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. alan

    There is no more reason to subscribe to the beliefs of Christianity than any other religion. There is no particular reason to believe in any supernatural forces or beings at all. All of the effort put into religion over the millenia has been a complete waste.

    September 24, 2010 at 8:31 pm |
  2. Ted

    If @David Johnson revisits these comments, feel free to look me up on Facebook (/tedharder11). I'd be interested in discussing some of the things you've brought up. I may present angles you have previously not considered or already ridiculed. =)

    September 24, 2010 at 8:02 pm |
  3. peter

    noooooo! that will bring down my property value.

    September 24, 2010 at 7:46 pm |
  4. peter


    September 24, 2010 at 7:34 pm |
    • Kate

      *adds peter to her list of people to get with a Downfall video in the near future before sending Jehovah's Witlesses around to visit him*

      Just plottin'

      September 24, 2010 at 7:39 pm |
  5. peter

    i was kidding, now you can say you've been called a towel 😉

    September 24, 2010 at 7:23 pm |
    • Kate


      D'oh, nut!

      Dratted lack of threaded views!

      I'm still trying to figure out if I was insulted I wasn't accused of being a satanic witch

      Just groanin'

      September 24, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
  6. peter

    kate your just a towel!

    September 24, 2010 at 7:07 pm |
    • Kate


      And a hoopy frood to boot!

      Just Hitch-hikin'

      September 24, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
    • peace2all


      Wait, what...?


      September 24, 2010 at 7:11 pm |
    • Kate


      A real hoopy frood who knows where her towel is.

      Yeesh, you're so unhip it's a wonder your bum don't fall off!

      And on a hippy thread too!

      Just quotin'

      September 24, 2010 at 7:19 pm |
    • peace2all


      You got me... s#i+..!!!! One of my all time favorite books from my past.... totally forgot.



      September 24, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
  7. g

    Religion is for those who lack the stregnth to deal with life. It defies logic. Sorry crazies. You're all wrong. You'll all see once you die and realize there is no afterlife. You will have wasted your time on earth believing in a false idol, and a childish idea of a heaven and hell. Fools.

    September 24, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
    • Flora

      If there's no afterlife, how am I going to realize anything?

      I pity you; too afraid to appear ignorant to others to even realize your own purpose in the world, you've rendered your own existance meaningless. You are only human; when the self-worship gives out and you fail yourself, nothing else awaits you but the darkness of your own misery and self-loathing.

      September 24, 2010 at 6:56 pm |
    • simply question

      @g – What happens when you die and realize there truly is heaven and hell? What if you are the one who is wrong? Did you ever think of that?

      September 24, 2010 at 7:42 pm |
  8. Dan Beach

    Listening to 'Christian Rock" is torture...

    September 24, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Dan Beach

      Listening to pretty much 'Christian anything' is torture...


      September 24, 2010 at 6:41 pm |
    • peace2all

      @Dan Beach

      For examples: Please see above and below at any of @FLORA'S comments....


      September 24, 2010 at 7:09 pm |
    • Kate


      Oh come on now, be fair, you have to asmit flora's reply

      If there's no afterlife, how am I going to realize anything?

      was pretty sharp replying to g. Maybe flora just needs to quit being uptight and realize these are just CNN's Belief Blogs and aren't in any way shape or form designed for, or conducive to, serious sensible discussion, and go with the flow?

      Just notin'

      September 24, 2010 at 7:13 pm |
    • peace2all


      Oh come on..... THAT was an 'easy' catch... even @Flora got it.... 🙂 She's a writer.... don't be 'crossin' pens' with her....


      September 24, 2010 at 7:22 pm |
  9. Katie

    Wow. Who knew hipsters could get even more annoying. It's funny because in my experience (for the most part) hipsters and christians are both very nonaccepting and cliquish groups. It seems perfectly logical they would go together.

    September 24, 2010 at 6:09 pm |
    • Kate


      I hate them for the simple reason I really don't have the tummy to get away with them in public

      Just suckin' in my breath

      September 24, 2010 at 6:53 pm |
  10. Flora

    A message to all Atheists on this board:

    You not doing anything but being trolls. You want some logic, how's this: As an atheist, it would go against your moral (oh I'm sorry – superiorly intellectual) fiber to even be on this post. You would have passed this article right on by, so that your obviously higher knowledge would not be sullied processing anything so illogical as faith. And yet, here you are, attempting to convert the masses to your perferred way of thinking, which you honestly believe is right. By all LOGICAL reasong, you are no different than a Christian missionary. You are delving into the bowels of intellectual Hell, trying to save hapless minds from the Great Evil of Faith and Religion. With "The Origin of the Species" in hand and the reasonings of Darwin, Hawkings, and Einstein at your side, you set out to spread Atheisms' message of godlessness and self-worship and to crush all thoes whose opinions differ from yours. Yes, you are superior. Yes, you are right. Yes, you are absolutely, 100%, NOT religious.

