Why I Am Writing This Book

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.

22 responses to “Why I Am Writing This Book

  1. Which is why I’m looking forward to reading it.

    I think with our generation, it all comes from a search for an authentic faith. We grew up during the age of the Religious Right and televangelism, so many of us are looking towards the early church to see how they did religion. Plus, you know how we love to Christianize pop-culture phenomenon. Personally, I think the whole “hipster” scene in Christianity will eventually fade out, but the search for authentic faith will always be.

    And I love the header picture. “Neon Bible” was an awesome record!

  2. What made many cringe so much about the last post on your book is that you spoke of people like Hauerwas, Wallis, Merton, Yoder, etc… as earmarks that signal a person as a “hipster,” which in every other context is actually a marketing distinction. I can imagine Hauerwas exclaiming that you are patronizing your audience in every OED sense of the term, and that the alternative society of the Church exists specifically to counteract the kind of commercial identity formation that happens through the use and propogation of such terms as “hipster.” Many of the people in that book list have written for years against this kind of self-identification divorced from the New Testament’s plea that we emplot ourselves within the apocalyptic narrative of the Christ-event as members of the local church.

    Hipsterism is a parody of all the privatizing and commercially stratifying excesses of modernism. It embraces this play with abandon. This is why so much of hipsterdom is involved with the recycling of pop cultures of the last few generations. It recognizes that the epistemological journey of modernism has come full circle, and all we have left is costumes. In Stephen Long’s analogy, hipsterism is the record of modernism skipping over and over again at its last track. It undoes the avant-garde. The impulse of Christianity involves a different kind of enculturation. The resurrection contradicts all irony, and divests sophistry and snark of its power. The gospel reveals the very use of terms like “hipster” as seductive tautologies.

    To be fair, I am only responding to what you have posted so far on your blog, but I am a bit confused by it nonetheless.

  3. I find all of your hipster thoughts to be funny, but this post excited me about your book even more. It sounds like a very important book, one that I can’t wait to read.

    The Christian hipster post hit close to home (while I laughed), but I don’t try to be “cool.” I don’t think Christianity should try to be “cool.” I like how you put it – “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.”

  4. I commented on the hipster post before I read this. Interesting and compelling post! It’ll be interesting to see how Christianity in America (like so many things) tries to be cool and how that affects the religion.

    Good luck–I look forward to reading it!

  5. Pingback: Ask the leadership coach » Why I Am Writing This Book « The Search

  6. How are you going to delineate between yourself and hipsters?
    And if your talking love for the church a lot of those names of authors in your other post should be key characters in making your case. But then you would need to read Hauerwas and Yoder to know that…

  7. Thanks for the clarification. I’m looking forward to reading the book.

    I’ve found myself on both extremes, first completely immersing myself in the “uncool” Christian subculture, then frantically trying to become “hip.” Now, I feel I’m growing to a healthier place as I am beginning to question my own motives for what I do and letting God reshape my attitude.

  8. Pingback: Around the web: Depp, Bale and Cotilard in Public Enemies, Indie kings join forces, more on hipsters, Neko Case and my honeymoon! « Beside The Queue

  9. If you think Christians who have learned to see (and endure) suffering as redemptive participation in the passion of Jesus Christ by way of tutelage that comes from reading Hauerwas, O’Connor, et al., and even more, that such positioning is “cool,” then you need to leave Los Angeles and go back to the midwest.

    I don’t know what is constructive in your approach here. If it is just a critical analysis, then throw it in the trash. If the gospel is in it, then I hope you get it published. But from what I can tell, despite your remarks that your book is not overly ironic, is smacks of it to me, and even worse, seems like something the Didache would call “trading on Christ.”

  10. Brent: I love what you’re about with the Christian hipster thing. Regarding:
    “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. ” I wrote about this today (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2009/marchweb-only/109-41.0.html), but it’s not the first time I’ve done so. As a 40-year veteran of the church, you don’t have to tell me the church if f***d up, but that is precisely the reason we’re called to be in it, because we’re also f***d up. That’s for coming at this in a fresh way.

