The Wall Street Journal Weighs in on Hipster Christianity

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried. G K Chesterton

 

“Going to church does not make you a Christian anymore than going to the garage makes you a car." Laurence J. Peter

 

A number of years ago I was invited to meet a man who wished to move to our area to start a new church. He apparently was ready to move on from his current church in a smaller town to “build” something for God in a larger city. Although I was not interested, I went to be polite to the person who invited me. In front of me stood a man who was dressed exactly like Rick Warren, Hawaiian shirt, casual pants and the beginnings of a goatee. He let us know how qualified he was for this mission by citing statistics on how to get a lot of people to the church in short order-great band, coffee, and cool sermons were in order. He then let us know his salary requirements by casually dropping the fact that his 6000 square foot house was currently on the market. Needless to say, I ran and so did everyone else. I wonder if he ever sold his home?
 

 

Another time I went to a talk by a locally acclaimed women’s speaker. As she talked, I got the feeling of déjà vu. Ad then it hit me. This woman was attempting to mimic the speaking style of Ann Graham Lotz. She used the same inflections and even placed her finger over her lip with an arched brow quizzically perched. It freaked me out. If I wanted to hear Lotz, I would go to hear Lotz. I came to hear her and I got a poor imitation of Lotz.

On August 13, 2010, Brett McCracken, a 27 year old evangelical caused a bit of a kerfuffle in evangelical circles by having an article entitled The Perils of Wannabe Cool Christianity. Here is the link. He makes the observation that the evangelical church is concerned and reacting to statistics that indicate that approximately 70% of all students who grow up in church, leave church with the advent of college. As an aside, these statistics (gathered by Lifeway) leave much to be desired in terms of analysis. There seems to be some indication that a large number of these students return as they approach their 30s.
 

However, McCracken makes the point that the evangelical church is making an all effort to regain these lost youth by any means possible. It appears that the popular method du jour is “Hipster Christianity.” This means to be cool, with it, cutting edge, etc. There are various ways that churches attempt to be cool. The first way is to “look “cool.

 

“For some, it means trying to seem more culturally savvy. The pastor quotes Stephen Colbert or references Lady Gaga during his sermon, or a church sponsors a screening of the R-rated "No Country For Old Men." For others, the emphasis is on looking cool, perhaps by giving the pastor a metrosexual makeover, with skinny jeans and an $80 haircut, or by insisting on trendy eco-friendly paper and Helvetica-only fonts on all printed materials”.
 

Hmmmm, Helvetica huh? Well in keeping with TWW’s effort to remain relevant and cool, the rest of this article will be printed in said font. (Whoops, WordPress does not offer that font-how outre of them)!
 

Superficially, it does seem to be Scriptural to attempt to fit in with the culture in ways that do not compromise the essential message. The pastor who is ministering in the San Diego culture would probably do well to avoid the Southern Baptist greased back pompadour. A preacher on the Navajo Reservation would do well to wear jeans and boots instead of the gray two-piece with matching hankie. Paul seems to agree.So far, so good.

 

“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9:22-23
 

(As an aside, I would like to make one observation. I know that indie rock bands are cool. However, does anyone else out there have trouble singing along with these groups? Half the time I have never heard the music. I don’t think I am alone. As I look around at said churches, I see lots of people moving to the music but very few singing along. Isn’t the music supposed to help us worship or is it supposed to help us see how way cool the church is? Rant finished)!
 

With point two, however, the waters become murkier.

 

“"Wannabe cool" Christianity also manifests itself as an obsession with being on the technological cutting edge. Churches like Central Christian in Las Vegas and Liquid Church in New Brunswick, N.J., for example, have online church services where people can have a worship experience at an "iCampus." Many other churches now encourage texting, Twitter and iPhone interaction with the pastor during their services".
 

I know of a variety of churches that are expanding using the “remote location” approach. Let’s say, the Ever Hip Church wishes to expand to another town. However, the ever hip pastor cannot be in two places at once….or can he? So, the church rents out a movie theater in an adjacent town, has a subsidiary band come and perform (whoops, lead worship) and then the pastor gets beamed in as he gives his sermon in the other church.
 

I bemoan the lack of intimacy that this breeds. However, with the advent of the megachurch, who really knows their pastor or any of the passing through congregation intimately anyway? So, maybe its time to move to the next step. Why even bother with a church? We could all stay home, Tivo it so we don’t have to get up early. We could listen to the sermon at our leisure and sing along with the band right in front of our own 50-inch LCDs. We would even have child-care built in so no more arm-twisting to work the nursery. We could then tweet our pastors with our thoughts. For example, “Are you really wearing an authentic Crew sweater today?
 