    September 24, 2010 at 6:07 pm |
    • peace2all


      And the Lord said....."And ye shall know them by their lack of ability to form any coherent, rational or logical argument....nor shall they provide any kind of proof whatsoever, so sayeth me."


      September 24, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
    • Kate


      That's "Hawking" ... Guys, news flash a plural society doesn't mean there's more than one of everything!

      Just correctin'

      September 24, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
    • peace2all


      LOL.!!!!! 🙂 Ahhhhh we missed ya' Kate..!


      September 24, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
    • Critter


      LOL...that is awesome stuff...hahahaha!

      Very inspired! 😀

      September 24, 2010 at 6:39 pm |
    • Critter


      As an agnostic troll, I resemble your remarks but regret that I am unable to give you satisfaction, for I am not an atheist.
      But I am a troll.

      September 24, 2010 at 6:46 pm |
    • Flora

      Peace2All: That sounds a lot like you, don't you think? I sound very coherent actually, and my post makes perfect sense. If not, prove how (unless, of course, you'd rather insult me from afar because you don't HAVE a rebuttal).

      Kate: So I accidentally put an "s" at the end of "Hawking"; what of it? Is my logic suddenly void because of a tiny spelling error, or are you just grasping at any reason to disregard what I say? (BTW, the comma goes after the "news flash" as well, and there's no such word as "correctin' ". Learn to spell before you try to cross pens with a writer.)

      September 24, 2010 at 6:47 pm |
    • Kate

      Ohai guys ... fancy meeting you here!

      So, anyone want to lay odds on how long before I get accused of being an atheist here?

      So far I'm up to being called a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian, a Baptist, a Mormon, a Moonie, a Jehovah's Witless, an Atheist, an apologist, a self-loathing catholic, a scientist, a guy, a girl, something between the two, an alien, a mind reader, a brainwasher, a cultist, a republican, a democrat, a liberal, a socialist, a conservative, and french.

      I'm hoping someone here will try to get a little closer than all of those for once!

      Just havin' a self-identity crisis

      September 24, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
    • Kate


      I never made any comment whatsoever regarding my opinion of the validity or lack of such of your comment, I was simply correcting the common error everyone makes regarding Professor Hawking's name.

      Thank you for the grammatical correction in response – even if I'm taking it with much more grace than you did mine 😛

      As for your last point ... I'll let Reality explain that – I'm sure he has something he can copy-and-paste on the topic somewhere on the web 🙂

      Just respondin'

      September 24, 2010 at 6:52 pm |
    • Peacemaker

      Flora, don't be so judgmental! Even atheists have freedom of speech and actually it is good for them to comment and challenge us! Don't be so quick to condemn someone who does not believe! Judgment is completely up to God, and He knows what is in a person's heart! Also.... FYI: Einstein was a believer in the end! Peace to you.

      September 28, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  11. Sherlock Von Einstein

    wes anderson films? coffe shops? toms shoes? scotch?

    those things aren't hip. they haven't been cool in 5 years or so.

    i've always noticed that whenever christianity tries to assimilate, its always a good decade behind. in the middle of the night, the religious channels still have dudes with bleached spiky hair snowboarding and bungee jumping. being "extreme" went out of style in the mid-90s.

    September 24, 2010 at 6:02 pm |
    • Heather

      Haha yeah! His stupid beard and hairdo are so 2005... (I feel so immature typing that, but alas, 'tis true...)
      And if there is a hell, I guaranty they play GOD AWFUL CHRISTIAN ROCK non-stop there. Maybe that's how they get you to go to the light...
      Christianity is just another fad of the Ages... I know it hurts you all to believe that, what with all you've been fed your whole entire lives, but worshipping a dead guy isn't the only way to have a good life... It just gives you your precious free pass to judge those who don't want to join your clan/cult/whatever. Have fun with that!

      September 24, 2010 at 8:15 pm |
    • Keith

      Heather, Please go back to your 5:12 pm post.

      September 24, 2010 at 8:37 pm |
  12. Chuck

    I think this article is wonderful but it still begs the question...do Christian Hipsters oppress gays or support gays in their right to love one another, express that love with one another and to formalize that love with a legal civil union? I would love to know! Maybe I can begin to feel better about my collective faith.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
  13. Tyler V

    The problem with the "hipster" movement is not cultural (for would should except the gospel to impact all cutlures and the universal church should be one of the most diverse organizations on the planet) but the problem is often theological. In my 12 years of ministry, I have found that while the hipsters may be the more "authentic" (though "authentic" is usually synonymous with fitting in with their culture)they are often so highly impacted by culture to the degree that they abandon much of orthodox Christian doctrines – if they are concerned with doctrine at all. It is the kind of "I want a strong relationship with God... but I dont wanna know anything true about him."

