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Peter T Chattaway

Hipster Christianity

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I do think it's fair to say that much of what we held dear was, in fact, a collusion between retailers and advertisers.

Here's the rub: sometimes business people (even big business types) work with truly creative ideas and individuals. (Example: a lot of the music that was being recorded and marketed from the late 60s-mid 70s was very much a gamble on the public's willingness to accept often quirky, highly individualistic types like Laura Nyro, et. al.)

That rub - in some of its contemporary guises - is one of the big things McCracken tries to address in his book. (Still haven;t finished it, so I can't quite say how far he carries this particular thing...)

This is true, of course, and illustrating this was a large part of my 2005 project, which focused on Brett's bosses at Relevant, but certainly applied to much of the hip consumerism within the Christian media industry. Of course, the point of my argument was to illustrate the way channeling theological dissent and political dissent into consumer impulses rather than systemic reinvention ultimately helps preserve the systems that various rebels ostensibly oppose. My assumption was that the hypercapitalist economic order and conservative theological order both needed fundamental transformation. Brett, as a theologically conservative republican voter doesn't share these assumptions. I wonder how much of what many seem to be describing as an internal incoherence stems from an attempt to pick up on the sort of Frankfurt school critique I and notable others had leveled, without the class-based analysis and egalitarian social vision that generally animate such critiques.

It all reminds me uncannily of the incoherence of "ironic" Christian t-shirts that Relevant used to sell--that said things like "Future Televangelist" and "Bible Thumper".

Here is a great review from Hipster Runoff!

Should I buy the book “Hipster Christianity” or does it look like a crappy blog post turned into a book?

923bafc8.jpg

Do u think this author abused the word ‘hipster’ just to get ‘blog buzz’?

Is ‘hipster’ an adequately descriptive word, or are book titles just constructed to ‘get mad hits’?

Is it ‘alt’ to be Christian?

Have yall ever been in a prayer circle that involved an acoustic guitar and a dead-end 20 something wearing a Northface fleece?

Are you a former mainstreamer who ‘used’ Christianity as a way to get ur parents off ur back?

Are all authentic alts post-god?

Should God take out ‘banner ads’ on alt blogs to reach ‘the hipster demographic’?

Do alts ‘believe in God’, are they ‘atheists’, or just ‘hella chill agnostic bros’?

What do u believe in?

Is God real, or just ‘bullshit’?

Edited by Holy Moly!

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Honestly, Hipster Runoff's take on this is 10x funnier and sharper than Brett's attempt at taxonomy. They just posted a second installment!. If you haven't been following that site, you might not get the weird voice its written in, but

15bac01f.jpg

It seems like Christians are searching for media that is ‘modern + edgy’ but focuses on an eternal love for God and/or the Lord Savior Jesus Christ. It feels amazing 2 be an American, because modern Christian worship can exist in many formats, just as long as ur ‘down with God.’ It’s so difficult for the Lord to ‘break in2 teen + tween markets’ because The Bible in paperback book format just isn’t really fun. Seems sweet that modern musical aesthetics have been adapted and re-imagined to hype up how ‘effing Sweet’ God bro is.

I wanna soar with u… God bro

Feel pumped about the indie-fication of Christian music. Really think ‘wannabe alt’ teens who live in Middle America might really ‘vibe out hard’ 2 alt-looking 20somethings who are dedicated to ‘cute clothes’ and ‘loving Jesus.’

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MattPage   

Apologies if I've missed this but does McCracken ever tell you what he scored on the hipster test? That could be a crucial question.

Also, it seems like the fundamental problem lots people have with the book is that hipster, at least in the sense the book uses it, is an insulting term. No wonder people don't like being called it. I HATE the idea that I am one. I can't help but feel the book would have been better received by those it is critiquing if it had gone for a more positive name and approach. This way it seems that most of those who fall within its crosshairs will reject it because they feel insulted from the off. I accept my Christianity needs critiquing but I'm less open to hear about from someone who starts off by insulting me before I've even opened their book.

Matt

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Apologies if I've missed this but does McCracken ever tell you what he scored on the hipster test? That could be a crucial question.

