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Peter T Chattaway

Hipster Christianity

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Satire (the allowance of it or the reaction against it) can be a very good barometer re. how healthy or unhealthy the press - and society - are. So maybe McCracken's book is partly a "touché"? If so, i think it's a good thing! (You should hear how Garrison Keillor sends up Lutherans in general and Midwestern Lutherans in particular - if anybody else said what he regularly says, they'd be run out of town on a rail! wink.gif And he's not even Lutheran himself - the audacity! biggrin.gif)

I've loved Keillor's work for some time now, until recently. Politics intrudes and with it a bitterness from him that ruins it and the whole thing for me. His schtick is always about feigned innocence and when he steps out of it, instead of commenting from inside, it's gone. But the "News" and the Lutheran stuff? It's not just Lutheran. It is a sendup, lovingly, of folks of faith that you can't really get anywhere. It is universal.

I like the cover design on McCracken's book - reminds me of all the awful (and incredibly redundant) evangelical Christian takes on the early 70s Coke ad campaign, which I'm sure Rich remembers. The ads said "Coke - it's the real thing" and the stickers, et. al. said "Jesus - he's the Real Thing." Consumer society, here we come!

What, "Jesus is the answer/ for the world today!" Remember that song? I always liked the smarmy counter, "Jesus is the answer, what's the question?" I like to rephrase that for the challenging of cant and gullibility of any kind. "Throw the bumbs out! ...." "Tax the rich! ...." You get the picture.

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Yeah, that sentence pretty much sums up the bulk of my adult life.

Me, too. Wow, both those recent quotes are awesome. So does that mean we should read the book?

It means that someone should give David Sessions a book deal.

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Holy Moly! wrote:

: It means that someone should give David Sessions a book deal.

Well, it's debatable whether I'm even "evangelical" any more. Of course, similar tensions exist for those who find themselves in other subcultures, too.

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Holy Moly! wrote:

: It means that someone should give David Sessions a book deal.

Well, it's debatable whether I'm even "evangelical" any more. Of course, similar tensions exist for those who find themselves in other subcultures, too.

I'm trying to figure out how these two statements are related, unless Peter's theology has something to do with Sessions getting a book deal.

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Joel wrote:

: I'm trying to figure out how these two statements are related, unless Peter's theology has something to do with Sessions getting a book deal.

Ack! I thought Holy Moly had said we should give Sessions' book A READ, and then I got Sessions mixed up with Tony Jones, who, in his own review of McCracken's book, linked to his own book on "postmodern youth ministry". So I was dyslexic AND, uh, whatever you'd call confusing one person's review for someone else's review.

Man, I'm tired. But it's time to put the kids to bed now. Hopefully I won't mangle any of the bedtime stories I read to them. I'd hate to end up like this poor devil:

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to my way of thinking, he's pointing out the fact that a lot of the white evangelical American church exists in its own world; that it functions without much (if any) reference to the wider sweep of historic ideas, ways of thinking, etc.. (About aesthetics, about theology, et. al.)

Of course that's a fair point, and while we may take it as sort of obvious, it's always worth reminding oneself of the limits of one's own knowledge and experience. The problem seems to be that McCracken himself doesn't seem to take this to heart--doesn't take other ideas/worldviews/subject positions seriously for long enough to actually engage them.

I'm not offended that he's making fun of hipsters, nor do think that's his primary goal here. But as Sessions teases out, talking about hipsters seems to be a tool for not talking about something else--for dismissing more substantive questions. It's as if labeling something "hipster" domesticates it, saves you from the burden of really reckoning with deeper challenges. Thus his fluffy typology of different breeds of hipster might as well be titled "Different types of people that I don't have to bother taking seriously."

This is where I go back to Carl Wilson: who says of all such screeds " ...to qualify as anything but a full-on strawman-torching session providing a smokescreen for a riot of unprocessed anxieties, I’d like to find a writer able to identify, say, three so-called hipsters by name and provide some minimal grounding of generalizations in fact. Even anecdotally. If you actually ask almost anyone five or six questions, I bet they’d soon complicate the stereotype beyond recognition....There are no hipsters, only anti-hipsters - or at least the ratio is approximately the same as that of actually existing Satanists to anti-Satanists during the heavy-metal and Goth panics of the 1980s and 1990s. The question is what in turn the hipster allows the anti-hipster to deny, and what’s being lost in that continuing deferral."