Just think of the membership numbers a “church” could boast if it went to an all-remote venue. Wait, isn’t that called TV? That’s it. Neilson could rate the number of viewers per church and the winner of the rating war could be dubbed The Absolute Most Hip Church. There could be Grammys, spin offs, and even soap operas (Days of Our Deacons comes to mind).
 

We could even do small groups this way. Imagine Skyping all your meetings. Think of the diversity opportunities. We could be in a small group with people from all over the world. And no one would have to be in charge of planning snacks.

 

With McCraken’s third point, one begins to see the path the church is on.

 

“Sex is a popular shock tactic. Evangelical-authored books like "Sex God" (by Rob Bell) and "Real Sex" (by Lauren Winner) are par for the course these days. At the same time, many churches are ๏ฌnding creative ways to use sex-themed marketing gimmicks to lure people into church.
Oak Leaf Church in Cartersville, Georgia, created a website called yourgreatsexlife.com to pique the interest of young seekers. Flamingo Road Church in Florida created an online, anonymous confessional (IveScrewedUp.com), and had a web series called MyNakedPastor.com, which featured a 24/7 webcam showing five weeks in the life of the pastor, Troy Gramling. Then there is Mark Driscoll at Seattle's Mars Hill Church—who posts Q&A videos online, from services where he answers questions from people in church, on topics such as "Biblical Oral Sex" and "Pleasuring Your Spouse."
 

 

TWW did a series on Mark Driscoll who has never met a topic that shouldn’t be discussed in front of the world, at any time and in any place. Please read our series on this sexpert for an up front and personal look at Driscoll doing his best imitations of Dr. Ruth.
 

I believe that McCracken hits the nail on the head. He claims that young evangelicals are seeking more than another talk on sex. (Yes, yes they know its supposed to be in marriage even though the majority of single, hip Christians do not practice abstinence because they see no reason to do so because they don’t understand the Bible). They can get that at any freshman orientation at any secular college. Maybe they are looking for some far deeper than another ploy to gain their attention and their presence.
 

The problem is that the culture is always changing and the church is in a bind, trying to consistently appear relevant when relevancy changes on a daily basis. How far do we take relevance? For example, relevance in the Dallas culture means ostentatious displays of wealth. Is this why FBC Dallas is building their “$130 million addition? (The mosque/Islamic Center in downtown New York City is only going to cost $100 million. Atta way to win this war, FBC; out money them).
 

Then a funny thing happened as I researched this post. I visited to a blog written by Maurilio Amorim who is not impressed by McCracken’s point of view. Here is a link. However, if one actually takes a minute to investigate this guy, one realizes that he is using the trend to make money by advising churches on how to exploit this trend. If the church became anti-hipster, it would cost him oodles of money to catch up with the newest craze which would probably mean he would have to outlay cash on new videos, new speakers, new glasses, etc. He likes the status quo.

 

He is just another huckster who makes all sorts of money advising churches on how to be big successes (read make lots of money) through his company called The A Group. Here is a link. (Look at his digs- churches must be paying top dollar). He proudly claims that he is from a megachurch background. Shazaam! We are impressed! He looks the part with his hip glasses and somewhat spiked hair. Here is what he has to say.
 

“If you want to leave your current church because the music is too loud or your pastor has begun shopping at the Buckle, than that’s your prerogative. But before you exchange it for a choir and pipe organ, or for the ultra smart double PHD preacher down the road, make sure the byproduct of membership in your new church is not just a better experience tailor-suited to your tastes, but by a transformed life–one that’s characterized by a radical devotion to a man named Jesus”.
 

Note how he subtly equates a hipster with being a radically devoted Christian and a double PhD preacher with being an out of touch Christian. This reeks of anti-intellectual snobbery that we have seen infecting some aspects of the awesomely cool churches. One would never mistake Ed Young Jr for any deep thoughts on doctrine. He is waaay too cool.
 

Of course, the hipsters responded positively over at Amorim’s site.(Bet a few have used his services). I wonder if he gets some new business out of this one. Here is one such comment.
 

“However, I agree 100% with you on this and I found his article (the sensationalist anti-stance required to get published anywhere these days) to be silly, trite, and overly-simplified. The article basically stated: You can be either real or hipster — not both. Well, I work at a "HIPSTER" church and they reach thousands for Christ”.