Also, it seems like the fundamental problem lots people have with the book is that hipster, at least in the sense the book uses it, is an insulting term. No wonder people don't like being called it. I HATE the idea that I am one. I can't help but feel the book would have been better received by those it is critiquing if it had gone for a more positive name and approach. This way it seems that most of those who fall within its crosshairs will reject it because they feel insulted from the off. I accept my Christianity needs critiquing but I'm less open to hear about from someone who starts off by insulting me before I've even opened their book.

Matt

Brett identifies himself as a hipster, and part of the "authenticity" of the book is that he is purportedly critiquing his own culture. But you're right, "hipster" is an insulting term, and the way that silly quiz is designed, I suspect that roughly 95% of Christians not named Ted Baehr or Bernard Ratzinger are hipsters (in contrast, JP II was certainly a hipster). According to the quiz, I am a hipster, and if I am a hipster, then Richard Nixon was also a hipster. If you think, you are a hipster. If you care about art, you are a hipster. If you read books other than the Left Behind series, you are a hipster. It all gets rather silly. So Brett has the distinction of being the Don Rickles (non-ironic, non-hipster reference there to very square '60s/'70s comedian) of Christian literature. People pay to be insulted. Praise God.

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Joel   

Honestly, Hipster Runoff's take on this is 10x funnier and sharper than Brett's attempt at taxonomy. They just posted a second installment!. If you haven't been following that site, you might not get the weird voice its written in, but

15bac01f.jpg

It seems like Christians are searching for media that is ‘modern + edgy’ but focuses on an eternal love for God and/or the Lord Savior Jesus Christ. It feels amazing 2 be an American, because modern Christian worship can exist in many formats, just as long as ur ‘down with God.’ It’s so difficult for the Lord to ‘break in2 teen + tween markets’ because The Bible in paperback book format just isn’t really fun. Seems sweet that modern musical aesthetics have been adapted and re-imagined to hype up how ‘effing Sweet’ God bro is.

I wanna soar with u… God bro

Feel pumped about the indie-fication of Christian music. Really think ‘wannabe alt’ teens who live in Middle America might really ‘vibe out hard’ 2 alt-looking 20somethings who are dedicated to ‘cute clothes’ and ‘loving Jesus.’

Starting to wonder if the writer of HRO is a 'former fundamentalist Xtian' (via strict upbringing). Always assumed the author was Tao Lin, who seems 'too aloof and above it all' to admit ever having been 'down with the dc talk.'

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Starting 2 wonder if Carles is a 'former fundamentalist Xtian' (via strict upbringing). Always assumed he was Tao Lin, who seems '2 aloof and above it all' 2 admit ever having been 'down with the dc talk.'

Fixed.

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Brett identifies himself as a hipster, and part of the "authenticity" of the book is that he is purportedly critiquing his own culture. But you're right, "hipster" is an insulting term, and the way that silly quiz is designed, I suspect that roughly 95% of Christians not named Ted Baehr or Bernard Ratzinger are hipsters (in contrast, JP II was certainly a hipster). According to the quiz, I am a hipster, and if I am a hipster, then Richard Nixon was also a hipster. If you think, you are a hipster. If you care about art, you are a hipster. If you read books other than the Left Behind series, you are a hipster. It all gets rather silly. So Brett has the distinction of being the Don Rickles (non-ironic, non-hipster reference there to very square '60s/'70s comedian) of Christian literature. People pay to be insulted. Praise God.

I registered as having some hipster tendencies, but the reasons given did not fit the hipster, so to speak. If I recall, I think that most of us concluded that the quiz was a marketing gimick for, (surprise!) book to be marketed later.

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Anyone see David Brooks' column today? Most of us, I'll bet, easily access NYT, or have easy links. If not, I'd say that the easiest source of a link would be the dreaded Drudge Report. Brooks is high up in the "D's" of the pundit list. It is called The Gospel of Wealth about a Southern Baptist mega-church minister whio seems to be quite at home with the gist of many of our arguments here.

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From a long blog post on WSJ article - not the book - by Dana Hicks:

McCraken cites Mosaic Church in L.A. meeting in the Mayan Theater as an example of trying to be hip. Yet, while I was interviewing Erwin McManus (the Lead Pastor of Mosaic) for my dissertation he cited meeting in the Myan as a strategic and missional decision based on their ecclesiology, NOT to be more hipster. “Meeting in the Myan harkens back to the first century when the early Christians met in the pagan temples of their day. It is our way to speak to the culture of Los Angeles,” McManus told me. McCraken makes a lot of anthropological rookie mistakes – projecting his own meaning on to symbols that he is unfamiliar with.

