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. MIchael Schulze

    How pathetic. I would have definitaely beat this guy up in high school...

    September 24, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
  2. Julie

    Peace2all, I read the Bible and found Jesus' message of love to be amazing. I don't recall being afraid of any kind of hell fire, rather, I remember being drawn by his teachings. Could a human being ever achieve such a level of love and forgiveness? Sadly, I discovered the answer is "no," human beings are not capable of such love. In fact, many can't even grasp the concept. I'm glad God loved us enough to try to guide us in the right direction, and even though we continue to follow worldly ideas of selfishness, greed, deceit, betrayal, and materialism, he continues to love us and forgive us.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
    • Tell_Me


      Jesus' message of love is good, but it is not a message that he originated, and it doesn't mean that the remainder of the myth is true. Most (if not all) religions have the 'love' theme going for them.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
    • Julie

      Sure they do, Tell_Me, like Islam beheading their children who bring shame to the family and stoning their women to death for disobedience. The Love thing.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
    • Julie

      Actually, Tell_me, you opened things up to make a perfect point. In the Jewish religion it says, "Eye for an Eye," but Jesus said, "You have heard it said an eye for an eye, but I say to you that you resist not evil, but whosoever shall strike you on the right cheek, turn the other also." That's the kind of impossible love and forgiveness I am talking about.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
    • Sybaris

      Julie, you're cherry picking.

      Here's a gem: Exodus 12:29

      There's many, many more.

      Such a loving god.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
    • peace2all


      Yeah.... I am with @Sybaris and @Tell_Me on this.... You very artfully 'deflected' my statements regarding your postings about your God and JC..... the whole 'if you don't believe you are going to hell bit.'

      That *is* a hard one to get around isn't it....? I suppose if I were a believing fundie, I would attempt to do the same.

      Please....spare us the whole....God is a loving God assertion....

      Good try though.....


      September 24, 2010 at 4:59 pm |
    • Tell_Me

      32"Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. 33But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

      34"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
      " 'a man against his father,
      a daughter against her mother,
      a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law –
      36a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'[c]

      37"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

      September 24, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
    • Tell_Me

      Sorry, that posted before I could add: These are from your friend Matthew 10:21

      September 24, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
  3. Scott

    When did Christ ever teach that I should "reconcile" my faith with everything that I know, love, feel important in the world as the author writes. Did I miss that chapter and verse? I notice that there is not a lot of quoting of His teaching here, and maybe that is where the rubber meets the road for these Christian "hipsters". That instead of following His will, I seek to marry His will to mine with the emphasis on "mine". If that is the case then sadly, many of these self proclaimed "hipsters" are only Christian hypocrites which give the name of Christ and those that seek to follow Him alone a bad name!

    September 24, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
  4. Amy

    I have no idea in what universe it is "cool" to believe in a sky fairy. Ignorance has never been, and never will be, cool. To me, there is nothing – and I do mean nothing – more cheesy than a Christian. Have fun trying to pretend you're cool, but the rest of us aren't buying it.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
    • Julie

      Now that's just mean.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
    • Tell_Me


      No, 'mean' is threatening people with eternal torment if they are non-believers of a myth.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
    • Julie

      I never threatened anybody.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
    • peace2all


      Ahhhhh..... but, I believe that your God....does....and I think that JC does....according to the bible.....correct...?

      Let's keep it short shall we..... basically...... If you don't believe that JC is the one true saviour of the world because somehow we needed saving, and we must believe this....then we will go to heaven....

      However, if you don't adhere to what was said above....... this loving God will 'allow'(yep i know...it is not God's fault) us due to our own ignorance and willfullness ...burn forever, and ever in torment in the he!!....

      Do I pretty much have the basics here.....?


      September 24, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
    • Tell_Me


      It is the message inherent in Christianity.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:26 pm |
  5. Julie

    I don't understand, Sybaris, what a "stay at home Christian" is, exactly, so I don't know how to feel about your comment.

    It's sad to me that many of you can't see anything spiritual in your life. Could be that more exists outside of the 4 known dimensions of space/time, yet you are so quick to scoff at the idea. I doubt that you contain all the knowledge of the mysteries of the universe.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
    • Sybaris

      If you go to a church then you are following other christians. If you do not see how that is so then if you are Catholic why do you not also go to a Quaker meeting?

      September 24, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
    • Julie

      As I said before, I don't go to church and I don't follow any particular denomination. I guess that makes me your stay at home Christian.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:18 pm |
  6. David Johnson

    I'll be back!

    September 24, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
    • Julie

      Don't threaten us!!

      September 24, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
    • Bob

      This blog is becoming quite the flustercluck.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  7. jh

    @ peace2all . I'm not equating God and science. Science only studies what God created. Yes, you first must believe God exist, I can't help you past that. But if you ask him to make himself known to you personally that may be a good start.

