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. jasper

    Reality, let me get this straight, Paul gave up an official role in the san hedrin, equivalent to Jewish royalty, to eek out an ulcerous living as a tentmaker proclaiming a false messiah, and died because he couldn't pay the tax. And the rest of the disciples also died at the hands of the Romans because they didn't pay taxes. Romans did'nt kill you if you didn't pay taxes, they killed you when you couldn't pay. If Christianity was such a cash cow for the Apostles, they would have simply paid the fine, and continued to live luxuriously.

    I'm sure that's a nice little diatribe for your drinking buddies. The good news is that you actually had to do some reading in order to embellish all of that. Perhaps the truth in it will resurface for you one day. Blessings

    September 24, 2010 at 3:11 pm |
    • Reality

      From: Professor Chilton's time line for Paul from his book, Rabbi Paul, p. 268:

      7 C.E. Born in Taurus, parents are prosperous tent makers.

      28 C.E. Paul departs for Jerusalem to train as a Pharisee ( my
      question: did he hear about the HJ at this time??)

      My comments about "Rabbi Paul"- (Amazon also has some recent
      reviews). Chilton as in Rabbi Jesus assumes too much in order to
      fill in a lot of missing "parts". I also typically "Schillebeeckxize" what I read
      i.e. God does not know the future therefore there are no prophets or prophecies
      and there is no Hell and no Satan. Conclusion: Paul and the HJ have had significant
      impacts on how we act and think but their "seeing"/contacting/relationships with God amounted to
      hallucinations brought about by too much fasting and/or drinking or? with
      added embellishments by Christian scribes resulting in the economic
      benefits of the Divine Right of Kings, Queens, Popes, evangelists and their

      32 C.E. Co-nversion, spent three years in Arabia after his co-nversion
      (my question: picked up some anti-feminist at-ti-tudes?)

      September 24, 2010 at 5:51 pm |
  2. dontthinkso

    OH good, another box has been added to try to fit people into. Once again, the descriptions of people who are supposed to be in the box are full of false (and in this case, ridiculous) stereotypes.

    Nice try though.

    And tobacco? Jon Stewart? Come on.

    September 24, 2010 at 3:07 pm |
    • T's Girl

      Just love God, and others more than your love yourself,-you'll find your way...

      September 24, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
  3. David Johnson


    I use to talk to Him. But then there was this one time, He told me to turn out the light...

    September 24, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  4. T's Girl

    As a Christian who actually goes to church and tries to do what Christ said to do, "1.) Love God, 2) and love your brother just as much as you love yourself"(paraphrased and ya' know we all love ourselves more than we love anyone else), this love of "self" is what drives our greedy world, as well as many in the church. I dont want to be a Christian "hipster"-I want to be holy. But it is a challenge because most of what I choose to see, hear, or put on my body is my way of creating an "image" of what I want others to think of me-and of course those choices are meant to covey that I am conforming to the norms of my society. So, brothers and sisters, let's be as "non-conformist" as possible and put more effort into His commands rather than our image. This pursuit is a waste of time. Yahweh is Lord-God Bless.

    September 24, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
  5. jasper

    Wow, just what we need, another subset of Christianity deemming itself superior. What about me, I'm 50, right on hip's border, I'm over Bob Dylan, love Delirious, Steinbeck's moldy, love David Platt, don't have time for artwork, and Pinot Noir is for sissys. Our Men's group will have a few beers while we're cooking a pig for the fundraiser for homeless. Jesus is all the cool I need.

    September 24, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
  6. Reality

    My take:: Brett "Hipster/Huckster" McCracken is simply hawking his book to make a buck. Using Christianity in this pursuit is not new:

    Christian Economics 101

    The Baptizer drew crowds and charged for the "dunking". The historical Jesus saw a good thing and continued dunking and preaching the good word but added "healing" as an added charge to include free room and board. Sure was better than being a poor peasant but he got a bit too zealous and they nailed him to a tree. But still no greed there.

    Paul picked up the money scent on the road to Damascus. He added some letters and a prophecy of the imminent second coming for a fee for salvation and "Gentilized" the good word to the "big buck" world. i.e. Paul was the first media evangelist!!! And he and the other Apostles forgot to pay their Roman taxes and the legendary actions by the Romans made them martyrs for future greed. Paul was guilty of minor greed?

    Along comes Constantine. He saw the growing rich Christian community and recognized a new tax base so he set them "free". Major greed on his part!!

    The Holy Roman "Empirers"/Popes/Kings/Queens/evangelists et al continued the money grab selling access to JC and heaven resulting in some of today's richest organizations on the globe i.e. the Christian churches (including the Mormon Church) and related aristocracies. Obvious greed!!!

    An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,

    "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

    September 24, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
    • peace2all


      Well.... I was waiting to see when you would 'chime' in..... vintage Reality yet again...!


      September 24, 2010 at 3:15 pm |
  7. sounder

    "For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world." 1 John 2:16

    "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God." 1 Corinthians 2:12

    September 24, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • Big Dinosour

      Yay, scripture! I believe now! I'm such a sucker for scripture!