Granted, Brett muddles it a bit--by counting himself both as hipster and anti-hipster. But that just adds to the general incoherence of his argument.

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: Jesus is the answer

Can't hear this phrase now without thinking of this Stewart Lee's routine which drifts off for a bit and then returns here.

Interestingly, he

back in the 90s, but has re-engineered it into something broader looking at the nature of standup.

Stu thinks this is one of the best bits of standup ever, mainly for the second part.

And coincidentally it also mentions hipsters at one point.

Matt

PS It also features Miles Jupp in a CofE role, not dissimilar to the one he just played in "Rev."

Edited by MattPage

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My guess is that that's partly because McCracken has touched some nerves - and I don't by any means think that's a bad thing at all.

It is a terrible thing if the nerves he touches are the wrong one. His book is a misdiagnosis of a serious condition. It is theological malpractice.

The book that needs to be written in response should be titled something along the lines of The Uneasy Conscience of Hipster Fundamentalism. If you want to speak as an evangelical, go old school.

Edited by M. Leary

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And for the flipside of the coin, Craig Finn talking about his Christianity:

"So, it's kind of embracing the Catholic church as my own culture, and my own ancestors and my own background, their way of explaining morality and explaining some of the wonder of the world that's beyond our grasp."

Just tossing this in as an alternative thread of conversation on the same issue.

Edited by M. Leary

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My guess is that that's partly because McCracken has touched some nerves - and I don't by any means think that's a bad thing at all.

It is a terrible thing if the nerves he touches are the wrong one. His book is a misdiagnosis of a serious condition. It is theological malpractice.

The book that needs to be written in response should be titled something along the lines of The Uneasy Conscience of Hipster Fundamentalism. If you want to speak as an evangelical, go old school.

Yes, that's my concern about the book. Admittedly, I haven't read it. I need to read it, and I will. But based on the excerpts I've seen, and Brett's article in The Wall Street Journal, it seems to me that Brett is focused on the wrong things. I think David Sessions' comments in his book review were incisive. There's much, much more going on here than a desire to be cool, and to fit in with the culture. There is a fundamental rejection of those things with which Evangelical Christianity has been identified. The kids are not just tuning out. They're running the other way. And Brett's book appears to be analogous to a purported critique of the Amish worldview that merely focuses on the funny hats. He nails the fashion trends, but he misses the point.

I don't know how many of you are involved in so-called Emergent churches. I suspect I am, although the members of my church probably wouldn't identify themselves as such. They would simply identify themselves as part of a Christian church. But all of the other earmarks are there. It's full of people about whom the label "hipster" would easily apply if one were looking for outward signs of hipsterism. But here's the deal. They congregate together for theological and philosophical reasons, many of which have to do with an uneasiness with, if not an outright rejection of, the Evangelical cultural trappings with which many of them were raised. Vote Republican? Probably not, or at the very least they believe that whatever Republican candidate is currently running for office has not received a direct endorsement from Jesus. Vote based on a candidate's stance on abortion and/or homosexuality? Nope. Convinced of the God-given merits of free enterprise capitalism? Nope. Take their cues from the evangelical cultural ghetto? What's that? It's not that they've even rejected it. They simply don't even think about it, although they seem to actively engage the culture as Christians. Engage in the culture wars? Emphatically No. They're sick of them, and disgusted by them. Care for the planet that we live on, and take care of orphans and widows, and engage in ending sex trafficking? Yep, big time. They seem to think these things align with the will of God.

Many of them like Sufjan Stevens, and have tattoos and piercings. And Amish people wear funny hats. So what? I know these folks. They're so hip that they gladly welcome a 55-year-old fat guy with a hearing aid into their midst. And I'm there for the same theological and philosophical reasons. Those are the reasons that seem to be missing from Brett's analysis. Seem to be. I'll read the book because now I'm genuinely curious. But those are my concerns.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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And I'm there for the same theological and philosophical reasons. Those are the reasons that seem to be missing from Brett's analysis.