    September 24, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • Kip

      Does god give out tips on the stock market?

      September 24, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
    • peace2all


      Again, you are already creating a *self-sealing* argument. i..e.... "Science only studies what God created." Well, that is pretty much a big assumption there.

      Maybe..... there were other concepts besides the god of your bible. ... Is that a possibility within your realm....?

      Also, I am curious, please let us all know, how God made himself *personally known* to you *exactly*... Please try to refrain from using.....it is just 'a feeling' or I 'just know' ... or quoting some biblical scripture.

      jh.......Maybe YOU are the one that enlighten us all .....and help us unlock the doorway to god within ourselves.

      Please......do tell...!


      September 24, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
  8. J

    Religion is a crutch for weak minds.

    September 24, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
  9. jh

    @sybaris- how does it require that

    September 24, 2010 at 3:50 pm |
  10. jh

    All arguments boil down to central truth. God's word is truth, inerrant. Science explains what we understand of what has been created by God , but will not explain the creator nor the purpose of creation, which is a relationship with God. David, the devil showed Jesus what he was able to show him, that's not a Biblical error.

    September 24, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
    • Sybaris

      The problem with your statement is that it requires there to be a creator of your god.

      September 24, 2010 at 3:46 pm |
    • peace2all


      It seems to me that you laid out, like most, if not all 'believers' a *self-sealing* argument. You are already presupposing that there is a God...his word is truth, and apparently science will never explain said creator nor the purpose of creation, etc..etc...

      Science is continuing to make testable and verifiable ..*truths* about our natural world. Religion seems to be about 'answers that cannot be questioned nor verified.'

      You can argue all day about the myth of God..... but please don't try to equate god and science.


      September 24, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
  11. M&M

    I think they're on to something good! Throughout the ministry of Jesus, he has always blend in with the group around him. How can you reach people if you stand apart from them. Also, there is nothing wrong with being hip. Life evolves and so must we. There is too much in the Bible that has been mis-interpreted and no one seeks to correct it. In living life, the question should always be...what would Jesus do?

    September 24, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
    • Colin in Florida

      Typical christian babbling: Read your fairy tales, believe what WE (church hierarchy) tell you to believe, and whatever you do, don't think!

      September 24, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
    • Kip

      A hindu guy I know told me jesus did crack.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
    • peace2all


      And.....who's interpretations should we believe are the accurate one's.....?


      September 24, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  12. RSandman

    @ David......If I say the bible is right because it is the word of God....You would claim it is circular, but you say that science is right because of the scientific method. How is that not circular reasoning? I'm pretty sure you have faith that what science tells you is correct! The scientifci method was created by man, do you believe it to be correct? You would have to believe it to even argue from that perspective. A belief is a belief!

    September 24, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
    • Iswimnaked

      So if the bible is the word of god, is the Quran the word of allah?

      September 24, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
    • Iswimnaked

      ...and what about those mormaon freaks. They think their goofy book should be part of the bible too. Or do we not recognize their beliefs.

      September 24, 2010 at 3:47 pm |
    • David Johnson

      You said, ".If I say the bible is right because it is the word of God....You would claim it is circular, but you say that science is right because of the scientific method. How is that not circular reasoning? I'm pretty sure you have faith that what science tells you is correct! The scientifci method was created by man, do you believe it to be correct? You would have to believe it to even argue from that perspective. A belief is a belief!"

      This was why I was reluctant to debate you.

      Definition of faith: Belief that is not based on proof:

      Science isn't religion. It isn't faith based. It is based on the scientific method:

      The steps of the scientific method are to:
      • Ask a Question
      • Do Background Research
      • Construct a Hypothesis
      • Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
      • Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
      • Communicate Your Results

      Nothing in science is about faith. If you wrote in a scientific journal that you had "faith" in something, you would be laughed at.

      If you had somehow proven there is a god. – Maybe had him hover over the United Nations building, then you could use him to "prove" the bible or whatever is actually His word. See? But you can't use two unproven sources to prove each other.

      Science would never be allowed to do this.


      September 24, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • Neverbeenthawed

      God was created by man as well. Man tests theories in science, I bet if you applied the scientific method towards the bible you would find the flaws. Try that and be honest with yourself on what you find truly, if there was a god they would want you to follow because you came to them from knowledge not from blind faith. I look forward to your discovery.

      September 24, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
    • Sybaris

      You are positing that the bible is true because it says it is. That’s like someone saying; Rule 1) I’m right. Rule 2) If there is any doubt refer to rule1. Scientific explanations are not circular because it uses principles and empirical processes of discovery and demonstration considered characteristic of or necessary for scientific investigation, generally involving the observation of phenomena, the formulation of a hypothesis concerning the phenomena, experimentation to demonstrate the truth or falseness of the hypothesis, and a conclusion that validates or modifies the hypothesis. The bible does none of that nor, in many cases can the answers or key assertions be tested.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
    • peace2all


      Well...... It looks like you have been pretty much thrashed here on your attempt to use logic and reasoning with religion.

