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Peter T Chattaway

Hipster Christianity

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What Brett calls "hipster" appears very much to me like having a sense of perspective.

Heh. Here we go again. It's amazing how hipsters eventually morph into adults, which I suspect is a lot of what this is about.

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This article is the most innoffensive thing I've seen from Brett in a while. There is something to what he's describing: the gradual change in economic models from niche retail markets to integrated markets. I think there's much more to it than just growing up or taste, though that is a big part of it (it's happening for young evangelicals with bad taste too!). There's still a good book that could be written about this shift.

Edited by Holy Moly!

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Heh. Here we go again. It's amazing how hipsters eventually morph into adults, which I suspect is a lot of what this is about.

Y'know, the first thing I thought of on finishing his column was, "Welcome to adulthood, Mr. McCracken." Also, for him it was Terence Malick. For me it was Billy Wilder, Coppola, and Paul Schrader filmscripts.

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So, like, I recently got a copy of this book and I'm blitzing through it now in anticipation of a panel discussion that I'll be taking part in later this week, and I just came across a passage that was, um, interesting, in light of how Jeff, in particular, has responded to this book and the hype around it.

I refer to the bit on pages 92 and 93 that is subheadlined 'The Literature of Post-Youth-Group Christian Hip', where Brett talks a bit about the magazines Relevant, Paste, Risen and Image -- all but one of which Jeff has written for, I think -- and then he follows it with this sentence: "And of course many, many other webszines and blogs regularly pop up to cater to the Christian hipster class -- sites like conversantlife.com, patrolmag.com, and lookingcloser.org, among countless others."

So... just wondering, Jeff, have you actually read the book yet? Or had you heard about this passage yet? I wasn't aware, until now, that Brett had come thisclose to naming you so directly, or associating you with the "Christian hipster class" as explicitly as he does there.

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So, like, I recently got a copy of this book and I'm blitzing through it now in anticipation of a panel discussion that I'll be taking part in later this week, and I just came across a passage that was, um, interesting, in light of how Jeff, in particular, has responded to this book and the hype around it.

I refer to the bit on pages 92 and 93 that is subheadlined 'The Literature of Post-Youth-Group Christian Hip', where Brett talks a bit about the magazines Relevant, Paste, Risen and Image -- all but one of which Jeff has written for, I think -- and then he follows it with this sentence: "And of course many, many other webszines and blogs regularly pop up to cater to the Christian hipster class -- sites like conversantlife.com, patrolmag.com, and lookingcloser.org, among countless others."

So... just wondering, Jeff, have you actually read the book yet? Or had you heard about this passage yet? I wasn't aware, until now, that Brett had come thisclose to naming you so directly, or associating you with the "Christian hipster class" as explicitly as he does there.

When will this bullshit ever go away? Can we just make it stop?

I keep waiting for Sts. Augustine, Francis of Assisi, and Mother Teresa to be added to the laundry list of Christian hipsters.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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I preface this long-winded response with this obvious reminder:

I am allergic to H-word.

I'm allergic to all of the associations that come with it. If the H-word has any relevance to my blog and reviews, then I see only two possible explanations: A) I am failing at all I ever set out to do there, or B) I really really do not understand the H-word.

So... just wondering, Jeff, have you actually read the book yet? Or had you heard about this passage yet? I wasn't aware, until now, that Brett had come this close to naming you so directly, or associating you with the "Christian hipster class" as explicitly as he does there.

Thank you for reminding me of something I'd really like to forget.

Imagine Christianity Today published an article on Westboro Baptist Church, and published a list of STUFF THE PROTESTORS AT WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH LIKE. At the top of the list you saw: ArtsandFaith.com. That would bug you, wouldn't it? To have your work directly associated with a group of people whose values run counter to yours? That's kind of how I feel about having my work identified as some kind of hipster credential.

Of course, if CT published a list of STUFF THE WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH PROTESTORS LIKE, it would probably include things like C.S. LEWIS and CLASSICAL MUSIC and STARBUCKS COFFEE and VEGETABLES. In other words, it would do more to confuse matters than to help us understand something.

