Tag Archives: Christian hipsters

Key Dates in the Formation of Hipster Christianity

How did today’s Christian hipster come to be? Here are some key dates in the formation of hipster Christianity:

June 5, 1955: Francis Schaeffer opens L’Abri.

1967: The Living Room coffeehouse opens in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district; origins of Jesus People movement.

1969: Larry Norman’s Upon This Rock (Capitol Records) is released; major release of a “Christian rock” record.

June 21, 1971: The Jesus Movement is profiled in Time magazine article, “The New Rebel Cry: Jesus Is Coming!”

1971: First issue of the Wittenburg Door (or The Door) is published by San Diego youth worker Mike Yaconelli.

1971: First issue of Sojourners is published.

June 17, 1972: “Christian Woodstock.” During the Expo ’72 evangelistic conference sponsored by Campus Crusade and held in Dallas, a day long Christian music festival draws a crowd somewhere between 100,000-200,000 and features the music of Love Song, Larry Norman, Randy Matthews, The Archers, Children of the Day, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson.

1977: Ron Sider publishes Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, which will become a classic among later generations of Christian hipsters.

June 18-20, 1984: JPUSA holds the first Cornerstone Music Festival in Grayslake, Illinois.

1984: Thomas Howard publishes Evangelical is Not Enough, charting his pilgrimage from evangelicalism to liturgical Christianity.

July 21, 1984: Christian metal band Stryper releases its first EP, The Yellow and Black Attack, launching a successful career which included one Platinum and two Gold records.

1984: Degarmo & Key’s video “Six Six Six” is the first Christian music video selected for rotation on MTV, and almost as quickly banned for excessive violence and disturbing images.

March 9, 1987: U2 releases The Joshua Tree, cementing their status as the world’s most epic pseudo-Christian rock band.

1988: DC Talk, a trio of students from Liberty University, signs a recording contract with Forefront Records.

November 1993: Brandon Ebel founds Tooth & Nail Records.

October 1995: Mark Noll publishes The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.

April 1997: Pedro the Lion releases first EP, Whole.

January 2003: Christian satirical website Lark News is launched.

March 1, 2003: Relevant publishes its first issue.

2005: Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois is named the best album of 2005 by Pitchfork and countless other secular music critics.

February 2006: Shane Claiborne publishes Irresistible Revolution.

February 18, 2006: Icelandic post-rock darlings Sigur Ros perform a sold out concert at Calvin College.

(Excerpt from Chapter 4, “The History of Hip Christianity,” of Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide)

Note: This post is part of “Know Your Christian Hipster History” week… Throughout the week, if you re-post a FB item from Hipster Christianity (tag Hipster Christianity in your post) or tweet a link to a Hipster Christianity post (tag @brettmccracken on Twitter), you’ll be entered in a drawing for a free autographed copy of the book. 5 books will be given away on Friday!

We Have a Book Cover!

Ladies and gentlemen, readers and passersby: My book has a cover!

HIPSTER CHRISTIANITY: When Church and Cool Collide also has a release date:

August 10, 2010.

That’s still 9 months off, but fear not! You can already pre-order a copy on the Baker Books website as well as Amazon … so get it while you’re thinking about it!

Also, if you are excited, intrigued, maddened, or disturbed by the idea of this book, feel free to talk about it on your blogs, twitter, facebook, etc… You know, viral style. I’m not above flat out asking for a little promo help!

In coming months I’ll post excerpts and teasers from the book on my blog, so be looking for that. Other websites and fun things are also being developed.

The book has been a major labor of love and I’m SO excited to get it out there for you all to read. I’m excited for the conversations that will come. Thanks for your support and interest, and stay tuned for updates!

Thoughts After Writing a Book

In the year 2000, I wrote a list of goals for myself. Life goals. They included such things as traveling across the world, writing music, working at Disney World for a time, and opening a “small, elegant eatery.” Number 6 on the list was “write a book.”

It was around this time last year—the first week in August—when I was sitting at a computer at a hostel in London, checking email frantically before my 30-minutes-for-1-pound window closed. I got an email from an editor at Baker Books who had been interested in my proposal about a book on hip Christianity. The subject of the email was “Good news.”

