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#41 Holy Moly!

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Posted 18 May 2010 - 05:43 PM

As to another point above, "the first generation since consumer religion"? I don't think so. I'm not sure I'm of the first generation. I gotta think that Aimee Semple McPherson, Billy Sunday, Bp Fulton Sheen, Robert Shuller (he started out by renting a Drive-In theater for Sunday services) and Oral Roberts might have made some contributions to consumer religion.


Precisely; I made the mistake of thinking this was all a recent development when i set out writing about this phenomenon; in fact it really is just building one what's been happening since Mason Weems in around 1790 (as described in Laurence Moore's excellent Selling God.)

There are some things that are new--new tools, new technologies, unprecedented market consolidation. More voices than ever competing for the church's attention and allegiance. New countersubversive tropes in advertising and media discourse.

What is new is the way imagery and symbolism of the cultural and political left are appropriated precisely as a means of avoiding substantive theological questions.

I like the way Andy is thinking: the importance of getting at the real critiques of the church and the real human needs can't be overstated. The phenomenon exists because it speaks to real needs and real problems. But my conviction is that fake counterculture/surface-level theological & eccelesiological dissent is not neutral but violently occupies the space once occupied by authentically humane culture and prophetic witness, the same way Lady Gaga crowds Tracy & The Plastics out of our consciousness.

#42 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 18 May 2010 - 10:27 PM

But my conviction is that fake counterculture/surface-level theological & eccelesiological dissent is not neutral but violently occupies the space once occupied by authentically humane culture and prophetic witness, the same way Lady Gaga crowds Tracy & The Plastics out of our consciousness.

Man, I gotta get younger or something. If I knew who Tracy & The Plastics was, I think I'd be more solid on the meaning of this. OTOH, fake counterculture and surface-level theological and ecclesiological dissent have always been around too. Dare I ask if this also has a lot to do with the sturm and drang of twentysomething spiritual cravings? I seem to have seen this before with Gen X and Boomers at this age.

#43 NBooth

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Posted 18 May 2010 - 11:54 PM

Dare I ask if this also has a lot to do with the sturm and drang of twentysomething spiritual cravings? I seem to have seen this before with Gen X and Boomers at this age.


In part, I think it does (at least, Joe Carter is awfully fond of chastising the folks at PatrolMag for repeating the "revolutionary" statements of the previous generation, all the while thinking it's a new thing). But I'm reminded of Chesterton's contention that the fake proves that there's something out there to fake.* The surface-level pretensions of hipsters (of all stripes, Christian and non-) just might prove that there's something deeper to be had there, and close attention to the signifiers they adopt might lead them to that deeper stuff. In other words, though she occupies violently territory that is not her's, properly attended to even Lady GaGa could be a gateway to Tracy & The Plastics.** And that's a pretty hopeful outlook in the end.

* I doubt C would appreciate my appropriation here, but I'm not too concerned with that. :)

**I admit without shame that I had to google the latter.

Edited by NBooth, 19 May 2010 - 12:00 AM.


#44 Holy Moly!

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Posted 19 May 2010 - 12:51 AM


But my conviction is that fake counterculture/surface-level theological & eccelesiological dissent is not neutral but violently occupies the space once occupied by authentically humane culture and prophetic witness, the same way Lady Gaga crowds Tracy & The Plastics out of our consciousness.

Man, I gotta get younger or something. If I knew who Tracy & The Plastics was, I think I'd be more solid on the meaning of this. OTOH, fake counterculture and surface-level theological and ecclesiological dissent have always been around too. Dare I ask if this also has a lot to do with the sturm and drang of twentysomething spiritual cravings? I seem to have seen this before with Gen X and Boomers at this age.


You're right that you've heard it before, but that's just because the culture trust has been using the same rebel consumer archetype since the 60s. The specific kind of commodified dissent i am talking about was invented in the 60s as universally applicable sales pitch: "buy this to escape conformity". I don't think it's endemic to twentysomethings except insofar as they are trained to follow madison avenue's script.

I really should get around to posting my essay on this online somewhere.

#45 M. Leary

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Posted 19 May 2010 - 07:20 AM

The specific kind of commodified dissent i am talking about was invented in the 60s as universally applicable sales pitch: "buy this to escape conformity".


That gets tricky for Christian subcultures too, as part of that line is "buy this to escape conformity - because it is smarter and more aware than its predecessor (or we guarantee that it will at least make you look like it is)." So we hear a lot about how much smarter Christian cultural products have become, like Sufjan for example, and celebrate this aspect of these artifacts as a sign of life. But what that actually means as a cultural trend is far less significant than we think it is. The next smartness is always right around the corner. Cue whatever trend the publishing companies find to replace Emergent/ing church stuff when that peters out.