According to a guy in my church who read H-ianity, Brett names both me and my website somewhere in there. My fellow churchgoer was so excited that the book had "finally given him a term" for those "alternative young people" who are "distracted by" and "preoccupied with" worldly entertainment. He then said, with some skepticism, "The author thinks you are one of the most influential hipsters."

Which just kind of made me want to go drive my car off a bridge.

But I learned that after I had read McCracken's article in The Wall Street Journal. So I was already frustrated about the whole idea of H-ianity. It wasn't a mention of me that caused me to start twitching.

But yeah... learning that my work has been slapped with the H-ianity label has had a lot to do with why, in my extremely limited reading time (I only read four books last year, and two of them were audiobooks), I haven't had much desire to make time for this one.

I don't cater to anything called a "Christian hipster class." I really couldn't care less if something is considered cool or not. I like to write about faith and art and my own fumbling journey of growing up in the Gospel. Part of that journey has involved overcoming fear of "the world" and finding that God is at work in art and culture. Nothing new here. Certainly nothing "hip" here.

I couldn't afford to care about cool if I wanted to. Getting over concerns about cool was part of growing up, for me. I kind of tried to be cool when I was a junior in high school. I failed.

What I read isn't, to my knowledge, considered to be cool. (On my nightstand right now: The Divine Conspiracy. A Syllable of Water - a book on writing by Christian writers who have been writing for thirty years or more. Two new novels by friends who asked me to read them. Recent fantasy novels by Patricia McKillip and Robin McKinley. And a book about fairy tales that was published in the 70s that I grabbed from a Library book sale bin for a quarter.)

What I write certainly isn't cool. If it was, I suspect I would be earning a few bucks in royalties. Most young Christian bloggers who write about my novels are very excited about them as "allegory," which tells me they've misunderstood the stories.

What I wear, eat, drink, etc. ... I don't give any thought to whether it's cool or not. I buy the clothes I can afford. Jeans. Button-up shirts. Typical Seattle-weather overcoats. (I have two somewhat interesting shirts I wear for speaking engagements so that I won't look like I just dragged something out of the laundry. I bought both of them used. Because I am relatively poor.) I try to eat healthy, because I should.

I don't have a cell phone, partly because I can't afford one.

I drive a Toyota Corolla. It runs on (brace yourself) gasoline. No wonder hipsters are flocking to me!

I listen to the music that I find beautiful and thought-provoking. I like Over the Rhine because they did a great show in Seattle in 1995 and it was a revelation to me, and most of what they've written since has moved me. Have they become more successful? Yeah. They make good music. Funny thing: If you build something worth having, you'll get more customers.

I like Shakespeare because I've liked Shakespeare since 1984 when I was in junior high and had a good teacher, not because it's hip. (Ah, but Shakespeare is on the "Stuff Christian Hipsters Like" list, so how can I argue with that?)

The mail I get at LookingCloser... when it comes at all anymore... comes from non-Christians, longtime pastors, high schoolers, parents, teachers, friends from college, and other movie critics. How do you like my hipster cred now?

I recently spoke about faith and film to an audience of women between the ages of 20 and 90 at The Spokane Christian Women's Association, where the local Republican politician was glad-handing with a big fake grin on his face. I almost choked on the hipness of it all.

But how can I argue with anybody who says I'm an influential hipster? The definition as I understood it from the CT articles is so vague, so flexible as to be meaningless. Might as well post a list of "Stuff Christian Hipsters Eat": chicken, cereal, carrots.

I used to think I knew what the H-word meant. All of the associations I had with the term before its confounding evolution had to do with posers... people who were self-conscious about their social standing and made their purchases to try and manufacture the appearance of awesomeness. These are people for whom being on the cutting edge of trends is more important than following a muse or paying attention to what things mean.

The H-word, as I understand it, is about what's "now." In other words, it's about stuff that will soon be over.

And sure enough, the magazines McCracken associates with H-ianity are already fading. Paste has vanished from newsstands. I haven't seen a new issue of Risen in at least a year. Part of a strategy to increase their hipness, I assume? Are back-issues of Risen popular? If so, I've got a huge stash of extra back-issues I'd like to sell.