Just an observation, Andy. This is neither a criticism nor broad approval Hipsterism or of Emergence within Christianity, but most of the criteria upon which you based your analysis of your church was political, rather than strictly theological or philosophical. No doubt the latter two creep into the the former's general definition, but broadly, it seems to me that Emergent/Hipster/etc philosophy is more often built on a rejection of the political ideologies presumed to be rampant throughout the traditional Evangelical movement. Consequently, the movement away from Evangelicalism is often on a political axis, and as such is in some ways just as politically charged in it's self-assigned iconoclasm as the Evangelical church is in it's general conservatism. Emergent types often still adhere to the Evangelical paradigm, even while using it as a means of positioning themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum. In that way, Emergence/Hipsterism hasn't truly rid itself of the Evangelical psyche, but instead is still driven by it, albeit from a changing form of it.

This is something I think McCracken gets at when he says that CH'ism wants to be "real", and it's why I'm in agreement that his categorization of CH'ism on a "cool" axis is incredibly inept to answer the real questions at hand.

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M. Leary wrote:

: The book that needs to be written in response should be titled something along the lines of The Uneasy Conscience of Hipster Fundamentalism. If you want to speak as an evangelical, go old school.

Brilliant!

Andy Whitman wrote:

: I don't know how many of you are involved in so-called Emergent churches. I suspect I am, although the members of my church probably wouldn't identify themselves as such. They would simply identify themselves as part of a Christian church.

Well, self-identification (or the lack thereof) only goes so far. Where a phenomenon exists, people are absolutely entitled to classify it to distinguish it from other phenomena. The fact that people WITHIN the phenomenon don't LIKE the other person's classification is neither here nor there (especially if their objection is that they don't want ANY sort of classification). What matters is whether the classification is USEFUL in getting a handle on the phenomenon. (Ah, but "useful" is a term that begs for context; what SORT of uses would this handle be needed for? Etc., etc.)

There are people who call themselves "Christian" who, by any orthodox definition, are not. So do we keep calling them "Christian"? There are also people who say that they are "simply Christian" but, of course, the term "Christian" covers such a wide swath of theological and cultural developments that we pretty much NEED to come up with other labels if we are to make sense of the KIND of Christian that they are. Heck, even if they say they are simply "Bible-believing" Christians, we would have to ask which Bible they are using -- and THEN we would have to ask what sort of hermeneutical lens they are reading it through (e.g., how many "simply Christian" churches have been under the sway of 19th-century dispensationalism?).

The very term "emerging/emergent churches" is itself, of course, an effort to dodge labels; it is, in a sense, a way to say, "There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear." But will these churches still be "emerging" in 50 years? And do they really have no distinguishing characteristics here and now? I think the label exists for a reason -- but of course, labels like these are a lot slippier than they used to be. Hence the need to ensure that the labels we use are, well, useful.

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To get us back to talking about what Brett has actually written, and not just our guesses about what he might be saying... here's an excerpt from the book itself -- this is where it all leads us:

If we are making the case that cool Christianity can be a good thing, we have to be clear that the "cool" part of Christianity must exude out of the "Christ" aspect of it, not from the stylish packaging or trendiness it might otherwise be associated with. In other words, an authentic Christian hipster community looks attractive and hip and cool, not because it tries to fashion itself in the world's image, but because it does exactly the opposite -- it fashions itself after Christ's strange kingdom and his transforming gospel for a world tht desperately needs it.

People should look at this type of Christian hipster and see Christ, not cool. And this goes for any type of Christian, regardless of the question of hip. People should look at us and want what we have. Beyond style, beyond fashion, we've got to be appealing and sought after for what we have that the world doesn't; Christ's love and kingdom values. We should be a taste of the kingdom for the world, a fragrance of goodness and peace and love and mercy that makes us far more fulfilling than the fickle fashions of the day. The gospel has to be apparent in the way welive our lives -- the way we minister to the poor, the way we treat each other, the way we treat our families and friends and strangers, the way we have victory over sin and death -- and this will be immediately cool to onlookers if we live it out in a full-bodied manner.

Edited by Overstreet

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And I'm there for the same theological and philosophical reasons. Those are the reasons that seem to be missing from Brett's analysis.

