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. not impressed

    @Peace2all ...right, and the name "peace to all"? Where is the peace in attacking someone for having faith? Interesting.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
    • peace2all

      @not impressed

      Please see response above to your initial posting....

      Peace to you....

      September 24, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  2. Bugsymagoo

    you'll all be mine in t6i6m6e

    September 24, 2010 at 5:24 pm |
  3. Mike

    Hipsters are retarded, religious or not.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
    • Critter


      Shame on you, Mike. That was a nasty thing to say. But since I say nasty things about you, I guess I shouldn't complain too much..

      September 24, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
  4. Bugsymagoo

    God died a long time ago. Lucifer exterminated him. Get over it, losers!

    September 24, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
  5. christjones

    Someone tell me why this isn't just an article by this guy promoting his own book. Typical Christian and typical hipster. Passive aggressive codependent belly button starer

    September 24, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
  6. Chris

    There are a lot of great comments made here for the article. I grew up in a single parent household who was in and out of church of various denominations, even looked into other religions as I started to questions life as a teen. As I have grown and matured and learned to ask questions instead of just listen without asking so that I and others may understand, I have learned to fast, pray, read and ask the Lord for guidance on what the truth is and that He'd lead me to where He wanted me to be. Just stick to the what the Bible says, no need to be hip or cool, these are terms the world uses to describe itself, but God called us out of the world, instead of cool, how about saved? Or Sanctified? We are not to associate ourselves with secular terms, we are to be new creatures, not modified ones. No need to put people down, be dogmatic or anything we've experienced growing up, just following the Lord's instructions, pray, fast, and read, and let Him lead you

    September 24, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
    • peace2all




      September 24, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
  7. Heather

    I am not now, have never been, and never will be a Christian. However I know with absolute certainty (the same you all use to cite your belief in Jesus, etc) that if there is a hell, I will not be required to attend. Period. So suck it, all of you who think I belong there! And have a lovely Friday.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
    • Chris

      You ve a blessed friday yourself, God bless

      September 24, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
    • not impressed

      @Peace2all ...right, and the name "peace to all"? Where is the peace in attacking someone for having faith? Interesting.

      September 24, 2010 at 5:20 pm |
    • Keith

      Heather, The Bible teaches that each of us will stand before a Holy God in judgement. We will be judged by God's standard of holiness. This is not like our own standard. It's like looking at a sheep standing on a hill. You might say, "look at that pretty white sheep". Then it snows. Now you look at the same sheep and say, "look at that dirty sheep". In a similiar way, what we see as "pretty", God sees as filthy.

      September 24, 2010 at 8:09 pm |
    • Keith

      Heather, The Wrath of God abides on everyone who does not know Jesus as savior. That Wrath is the lake of fire. The good news is that you can change your permanent address from the 'lake of fire' to 'Heaven'. But you must first realize that you are a sinner and have not lived up to God's holy standard. Unless you first admit that, you cannot receive Jesus as savior. If you do admit that you are a sinner, you can then ask Jesus to forgive you of your sins. Turn away from your sins (repent) and ask Jesus to come into your heart. He will. If you have questions, feel free to ask them. I wish you well Heather and I pray you find the Savior.

      September 24, 2010 at 8:27 pm |
  8. RSandman

    @ peace2all.......... lol How so my friend? Please explain how! since you are so sure of my thrashing lol.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
    • peace2all


      Because God just *is* silly man, didn't you know that.....HE created everything. And Morality....That too.... Had to come from God.

      You will never win this debate on your use of logic.


      September 24, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
  9. Karen Matthews

    Become Catholic and you can be as hip or geek as you want to be...offering both historical faith and reason.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
  10. Thrushjz

    Good Article, However as a member of a Popular Christian Rock Band in the 80s myself, I think we need to be careful that being 'Tragically Christian Hip" does not become more important than Jesus Christ and following him. I see many young well intentioned Christians that do all the things to be Hip IE Drinking the latest fad drink of the month, wearing $100 jeans that look like they came off a street person, forcing agendas on others like Global Warming or recycling, Listening to exclusively non christian music, driving a Prius even if you can't afford, Etc.. These things are not bad unless you drink too much, but be careful Christian Hipsters. In the words of the Great Funk Band Tower Of Power, "What is Hip?"