#46 Andy Whitman

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Posted 19 May 2010 - 12:40 PM

The specific kind of commodified dissent i am talking about was invented in the 60s as universally applicable sales pitch: "buy this to escape conformity".


That gets tricky for Christian subcultures too, as part of that line is "buy this to escape conformity - because it is smarter and more aware than its predecessor (or we guarantee that it will at least make you look like it is)." So we hear a lot about how much smarter Christian cultural products have become, like Sufjan for example, and celebrate this aspect of these artifacts as a sign of life. But what that actually means as a cultural trend is far less significant than we think it is. The next smartness is always right around the corner. Cue whatever trend the publishing companies find to replace Emergent/ing church stuff when that peters out.

Although I think manufactured rebellion is part of the equation, I'm not sure it's the most important consideration in understanding hipsters or hipster churches. What about good, old-fashioned aesthetic excellence? How does that factor in?

As one who is now witnessing his second generation of Christian hipsters (we called the first wave "Jesus Freaks"), I see a lot of the same patterns at work that I saw in the '70s. On a superficial level, the Jesus Freaks were all about rebellion; rebellion against staid, traditional church models and all the trappings those models entailed. But they created their own conformity just the same, as evidenced by the early CCM heroes, the "hip" Christian authors they followed at the time (Francis Schaeffer, Ron Sider), and the fashions they wore (peasant dresses for the sisters, flannel shirts for the bros, with matching hair down to the middle of the back). It is always this way. The hip becomes unhip all too quickly. And the next wave reacts to the unhipness.

As a proud former hipster still desperately clinging to the vestiges of cool (I'm kidding. Right?), I hated the conformity, even in the Jesus Freak '70s. I worked at a Christian bookstore for several of those years, and I would try not to physically wince whenever somebody brought a Honeytree album or a Hannah Hurnard book to the cash register. What I would say was, "That'll be $5.99." But what I wanted to say was, "Good sister, why do you support that which sucks? Praise God.{1}" Looking back on it, this reaction had little to do with what was hip/cool (God forbid that Hannah Hurnard should ever be considered cool, but, in fact, she was for a short, deluded time), and a lot more to do with perceived artistic excellence. I saw a lot of kitsch in the traditional Church. I saw a lot of kitsch in Jesus Freakdom, even though it was marketed under the rubric of countercultural non-conformity. And I didn't like any of it.

There are some crucial differences in this new generation of Christian hipsters. They have, for the most part, rejected the idea of an alternative Christian culture. I don't know anyone in my current church who gives a rip about CCM, although most of them are huge music fans. They tend be more holistic human beings than the Jesus Freaks, and place much less emphais on "soul winning" and a lot more emphasis on caring for the planet and for the people who live on it. They are far more focused on issues and local activism and far less inclined to believe that solutions can come from elected officials. They are highly attuned to emotional and spiritual manipulation, and they are deeply distrustful of major media figures everywhere unless they are named Bono. They have a healthy understanding of and appreciation for irony, a talent that for many years I believed was supernaturally removed upon Christian conversion. In general, I think these are positive changes. I sometimes fear for their ability to earn a living, but that's not really a fear limited to hipsters these days. They care passionately about art, which makes me extremely happy. Some of that is the usual reaction to what has come before, and a desire to claim their own heroes. But the tendency isn't nearly as pronounced as it used to be. I'm not sure what kind of cultural "rebellion" is going on when some hip twentysomething claims to love Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, and Animal Collective, but I'll take it. And that makes me think that the non-conformity angle has been overplayed.

[1} In this same store I tried to convince the owner that George Thorogood's "Bad to the Bone" was a commentary on total depravity, and that his Calvinist customers would love it. He didn't buy it.

Edited by Andy Whitman, 19 May 2010 - 12:53 PM.


#47 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 19 May 2010 - 03:19 PM

You're right that you've heard it before, but that's just because the culture trust has been using the same rebel consumer archetype since the 60s. The specific kind of commodified dissent i am talking about was invented in the 60s as universally applicable sales pitch: "buy this to escape conformity". I don't think it's endemic to twentysomethings except insofar as they are trained to follow madison avenue's script.

I really should get around to posting my essay on this online somewhere.