    September 24, 2010 at 5:55 pm |
  14. Time Bandit

    Being a scientist does not require you to be an atheist. But I think it requires you to be skeptical of the idea that any religious text is the revealed word of God, the truth, immutable. Faith and science are not incompatible. For me, science is the search for the how. It does not really address the why. Why do we live in a universe where matter can not go faster than the speed of light? I don't know, and it doesn't seem possible to evaluate that question using science. Many scientists find the answer to why in faith, but are still willing to go wherever the scientific evidence takes them.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
  15. matisse

    i'm a heretic though a christian. grew up as one. can't remember a time not knowing god is there. can't prove it just know and experience it. can identify with most of what brett is writing but don't believe anyone without christian socialization can understand what he's writing about. that's why this thread of comments is developing in the usual discussion about god vs science where neither one can claim a victory as the one is called belief for a reason and the other is based on the imagination of brilliant but limited human minds.
    in my world cool isn't cool. authenticity is cool. love is cool. meaning is cool. there are definitely a lot of un-cool christians out there. probably as many as un-cool heathens.
    what the 'christ' in the christianity i'm struggling with gives me is a past forgiven, a reason for living and a future in heaven. i can't present a so called 'scientific' evidence for it so some of my friend still call it imagination.
    a friend of mine said once "for someone who doesn't love god heaven isn't be a cool place". i hope i can contribute to them loving god as i want them to be there. if i need to be 'cool' for that i'll be it my way.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
  16. RSandman

    Explain my friend how it is silly......don't attack me attack my statement!
    hope you will be here tomorrow!
    don't leave me hanging!

    September 24, 2010 at 5:42 pm |
    • not impressed

      Just so you know...peace2all let me know that he doesn't attack people he wishes them "peace". ha. Great definition of the word 'peace', eh?

      September 24, 2010 at 5:45 pm |
    • peace2all


      That pretty much sums up your argument and evidence....doesn't it....

      We have all pretty much stated our thoughts and claims. You have been doing the majority of the question asking....

      We would love to hear your thoughts. I am very open to being wrong here. Please understand this.

      However, am I wrong to assume that you are a 'believer'... of some kind in God/Jc.... etc...

      I am very (sincerely) interested in hearing 'your' 'opinions' on all of this. Don't mean to attack....

      However, I do wish you peace....

      September 24, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
    • peace2all

      @not impressed

      So far... Pretty much nowhere on this thread/article have you made any kind of reasoned argument about anything. You just seem to be caught up in my ability to debate someone's point of view and.....still wish them Peace...



      September 24, 2010 at 6:35 pm |
  17. Alan

    @Time Bandit
    Being a scientific type myself I understand where you are coming from. But belief in God requires Faith. Faith is the belief in something that is uncertain, without proof, because you feel it is right. Because of this there is a human component it. It is personal and is different bettween people. Dogma aside, something had to create the idea of being or even the idea creating, the idea of something and nothing. God created the world physical, spiritual and intellectual. If you believe in an idea of God then all else follows.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:40 pm |
    • peace2all


      You said..." But belief in God requires Faith. Faith is the belief in something that is uncertain, without proof, because you (feel it is right)."

      The part about....."because you (feel it is right).--–This is quite often the argument without evidence that the 'believer' usually ends up with.

      Either...... The bible tells me so... here it is...this verse and that verse.....and/or...because ...."i just have this feeling."

      Both are not open to evidence...... Just because...you *may* have a feeling about something, doesn't make it a fact.


      September 24, 2010 at 5:47 pm |
    • Critter


      I am curious as to God's attributes. What sort of things does God do? Is he the God of Logic and Reason as well as the universe? Because if he is, then why are logic and reason viewed as being anti-thetical to God? Or did I miss something at the last supper??

      September 24, 2010 at 5:52 pm |
  18. RSandman

    @Time Bandit.....I appreciate the fact that you took time to respond to my post with tact. I like your post I will respond to it tomorrow when I get back.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:39 pm |
  19. RSandman

    @ Sybaris.......you say 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. What is the definition of science and the scientific method? I'm not trying to be sarcastic or anything. I am asking a genuine question.

    September 24, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
  20. Time Bandit

    @RSandman – While people may believe in the Scientific Method, it is not a belief system. A belief system accepts certain statements to be true, a priori, without question (the beliefs). If these beliefs are found to be in conflict with observations in the world, the observations are either ignored or hugely complicated (and unsupported) theories are proposed to reconcile the observations with the beliefs.