    September 24, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
  11. RSandman

    @ David ......you say "The Big Bang explains what formed the universe. Actually, gravity and inertia explain what formed the universe. Gravity and Inertia would be ALL that was needed to form the entire universe. No god required." How do you know that is true? Did you do the test yourself? Are you not relying on the words of other men?

    You stated that the Big Bang explains what formed the universe then you ask "Where did your god come from? If you say he always existed, then why can't the universe aways have existed"? Do you now believe the universe to be eternal? Which is it?

    I think it would be a good idea to question the Big bang just like you or I would question any other bang!
    Sounds like your universe comes from nothing!

    September 24, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
    • David Johnson

      Because science has actually watched the formation of planets. The properties of gravity and inertia are known.

      September 24, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
    • David Johnson

      As I told you in a previous post, the nothing can come from nothing argument is not a good one.

      Where did your god come from? Oh, that's right he is magic. Okay, then my universe is magic.

      Science isn't like your "must believe it one way" fundamentalism.

      The Big Bang theory will be subject to rigorous scientific principles. If it is falsified, a new theory will take its place.

      Your theory of a sky daddy isn't even in the running. LOL

      September 24, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  12. Kenny Blair

    I can answer Brett's question of how much significance the "Christian Hipster" movement will have on church-cultural relations. The answer is NONE if it continues to be as self focused as Brett paints it to be. Is the focus on Christ or all the trappings that it took Brett 9 paragraphs to describe? (I did not see one paragraph on a description of the God he claims to follow.) Sadly, it has always been easier to be selfish than it is to "lose one's life" for the sake of the Gospel.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:59 pm |
  13. not impressed

    WOW! Do you want to witness hate in action? Read the attack of Jesus in these posts!!!

    Don't worry believers, they mocked Jesus too. The funny thing is, they think this attack can actually sway us! I've never been more convinced of the existence of God than when I witness the fervor of those who oppose Him.

    Great article!

    Tell you what, while all of you throw stones and mock us, we'll go out and actually feed the poor and hungry. By the way, there are plenty of scientists who believe. I've noticed that the most devoted atheists merely have HUGE ego and pride issues and don't want to submit to any authority. It is not so much about intellect as it is about the LOVE of self-proclaimed genius!

    September 24, 2010 at 4:59 pm |
    • peace2all

      @not impressed

      Well.... your name says it all.... There are a lot....maybe most, including myself that are...simply 'not impressed' with pretty much any of your posting.


      September 24, 2010 at 5:13 pm |
    • peace2all

      @not impressed

      Re: your posting below...... While I may debate and even attack certain assertions made by people of faith, or people with no faith for that matter.....

      I do still wish you peace in you life....... The 2 aren't mutually exclusive.


      September 24, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
    • Deedlewinks

      I was not aware that you christians were the only ones going out there feeding the hungry...

      I cannot respect ANY argument that begins or ends with name calling. I think both sides of the argument are
      guilty of that, why can't people accept the beliefs of one another with out all of the irrational verbal abuse?

      I decided a long time ago to take each individual as a human being, if belief makes you a better person that is a good thing no matter what that you believe. It's when your beliefs make you closeminded, hateful, or even violent that it becomes a problem.

      I am married to a man who comes from a VERY religious family, dad is a pastor etc., my husband is the only nonreligious one of the bunch and the judgement and guilt he suffers at his parents inability to see anything outside of their "box" is a constant struggle. I have chosen to deal with this the only way I can feel good about, I love them, I am patient and hope with time they will realize that I am a good person despite the fact I am not a believer.

      September 24, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
    • not impressed

      @Deedlewinks I agree. I am disgusted by the name calling. However, in case you haven't noticed, the majority of the name called in this thread is not coming from Christians. I'm tired of rolling over and taking gut-punches in this "so-called" tolerant culture. Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek when hit by a brother. I see no brothers here, at least in those who are throwing stones in this venue. What I see is an all out attack on my faith.

      My father-in-law is an atheist. He is a hateful, grumpy man, and also believes himself to be an intellectual. He has mistreated and emotionally abused his spouse and his children from the beginning for their faith. It is pathetic and is not humane. I witnessed my mother-in-law just take his insults for so long under the guise of turning the other cheek. I'm not going to be THAT kind of Christian. Christians are here to stay and so is faith. If you want us to turn the other cheek, then you'll have to join up and become a brother/sister in Christ. What I will fervently fight for is my RIGHT to raise my children in a faith-filled home without the hate and slander from groups of people who would rather insult someone for doing good than be busy in their own lives.