Not so sure. Reminds me of arguments against advertising as manipulation. Seems to me that one can get sucked into consuming a product once. If it is what you bought it for, then you stick with it. If it doesn't work, or is just plain bad, lesson learned and maybe get a refund. I see this with christian sub-culteral trends too. Stipulating that most folks don't put a lot of thought into their faith choices and desires. Not a lot of thought compared with other things they consume, like big stuff on the line of cars and houses (I think that one's faith is MORE important and therefore deserves MORE consideration. I feel all alone in this attitude much of the time). If a desired comfort level is achieved, they'll go again. If one thinks that one's faith is sustaining one, it works and that's that. I wonder just how manipulated most of us are in our choices. Are we in this discussion the only ones who know better?

Edited by Rich Kennedy, 19 May 2010 - 04:50 PM.


#48 du Garbandier

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Posted 19 May 2010 - 05:07 PM

This talk of conformity reminds me of this bit from Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition (1973):

Nonconformists travel as a rule in bunches. You rarely find a nonconformist who goes it alone. And woe to him inside a nonconformist clique who does not conform with nonconformity.



#49 Overstreet

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Posted 19 May 2010 - 05:25 PM

... which might have been the inspiration for the Non-Conformist's Oath! Steve Martin would lead the audience in repeating this oath, line by line, during his late-70s live shows:

I promise to be different!
I promise to be unique!
I promise not to repeat things other people say!


Edited by Overstreet, 19 May 2010 - 05:58 PM.


#50 Andy Whitman

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Posted 19 May 2010 - 05:26 PM

This talk of conformity reminds me of this bit from Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition (1973):

Nonconformists travel as a rule in bunches. You rarely find a nonconformist who goes it alone. And woe to him inside a nonconformist clique who does not conform with nonconformity.

Ah, Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman philosopher. As I recall, he had his own rabid following of non-conformists. The only way to escape this is to start your own religion. And then, at best, people look at you funny.

#51 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 19 May 2010 - 06:11 PM

I sometimes fear for their ability to earn a living, but that's not really a fear limited to hipsters these days.

Heh, I acknowledge the universal element here. Come to think of it, the '70;'s were a lot like that too. That being said, Old farts like us back then felt EXACTLY the same about us, hipster or not.

They care passionately about art, which makes me extremely happy. Some of that is the usual reaction to what has come before, and a desire to claim their own heroes. But the tendency isn't nearly as pronounced as it used to be. I'm not sure what kind of cultural "rebellion" is going on when some hip twentysomething claims to love Frank Sinatra, Jimi Hendrix, and Animal Collective, but I'll take it. And that makes me think that the non-conformity angle has been overplayed.

I second that affirmation. Who/what is Animal Collective again? Otherwise, I like that aspect.

... which might have been the inspiration for the Non-Conformist's Oath! Steve Martin would lead the audience in repeating this oath, line by line, during his late-70s live shows:

I promise to be different!
I promise to be unique!
I promise not to repeat things other people say!


YES! How did you know? I didn't think you'd have been old enough. That is an alltime great bit.

#52 Holy Moly!

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Posted 19 May 2010 - 07:17 PM

Although I think manufactured rebellion is part of the equation, I'm not sure it's the most important consideration in understanding hipsters or hipster churches. What about good, old-fashioned aesthetic excellence? How does that factor in?


Well it depends. In a lot of cases aesthetic excellence still doesn't factor in at all. (eg Owl City fans!) Another example: Mars Hill Seattle's attempt at aping NW indie rock styles is as aesthetically shallow and embarrassing as DC talk aping Nirvana in 1995. In other cases the aesthetics are richer and more developed but that's used as a shield to defend themselves against an insecurity about middle-class-respectability. And in the best cases, people are engaging culture, theology, and politics all with depth and critical thought, fresh eyes, open minds, and historical perspective.

I guess what I'm reacting against is the tendency of a certain subset of what-i-guess-we-can-go-ahead-and-keep-calling-"Christian-Hipsters" to differentiate themselves from the problems of the evangelical mainstream through their tasteful progressive consumer choices rather than through differences in theology, ecclesiology, politics, etc.

There are some crucial differences in this new generation of Christian hipsters. They have, for the most part, rejected the idea of an alternative Christian culture. I don't know anyone in my current church who gives a rip about CCM, although most of them are huge music fans. They tend be more holistic human beings than the Jesus Freaks, and place much less emphais on "soul winning" and a lot more emphasis on caring for the planet and for the people who live on it. They are far more focused on issues and local activism and far less inclined to believe that solutions can come from elected officials. They are highly attuned to emotional and spiritual manipulation, and they are deeply distrustful of major media figures everywhere unless they are named Bono. They have a healthy understanding of and appreciation for irony, a talent that for many years I believed was supernaturally removed upon Christian conversion. In general, I think these are positive changes.


...sure, these are mostly positive developments. But those folks are but one subset of this broader phenomenon.