    The Scientific Method works differently. Observations are made. A hypothesis is offered to explain the observations. A hypothesis must explain the observations, provide some predictions as to what else might be observed if the hypothesis is true, and be falsifiable (i.e., if we observe THIS, there's no way this hypothesis could be correct). If the predictions can be observed, the hypothesis is fleshed out, and ultimately becomes a theory, which is a coherent and comprehensive evidence-based explanation for a phenomenon that, over time, is accepted as the explanation to beat.

    And that is the point. Did you know that Newton's Theory of Gravitation, which is one of the most elegant and all-encompassing explanations of the observed behavior of objects in motion, is, well, wrong? Wrong in the sense that it is incomplete – it works very well for motions that humans typically deal with, but it has been supplanted by Einstein's Theory of General Relativity.

    Scientists are human, and they are certainly capable of making mistakes, or of being more concerned with personal glory than hunting for scientific truth, and in this sense there is a similarity with religious people who misrepresent their specific belief system and cause harm in the world. But the Scientific Method requires you to observe, think, test, and repeat, endlessly, in a never-ending quest to get closer to the truth. True scientists do not claim they have answered any question forever – theories get well-established only when there is an overwhelming preponderance of evidence in their favor – but instead tell us that "this is the best explanation we have right now for what we observe."

    In contrast, a religious belief states, "This is how it happened." No verifiable evidence, non-falsifiable, no predictive power. If you want to believe that your religion offers the best explanation we have right now for what we observe, you have that right. But that is simply a belief, based on a hypothesis that you do not open up for debate.

    I, on the other hand, believe in the Scientific Method as the best way to unravel the mysteries of the universe. I believe this not because I say "the Scientific Method is correct, so don't argue with me." I believe it because the Scientific Method has demonstrated itself over the last few thousand years to be extremely reliable in advancing Man's knowledge of the universe. It works.

    BTW, the Big Bang theory is simply the best explanation we currently have for the observations we have made. Many scientists talk about it in a way that gives it the aura of "this is what happened," but like all scientific theories, if something better comes along, we'll evaluate it and perhaps it will replace the current theory. Please don't confuse this with "I believe Moses, with the assistance of the Almighty, parted the Red Sea."

    September 24, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
    • simply question

      Thank you for your eloquant post explaining what you interpret relgious belief to encompass in comparison to science. You have a wonderfully made and logical mind. No, I am not being sacrcastic with that statement. Please let me humbly make my point – don't take it as an attack, but more of have you ever thought of it this way kind of deal:
      1. a proposition, or set of propositions, set forth as an explanation for the occurrence of some specified group of phenomena, either asserted merely as a provisional conjecture to guide investigation (working hypothesis) or accepted as highly probable in the light of established facts.
      2. a proposition assumed as a premise in an argument.
      3. the antecedent of a conditional proposition.
      4. a mere assumption or guess.

      now let's look at
      1. The act of taking to or upon oneself: assumption of an obligation.
      2. The act of taking possession or asserting a claim: assumption of command.
      3. The act of taking for granted: assumption of a false theory.
      4. Something taken for granted or accepted as true without proof; a supposition: a valid assumption.
      5. Presumption; arrogance.
      6. Logic A minor premise.

      Don't get me wrong, I totally dig science – I find it very fascinating, but science even with its exponential growth, it is in its infancy and theories are just that. A hypothesis is based assumption or presumption – the best theory of what could have occurred until some new discovery leads to a better hypothesis. Does it prove it then? The bible is based upon ancient text which is the testimony of people who walked during the time of Moses and of Christ, along with everyone in between. Is there evidence to support a portion writings of the bible? Yes, there is – not enough to show everything is undeniably proven. It is based on the belief that it is true (not to mention, the scripture that it is true – I know how non-believers hate that, but it is true that is what is says). I’m not even going to attempt to explain every discovery to support it. Why? Because someone will always come up behind with a theory as to why it does not and it still doesn't provide the proof everyone seeks. We all know the Holocaust happened – why? There are countless testimonies of those who survived along with actual physical proof. What happens when the physical evidence deteriorates over time – is lost by a fire or whatever else. Are there going to be people in a few hundred years going to believe it happened? Where is the proof?

      1. The mental act, condition, or habit of placing trust or confidence in another: My belief in you is as strong as ever.
      2. Mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth, actuality, or validity of something: His explanation of what happened defies belief.
      3. Something believed or accepted as true, especially a particular tenet or a body of tenets accepted by a group of persons.

      With all of my heart and all my mind, I believe God exists and that He is the creator – I believe Christ is His Son and He is our Savior. Why? Because I believe the bible speaks truth. No one has and will convince me it is not – they have no proof it is not what it says it is. Here is my simple minded "hypothesis" for you . . . just what if science has not yet caught up to the bible yet?

      September 24, 2010 at 7:17 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.