      You are going to have to 'up your game' if you want to play with the big boys here....


      September 24, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
  13. peace2all

    I am having a problem with the author using the term....."intellectual rigor" and "Christianity" within the same sentence or article.

    Listen up: Religion does not, is not and never will be within the same domain of Science. Science relies on testing and re-testing the 'natural world.' Science has no concern about Religion whatsoever. Yet, to have intellectual rigor, would require Christians to let go of some, if not all of their 'beliefs.'

    Because remember folks........ Beliefs are just beliefs the *do not* ==== Facts.


    September 24, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
    • Kip

      You must keep in mind that when one is creating fairy tales there is no requirement for any type of anything. It all goes. I save you and now you can go in peace with it. i.e Baby Jesus had immaculate poop ~ it did not smell.

      September 24, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Sing it preacher!!! I love your words!

      September 24, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
  14. Billy Bird

    Follow God, read your Bible, don't get stuck on the small stuff ( he will guide) and learn to be what God wants you to be.
    Nothing else matters until it's over.

    September 24, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  15. RSandman

    My intent Bob is for honest and open discussion. You don't have to worry about me attacking your character or anything!

    September 24, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
    • Bob

      Sorry, I was up visiting a friend who had just given birth a few days ago. Ask away!

      September 24, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
  16. RSandman

    how it began @ Bob

    September 24, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
  17. Iswimnaked

    All religious people believe that THIER god is the greatest god. They can't all be number one.... I'm tired of the way all religious groups want to fight over who's god is better. I say no to god.....all of them.

    September 24, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
    • Opine737

      And all "non-religious" people belief that their particulary philosophy or core beliefs are superior also, don't they? This is why you believe it after all, right? Who believes in something they think is inferior, makes less sense, or is less convincing to them?

      You are just like the "religious" folk you maline! The difference? You serve a different "god" (ie-your philosophy, belief system, whatever scientific principles you look to for answers...if any or all of these are your priority...they are 'gods' to you...just as Christ is God to me).

      September 24, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
    • Iswimnaked

      ..but I have evidence to support my belief system.

      September 24, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
  18. RSandman

    @ Bob I hear you my friend, but the intent of the question was for you to give me your answer! What are your thoughts on it began? What caused the big bang?

    September 24, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
    • Kip

      The big bang was caused by a fart from the big snowman.

      September 24, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
    • Bob

      The answer is that there is no answer currently. It has yet to be explained.

      September 24, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
    • simply question

      if we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys? science is still in its infancy and has not caught up to the bible yet. time will only tell more . . . .

      September 24, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
    • peace2all

      @simply question

      What the F *** !!! ???


      September 24, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
    • Tell_Me

      simply question:

      Are you 9 years old? If so, maybe if you ask real nicely, someone will explain it to you. If not, please look up the answer.

      September 24, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
    • simply question

      @Tell_Me – oh please tell me the answer because I am obviously a moron who doesn't have the brains to come in out of the rain. Better yet, please oh please go expand on your explaination of where the answer comes from – science that have a working theory that has not yet been proven and that is not yet complete? Everything about creation v. evolution has already been explained in an undeniable means? Right? Now define irony for me – pretty, pretty, please . . .

      @Peace2all – LOL – God truly has a sense of humor – gotta love it.

      September 25, 2010 at 11:05 am |
    • simply question

      @Tell_Me – was that nice enough? I can't wait – oh please do tell enlightened one . . . .

      September 25, 2010 at 11:14 am |
    • simply question

      Whoops – the monkey in me must have got the best of this- before the grammar police go on the offensive: explanation . . . science that has or scientists that have . . .

      September 25, 2010 at 11:30 am |
  19. dontthinkso

    RE: "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 is so insulting to the generations of Christians, past and present, who don't fit into your "Hipster Christian" box, who have been a servant to mankind, whether in their communities or the world. (1) Go back and look at the groups who were anti-slavery, pro-women's rights, in this country for the last 400 years. (2) Now go to middle America, small-town America, or family farm America, and see what the average Christian family is doing for their fellow man.

    That quote is not only insulting, but shows great ignorance. Sorry. 🙁

    September 24, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
  20. Colin in Florida

    So, christians can be cool looking, drink scotch, and overspend on clothes.

    What part of this is a news story?

    September 24, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Colin in Florida

      Hey.... This is the 'Belief Blog' part of CNN.... that is why there are so many people 'here' debating and posting on this subject.

      There are other places to search for other kinds of news.... go there.


      September 24, 2010 at 4:02 pm |
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