Forms of Faith

hip worship

Recently I was asked by Converge Magazine to write a piece for their website reflecting on my book Hipster Christianity four years after its release. I took them up on the offer but rather than reflecting on how the phenomenon has changed or who the new hip pastors and churches are, I decided to offer a summary of one of the main point’s of the book–that forms of faith matter and that we must think critically about how medium and message interact.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Perhaps more than anything the book is an invitation to consider the way form matters in the Christian life. Indeed, a common response from those who feel implicated by the questions of Hipster goes something like this: “What we’re doing is simply putting the gospel in different packaging and updating the style of its delivery as to be relevant to a particular audience. The medium may be different and new, but the message remains the same.”

But is this really true? Are the medium and the message really so detached that, no matter how an idea is packaged or presented, its meaning remains the same? With Hipster I wanted to challenge this notion and show how form matters: that perhaps the way Christianity is understood and appropriated is different when packaged in Helvetica, skinny jeans, and small batch whisky than when it’s packaged in robes, pews, and pleated khakis. Not that one is necessarily preferable to the other, mind you; just that they are different. 

The article is similar in spirit to one I wrote on this blog in October 2010, entitled Medium: Cool (yes that is a reference to Haskell Wexler’s film)

Many Christian hipsters would like to believe that their faith has mostly to do with their beliefs and their actions, but that it doesn’t have much at all to do with how they look. But I think we have to consider that our “look” does matter, because—for good or ill—it does communicate things…

What I’m suggesting is that we need to think more about what it means to be a Christian on both the form and content level. What does it mean to truly embody the call of Christ in our lives? Can we embody that selfless, humble, transcendent Gospel of Christ when we look the part of a self-focused, vain, trendy hipster?

What do you think? Is the medium of cool a neutral thing for our Christian gospel witness? And if form does indeed matter more than we think it does, how can we go about deciding which forms of faith are preferable over others?

One response to “Forms of Faith

  1. In the way you briefly explore the points of dissonance between hipster Christianity and the gospel in the Converge article (trendiness, exclusivity, individualism), I hear the “exclusivity” dimension emerging as the core problem for the church and the common lens through which trendiness and individualism are read.

    In my case, I have come to see the philosophy of individualism as the true root of hipster Christianity and I see it flourishing just as well in emotionally “hot”, inclusive gatherings as it does in cool, exclusive clubs. In fact, I think that overemphasis on the “cool” dimensions of the 20-30-something sector can obscure some of the perhaps more latent “hot” expressions of that culture. I see the continuing dominant influence of Hillsong church culture as an interesting hybrid of “cool” individualism and “hot” individualism. Also the Christian hardcore scene, from which large portions of hipster Christianity have grown.

    I want to understand the place where prosperity gospel and existentialism meet. Because despite apparent cosmetic differences and high-profile sparring, maybe the two are not so difficult to harmonize. From my view, I see cool church heading into decline, whereas the religion of personal choice and the liberation of the individual from all social constraints has proven to be a very powerful, flexible and adaptable agenda.

    Anyway, I appreciate your ongoing analysis and have benefitted personally from seriously considering the way hipsterdom and Christianity inform each other and my comment here is simply to note that reading this article four years out makes me want to better understand “hot” individualism in my own life and in the church at large.

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