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. Funny Bubbles - Bubble Shooter - Play Bubble Shooter Games

    I feel that you need to write more on this matter. It might not be a taboo topic however usually individuals are not enough to speak on such topics.

    January 26, 2012 at 12:52 am |
  2. application essay

    Such a small think. 😉 But such a great idea

    January 5, 2012 at 9:08 am |
  3. Dag Ny

    A Christian hipster is an oxymoron.

    October 15, 2010 at 11:56 am |
  4. Vicki

    Ah Youth is still wasted on the young .... 🙂 I am 55 and and I have been a Christian since I was 5. I was a normal teen, youth, young married and now an older mentor and I was ALWAYS hip. I had a great love for music , art and books from all generations, an above average IQ and could carry on pertinent conversations about almost any subject, dressed in the latest fashion that was still within my modesty code (yes you can have a code of ethics and modesty and still be hip!), traveled the world for both fun and for God and I am still CURENT enough to relate to the younger members of our world.

    But it was my deep and ongoing love and relationship with God that gave me the joy for life to appreciate all the wonderful things around me, to depend on Him for guidance each day and a desire to serve others. God is the reason for each day and it isn't neccesarry to TRY to be hip or exactly like the world around me in order to be a blessing to the world and to be blessed by God. And you don't have to be a 20 something to be able affect your own genration and others. I love that you are passionate about God and the wonderful things in life He has provided for us, just try to remember you didn't invent hip, Adam and Eve did and every generation after them. 🙂

    October 2, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
    • Elwood P. Dowd

      "But it was my deep and ongoing love and relationship with God that gave me the joy for life to appreciate all the wonderful things around me,"

      I feel just the same way about my 6' 3" invisible rabbit named Harvey.

      January 26, 2012 at 12:57 am |
  5. Frank

    It's nice to see my generation apply Christ's Truths to their lives but we really must not get caught up in fads or trends. Being a Christian isn't about being trendy – how your hair is styled, what clothes you wear, what music you listen to, what wine you drink, what books you read, etc. That's not what life is about. I cringe when I hear about all these different 'scenes' – Christian Punk, Christian Hardc0re, Straight Edge Christian, Christian Metalhead and now Christian Hipster. Why not just follow Christ and be the unique person God created you to be to the best of your abilities? Stop with all the labels!
    Oh, and being a 'hipster' has really nothing to do with being a "embodied, expressive, creative human being". It just means that you're a trend wh0re. That may be blunt for some, but that's all it means. There's 'hipsters' in every 'scene'.

    October 1, 2010 at 3:54 am |
  6. Peacemaker

    Liked the article. Reminds me of our kids who grew up Catholic, and have moved on to the non-denominational churches. We are not alarmed. Faith evolves, too. The Church is evolving as we speak. Change must come to meet the needs of those who believe and those who don't. I am a Christian, who tries hard not to judge. I believe that some Christians are very angry, because they see the world becoming more secular. Once I was like that. No more. God is God and He will take care of things. We, Christians are commanded to LOVE, not to lecture, judge, condemn, etc.

    I love this quote from Gandhi, a man I greatly admire: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." So true. Peace to everyone.

    September 28, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
  7. @Bob

    Its so funny that you (im assuming you don't believe in God by your posts) only acknowledge God when talking about the bad things that happen.But you never seem to credit Him with doing Good.So in your arguments God only exist when bad things happen but when good things happen its all what.....?

    September 28, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  8. Iqbal khan


    September 27, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
  9. Luke

    Oh, and sorry about my rather informal definition of a theory.

    September 27, 2010 at 10:49 am |
  10. Luke

    Reading these comments gives a headache to anybody that has put thorough investigation into the Bible or their atheist views. So many arguments that fail even on a cursory inspection of either the Bible, or scientific theory. One statement I can throw down will cover a lot of these cases though. It goes like this:
    A theory is 'proven' based on a scientific method. The next theory that fits the facts better replaces the old theory, which makes the 'truth' of any theory changeable. Hence, theories are not true, just a best fit of reality as we sense it. So to claim that science is the truth and religion is a fantasy is an invalid assertion. It always will be, because science does not actually find the 'truth,' merely the best approximation to it.
    Case in point, m-theory The m-theory guys are positing an eleven-dimensional reality. If that's the situation that more accurately describes reality, then we have to modify any theories we have that work due to a '3-d and time' universe, because they're no longer valid. And when we do, we're still stuck with having a 'theory' of reality, until the next model is an improvement. We're still not sure on the 'truth' of 11-d, we just assumed that 11-d is it, then ran towards it, and stopped there out of intellectual laziness. Or do we go further? Either way, we don't have the 'truth' anymore than the Bible does.

    So take one, run with it, and stop whining.

    This looks like another article to sell a book. Vote with your feet, and don't buy it.

    September 27, 2010 at 10:48 am |
    • Ben Fenton

      "So to claim that science is the truth and religion is a fantasy is an invalid assertion."
      Yes, that is an invalid assertion–because it is not a claim that scientists or atheists make. You had it all the way up to that sentence, Luke. You jumped from (paraphrasing) "Science offers its best possible explanation, or best description of reality" to "Science claims to be the truth" without noticing how much of a non-sequiter that is.
      No, science does not claim anything concerning "truth." Conceit to know the truth is solely the domain of the religious or philosophers. Science, as you said, offers a description of the universe and ourselves. It is good because it is the opposite of dogmatic; science changes itself to fit reality, because it is an attempt at rigorous accounting for our existence. Religion makes claims about reality to justify its own existence, and is no stranger to dogma or the celebration of falsehoods.

      October 4, 2011 at 5:00 am |
  11. zore

    I also can see both sides, coming from both the "god side" and "no god" side. This is what I have come to realize. Why does it really matter? I don't steal or murder, and I do what I can to help the people around me. What happens in my life is what I do!! If I do something right, its not because God was telling me to, I did! People die when sick or old, not because of God's plan. I have known my share of "hip" Christains and "bible thumpers" and most of them are not the greatest people. However, the same can be said about "all religion sucks" kind of people. This debate will go one for ever. I know this, and I think everyone else does as well. I try to live my life by PLUR. Peace, love, unity, Respect. Try it out sometime.

    September 27, 2010 at 10:26 am |
  12. Hipsters = Teh Suxxor

    Hipsters. "Hay guys, look at me, I'm working class! I work part time at starbucks, drink crappy beer, and live in some $2000/mo loft that I wouldn't be able to afford if my rich mommy and daddy weren't subsidizing my ridiculous lifestyle".

    September 27, 2010 at 10:21 am |
    • Will

      don't forget about the crappy music that they're SOOOO passionate about. "i know that this music sounds like 500000000 other crappy emo bands, but the lyrics just SPEAK to me"

      September 27, 2010 at 10:27 am |
  13. Will

    Oh boy, my two least favorite groups of people, hipsters and Jesus Freaks. Do you feel the Pain of Christ while waiting for the $500 checks from mommy every month?

    September 27, 2010 at 10:18 am |
  14. johnny

    hipsters are the new elitists....have another pabst blue ribbon

    September 27, 2010 at 10:05 am |
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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.