  11. Uh, that should be “_thanks_ for coming at this in a fresh way.” How I ever got to be a managing editor, I’ll never know….

  12. I’ve tried to stay away from this for as long as possible, but this week, my room mates got me sucked in this week by serving as “hipster” models in a shoot related to this…

    Here’s my prediction :
    The book will not be purchased by the very people it is about.
    The book will be purchased by people who have been making feeble attempts for the last ten years at being “relevant.”
    Those who purchase the book will do so in an attempt to figure out how they can be cool.

    More thoughts here : http://www.colenesmith.com/?p=533

  13. rufflyspeaking

    bring it on, brett. i look forward to reading this coming book as well.

  14. Just found your blog, Brett, and decided that anyone who bases their title on Walker Percy’s Moviegoer can’t be half bad. I’ll have to dig for your content on Relevant and CT.

    Self-flagellation of the church or no, I appreciate your take. I have to wonder if, in ten years, the parachurch organizations “hipsters” love so much will become the new church, as time transfers leadership from one generation to another. Good luck in this particular search — may there be hope at the end.

  15. Really appreciate this blog post (as one new to your blog as of ten minutes ago). Blessings to you as you continue to think, research and write. I look forward to the final product and whatever role I can play in promoting it at Christianity.com!

    Mike Pohlman
    Editor, Christianity.com

  16. Brett, I read a brief comment about your book somewhere (Poynter Online? CJR?), and by your definition, I am a total hipster. I also happen to be 58. Too many people see this disenchantment with the Christian subculture as a generational thing, but it isn’t. It’s a psychographical thing. And I think the audience for the book will be wider than some have predicted. In addition to your target reader, I have no doubt that professionals in the Christian publishing and music industries will latch on to this book to try and figure out why some of their products are no longer selling. And I do think the people the book is about will buy it, for the same reason many people bought one of my books, “Memoir of a Misfit.” Even in this social-networking era, people still feel alone and disconnected, and start asking themselves, “Am I the only one who feels this way?” Your book will help alienated Christians tremendously.

  17. Someone forwarded me a link to your blogpost about “hipster Christianity” because she thought it described me well! She was right and I’m really looking forward to your book now.

  18. looking forward to reading your book Brett. the comments above are indicative that you’ve hit a sensitive nerve in the zeitgeist.

  19. You have gotten me excited about your book. I think the church needs to understand counter-cultural issues as it moves forward. While mainstream denominations are on the decline, something different is replacing them. Close attention needs to be payed to the “something different”.

  20. I enjoy your writing and blog quite a bit. I am a Christian hipster (according to your deft list of traits.) I trust your book will be a “fair, thoughtful, thorough treatment.”
    I do worry that it will be a bit too much like the blog-to-book work of Christian Lander.
    His work is also ” humorous at times and occasionally ironic, it is by no means an exercise in sarcasm.”
    I believe his work is not trying to be sarcastic, although it often gets interpreted as so. Rather, he is simply penetratingly descriptive, and therefore often uncomfortably fun and/or hard to read. The truth often repels and attracts does it not?
    I hope your book is not the vein of his work. But alas he has sold many books and the blog-to-book thing is pretty hip right now. For white people of course.

  21. People have their comments, confessions, and opinions..all I have to say is..Amen, and it’s about time. Thanks for the wisdom, can’t wait.

  22. You’re way off bro. You may be hurting the church by publishing this crap.

    I know the kind of people you refer to by “hipster”. I attended a church full of these sorts of people, if you can even box a group in like this. My experience in this church was like no other. These “hipsters” were more loving and compassionate than any other christians I had met. The manifestation of Jesus’ love in there lives was screaming out to all who were around them.

    It seemed these “hipsters” were different than most christians in American churches. There identity was in Christ. Not there business, not their family, not their Corvette, not there doctorate, there identity was in Christ. They were vulnerable and could care less about books like yours. They had nothing to prove. Jesus proved everything for them on the cross and He was their backbone.

    Brett, please stop wasting your life and trying to mock a people who can’t be put into a box. Please stop being mad at the world because there are people in it who actually dress/talk/act like who they are in their heart. They are not “hipsters”. They are your brothers in Christ.

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