From coffee shops to clothing brands, Hipster style is the latest craze of the twenty-first century. Everyone’s perception of ‘hipsterism’ is different, yet the cliché seems to be intact. VICE described the term ‘hipster’ like they would the word pornography; you know it when you see it, but it’s impossible to define. Words such as man-bun, cool moustaches and ripped jeans might be part of the language associated with hipsters – but what happens when you throw the word ‘church’ into the mix?
“Yes, you heard that right. This is a serious exploration of hipster Christianity. It’s not a joke, and though it is humorous at times and occasionally ironic, it is by no means an exercise of sarcasm”. They said it, not us. The worship of Christianity by ‘hipsters’ is intended for those who feel that their religion has been “inconsistent”, and with slogans such as “worship the spray can”, the alternative take on Christianity has proved to be popular. Taking off in East London in 2013, the movement has inspired a new generation of young people to celebrate their belief in God in a relaxed environment. Think ripped skinnies, beanie hats and folk-style hymns at congregations on a Sunday.
‘Hipstianity’ is not just Christianity going through it’s awkward teenage phase. In the 21st century, the Church is an authority that is becoming increasingly liberal, with women bishops and the acceptance of homosexual marriage by some religious leaders; a far cry from the Christianity of the Renaissance where being burned at the stake was the norm for persecuted groups.
Whilst the idea of Hipster Christianity may ruffle the feathers of some of the more devoutly religious, the practice follows the exact same message as conventional Christianity just in an alternative way. In a society where what is ‘cool’ changes as frequently as the weather, the way we celebrate our faith must change too. This change seems to be something that the population of London are embracing with annual Church attendance increasing by 16% in three years. We were lucky enough to talk to author, Brett McCracken, author of When Church and Cool Collide, to hear about his investigations.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to write the book?
I grew up in an Evangelical christian culture and I went to school at Wheaton college which is considered the Harvard of Christian Schools here in the US. I found at college that there was an interesting fusion between the trend of being hipster and also the religious beliefs at the college. I wanted to explore how these two fit together and was inspired to write about it. I first wrote an article which got a lot of good and interesting feedback and then decided to explore the topic as a book back in 2008. I visited churches all over America and also visited England and France whilst researching for it.
What is it about Hipster Christianity that appeals to you?
I think one of the things I like about it is that Hipster Christians have more robust appreciation for culture and art and of the world in general. Christian culture in the near past hasn’t had this reputation. If you go back five-hundred years ago the Church was at the centre of art and culture. So I have been encouraged by their passion for culture. I also like the concern for social justice and compassion.
On the website for your book, the topic of Hipster Christianity is described as ‘under-studied’. Why do you think this is the case?
Partially because it’s a newer phenomenon but the history of the idea of Hipster Christianity goes back quite a way in different forms. But I guess ‘Hipster’ is a new word in culture as is the overlap between ‘Hipster’ and ‘Christianity’ especially in the last two decades.
Do you think Hipster Christianity is Christianity reaching out to Hipsters or Hipsters reaching out to Christianity?
A little bit of both in different circumstances. On one hand there is a sense of concern on the part of Churches that there is a loss of interest in Christianity so there is a concern to to make Christianity ‘relevant’ again. But there are also twenty-somethings that want to make Christianity relevant to their peers and make it more aligned to how they live and what they believe in.
What do you think the future holds for religious worship and the longevity of Hipster Christianity?
I do think there is inherent negatives to Hipster Christianity. The very nature of ‘hipster’ and ‘cool’ is transient and ephemeral. Being ‘on trend’ means moving onto what is new and cool; it never lasts. It’s like being a fan of a new band. Once they are mainstream, you tend to move on to a new and trendier band. As a Hipster you are beholden to the fast moving. So the very practice is unsustainable. It will always be changing. If the goal is to re-inject life into the Church it will ultimately be a failure. The true energy and the power of the Church is that it transcends time and culture. If more Churches turn to trend then it will accelerate the decline of Christianity. People are going to lose touch with what truly is to be Christian.
And finally, do you have an advice for young people who want to be a part of Hipster Christianity, or who are struggling to embrace being cool and being Christian at the same time?
I’d say don’t put too much stock in the ‘cool’ thing. It’s always going to be a disappointment. If you are a Christian it doesn’t matter what you think, it matters that Christ loves you. I would say its a path to nowhere to be trendy and cool. It doesn’t mean you can’t be trendy in fashion and being up on the trends, it’s just a matter of priorities. You should ground your identity in what is meaningful and lasting.
Brett McCracken is a writer and journalist based in Southern California. He is the author of Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide (Baker, 2010) and Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty (Baker, 2013). He has written for The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, and speaks and lectures frequently at universities, churches and conferences.