McCraken’s discussion of sex in the church was the most disturbing to me. It seems that EVERYBODY in our culture is talking about sex except the church but apparently, it’s too embarrassing for McCraken. Jesus talked about sex and there is even a whole book of the Bible devoted to sex. Many of the contemporary attempts at discussing sex are not what McCraken calls, “…deep, serious cultural adaptations…” but thoughtful cultural exegesis and contextualization of the way of Jesus. (In particular, Rob Bell's, Sex God - which I believe was a breath of fresh air to the conversation).

McCraken ends the article with this prophecy, “As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.” When I read those words, I had a serious case of déjà vu. I heard those same words from the mouths of Bill Hybels and Rick Warren in the mid-1990’s. It was the same thing I heard repeated ad nausium at Leadership Network’s Gen X conferences in the late 1990’s. It is the same thing I hear from idealistic college students to this day. Perhaps every idealistic twentysomething thinks their generation is just a little more pure, a little more well intentioned, and therefore a little more “real” than previous generations?

Edited by Overstreet

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From a long blog post on WSJ article - not the book - by Dana Hicks:

McCraken ends the article with this prophecy, “As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real.” When I read those words, I had a serious case of déjà vu. I heard those same words from the mouths of Bill Hybels and Rick Warren in the mid-1990’s. It was the same thing I heard repeated ad nausium at Leadership Network’s Gen X conferences in the late 1990’s. It is the same thing I hear from idealistic college students to this day. Perhaps every idealistic twentysomething thinks their generation is just a little more pure, a little more well intentioned, and therefore a little more “real” than previous generations?

Yup. Like I say, I don't know of a generation not yet mature that hasn't felt that way. From the boomers on, they've said the same thing.

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After all... "Christian" probably wasn't meant as a compliment, back during the apostles' time. :)

Am I in trouble if I say that that's another of my pet-peeve words, right up there with "hipster', and I think the world might have been better without it? :)

Edited by Overstreet

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After all... "Christian" probably wasn't meant as a compliment, back during the apostles' time. :)

Am I in trouble if I say that that's another of my pet-peeve words, right up there with "hipster', and I think the world might have been better without it? :)

Hipster alert! ;)

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FWIW, over the weekend (while I was out of town, attending a wedding in a location that had virtually no internet connection), a friend of mine posted a comment at Facebook which made an argument that I don't think I have seen anyone else make yet. He basically grouped the Baby Boomers with the Jesus People, Generation X with the Emergents, and Millennials (his own cohort) with the Hipsters -- so, as far as this Facebook friend of mine is concerned, being a "hipster" is a generational thing as much as a fashion thing or an ideological thing.

And one of the implications of his taxonomy -- which, yes, was inspired by McCracken's articles and/or book -- is that Emergents and Hipsters are not the same thing. Which is interesting, as it seems to me that the terms have been used semi-interchangeably in this thread.

Side note: Is this book only trying to define "Christian Hipster" in a way that explains what sets these people apart from other Christians, or is it interested at all in how "Christian Hipsters" might be different from other Hipsters?

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mrmando   

My wife went to a Civil War reenactment over the weekend, and as a gift she bought me a souvenir:

A hip flask!

If I grow the goatee out to a lumberjack beard ... and start spouting nonsense about 1st-century Christ-followers meeting in pagan temples ... maybe it's not too late for me to get pigeonholed!

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M. Leary   

Brett says: "The website and all the interactive features on the website are, first of all, marketing for the book. As an author with the sincere goal of wanting to reach the widest possible audience with a conversation I care deeply about, I wanted to create a website that intrigued people and got them thinking about the whole idea of “hip” Christianity. I wanted it to be informative and descriptive, but I also wanted it to be fun and lighthearted. The quiz is in no way meant to be taken seriously as a measure of one’s hip aptitude, whatever that might mean."

There is a long, very central, chapter in the book that exegetes these different "hipster identities" directly. Is that not meant to be taken seriously either? Not to mention the myriad little boxes of lists scattered throughout the book that are no different from the now-infamous CT hipster lists.