A year has now gone by. And quite the year it was. I mailed off the manuscript for Hipster Christianity this afternoon—283 pages, 79,000 words. It was a year that took me on amazing research trips to Seattle, Grand Rapids, Chicago, New York, Oxford, London, and Paris. It was a year that found me writing more constantly (like, every spare moment) on one topic than I’d ever done before. It was a year that took a lot out of me personally, spiritually, physically. But it was a good year. I wrote a book that I’m proud of. A book that was sometimes hard to write and sometimes seemed to write itself.

Now that it’s done (at least the first manuscript), I feel excited, relieved, tired, renewed. But mostly I just feel humbled. I still can’t believe I was given the chance to write this book. I’m still pinching myself that I got to write part of it at C.S. Lewis’ desk in Oxford. I thank God for entrusting this project to me and I pray—I PRAY—that what I say in the book leads the church to a productive place of questioning, considering, and defining its identity in the 21st century.

As I write in the Introduction, my motivation in writing the book is not to position myself as some sort of expert or to make some audacious claim about anything, but simply because I love Christianity and I love the church. She is the bride of Christ. 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.

I’ve always viewed this book as a gift—as something I didn’t think I’d get to do and yet got to do. I’ve always felt like it was a book that needed to be written by someone and that things just happened to come together in the right way so that I could be that someone. It just floors me.

So yeah. The book is written. It’s now going to be edited and doubtless revised over the next few months. If all goes well, it should be on schedule for an August 2010 release.

Thanks for listening and offering feedback along the way. I look forward to the book’s release and all the conversations that will ensue. This exploration is really just beginning.

In the meantime, I’m going to relax and enjoy my favorite things that I’ve mostly neglected in the hectic last eleven months of writing. Things like classical music, fiction, daytrips to the desert, Heidegger, not talking about hipsters, and being still.

And maybe I can also get to the task of opening my quaint elegant eatery. There will be cask ales, Spanish cheese, dark wood interior, and lots of pine nuts.

Hipster Church Tour: Life on the Vine

life on the vine

As part of the research for my book, I’ve been visiting churches all over the country over the past year—a tour of “America’s hippest churches,” you might say. The goal is to gain a good bit of qualitative data on the subject I’m writing about and to understand firsthand how various church bodies are fitting in to this whole thing. I have stopped at dozens of churches in many states and talked with countless people, and every now and then on my blog I will describe in depth my various observations about these churches.

The first stop on my tour was Jacob’s Well in Kansas City. Read about that here.

The second stop was Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Click here for that one.

Next up is Life on the Vine, a “Christian community” in the suburbs of Chicago.

Church Name: Life on the Vine
Location: Long Grove, IL
Head Pastor: David Fitch

Summary: This unassuming little church in the Chicago suburb of Long Grove may not be as flashy as some of the other hipster churches (it’s not really flashy at all), but it represents the type of congregation that more and more Christian hipsters resonate with. It’s a church that is deeply rooted in early church traditions and believes in the importance of community, liturgy, symbol, and sacrament—but not in a pretentious or overly stylized way. It’s also a church that is very mission-minded and committed to social justice. Part of the Christian Missionary Alliance denomination, Life on the Vine is pastored by David Fitch, who teaches theology classes at Northern Seminary and authored the book The Great Giveaway. I visited on a cold, snowy Sunday morning in January, and had the pleasure of going out to lunch with several of the church leaders (including Fitch) after the service.

Building: The church occupies an old, nondescript Christian Missionary Alliance building in a quiet, leafy suburban setting. It’s a very small building with a sanctuary that can’t hold more than a few hundred people. The chairs are set up in a round, so that worshippers are looking at each other during the service and no one is all that far from the preacher or scripture readers—who read or pray from the four sides of the square space.

Congregation: The congregation at Life on the Vine is slightly more diverse than the average hipster church. There is a fair share of fashionable young people and suburban yuppies, but there are also some older folks and a lot of families and children. While the church does have a children’s catechesis-type class, it doesn’t have a youth group. “Youth groups destroy children’s lives,” Fitch told me. The church is big on involving the congregation in service and equipping the laity for leadership. There are no full-time pastors or staffers, and the alternating schedule of preachers includes a handful of seminary students from the nearby Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. It’s a very user-driven church.