 

Once again, I find these comments trite and boring. It is predicated on the numbers game. If thousands are coming then it must be God. About a year ago, Bill Hybels, part of the megachurch problem, made a startling statement. He said that Willowcreek had made some big mistakes. They apparently spawned a bunch of churchgoers who know next to nothing about the Bible. This has been my experience as well. Just because you have lots of people coming, does not mean you are spawning Christians. Remember, the Coliseum was filled to overflowing with spectators watching lions maul Christians.
 

So what’s the bottom line? It is important to be culturally relevant. But it is important not to become culturally enmeshed. The early Christians became known for their refusal to give into the cultural mandates of the day. They would not worship Caesar; they refused to take part in many of the pagan celebrations of their day and were willing to be rejected to the point of becoming tarred and being used for torches at Nero’s garden parties. Their countercultural ways made them stand out and, within 300 years, much of that part of the world was Christianized.
 

As I look at the Sermon on the Mount, I see no discussion on the relative merits of oral sex. The early church fathers did not publish tomes on cultural relevance. There is nothing wrong in dressing in the manner of the society we are trying to reach but things get a little weird when mixed drinks are being served during Bible study (getting looped for the Lord seems a little off message).

 

We need to think long and hard about what it means to be in the world but not of the world. We also need to be cognizant of the fact that most of the young people today were not raised in churches. Sometimes we try so hard to make them feel comfortable that we forget that they don’t know what to expect from church. Maybe we are trying just a little too hard to be “hip.”
 

The world searches for authenticity. Groups, like the one Amorim owns, want to make cookie cutter pastors who fit some sort of predetermined market researched and approved model. He especially would want a guy who could draw in the big money folks. However, I think the “A” Group of yesteryear would not have chosen Jesus as the leader of the new church.
 

He was not flashy, dressed conservatively, hung around with lowlifes, could make very awkward comments around the ruling elite (snakes) and He definitely did not get along with the Romans. And then there was the overturning the moneychanger’s table thing-how unhip and unmannerly can you be?
 

I think Amorim would have looked for a well dressed guy with great teeth who could press the flesh of the ruling elite and draw the rich crowds to fancy venues where they could sip Roman wines and listen to talks on how to be nice to your wife. Jesus wouldn’t, you know, fit. He would do better serving down at one of those rescue mission places. They don’t care how you dress down there.
 

Jesus hung with those out of the mainstream and embarrassed the Pharisees on a regular basis. He even gave talks on hillsides, eschewing the fancy venues of the day. I bet the guys he hung with couldn’t have raised enough money to build anything like Fellowship Church. Yet they changed the world while Ed Young Jr. has become the world. Maybe being cool is not all it is cracked up to be.
 

For your amusement, I have provided this link to McCracken’s web site called Hipster Christianity. It describes various subgroups of “hip” Christians. I found out that I do not fit into any category so color me “irrelevant.”

 

Comments

The Wall Street Journal Weighs in on Hipster Christianity — 26 Comments

  1. Awwww, thanks. I went on a vacation without any access to the Internet and discovered there is indeed life without being constantly connected. So it has taken me a while to readjust to being back online. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. I think that when a church makes being “hip” a major goal, it’s easy for things like doctrine, theology, and a real understanding of what Christianity is about to get lost along the way. The church in the link I provided is just another example.

  3. I did the McCraken test honestly and was disappointed that I scored as a “low scoring” hipster (I hoped to be a non-hipster, like Dee:) ). Most of the names and references he used were things I had never heard of, disagreed with, had bad experiences with, or knew of from my Christian youth (I’m 44, pretty far out of hipster reality). I consider myself very conservative but also realizing that my understanding of God is tainted by (primarily) my sinful nature and (secondarily) worldview. I say all of this “tongue in cheek” because labels aren’t really all that important. However, I long for the day that all those that are His are with Him forever, without sin. I get so tired of being a sinner.

  4. Bunny

    Maybe we need to start a group called the Those Formerly Known As Prepster Christians. Just think-we could bring back Izod, Talbot’s and pink and green. All the guys could wear bow ties and perfect the intellectual sneer.
    Then the could be the I Survived Woodstock” Christian-Jerry Garcia T shirts, bell bottoms and Keith Green music. Prayer meetings cold be announced : “Like Dudes, a sister needs prayer.” The possibilities are endless!

  5. “Well, I work at a “HIPSTER” church and they reach thousands for Christโ€. ”

    You know, I was in the mega world for a long time and I heard this constantly and believed it! the only problem is that it is not true if you define ‘reaching’ by New Covenant standards.

