Tag Archives: Cool Christianity

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?

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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!

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.