Edited by Holy Moly!, 19 May 2010 - 07:18 PM.


#53 MattPage

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Posted 20 May 2010 - 03:13 AM

... which might have been the inspiration for the Non-Conformist's Oath! Steve Martin would lead the audience in repeating this oath, line by line, during his late-70s live shows:

I promise to be different!
I promise to be unique!
I promise not to repeat things other people say!

Or this:

Brian: Look, you’ve got it all wrong! You don’t need to follow me, You don’t need to follow anybody! You’ve got to think for yourselves! You’re all individuals!

Crowd: Yes! We’re all individuals!

Brian: You’re all different!

Crowd: Yes, we are all different!

Man: I'm not


Matt

#54 Overstreet

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Posted 17 August 2010 - 09:40 PM

So, Brett McCracken had an article in the Wall Street Journal:

'How can we stop the oil gusher?" may have been the question of the summer for most Americans. Yet for many evangelical pastors and leaders, the leaking well is nothing compared to the threat posed by an ongoing gusher of a different sort: Young people pouring out of their churches, never to return.

As a 27-year-old evangelical myself, I understand the concern. My peers, many of whom grew up in the church, are losing interest in the Christian establishment.

...


Increasingly, the "plan" has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called "the emerging church"—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too "let's rethink everything" radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity's image and make it "cool"—remains.


He goes on to say:

There are various ways that churches attempt to be cool. For some, it means trying to seem more culturally savvy. The pastor quotes Stephen Colbert or references Lady Gaga during his sermon, or a church sponsors a screening of the R-rated "No Country For Old Men." For others, the emphasis is on looking cool, perhaps by giving the pastor a metrosexual makeover, with skinny jeans and an $80 haircut, or by insisting on trendy eco-friendly paper and helvetica-only fonts on all printed materials. Then there is the option of holding a worship service in a bar or nightclub (as is the case for L.A.'s Mosaic church, whose downtown location meets at a nightspot called Club Mayan).


And that's the paragraph that concerns me.

Lauren Winner's book Real Sex has nothing to do with an attempt to be cool. Lauren speaks frankly, but she's writing personal reflections on a subject well worth discussing. I know Lauren, and she does not fit this description of "cool-seeking" at all.

What is more: I started a film discussion group in my church and we watched R-rated films from time to time. This had nothing to do with an attempt to be cool. It had to do with my desire to have a thoughtful discussion of movies among my fellow churchgoers who were interested. I see things like this happening all the time.

I know there are churches doing ridiculous things in an attempt to appear hip and "relevant." But these are broad-stroke statements that seem dismissive of what many people are doing well -- like encouraging dialogue about spiritual matters in the pop-culture parlance of their times; or choosing "green" materials for church bulletins because they feel compelled to be good stewards of God's gifts; or inviting people to worship in an empty nightclub because that is where a lot of needy people would be blessed to find Christian community and worship.

I hope that when I read his book I'll find that he is much, much more careful than this. It's one thing to point out that Christians should be careful not to succumb to forces of superficiality and style. (He's right, that a lot of people are coming to church looking for "real" over "cool.") It's another thing to judge a book by its cover, and say that a book like Real Sex or a church-basement screening of a Coen Brothers movie is some cheap attempt to make church look cool.

Edited by Overstreet, 22 August 2010 - 03:43 PM.


#55 MattPage

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Posted 18 August 2010 - 03:16 AM

Perhaps Mega-church pastors are given makeovers, but, as often as not, people like Rob Bell grow their own churches, nt by going for tagged on gimmicks, but by being who they are and appealing to people who are either like that, or, at least, appreciate that more than the existing options.

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#56 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 18 August 2010 - 04:50 AM

Overstreet wrote:
: Lauren Winner's book Real Sex has nothing to do with an attempt to be cool. Lauren speaks frankly, but she's writing personal reflections on a subject well worth discussing. I know Lauren, and she does not fit this description of "cool-seeking" at all.

Perhaps not. But there is Lauren herself, and then there is the publisher who pays her to write that book, and then there is the evangelical readership to whom that book is marketed. It's been a while since that book came out, and I never got around to reading it myself (though I do remember her controversial article for Beliefnet about the sex lives of single evangelicals, which would have been, what, almost a decade ago now?), but I think it would certainly be feasible for McCracken to comment on the book's place within the Christian publishing industry without necessarily critiquing the book itself.

Mind you, my initial reaction to the excerpt you posted here was to wonder how different any of this is from the evangelical subculture's efforts to be marketable and cutting-edge back in the '70s and '80s. Didn't Tim and Beverly LaHaye write books and give seminars back then on the need for Christians to have great sex lives?