    What they are really saying is that INVITING folks to come to your entertainment focused and cool church is just like presenting them with the FULL Gospel. That is a lie. They think inviting them to church means they might get saved. But they invite them and they never hear the full gospel! If they did present the full gospel, the pews would empty!

    Where do we see unbelievers being invited into the Body in the NT? There is ONE reference in Corinthians to an outsider coming in…by chance. We would not turn them away but do we see the NT teaching us to focus on inviting unbelievers into the Body?

    The process is that the Body goes OUT and shares the FULL Gospel with unbelievers. And those who are saved WANT to be a part of the “Body”. If you read closely, you will see that most of the preaching is done OUTSIDE the Body.

    And in these seeker mega churches the teaaching is always aimed at the ‘new believer’ so as not to offend so there is rarely any meat presented. As a matter of fact, I would doubt the teachers/preachers know any meat. They are the masters of proof texting. Many of them are Anthony Robbins with a plastic fish attached. I sat through tons of “sermon production” meetings. The 3 point sermon with a few proof texts, lots of visuals, skits and video. Oh, and the obligatory one big laugh they must always seek. Entertaining sermons were key. Some moved on to shock jock status.

    These guys could not exposit their way out of a paper bag.

    I spent many years in this world and can count on one hand the times I heard the words repent and sanctification.

    However, I did hear the word “mistakes” a lot. Now, sins are mere mistakes. And quite normal for all Christians, for all time on earth. Never mind 1 John and Hebrews 10. Never mind growing in Holiness.

  6. Junkster
    I watched Ed Young Jr’s evolution from a Texas boy into a full fledged hipster. Teeth got capped, wardrobe upgrade, car upgrade, the haircut was so now. It was hysterical to read folks writing about Ed. The equated his appearance with authenticity. So typical Dallas. Outward=Reality.

    I know that there are some hipsters who truly serve the Lord. But it does ring false, or perhaps trying too gosh darn hard, to appear cool. It rings a bit false over time.

  7. 11 โ€œ Behold, the days are coming,โ€ says the Lord GOD,

    โ€œ That I will send a famine on the land,
    Not a famine of bread,
    Nor a thirst for water,
    But of hearing the words of the LORD.
    12 They shall wander from sea to sea,
    And from north to east;
    They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD,
    But shall not find it.

    Amos 8.

  8. Lydia

    As usual, thoughtful and true. I attended a service. at JD Greear’s church.He announced that there was going to be a baptism in the hall right after the service. No preparation needed. Just come and get baptized if you hadn’t been baptized.

    Now I know there is some precedent at the time of Acts 2 where thousands heard and were baptized. But there were miracles occurring, tongues being spoken so everyone heard the Gospel in their own language.

    I bet they asked the folks if they were Christians. However, after my experience at Ed Young’s church, I knew that many who define themselves as Christians, don’t know what in the world they are talking about.

    So, I guess there were some who authentically needed a baptism. But it would seem to me that a time of reflection and evaluation with carefully spelled out parameters of what it means to be a Christian might be in order.

    Bet he has some great stats on numbers of baptism, however.

  9. Makes me very nervous. Esp since the numbers being promoted in the SBC now are Baptism numbers. Might get him a speaking gig at the pastors conference. At the very least all intros will mention his huge baptism numbers.

    I say, “count the cost” because Baptism is telling the world something about you. Make sure it is really true or we profane the Name.

    What say you guys…should we take this passage literally?

    25 Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, 26 โ€œIf anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish itโ€” 29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, โ€˜This man began to build and was not able to finishโ€™? 31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14)

  10. Beyond John 3:16, what else is required to initiate a true relationship with God the Father through faith in the Son? I made my commitment to Christ at the age of nine in the closing service of a week long revival. As soon as I understood why Jesus died on the cross, I decided to love and serve him the rest of my life. Seems like I have had to defend that step of faith in Christ ever since. After that, whenever I did the rededication thing during revival week, people would ask if I thought I was really saved. All I could respond with was if John 3:16 is true, then I am really saved. I get a bit antsy when we start piling on things to know, believe, and do before you can be classified as a real follower of Christ. My pastor did make a visit the week after my revival decision to clarify the decision I had made. I was baptized the following Sunday evening along with several others who made commitments during the revival week. I know much more now than I did then, and I have had some exciting experiences in my walk with Christ; but when I stand before the Father to explain why I think I should be allowed into his heaven (if we actually have to do such a thing), I plan on reciting John 3:16. If John 3:16 isn’t true, then all that other stuff doesn’t make any difference anyway. I’ve said all that to say this, a person’s salvation and baptism experience is ultimately between him and God. It is neither validated nor negated by who administers it or where it takes place. Each step of faith is built upon the previous step. My first faith step was belief in Jesus through John 3:16. It was a good start.