Most of what I see being attributed to this new spin on the H-word just looks to me like people of all ages developing discernment, enjoying art, and growing in their appreciation of the finer things. The label that's been pinned on them couldn't have less to do with what they're about.

If my website introduces people to art that they find meaningful, I'm glad. But I "cater to hipsters" about as much as I cater to octogenarians. (The last person who asked me for a link to my thoughts on Blue Valentine is 83. I am just so hot right now!) Anybody who names me as part of any "hipster movement" has just announced how very little they understand. If I ever write something that helps rescue a reader from caring about things like the H-word, I'll be grateful I had the opportunity.

Seems to me a lot of Christians are listening for the voice of the Spirit in the wide, wide world around us. Like they have been for centuries. I think that's called, um... listening to the voice of the spirit in the wide, wide world around us. God is at work in the realms of arts and culture. People who know that don't need to be labeled. And they especially don't need to be tagged with a term that has anything to do with trends, superficiality, or social status.

Only God can save us now.

Edited by Overstreet

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I keep waiting for Sts. Augustine, Francis of Assisi, and Mother Teresa to be added to the laundry list of Christian hipsters.

Mother Theresa was into silent meditative prayer and talking about the silence of God. And that stuff is so hot right now.

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I keep waiting for Sts. Augustine, Francis of Assisi, and Mother Teresa to be added to the laundry list of Christian hipsters.

Mother Theresa was into silent meditative prayer and talking about the silence of God.

She had to be dragged into it, though. She started out all about the active stuff. Didn't think there was time for contemplation. Eventually changed her tune, though. Her contemplative life makes for a great episode in Malcolm Muggeridge's conversion story.

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Muggeridge! Jeez, why don't you just put on your HELLO I AM A HIPSTER tag, Greydanus? I mean, heck. You write movie reviews for Christianity Today. Doesn't get any more Christian hipster than that.

Edited by Overstreet

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Andy Whitman wrote:

: When will this bullshit ever go away? Can we just make it stop?

Apparently not! Like I say, the only reason I'm reading the book right now is because the Canadian branch of the Kindlings Muse is discussing it this week, and I certainly didn't choose the topic, but I'm one of the regular panelists, so...

: I keep waiting for Sts. Augustine, Francis of Assisi, and Mother Teresa to be added to the laundry list of Christian hipsters.

As it happens, St. Francis and Mother Teresa are referenced multiple times in the book as figures who are popular with Christian hipsters. I don't recall any reference to Augustine in the section that I've read so far, though.

Actually, one of the things that makes the book kind of hard to read, for me, is the way Brett spends a lot of time defining "hipster" and the various subsets thereof by listing all the things that "hipsters" like. And as an outsider to this scene, I find that most of the names on these lists really don't tell me anything. They don't help me to get a sense as to what these various groups are all about. It's just a list of favorite brands.

And I had to laugh when I got to the section where he rattles off a list of "Hip Christian Figureheads" -- described as the people that Christian hipsters "tend to idolize" (page 98) -- and then, when he gets to Shane Claiborne, he begins by rattling off a list of people (including, yes, St. Francis and Mother Teresa) that Claiborne "cites as his heroes" (pages 99-100). Lists within lists! Idols within idols! Heroes within heroes!

Overstreet wrote:

: According to a guy in my church who read the book, both me and my website are named in it.

Yeah, I finally came across your actual name on page 172, which is an odd passage in its own right.

There, he says, "I have seen the development of the Christian hipster aesthetic sensibilities firsthand," and then, after three sentences of saying that Christian hipsters reject the approaches of Plugged In and Movieguide, he then spends an entire paragraph (which extends to page 173) on CT Movies, of all things (and he names you there as one of CT Movies' Protestant critics, while also naming SDG and Frederica Mathewes-Green as Catholic and Orthodox critics who also write for CT Movies). And then he begins the next paragraph by saying, "But we are just one of a number of intellectually nuanced Christian film outlets..."