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M. Leary's point about how central "fluff" is to this project is again, interesting in light of Brett's history with Relevant. When we spoke in '05 he seemed to agree with my basic objection to Relevant's fluffy lifestyle pieces presenting themselves as serious analysis but he explained that he stayed on board mostly for the sake of having a platform.

Now, as Jeffrey et al have pointed out, despite whatever objections Brett has expressed to religious discourse being driven by adaptation to cool marketing trends, Brett is picking up tools of the secular commercial media (goofy quizzes and lifestyle typology trend pieces) and Christianizing them.

There's something kind of darkly funny about how believing in the importance of the message you're trying to communicate makes it easy to justify this kind of pandering and accommodation. I suppose I could pull the ultimate hipster move and accuse him of "selling out"! But it's much less a question of "selling out" than "buying in". and ultimately I think his failures are just a product of the christian media machine where he built his career. Preemptively criticize something for being superficial and market-driven and no-one will notice how superficial and market-driven you're being.

Regardless of political allegiances, there is a trend towards an inverse relationship between a magazine’s theological/intellectual depth and its circulation numbers. On the other hand, circulation numbers seem to be positively correlated with “lifestyle” issues, and coverage of Christian consumer products. It would be unwise to specifically fault Christian publishers or readers for this, though, as the same phenomenon can be seen in the secular world; Harper’s will never sell as many magazines as Maxim or Martha Stewart Living. Still, this observation should be kept in mind as RELEVANT’s editorial choices are examined: in general the most financially successful Christian magazines do not seek to challenge their readers intellectually or ideologically. The most popular magazines fill their pages with formulaic inspirational profiles, devotional material, articles offering guidance on practical “lifestyle” matters, and information about new consumer products [and identities].

relevant.jpg

(Data accurate as of 2005)

Edited by Holy Moly!

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Final thoughts from Patrol:

...the way McCracken uses “hipster,” as a catch all for an amorphous group of young people is all kinds of wrong. Here’s the thing though, it does exactly what he wants it to. It gives the old folks a group to finger. “Christian hipster? Oh, you mean those kids with their clothes and their hair and their rock and roll music.”

Yup. That’s the Christian hipster McCracken is talking about. And that is precisely what is wrong with his point of view. At the bottom of all things it is an acquiescence to the older generation of evangelicals that he seems so eager to impress. It’s as if he’s screaming “Hey Olasky, Carter, Neff! Check me out! I’m an insider, but I’m really on your team!”

And it’s working. The old guys are eating this stuff up. The inimitable John Wilson took some exception with McCracken’s WSJ piece (keep it real, JW), but for the most part people seem to really think that they get it now. Ugh.

Edited by Holy Moly!

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Persona   

I'm still trying to figure out how I'm not one of the old guys... I take scissors to the gray in my beard, my body aches, I don't really hang out with the cool kids, in terms of decades I just turned four. What am I, if not old?

Never mind. Don't answer that.

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mrmando   

Lead by example, e2c. What did you like/find useful about the book?

I admit I can't contribute to a fair discussion because I haven't read the book, nor am I likely to. That's why I'm posting here and not in the other thread.

Edited by mrmando

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and... I don't want to diminish others' opinions about this whole topic, but it does seem to me that there's a lot of negativity when it comes to McCracken and his book. (Though it appears that very few people posting in this thread have actually read it, which I think is a bit strange... since the impressions that folks - including me - have been getting re. what he says in the text itself are very fragmentary as a result.)

I guess that I'm responding to hipsterism within christian fellowships in general and, the apparantly wrong impression I've had of, hipsters equal to or largely comprising various new movements within evangelicalism. I guess if I want to read the book, I'll do the other thread. Do you have to read a book to get the gist of its purpose, or point? If you can't read everything, I thought "the back of the book" in various mags and Books & Culture helped sketch impressions. And threads like this one.

Edited by Rich Kennedy

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Holy Moly!, if you could put the link with that last Patrol quote, that'd be cool. I found the article easily enough. But for the upcoming days when that article isn't on their front page anymore...

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The Stuff Christian Culture Likes blog has discovered hipster Christianity ... but never mentions McCracken or his book. Hmmm.

Interestingly, e2c (aka Spinning) seems to have posted a comment there already, re: the photo that was posted in this thread a few days ago here.

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