I know it.

    But just a quick point: Everything people believe is based on faith. I have faith in God. You have faith in evolution. Nobody was there to see it (evolution or creation), nobody was there to write down mathematical calculations about it, and nobody today can say that it took place for a fact because they weren't there. To do so is completely unscientific (Science has to be observable!). So to both of us: we believe what we believe on faith.

    September 26, 2010 at 9:42 pm |
  5. ChristianCommie

    MATT, i dont think these things are fads. theyre just people learning about God in ways not "normal" to others. after all, you cant find the Shephard if you don't leave the flock. i went through all the motions i was suposed to go through, like youth group and church camp and left behind books and terrible Christian rock. i learned SOME from all that, but i really learned when i gave up everything, lived in a van, and didnt listen to ANYONE about ANYTHING related to religion. its amazing what you discover when its just yourself and scripture. what i thought would end up curbing my rebelious ways instead spurred them on. i learned about a oung guy who taught about spiritual arnarchy. He rose up against a bs system and told them how it was. the earlist socialist teaching came from Him. and not one of those things would i ever learn at a "church."

    September 26, 2010 at 6:22 am |
    • simply question

      You discovered how to have a relationship with Him instead of being in a relgion about Him. There is a huge difference. His chruch versus man's church – many do not see that. We must always stick to scripture though. If a Pastor or any other person tells you something – always – always verfiy through scripture. Even the best intended can error. Follwing man's way versus His way. False doctrine can be created by simple mistakes. However, 2 Corinthans 11:12-15 – sometimes it is done with intent. : )

      September 26, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
  6. Frank

    All things evolve. The only constant is change.

    September 26, 2010 at 4:26 am |
  7. ChrisitianCommie

    Chrisitian hipsters are just the newest incarnation of younger Chrisitans finding relevence. for me it was punk rock. my dad was a preacher and i almost did the whole bible school/ youth minister thing, but i couldnt handle the baby boomer Christians in charge. i hope these kids find what theyre looking for spiritually, i also hope they drop the hipster gig. hipsters smell.....

    September 26, 2010 at 2:44 am |
  8. MATT

    All new Christian movements like protty fundamentalism and "Christian hipsterism" (I'm not sure which is worse) are destined to disappear as quickly and inexplicably as they popped up. While both may be common at some point in time, they are fads and lack theological grounding. Remember the Funkites? The Jamesian Christians? The Mandeans? Didn't think so.
    There is a curious case of masses of Christian youth appearing at seminary campuses, however. They reject both conservative fundamentalism and New Age/Hipster Christianity. These future pastors and fathers are returning to time-tested, biblically-sound Orthodoxy, as all Christians should.

    September 25, 2010 at 7:31 pm |
  9. Dani3l

    "...'Secular' things – Bob Dylan albums, Rothko paintings, Steinbeck novels, a good Pinot Noir – can be edifying for the Christian life, simply because they are good, true, and beautiful."

    Keep your Christian mitts off my pagan Platonism, thanks.

    September 25, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
  10. disco stu

    Good observation tagnga!

    September 25, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
  11. tagnga

    Allot of time is spent on the Belief Blog, with so many critical, prideful, self-rightousness and condemning comments.

    Believers: Are you an example of Christ, to others? Do you tell others, what God has done in YOUR life, instead of judging them? Do you help the hungry, sick and poor? True Christians might direct others toward God, but it is God, who saves souls – not Christians.

    Atheists: "Put your money, where your mouth is" – Stop waisting your time criticizing, complaining and attempting to prove your "intellectual superiority". Actions, speak louder than words. If Atheism is so great, save your souls with it and if you don't believe in souls, try saving humanity, with it.

    September 25, 2010 at 11:41 am |
    • Critter

      @tagnga
      I wonder where you put agnostics in your list?
      Who can save humanity? Yet I am trying to do just that, one tiny bit at a time. Most religion is a madness, a delusion, and a snare.

      Define your "god" and your "god's" attributes. Do this one difficult thing and I would thank you for trying to understand your own faith and the "god" upon which it is based.
      Nobody has been able to do this, not even me who asked the question.

      If you have a mind that is not blinded by your need to believe no matter what, then help us save humanity from madness.
      That no one has a real system of self-control beyond a bunch of "holy books" is ridi-culous.
      Thanks – that is a good post.

      September 26, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
  12. andy

    At 47 yrs, I have finally found what I have been looking for the teaching of Rob Bell at Mars Hill Bible Church. He has a grasp on today's christianity and how to bring it together with the love of god and our fellow mankind. Itis time to "love" and help the opressed. We are truly in a world view today.

    September 25, 2010 at 11:13 am |
  13. Just my thoughts

    I think "hipster" is just a millenial name for yuppie. We've been there, done this before. There really is nothing new under the sun.

    September 25, 2010 at 10:50 am |
    • jane

      Yeah, I totally agree that there is nothing new, haha! "Hipster Christians" aren't the first young people to walk the earth, or the first to have snob taste in food, music, art, literature, etc.

      Why do young people think that NO ONE else has EVER been their age, had any of the exact same thoughts or done any of the exact same things?! Yeah, reading this was a total been there, done that (twenty years ago, as were all of my friends and entire colleges of kids all doing the same)

      September 25, 2010 at 9:46 pm |
  14. Tiffini S.

    You lost me at "Hipsters are cool." Cause they aren't.

    September 25, 2010 at 8:24 am |
    • I am ashame

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      September 25, 2010 at 10:22 am |
  15. rapter

    I met a teacher that once told me religon was made up for people that were afraid of the dark due to worship of animals so that they may inherit the power of the beast such as a bulls strength and or courage. Later on in our glorious history of man it helped kings bring order to lawless lands. Who would take such a task in writing the ancient text that make up the different religons books and ways of worship if not for the sake of man kind. Surely they were not paid for having them completed on a certain date so the publisher could have it ready for a book signing tour. I always marveled at the thought that man went from single cell sea dwellers to upright animals in what seems a blink of an cosmic eye. I would welcome the chance to see if theorist or science can or has already explained this rapid jump mathmaticlly. How come we are all different on the outside but still have our own drive or will to live, to be heard, and still return to the earth from once we came. I have see a lot of pain and ugliness in the world first hand and must admit that prayer will not solve what is happening to humanity but some do not want change or need it. Both the nay crowd and yea must take action to help yourselves to get in gear and make a change for the better because science has taught us to destroy each other very effectively and race, religon and politics have taken on this cause. I believe mankind can find a center platform for negotiations but until all world powers are able strive to get there life will be needlessly wasted. Instead of fighting for what little we hold, pool resources. Find cures, expand exploration, save our plant or find a way to explain our existance. Lastly look to the skies, believe in what helps you make it a productive life. It is short time to be here I hope for the futures sake we can fix this.

    September 25, 2010 at 6:49 am |
  16. thrushjz

    The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God

    September 25, 2010 at 2:22 am |
    • David Johnson

      Matthew 5:22 (King James Version)

      But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

      September 25, 2010 at 10:36 am |
  17. Keith

    Heather, If you're still here, go to your 5:12 pm post.

    September 24, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
  18. Iqbal khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgsJcSePx64&w=640&h=360]

    September 24, 2010 at 9:27 pm |
  19. Keith

    Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. James 4:4 Perhaps this 'hipster' never read this verse.

    September 24, 2010 at 9:08 pm |
  20. Iqbal khan

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hENtJ0qRxhU&w=640&h=360]

    September 24, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.