Music: The worship band at Life on the Vine is led by Geoff Holsclaw, and the band is situated somewhat awkwardly (but totally deliberately) in the back corner of the building. This unassuming position is meant to remove any “performance” element and facilitate a more collective worship experience. It fits with the church’s larger focus on a more communal experience where individuals are not emphasized as much as the collective group.

Arts: The church walls and projector screens are full of visual art, described on the website “not as decoration but as windows into God’s goodness or as mirrors confronting our sin. In a culture dominated by deformed images, we believe God uses these holy images to renew our imaginations.” The church seems to be open to secular art and culture as well. In the sermon on the day I attended, the young preacher referenced Coldplay’s “Death and all His Friends” and Sufjan Stevens’ “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”

Technology: Minimal. There was a projector screen with song lyrics and some art images, but that was about it. It might as well have been the early 90s.

Neighborhood: Wealthy suburban. Long Grove is part of the middle and upper class stretch of Chicago’s Northwest suburbs. It’s an odd setting for a progressive, hipster church like this—but the presence of Trinity in nearby Deerfield feeds a lot of Christian hipster traffic.

Preaching: This is where Life on the Vine is perhaps most unique. David Fitch is not a fan of expository preaching or three point “life application” sermons that isolate a passage of scripture from its larger context. Rather, he advocates a preaching that is grounded in the larger narrative of scripture. Before the sermon at Life on the Vine, two passages from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament are read aloud, as context for the main sermon’s text. The preaching at this church is more descriptive than prescriptive; it’s less about handing out “to do” lists than unfurling the reality of who God is and what the world means in light of the gospel of Christ. It isn’t about “how-to” or “self-help” as much as it is about honestly telling the story of scripture and letting its reality speak for itself.

Quote from pulpit: “We cannot reach up to Heaven. Heaven reaches down to us.”

Quote from website: “Sermons inspire, but Scripture is inspired. Preachers motivate, but the Spirit moves. We want to preach the Word with humility, being wary of the pitfalls of topical preaching, proof-texts, and legalistic application. We think the Bible can speak for itself.”

Interview With a Christian Hipster Icon: Shane Claiborne

Shane Claiborne is someone I’ve been following for quite some time—someone who I greatly admire and who I believe is an important, prophetic voice for the church today. If you’ve read his books or heard him speak, you know how provocative and compelling and fascinating he is. In my book on Christian hipster culture, Shane gets more than a few paragraphs mention.

I recently had the chance to interview Shane as an online feature to go along with the cover story for the latest Biola Magazine. You can read the interview by clicking here, but here is a little excerpt:

BM: One of the things you often talk about is how we should live simpler lives and consume less. As Christians, what are some ways that we can live more simply?

SC: There are really concrete things we can do. For example, we can fast in some way – in a way that allows us to identify with poverty and the groaning in the world. We can fast from the things that clutter and complicate our lives, things that we think are necessities but for the rest of the world are really luxuries.

I don’t really believe it’s a call to ascetism out of guilt but rather the call to live life to the fullest, as John 10:10 says. It’s a call that not only brings life to the poor and is a sensible way of living, but it also brings us to life. We’ve chosen patterns of living so that even though we are the wealthiest country in the world, we have some of the highest rates of loneliness and depression and medication. We’ve really lost community and the things that are the deepest hungers of our heart. And in order to remember those things, I think we need to cut away the chaff. We can learn to carpool, or grow our own food, or share our possessions like the early church did. We may be rediscovering this by necessity these days. I’m excited because I see folks saying, “Hey, not everyone needs a washer and dryer. Why don’t we share it with a few families? Why don’t we share a car together? Why don’t we have one lawnmower that our cul-de-sac uses?” I think all those are great steps, and ultimately what you discover is that it’s fantastic to free yourself from this compartmentalized existence where you don’t know your neighbors and think you don’t need anybody else. (read more)

Shane is a super earnest, likeable guy, and though his dreadlocked, homemade-tunic appearance can be off-putting, he’s one of the nicest and most respectable voices of his generation. His passion and commitment to living an unorthodox, counter-cultural life seems to be genuine, and he is the first to say that he is neither cool nor a hipster. He writes in The Irresistible Revolution that his coolness was ruined by “a God who has everything backward,” and that “you don’t get crucified for being cool; you get crucified for living radically different from the norms of all that is cool in the world.”