Just an observation, Andy. This is neither a criticism nor broad approval Hipsterism or of Emergence within Christianity, but most of the criteria upon which you based your analysis of your church was political, rather than strictly theological or philosophical. No doubt the latter two creep into the the former's general definition, but broadly, it seems to me that Emergent/Hipster/etc philosophy is more often built on a rejection of the political ideologies presumed to be rampant throughout the traditional Evangelical movement. Consequently, the movement away from Evangelicalism is often on a political axis, and as such is in some ways just as politically charged in it's self-assigned iconoclasm as the Evangelical church is in it's general conservatism. Emergent types often still adhere to the Evangelical paradigm, even while using it as a means of positioning themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum. In that way, Emergence/Hipsterism hasn't truly rid itself of the Evangelical psyche, but instead is still driven by it, albeit from a changing form of it.

This is something I think McCracken gets at when he says that CH'ism wants to be "real", and it's why I'm in agreement that his categorization of CH'ism on a "cool" axis is incredibly inept to answer the real questions at hand.

I'd agree with that, Joel. I guess I'd also add that what I'm describing are tendencies, and not absolutes, both theologically and culturally/politically. In other words, the Socialists (really; not just Obama fans ) and the Republicans are both there, and they manage to co-exist and occasionally even love one another, in spite of some stark differences. But, in general, many people there would describe themselves as "recovering Evangelicals," with all the accompanying social commentary that cute little phrase can imply.

Accompanying that, though, is a decided theological component that desires to simplify things and do the things that Jesus did. Believe me, I'm aware of the conundrums that can arise given that approach, having been there a generation back with the Jesus Freaks. But I think it's a pretty good idea to do the things that Jesus did, so I cheer them on, and try to get in the game myself, albeit somewhat cautiously at times. But to the extent that there is a political/cultural component there, and there is, it's there because there's a general consensus that the old Evangelical way of doing things has resulted in some unfortunate theology, and gotten in the way of the Kingdom of God. The actions/cultural engagement proceeds from the theology, and not the other way around. Of course, I'm equally sure that the hardline Bushites and Reaganites who are my brothers and sisters would say the exact same thing. I just think they're wrong. :)

Edited by Andy Whitman

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Careful, now, Michael: Is the cool part of your Christianity "exuding out of the Christ aspect of it"?

Edited by Overstreet

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To get us talking about the actual text, and not our guesses about what it says, here's an excerpt from the book itself -- this is where it all leads us:

If we are making the case that cool Christianity can be a good thing, we have to be clear that the "cool" part of Christianity must exude out of the "Christ" aspect of it, not from the stylish packaging or trendiness it might otherwise be associated with. In other words, an authentic Christian hipster community looks attractive and hip and cool, not because it tries to fashion itself in the world's image, but because it does exactly the opposite -- it fashions itself after Christ's strange kingdom and his transforming gospel for a world tht desperately needs it.

People should look at this type of Christian hipster and see Christ, not cool. And this goes for any type of Christian, regardless of the question of hip. People should look at us and want what we have. Beyond style, beyond fashion, we've got to be appealing and sought after for what we have that the world doesn't; Christ's love and kingdom values. We should be a taste of the kingdom for the world, a fragrance of goodness and peace and love and mercy that makes us far more fulfilling than the fickle fashions of the day. The gospel has to be apparent in the way welive our lives -- the way we minister to the poor, the way we treat each other, the way we treat our families and friends and strangers, the way we have victory over sin and death -- and this will be immediately cool to onlookers if we live it out in a full-bodied manner.

I don't have a problem with that, but I'd still bet that many of the people Brett suspects of making the case that cool Christianity can be a good thing are, in fact, doing no such thing. There are people out there who like Sufjan Stevens (or insert your own favorite here) because they love the music, not because they have a desire to be cool.

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most of the criteria upon which you based your analysis of your church was political, rather than strictly theological or philosophical. No doubt the latter two creep into the the former's general definition, but broadly, it seems to me that Emergent/Hipster/etc philosophy is more often built on a rejection of the political ideologies presumed to be rampant throughout the traditional Evangelical movement. Consequently, the movement away from Evangelicalism is often on a political axis, and as such is in some ways just as politically charged in it's self-assigned iconoclasm as the Evangelical church is in it's general conservatism. Emergent types often still adhere to the Evangelical paradigm, even while using it as a means of positioning themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum. In that way, Emergence/Hipsterism hasn't truly rid itself of the Evangelical psyche, but instead is still driven by it, albeit from a changing form of it.