      September 24, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
    • Colin in Florida

      Quoting fairy tales does not make them true. Or useful to this discussion.

      If the bible is absolutely true, tell me, what price can I get for my daughter today? I want to sell her to pay off my mortgage. She's 19, probably fecund (though I have no proof) and in good physical shape. I refer to Exodus 21:7 "If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do." (new american standard version). I was hoping for $50,000.

      September 24, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
    • Kip

      And the father playeth with the little one on the little ones. He maketh himself stiff and draws 'round the young. His penicular explodes and a wave of wimsey toucheth his spirit. 1 Peter 6:9

      September 24, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
    • peace2all


      Love scripture..... That always makes me a firm believer, when I was just starting to falter on my christian thoughts.

      Please....no more scripture. Scripture offers no verifiable evidence of anything.


      September 24, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Colin in Florida

      I agree...... and just a question. I am quite aware of those passages in the bible. It just seemed like that was pretty much word for word quote.....sounded and awful lot like Matin Sheen's version, which I loved, when he just absolutely trounced a 'fundie' on the 'West Wing....... Is that where you quoted that ...?


      September 24, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
  8. Kip

    @ Big Dinosaur ~ you don't exist either ~ all those bones are fake.

    September 24, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
    • Big Dinosour

      Yes, my bones were fabricated by liberals!

      September 24, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
  9. dalis


    September 24, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
  10. Kip

    Ok so god made all this. Why did he, she, it make such a massive place ~ solar systems 10 to the millionth power ~ trillions of galaxies ~ why build all this stuff when only one dinky planet in one minor solar system of a very small galaxy has life.
    Massive overkill? Or was god just ego driven with his, her, it's own creative juices?

    September 24, 2010 at 2:54 pm |
    • Tom

      Dont make them think too hard there Kip.

      September 24, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
    • Opine737

      What you call "overkill" Kip, would be simple and without much effort for a creator of HIs capacity. LoL. He does as He wishes...quite simply.

      September 24, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
    • Kip

      One would think that with all the power GOD has, he, she, or it, could have come up with a better option than sh!tting.

      September 24, 2010 at 3:39 pm |
  11. Big Dinosour

    Nobody can debate a Dinosaur!

    September 24, 2010 at 2:53 pm |
    • Critter

      @Big Dinosour

      um...why not?

      September 24, 2010 at 6:50 pm |
    • peace2all


      Oh...please don't start a thread going with @ Big Dinosour.... Please.... Mr. Dino(sour) has had quite a lot to roar about today..

      I am begging you....... I will have no self control but to jump in on this one...... LOL...!! 🙂


      September 24, 2010 at 7:00 pm |
    • Kate


      Isn't that the one with the Chuck Norris fetish?

      Just askin'

      September 24, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
    • peace2all


      Yeah... could be... 🙂


      September 24, 2010 at 7:05 pm |
    • Kate


      Chuck Norris is a graduate of The Roger Moore School of Acting.

      Which is to say, he can't 😛

      Just critiquin'

      September 24, 2010 at 7:10 pm |
  12. Big Dinosour

    I will drink your milkshake!

    September 24, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  13. dalis

    I'm reminded of the pathetic sight of a Foursquare Pentecostal minister in my college town who never failed to point out in conversation that he had his ears pierced and he was sure this was going to get the students to come to Praise & Worship Wednesdays. The concept of the Christian hipster is exactly what I don't like about the evangelical strain of Christianity. For God's sake (exactly!), cut out the pretension! There is no cool, uncool, ironically uncool, or tragically hip way to follow Christ, so quit dressing it up.

    September 24, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
  14. Big Dinosour

    I'm millions of years old! Much older than the bible says the world is! Did I float in space before there was an Earth?!

    September 24, 2010 at 2:48 pm |
  15. Just my thoughts

    I'm older than you (42), and I have seen it all. My husband served in the ministry for 7 years, until God mercifully allowed us out. I grew up with all of the weird conspiracy theories (Backward Masking, for one) and yelling angry evangelists. A few years ago, I took 6 weeks to decide whether or not to walk away from Jesus. The warped things I'd heard about Him were almost too insurmountable to overcome. I decided to stick with Him, and I'm glad I did. The "hip" Christians seem to be an overreaction to how uncool the previous generations were. These things come and go. Their children will no doubt cringe at their attempt at cool.

    September 24, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  16. Big Dinosour

    All I wanted was to be loved!

    September 24, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
  17. Kip

    Christian hipster? So do they give out high fives when they condemn everyone else to hell to burn for all eternity? Do they enjoy their " good Pinot Noir " while they pray for everyone in the world to change to their particular fairy tale? The christian
    ?missionaries? in Africa are know to not give food to those who do not convert, much like they did to the native people of North America.
    Designer clothes do not hide the underlying perversions of the whole man in the sky business.

    September 24, 2010 at 2:42 pm |
  18. Big Dinosour

    God killed dinosaurs because we couldn't kneel when we prayed!

    September 24, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
  19. Big Dinosour

    God killed me with space rocks to make room for smart apes!

    September 24, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  20. Big Dinosour

    My bones were mistaken for demons before logical minds decided that was illogical!

    September 24, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
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