But this statement is a little paradoxical, because the types of things Claiborne does—serving the poor, fighting consumerism, being green and opposing the Iraq war, etc.—are in fact very cool these days. The “norms of all that is cool” from which he rebels are actually totally uncool commodities of the establishment. So though he is acting very earnestly in his desire to appear uncool, Claiborne is nevertheless inescapably hip. But it’s all good.

That he actively shuns the label only makes him cooler.

A New York City Blur

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“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.” -E.M. Forster (Howards End)

“Only connect.” That is the epigraph to E.M. Forster’s Howards End—a book I have not actually read, but which I have on my list. “Only connect” is a sort of life mantra for a friend I had dinner with in Brooklyn last night, and in thinking about what I could say about my NYC experiences over the past few days, the phrase kept coming up. “Only connect.”

I try to live my life in this way. Making connections, tying things together, seeing how all the pieces fit and how my geometry class in high school ties in to things like enjoying hot dogs and playing jump rope. But while living in this “only connect” way is totally exhilarating, it can also be pretty exhausting. The world is just so expansive and overwhelming and broad and diverse. The more that I travel, the more I recognize that this is so.

The last 48 hours in New York City have been something of a blur, overflowing with thoughts and observances and conversations and good food. I’m too tired now to try to process it all, so I’m afraid the following is not going to do justice to Mr. Forster’s sage epigraph advice. Instead, I’ll just sketch out a few things that have been memorable. There will be time for connecting the dots in a few days. For now, some brief, unconnected thoughts.

-New York City has felt decidedly unreal and almost dream-like for me on this trip. Maybe it’s because I arrived here on Sunday morning (having taken a redeye and slept only 3 hours) and then proceeded to visit 3 churches (sitting through the services) and have lunch in Greenwich Village with one person and dinner in Williamsburg with another. It was a foggy blur, but it was great. I will write more about these churches later (as in months later…).

-Talking about modernism, postmodernism, and the phenomenology of hipster fashion while eating arepas in a restaurant full of hipsters is a total trip. Especially when you’re delirious from lack of sleep.

-Standing on the platform of the M train in Brooklyn during a thunderstorm suddenly made me think of all the summers of my life.

-New York City feels like the most American place on earth. For this reason: everyone walks around with a confident sense of upward mobility. Whether this is evidenced in knockoff Coach purses, hipster Raybans, iPhones or Diesel skinny jeans, the effect is the same. NYC is a place where status (or status aspiration) is worn on one’s person.

-Food is going to be a theme of my trip. I travel in such a way that my money does not go to accommodations (I stay in hostels and am happy to do so) but to food. I don’t think there’s a better way to experience the pleasures of a foreign environment than through food. Some food highlights of the day: Rhubarb scone for breakfast at an amazing diner in Brooklyn; family style Italian (with my family) at Carmine’s on the Upper West Side; blueberry/creamcheese/shortbread dessert at Magnolia Bakery in Midtown; Ukrainian split pea soup and a good pinot noir at Veselka in the East Village. Oh and yesterday: the Caracas Arepa Bar in Williamsburg was AMAZING.

-Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg Brooklyn has the most hipsters per square inch than anywhere on earth (apart from fleeting events like Coachella). My camera could not snap pictures fast enough.

-Gentrification is fascinating. And so is the way that it ties in to so many things: class, race, organic food, Animal Collective, public housing, politics, Bob Dylan, the Internet, skinny jeans rolled up to shin length, and menus that change daily.

-I’m flying to London tomorrow night and will commence my week at C.S. Lewis’ house on Wednesday. Until then!

Hipster Church Tour: Mars Hill Church

As part of the research for my book, I’ve been visiting churches all over the country over the past year—a tour of “America’s hippest churches,” you might say (though soon to expand to Europe as well). The goal is to gain a good bit of qualitative data on the subject I’m writing about, to understand firsthand how various church bodies are fitting in to this whole thing. I have stopped at dozens of churches in many states and talked with countless people, and every now and then on my blog I will describe in depth my various observations about these churches.

The first stop on my tour was Jacob’s Well in Kansas City. Read about that here.

Next on the tour (which will continue every month or so, for the next year at least) is Seattle’s Mars Hill Church.