I'm confused, are you saying that that "emergent types" haven't left evangelicalism behind because they're defined in part by what they're rejecting, or that they they haven't left evangelicalism behind because they've swapped one political outlook for another?

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People should look at this type of Christian hipster and see Christ, not cool. And this goes for any type of Christian, regardless of the question of hip. People should look at us and want what we have. Beyond style, beyond fashion, we've got to be appealing and sought after for what we have that the world doesn't; Christ's love and kingdom values. We should be a taste of the kingdom for the world, a fragrance of goodness and peace and love and mercy that makes us far more fulfilling than the fickle fashions of the day. The gospel has to be apparent in the way welive our lives -- the way we minister to the poor, the way we treat each other, the way we treat our families and friends and strangers, the way we have victory over sin and death -- and this will be immediately cool to onlookers if we live it out in a full-bodied manner.

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If we are making the case that cool Christianity can be a good thing, we have to be clear that the "cool" part of Christianity must exude out of the "Christ" aspect of it, not from the stylish packaging or trendiness it might otherwise be associated with. In other words, an authentic Christian hipster community looks attractive and hip and cool, not because it tries to fashion itself in the world's image, but because it does exactly the opposite -- it fashions itself after Christ's strange kingdom and his transforming gospel for a world that desperately needs it.

People should look at this type of Christian hipster and see Christ, not cool. And this goes for any type of Christian, regardless of the question of hip. People should look at us and want what we have. Beyond style, beyond fashion, we've got to be appealing and sought after for what we have that the world doesn't; Christ's love and kingdom values. We should be a taste of the kingdom for the world, a fragrance of goodness and peace and love and mercy that makes us far more fulfilling than the fickle fashions of the day. The gospel has to be apparent in the way we live our lives -- the way we minister to the poor, the way we treat each other, the way we treat our families and friends and strangers, the way we have victory over sin and death -- and this will be immediately cool to onlookers if we live it out in a full-bodied manner.

I dunno, the message I'm getting here could probably be boiled down to one of the following options:

  • Don't TRY to be cool, just BE cool.
  • Don't be cool, be Christlike -- which is cool.
  • Don't try to package yourself in an attractive way -- just do things that attract people.

And so on. Honestly, this feels like just another version of that old evangelical bait-and-switch about how "We're not religious, we just love the Lord -- but if you join us, then we'll tell you about all these rules and rituals that we have." Or like some weird bizarro version of "Keep your distance, Chewie, but don't LOOK like you're keeping your distance."

Also, what's this about how "we've got to be appealing and sought after for what we have that the world doesn't"? Is there nobody in "the world" who cares for the poor or loves their friends and families? And what would "victory over sin and death" even MEAN to people who don't share the same definition of "sin" that we do?

I'm wondering if anyone has ever looked at Mother Theresa or any of the other nuns who have ministered to the urban poor and said, "That looks attractive and hip and cool." I doubt it. "Cool", maybe, in the sense of general approval. But "attractive" and "hip"?

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Or like some weird bizarro version of "Keep your distance, Chewie, but don't LOOK like you're keeping your distance."

Nice! That is one of the most astonishing leaps I've seen in the history of A&F. My congratulations. Dizzying.

Edited by Overstreet

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When I look at Holy Moly's emboldened phrases of Joel's quote and Peter's three bullet points it brings me back to one of evangelicalism's American hallmarks which is a sort of smallball marketing. Live in such a way, modeling Christ as you see that properly done, that others will be attracted to "what you have" which will be explained by particular witnessing techniques and easy analysis from scripture. A sort of living assuming that everyone is looking at you all the time and soft selling what it is you think they see.

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I dunno, the message I'm getting here could probably be boiled down to one of the following options:

  • Don't TRY to be cool, just BE cool.
  • Don't be cool, be Christlike -- which is cool.
  • Don't try to package yourself in an attractive way -- just do things that attract people.