This is a strange passage to me for so many reasons. I mean, sandwiching any discussion of CT Movies between phrases like "Christian hipster aesthetic sensibilities" and "intellectually nuanced" just seems kind of counter-intuitive. CT Movies clearly doesn't limit itself to family fare, so it's obviously a different sort of website than Plugged In or Movieguide; but at the same time, both you and I have written, both here and at our blogs, about some of the editorial changes that were made to our reviews against our will, to make them dwell a little more on a movie's gay themes or to make them say nicer things about films that had been marketed heavily towards Christians, etc. One of my reviews was spiked altogether partly because it didn't fall in line with the movie's pro-Intelligent Design agenda. And one of my first reviews for CT Movies was even tweaked to add some pro-McDonald's content (though I was able to tone down the tweaking, at least).

Anyway. None of these things strikes me as particularly "hipster-ish" in sensibility. Nor do a lot of other things that Brett tries to rope into that category.

: He then said, with some skepticism, "The author thinks you are one of the most influential hipsters."

Well, I haven't seen Brett say anything quite like THAT, yet. He says your website is one of "countless" websites that "cater to the Christian hipster class", yes, but, strictly speaking, he hasn't called YOU a "hipster" yet, let alone "one of the most influential", at least not in the first 178 pages.

I mean, to say that a writer is POPULAR with "Christian hipsters" is not necessarily to say that the writer IS a "Christian hipster". Otherwise Brett would basically be saying that N.T. Wright is a "hipster". And that would be so, so ... well, odd.

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And as an outsider to this scene, I find that most of the names on these lists really don't tell me anything.

Ah, but the first clue that you are a Christian hipster is that you see yourself as an outsider to the scene. Thank you for coming out, Peter.

: He then said, with some skepticism, "The author thinks you are one of the most influential hipsters."

Well, I haven't seen Brett say anything quite like THAT, yet. He says your website is one of "countless" websites that "cater to the Christian hipster class", yes, but, strictly speaking, he hasn't called YOU a "hipster" yet, let alone "one of the most influential", at least not in the first 178 pages.

I am very relieved to hear it.

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Overstreet wrote:

: Ah, but the first clue that you are a Christian hipster is that you see yourself as an outsider to the scene. Thank you for coming out, Peter.

:)

Actually, I started reading the book on a bus ride to church the other day, and, as it happens, my church is only a few blocks from Commercial Drive, which is one of the "hipper" areas in Vancouver. And then it dawned on me that, while reading Brett's "history of hip" and all the rest of it -- and in this location, no less -- I was listening to a Star Trek movie soundtrack on my earphones. And, like, seriously, there's nothing particularly "cool" about THAT, right?

And THEN I started thinking about Patton Oswalt's recent editorial on the death of geek culture, and how Oswalt was making many of the same complaints that "hipsters", as defined by Brett, make, re: the mainstreaming of what was once a narrow and somewhat exclusive subculture. Except geeks have always kind of prided themselves on NOT being "cool", right?

As they say on Facebook, "it's complicated". But I'm sure there are some comparisons and contrasts that could be teased out, there.

And now, jumping to a completely different tangent:

The book begins with a quote from C.S. Lewis. Which strikes me as odd, because Lewis really didn't give a fig for cultural relevance or whatever. He wrote children's stories, for example, BECAUSE HE LIKED THEM, and despite the fact that they were not very popular with the academic set. Cf. that famous quote in which Lewis says that, when he was a child, he tried to be very grown-up and so he read children's books in secret, but when he became a man, he put away childish things, including the fear of appearing childish, and so he now read children's books openly.

Yes, yes, it is certainly possible to argue that there is a certain contrarianism to Lewis's position that the "hipsters" would have an affinity for. And there may be all sorts of other things that Lewis has in common with the "hipsters", too. But if "hipsterism" is, as Brett defines it, about seeking the cultural edge -- constantly trying to be ahead of the pack, as it were -- then Lewis was definitely the antithesis of that.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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. I mean, sandwiching any discussion of CT Movies between phrases like "Christian hipster aesthetic sensibilities" and "intellectually nuanced" just seems kind of counter-intuitive. CT Movies clearly doesn't limit itself to family fare, so it's obviously a different sort of website than Plugged In or Movieguide; but at the same time, both you and I have written, both here and at our blogs, about some of the editorial changes that were made to our reviews against our will, to make them dwell a little more on a movie's gay themes or to make them say nicer things about films that had been marketed heavily towards Christians, etc.