Church Name: Mars Hill Church
Location: Seattle, WA
Head Pastor: Mark Driscoll (officially “Preaching and Theology Pastor”)

Summary: Mars Hill Church in Seattle is one of the defining churches of hipster Christianity. It’s the church of Mark Driscoll, the original cussing hipster pastor, whose strong, controversial personality is a huge part of the church’s success. Founded in 1996, Mars Hill now holds services at seven campuses across the Seattle area, ministering to many thousands of young attendees every week. I visited the church on a Sunday in November, and attended both the original campus (where Driscoll preaches live) and a satellite campus in Lake City where Driscoll speaks via a televised feed.

Building: The main campus of Mars Hill is located in a massive warehouse style building in Ballard. The sanctuary is a large, darkly lit hall with modern hanging lamp fixtures and an elaborate stage complete with a massive backdrop of LCD panels. The Lake City campus is an actual renovated church—a smallish church complete with vaulted ceilings, stained glass, and pews.

Congregation:
According to Lake City campus pastor James Harleman, the congregation of Mars Hill is 40% churched, 30% ex-churched, and 30% un-churched. And just from my cursory observations, I would venture that the congregation is 80% under the age of 40. They’re young, and they’re hip. I saw lots of tattoos, skinny jeans, v-necks and Jesse James scarves in the crowd when I was there.

Music:
There is no one “worship band,” but rather a stable of standalone bands that alternate playing at the main Ballard campus and “house bands” for the various satellite campuses. With names like Ex-Nihilo, Red Letter, and E-Pop, these bands tend to play indie rock versions of classic hymns like “Nothing But the Blood” and “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” more often than the flavor-of-the-week contemporary worship songs. At the Lake City campus on the Sunday I visited, for example, a band called Sound and Vision performed math-rock arrangements of songs like “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us” and “All Creatures of Our God and King,” complete with Nintendo-sounding beeps.

Arts: A lot of artists and designers attend Mars Hill, and many of them “tithe their talents” to the church, designing logos and websites and printed materials for the church’s branding. The result is that Mars Hill has a very cool, cutting-edge aesthetic that doesn’t feel top down (because it isn’t; most of it is made by non-paid church volunteers). The church also expresses its love of art by hanging up local artists’ work on the walls and by hosting film screenings (called “Cinemagogue”) and film review blogs.

Technology: Mars Hill is a very technology-happy church. The sound and light systems in the buildings are high tech, and the use of video is widespread and professional-quality. During the service I attended, texting was also incorporated—with the congregation being urged to text in their questions during the sermon, which Pastor Mark might answer at the end. Mars Hill’s website is predictably high-tech and stylish, and features its own social networking site, called “The City,” meant to “enhance” and “deepen” the community life of the church. This is the type of church that is always on the cutting edge of technology and finds a way to incorporate all the latest doo-dads and media into the life of the church.

Neighborhood: The main campus of Mars Hill is located in Ballard, in Northwestern Seattle. It’s a trendy area these days—full of artsy shops, restaurants, cafes, theaters and home to many a yuppie. Mars Hill is big into missional dispersion, however, and has other locations across Seattle and Washington: Downtown Seattle, Bellevue, Lake City, Olympia, Shoreline, and West Seattle.

Preaching: Mark Driscoll is heavily in the Calvinist/Reformed camp, and likes to preach on things like sin, man’s depravity, Christ’s atonement, justification, the cross, and how dumb “religion” and “legalism” are. He also likes to be controversial and doesn’t shy away from taboo topics and language. On the Sunday I visited, Driscoll’s message was on the Dance of Mahanaim section of the Song of Solomon (an “ancient striptease,” as he referred to it, and “one of the steamiest passages in the Bible”). During his sermon—part of “The Peasant Princess” series—Driscoll, looking like a metrosexual jock in a tight t-shirt, cross necklace and faux hawk, talked about how wives should be “visually generous” with their husbands (i.e. they should keep the lights on when undressing, during sex, etc.).

Quote from pulpit:
“God doesn’t look down and see good people and bad people; He sees bad people and the Lord Jesus.”

Quote from website:
“The great reformer Martin Luther rightly said that, as sinners, we are prone to pursue a relationship with God in one of two ways. The first is religion/spirituality and the second is the gospel. The two are antithetical in every way.”