And so on. Honestly, this feels like just another version of that old evangelical bait-and-switch about how "We're not religious, we just love the Lord -- but if you join us, then we'll tell you about all these rules and rituals that we have." Or like some weird bizarro version of "Keep your distance, Chewie, but don't LOOK like you're keeping your distance."

It's not Religion...It's RELATIONSHIP! (Warm fuzzies!) I would note, I hear this more from Evangelicals than I do Hipsters or Christian Hippie types. But yeah, that Relationship has a whole bunch of religious like rules and regulations to follow. :)

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Well, self-identification (or the lack thereof) only goes so far. Where a phenomenon exists, people are absolutely entitled to classify it to distinguish it from other phenomena. The fact that people WITHIN the phenomenon don't LIKE the other person's classification is neither here nor there (especially if their objection is that they don't want ANY sort of classification). What matters is whether the classification is USEFUL in getting a handle on the phenomenon. (Ah, but "useful" is a term that begs for context; what SORT of uses would this handle be needed for? Etc., etc.)

There are people who call themselves "Christian" who, by any orthodox definition, are not. So do we keep calling them "Christian"? There are also people who say that they are "simply Christian" but, of course, the term "Christian" covers such a wide swath of theological and cultural developments that we pretty much NEED to come up with other labels if we are to make sense of the KIND of Christian that they are. Heck, even if they say they are simply "Bible-believing" Christians, we would have to ask which Bible they are using -- and THEN we would have to ask what sort of hermeneutical lens they are reading it through (e.g., how many "simply Christian" churches have been under the sway of 19th-century dispensationalism?).

The very term "emerging/emergent churches" is itself, of course, an effort to dodge labels; it is, in a sense, a way to say, "There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear." But will these churches still be "emerging" in 50 years? And do they really have no distinguishing characteristics here and now? I think the label exists for a reason -- but of course, labels like these are a lot slippier than they used to be. Hence the need to ensure that the labels we use are, well, useful.

And don't forget "accurate." That one's kind of a biggie. Hence my struggles with the caricatures I'm seeing about hipster Christianity.

Re: Emerging/Emergent churches, that's a topic that is surely worth its own thread. But I'm not sure this is the one. I only brought it up because many of the descriptions of "hipster Chrisatianity" overlap, at least in a superficial way, with the trends I see in the Emerging church. But the emphasis there should be on "superficial." My biggest concern with the whole "Christian hipster" angle is that Brett has overplayed the "hipster" part of the equation and downplayed the "Christian" part of the equation. There are real theological issues to be grappled with here, and the fact that a sizable portion of kids who grew up in the evangelical milieu have abandoned that context to seek out something very different is worth exploring for reasons far beyond fashion and a desire to "look cool." The "hipster" approach is dismissive, and it largely misses the point. And I wish someone had written, or would write, a treatise on why kids, many of them hipsters, want to follow Jesus and want to have nothing to do with the odd, alternative Christian universe that has spawned them.

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Andy Whitman wrote:

: And don't forget "accurate." That one's kind of a biggie.

Yeah, it's assumed in my use of the term "useful". Inaccuracy, almost by definition, is NOT useful, at least not in any intersubjective sense. It hinders productive discussion, rather than helping it.

: There are real theological issues to be grappled with here, and the fact that a sizable portion of kids who grew up in the evangelical milieu have abandoned that context to seek out something very different is worth exploring for reasons far beyond fashion and a desire to "look cool." The "hipster" approach is dismissive, and it largely misses the point. And I wish someone had written, or would write, a treatise on why kids, many of them hipsters, want to follow Jesus and want to have nothing to do with the odd, alternative Christian universe that has spawned them.

Hmmm. This reminds me of one of the reviews which said (IIRC) that Brett had basically ignored the evangelical kids who have switched to older, more traditional denominations. It sounds like Brett hasn't written a book on "kids who leave the evangelical subculture" but, rather, he has written a book on a subset of those kids (the "many of them" to whom you refer) who, on closer inspection, are probably still very much a part of the evangelical subculture, even if they are on the fringes of it. But now I wonder if his book even necessarily has to be about KIDS. Are there no "hipster" adults, middle-aged types, etc.?

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