#57 Andy Whitman

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Posted 18 August 2010 - 07:33 AM

So, Brett McCracken had an article in the Wall Street Journal:

'How can we stop the oil gusher?" may have been the question of the summer for most Americans. Yet for many evangelical pastors and leaders, the leaking well is nothing compared to the threat posed by an ongoing gusher of a different sort: Young people pouring out of their churches, never to return.

As a 27-year-old evangelical myself, I understand the concern. My peers, many of whom grew up in the church, are losing interest in the Christian establishment.

...


Increasingly, the "plan" has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called "the emerging church"—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too "let's rethink everything" radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity's image and make it "cool"—remains.


He goes on to say:

There are various ways that churches attempt to be cool. For some, it means trying to seem more culturally savvy. The pastor quotes Stephen Colbert or references Lady Gaga during his sermon, or a church sponsors a screening of the R-rated "No Country For Old Men." For others, the emphasis is on looking cool, perhaps by giving the pastor a metrosexual makeover, with skinny jeans and an $80 haircut, or by insisting on trendy eco-friendly paper and helvetica-only fonts on all printed materials. Then there is the option of holding a worship service in a bar or nightclub (as is the case for L.A.'s Mosaic church, whose downtown location meets at a nightspot called Club Mayan).


And that's the paragraph that concerns me.

Lauren Winner's book Real Sex has nothing to do with an attempt to be cool. Lauren speaks frankly, but she's writing personal reflections on a subject well worth discussing. I know Lauren, and she does not fit this description of "cool-seeking" at all.

What is more: I started a film discussion group in my church and we watched R-rated films from time to time. This had nothing to do with an attempt to be cool. It had to do with my earnest desire to cultivate a thoughtful discussion of art among my fellow churchgoers who were interested. I see things like this happening all the time.

I don't doubt that there *are* churches doing ridiculous things in an attempt to appear hip and "relevant." But these are broad-stroke statements that resound with judgmentalism for a lot of people who are doing good things -- like encouraging dialogue about spiritual matters in the pop-culture parlance of their times; or choosing "green" materials for church bulletins because they feel compelled to be good stewards of God's gifts; or inviting people to worship in an empty nightclub because that is where a lot of needy people would be blessed to find Christian community and worship.

I hope that when I read his book I'll find that he is much, much more careful than this. It's one thing to point out that Christians should be careful not to succumb to forces of superficiality and style. (He's right, that a lot of people are coming to church looking for "real" over "cool.") It's another thing to judge a book by its cover, and say that a book like Real Sex or a church-basement screening of a Coen Brothers movie is some cheap attempt to make church look cool.

Exactly. My concern with the whole hipster Christian spin is that it potentially trivializes some very significant issues. A desire for authentic community, for example, is not the equivalent of kids looking for the latest "in" group. The fact that the kids may have tattoos and piercings is neither here nor there. It's simply a fashion trend. But the underlying motive -- a deep longing for connectedness -- is good and noble and worth pursuing. The hipster Christian spin encourages a shallow, superficial view of such proceedings. We ought to be more nuanced than that.

#58 M. Leary

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Posted 18 August 2010 - 07:49 AM

Another very egregious oversight of that editorial is locating the "emerging" and "emergent" church in a desire to be hip or cool. That is very poor legwork. Like it or not, the emerging church is actually the evangelical manifestation of some very serious theological reformation that had until then gone on in academic and mainline protestant circles. The Emerging Church simply has the reputation of being on of the worst appropriations of these contemporary currents.

The emerging church is thus somewhat different from the "evangelical subculture's efforts to be marketable and cutting-edge back in the '70s and '80s." (quoting PTC) But even then, it is arguable that hippie movements in the evangelical fringes in the 70s were more a result of the blossoming of protestant liberalism as described by Tillich and others than it was a desire "to be cool." Even then, many of those movements were intensely political in the Sermon on the Mount sense, and presaged the recent resurgence of interest in Anabaptism as a more ethical or just form of Christian faith and practice.

In short, we need a good rebuttal editorial.

Edited by M. Leary, 18 August 2010 - 07:50 AM.


#59 LibrarianDeb

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Posted 18 August 2010 - 07:58 AM


87 / 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.




The stylish part makes me giggle. And the picture of his website with the Vigilantes of Love/Over the Rhine poster made me curious enough to place a hold on the book at the library. I'm curious to see what his conclusions are after poking fun at "hipster-learning" fools like me.






#60 Thom Wade

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Posted 18 August 2010 - 09:21 AM

Your Christian Hipster Quotient:
75 / 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.