And here's the ONLY context where to me it seems to make sense to even structure a conversation around this concept of "hipster christianity"-- as a way of understanding the way tensions within Christian traditions about different ways of understanding art are negotiated less by theology and more by capital.

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Is there a secular equivelant to McCracken? It seems to me, only in religious culture are such "sub-culture" groups treated with such seriousness. Yes, people might put up blogs with lists about why they hate hipsters or goths or whatever...but I cannot think of a mainstream author who goes on the news or writes editorials about subcultures (unless there has been some actual tragic event-say a campus shooting)... this kind of serious introspection only seems to be a Christian experience.

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Oh man. By sheer coincidence, this item from the L.A. Weekly popped up in my news feed this morning:

Each Monday, your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets around Los Angeles.

God is for Real, Man

Author:Carl F. Burke

Date: 1966

Publisher: Association Press, New York

Discovered at: St. Vincent's Thrift, Long Beach

The Cover Promises: The tales of the bible retold for "some of God's bad-tempered angels with busted halos" . . .

I actually remember reading a friend's copy of this book when I was, like, 10. We thought it was so cool that, when Job hears his children and servants have been killed, he says, "Well I'll be an S.O.B.!" It was like he sweared without really swearing -- cool!

And note: this book was published in 1966. Forty-five years ago. It even predates Larry Norman's solo career.

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Is there a secular equivelant to McCracken? It seems to me, only in religious culture are such "sub-culture" groups treated with such seriousness. Yes, people might put up blogs with lists about why they hate hipsters or goths or whatever...but I cannot think of a mainstream author who goes on the news or writes editorials about subcultures (unless there has been some actual tragic event-say a campus shooting)... this kind of serious introspection only seems to be a Christian experience.

Serious introspection about subculture is a staple of punk and hiphop communities. Sara Marcus' recent book about Riot Grrl is a good example, or Gabriel Kuhn's book on Straight Edge. But usually there is a deeper understanding of the meaning and history behind the symbols of the subculture. There's an understanding that subculture is primarily productive--not consumptive-- that it's more than a place for young people to work out their peer group insecurities. And the response is generally more discerning--people can tell the difference between a serious critical study like Marcus's and other vastly inferior books on Riot Grrl that came before, which are treated with less seriousness.

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So, they don't enter the discussion with a presumption that said subculture is a negative and an attitude of condescension?

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The Canadian version of The Kindlings Muse did a show on Hipster Christianity last night.

A blogger shared some notes this morning:

There was alot of discussion on what "Hipster" is, and according to my notes:

- If you call yourself a hipster, you probably aren't one.

- Commercial Drive in Vancouver; most hipster neighbourhood to live in.

- Hipsters are young, independent, rebellious, individualistic people who all listen to certain bands (or certain specific types of music), have favorite movies, wear a particular style and brand of clothes. In other words, hipsters are defined by and dependent on consumerism.

- Hipster = exclusivity. Which is the opposite of Christianity... = inclusivity.

- Being a hipster is all about image management. It's selfish. Self-centred.

Hmm. Why do I react so negatively to having that word slapped on the lives of Christians who love art? I wonder.

She goes on:

The panel discussion was good, but the chatting around our table was better...

:blink:

And then...

Just now, while typing out my notes, I googled Hipster Christianity to link to the book, and guess what I found?

Uh huh.

A quiz!

A "Are you a Christian Hipster" Quiz.

And guess what this traditional, middle-aged Mennonite mama who buys her clothes in the fat store got for a final score...

Yeah. That's right.

