Before I say another word about hipsters, let me just say a few words about what I’m trying to accomplish with the book I am writing.
It has become clear as I have blogged about the phenomenon of Christian hipsters that this topic is polarizing. Whether through the conversations I’ve had at the various churches I’ve visited throughout the country, on the blog boards that deal with my book topic, or just with my friends who I’ve talked through these issues alongside, I have become more and more aware that the things I’m looking at are extremely complicated and deserve a fair, thoughtful, thorough treatment.
Yes, that’s right. This is a serious exploration. It’s not a joke, and though it is humorous at times and occasionally ironic, it is by no means an exercise in sarcasm (as in, say, Robert Lanham’s Hipster Handbook).
And this book is not just about hipsters; it’s not just about Christian hipsters. It’s about the whole concept of cool as it pertains to Christianity. It’s about the way that—since the 1970s—contemporary Christianity has prioritized ideas like “cool,” “relevant,” and “countercultural,” largely failing on an institutional level to achieve those things and yet succeeding in pockets and parts via individuals and otherwise organic incarnations of what you might call “hip Christianity.”
The book is not an advertisement or rallying cry for hip Christianity; nor is it an outright chastisement. It’s a critical analysis. It’s about the contradictions inherent in “cool Christianity,” and the questions Christians should be asking of themselves if they find themselves within this milieu. Are the purposes and/or effects of cool compatible with those of Christianity? If we assume that “cool” necessarily connotes the notion of being elite, privileged, and somehow better than the masses, how can we reconcile the idea of “cool” with the idea of Christianity, which seems to beckon us away from self-aggrandizement or pride of any and all kind?
Whatever criticism I end up putting forward in the book, I hope that readers recognize that it is all for the ultimate refinement of the church and its mission in the world.
It has been very cool in recent years for Christians to bash on other Christians, to criticize the church and basically engage in a sort of “the church is totally f****d up and we know it” self-flagellation. A litany of books by Christian authors with titles like Death by Church and They Like Jesus But Not the Church have emphasized this point: it’s en vogue for Christians to hate on Christianity in all of its “mainstream” forms.
But I love Christians, and I love the church. I even love hipsters, and recognize why some of them might be offended by the label.
I’m writing the book not to position myself as some sort of expert on any of this or to make some audacious claim about anything, but because I love Christianity and the church. I want to see her thrive, expand, and be all that she can be for the world. I want to see the cause of Christ advanced and not muddled up. And this topic—the relationship of the church to the notion of “cool”—strikes me as a vitally important thing that needs to be addressed with tenderness, nuance, and—when appropriate—constructive rebuke. When the book is published by Baker Books sometime within the next year, I hope it sparks some necessary conversations, discourse, and soul-searching. And I don’t care if it’s all hopelessly uncool, strikingly pretentious, or devastatingly passé. It’s something I am passionate about writing, and it's a conversation that needs to be had.