      This article is about someone doing good in their community. It was not an invitation for an attack on the whole of Christendom, and yet...look what happens.

      September 24, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
    • Kate

      @not impressed

      I'm wondering if

      What I will fervently fight for is my RIGHT to raise my children in a faith-filled home without the hate and slander from groups of people who would rather insult someone for doing good than be busy in their own lives

      would extend to, oh – say Muslims?

      Just wonderin'

      September 24, 2010 at 6:37 pm |
    • Tell_Me

      not impressed:

      Baddies come in all persuasions. I had a relative (by marriage) who was devoutly religious. He had 9 children and ruled the household with an iron hand. He chose one of the girls to se-xually abuse for years, quoting the Bible the whole time, telling her it was "God's will".

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

      @not impressed

      Yep.... I have known 'a lot' of really awful so-called christians...... You seem to think that you christians have the 'nice/loving/peace/tolerant/ market covered.

      Sorry pal....


      September 24, 2010 at 7:17 pm |
  14. Sybaris

    Why doesn't god heal christian amputee's?

    September 24, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
    • not impressed

      Why do you fight with such fervor against something that you don't believe in?

      September 24, 2010 at 5:13 pm |
    • Critter

      @not impressed

      Why do you not address the question? Why don't amputees ever grow new limbs? Please ask Jesus for us if you will....

      September 24, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
    • not impressed

      You first. 🙂 You're so sure of what doesn't exist, afterall. I figure since you have a handle on all that is unseen, that you should be the ones to anwer.

      I don't have the audacity to claim to have all the answers...that's an atheist's department.

      It's funny; you put so much FAITH in what you don't really know for certain. 🙂

      September 24, 2010 at 5:54 pm |
    • Critter

      @not impressed

      I asked a simple question and even asked you to intercede for us poor atheists. Where is your faith? Did you leave it in church and forget to bring it home with you?????

      September 24, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
    • peace2all

      @not impressed

      Yes, I too am (respectfully) waiting with Critter on your answer....


      September 24, 2010 at 6:06 pm |
  15. Amused

    As a history professor, I'm always amused at how people think their take on things in contemporary culture are cutting edge and radically "new". Has this author ever read Francis Schaeffer, or for that matter, his son, Franky Scheffer?? The Christian hipster idea has been around for decades (at least since the 1970s). It reminds me of how the current evangelical church movement thinks that they are the first to struggle with old vs. new music in church. . .the Council of Trent was on it 500 years ago!
    Nevertheless, I enjoyed the article, and as an evangelical believer myself, I can relate to the Christian Hipster moniker.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
    • peace2all


      Interesting post..... And really.....? You are a 'history' teacher and an 'evangelical'....really...?

      And your teachings may be a bit .....'biased'....possibly....?


      September 24, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
  16. Respect

    Christianity is just doing this "face lift" because they are losing a record number of their flock. Atheism and it's armies grow daily. Islam grows at a rapid pace as well.

    For people that abandoned Christianity, it's a matter of nothing being done about the molestation scandal, the wingnuts in charge, and the message of the Church that you can't do anything without God.

    People are waking up. The only person that secures your destiny is you, not some invisible make-believe cloud in the sky. If you want something, you go get it. Defend your property with your life, and everything else will take care of itself.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:54 pm |
  17. RSandman

    @ David.........What do you think about origin, meaning, morality, and destiny?

    September 24, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
  18. RSandman

    Hope to hear from you David

    September 24, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
  19. RSandman

    @ Why are you so reluctant? I hope I didn't offend you or anything. I would ask where did you get that definition of faith. Is that your own definition. You know there are mutilple defintions of faith. Here is one : confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing. Do you believe scientist are telling you the truth? Do you belive the scientific method is a truthful method in finding the truth? Why don't you considered those scientist who say the world was created since you value what science has to say so much?

    September 24, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
  20. Alan

    I do agree with the author, but I won't label myself as "hip", just enlightened.
    Atheists and Agnostics are always comparing pagan religious practices to the belief in one God. History shows that monotheism has been around as long if not longer than other practices.

    Man created "Religion", God created us. Having spent a large part of my youth in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia) and not being able to worship in the standard church, I learned to believe in God and Christ without the clutter of Religion.
    Churches are social groups, that have fallen into the belief that they control access to God. Like any other clique they sway with the times and fashions of society. The truth of God is absolute, and has never really changed, man has.

    September 24, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
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