Your Christian Hipster Quotient:

74 / 120

High CHQ. You are a pretty progressive, stylish, hipster-leaning Christian, even while you could easily feel at home in a decidedly un-hip non-denominational church. You are conservative on some issues and liberal on others, and sometimes you grow weary of trendy "alt-Christianity." But make no mistake: You are a Christian hipster to at least some degree.

Edited by Overstreet

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The Canadian version of The Kindlings Muse did a show on Hipster Christianity last night.

A blogger shared some notes this morning:

There was alot of discussion on what "Hipster" is, and according to my notes:

- If you call yourself a hipster, you probably aren't one.

- Commercial Drive in Vancouver; most hipster neighbourhood to live in.

- Hipsters are young, independent, rebellious, individualistic people who all listen to certain bands (or certain specific types of music), have favorite movies, wear a particular style and brand of clothes. In other words, hipsters are defined by and dependent on consumerism.

- Hipster = exclusivity. Which is the opposite of Christianity... = inclusivity.

Heh...heh...hehehehehehehe... I would say one can call Christianity inclusive with grand caveats.

(true of pretty much any belief based group of people)

Edited by Nezpop

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man, this is a loooonnnng thread

Not sure what is un-hipster about drinking cappuccino mocha lattes, even at McDonalds, but I still agree with the sentiment. We all don't have to give in to this sort of thing.

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Overstreet wrote:

: The Canadian version of The Kindlings Muse did a show on Hipster Christianity last night.

Monday night, actually, though it might not have gone online until last night.

: The panel discussion was good, but the chatting around our table was better...

Heh. I'd even be inclined to say that the chatting among the panelists, during the breaks and after the recording, was better than what got recorded. But that's just because there was so, so much more that could have been said that wasn't.

More later, maybe.

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One of the things that a few of us discussed outside of the podcast was the fact that we had covered Joel's book Sects, Love and Rock & Roll in another podcast just a few months ago, and it was interesting how both books reflected a similar generational outlook, yet Joel's book was narrowly focused on the music and was thus able to go deeper into the music and what growing up with it has meant over the years, whereas Brett's book tried to cover EVERYthing (the history of fashion, the transition from "emergent" to "missional" theology, etc., etc.), and in a post-grad term-paper kind of way, and thus felt more shallow.

I do think a fairly major flaw of the book is that Brett couldn't decide whether he was talking about his g-g-generation or whether he wanted to discuss the evolving nature of the church's efforts to be "relevant". There are times when the book practically screams "Don't trust-- er, show this book to-- anyone over 30," e.g. when Brett includes a sidebar of popular CCM albums that "hipsters" "grew up" with -- in the 1990s. But then there are those other sections where Brett tries to trace "the history of hip" all the way back to the Renaissance (which feels a bit backwards and anachronistic to me, like calling the invention of the wheel the beginning of "the history of the SUV").

Certainly, the fact that Brett tries to trace "the history of hip" all the way back to the Late Middle Ages kind of makes it stand out all the more when he writes as though modern "hipster" techniques are something new and daring. Relevant magazine covers secular music more than it does Christian music? Wow, you'd think this hadn't been done by magazines like Campus Life back in the '70s. Christians are trying to co-opt the "hip" elements of this present age and end up looking a little square in doing so? Well, I already linked a few posts back to that article on God Is for Real, Man, a book that came out in 1966.

And while I don't want to nit-pick too much, I do find it kind of telling that, in his section on "the 1960s" and all the rebellion that was taking place then, Brett makes a reference to James Dean movies. This would presumably be the same James Dean who died in 1955. It does make you wonder just how well Brett understands the history and evolution of these things, or whether he is passing along something only semi-digested. (I also had to arch an eyebrow when he mentioned the significance of Lonnie Frisbee to the Jesus People movement of the late '60s and early '70s. Certainly David Di Sabatino's film on Frisbee makes a powerful argument in that direction, but prior to that film, which only came out a few years ago, I had never heard of Frisbee and I don't think many other people had either. But, unless I'm forgetting something, Brett just kind of mentions Frisbee's significance as though it were accepted or received wisdom.)

Anyway. Maybe some more thoughts later.

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