  11. J Carver

    I agree with you, fully. As long as you truly understood what John 3:16 meant and accepted it, all is well. I was once in Ed Young Jr’s church where I heard a woman explain that she knew she would go to heaven because of Jesus. She was baptized. Soon after, she left and joined the Unity Church, stating they taught the same thing about Jesus.

    The question I like to ask folks is which Jesus are you talking about. Sometimes the answers startle me because they don’t adhere to true Christianity.I think it is important to ask why the person is being baptized .

  12. Someone told me a few years back there is a reason Jesus Christ was called Immanuel which means God with us. God walking the earth as a man in the form of Jesus Christ and then Jesus Christ sending the Holy Spirit to dwell within us.

    Is anyone else out there seeing an overall slackening of teaching on the function of the Holy Spirit in a believers life in the evangelical world?

    I say this because even the demons ‘believe in Jesus’,so to speak. They know He is God. This is obvious from scripture when Jesus interacts with the demons. They KNOW Him and who He is. They believe.

    So, I have really questioned the evangelical focus today on “believing in Jesus”. Should the focus be more on “Being in Him”? Abiding in Him? Does this make sense?

    In the interlinear it is worded as …”believing INTO Him…” Hmm?

    Believing: pisteuo pist-yoo’-o

    t have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), i.e. credit; by
    implication, to entrust (especially one’s spiritual well-being to Christ):–
    believe(-r), commit (to trust), put in trust with.

  13. Lydia
    You know, this would make an interesting post. The issues of todays’ evangelicalism surrounding “becoming a Christian.” It is the process that is at stake. Not just making a profession that one believes that Jesus died for one’s sins. You are right, the devil believes. How does this look?

    When I became a Christian, I didn’t even pray the sinner’s prayer because I didn’t know how. I was alone,watching Star trek, and I remember I moment when I said, I believe. I immediaetly had the desire to read Scripture and follow Jesus. I got the sin thing almost immediately (a day or so). Within 5 days I was able to read Scripture with an understanding that I know had not been present.

    Yet, I have met people who have “gone forward” at a Billy Graham crusade (I always cry when I see those folks go forward. I loved to listen to that man speak. He always touched me so deeply, more than many. I miss him and love to watch old recordings). By the way, when I became a Christian at 17, the only thing that my parents understood that it was something like what happened at Graham’s crusades. Even though they weren’t Christians, they felt it was OK because they admired Graham even though they didn’t believe. But, as always, I digress.

    These folks have gone forward, then gone forward in their churches again and again. Yet, somehow, they never seem to get there.Many have been baptized and still seem out of it in some way. Please don’t think I am judging. I don’t know what goes on inside someone. I only see the outside.

    Thanks for getting me thinking, as always!

  14. “I immediaetly had the desire to read Scripture and follow Jesus”

    And there is the point! You were given the desire by the Holy Spirit to SEEK HIM, KNOW HIM intimately and become like Him.

  15. What is funny about that video is that it was produced by Andy Stanley’s people. He is making fun of himself!

  16. What a great video! Thanks for bringing it to our attention. Look for it next Friday on TWW when we will encourage our readers to share their candid comments about it.

  17. DEE, ISRAEL HERE;
    I wanted to respond to your post by “HANEGRAAFFand MY CONFUSION” but the “leave a reply” page is not there. Is there a reason why, did I offend someone?

  18. By the way; I remember as a child probably about 10 yrs. old in Jamaica where I’m from, i attended a small Church on a hill (I had strict parents so we all had to go to church).

    I do not remember a whole lot regarding that time but there are some things which have stuck with me.

    I recall of members of this particular Church that I attended, and how they would speak unkind words of hurt against another church situated about half a mile away. The reason for their unkind words of hurt were simply because that other Church do things differently from them that they found either repulsive or something to ridicule.

    When is it that the Body of Christ is going to accept the fact that we are one -suppose to be- and when our brothers and sisters are beside themselves its time to weep, not a time to hurl demogoguery at them.

    Fools gold we bought to think somehow we are expunge from the faults within the Church body since, thank God “we are not like other men,” we pass. The judgement to come makes no such distinction.

    it’s that small voice within that lets us know whether or not we are in….

    Our correct theology is not an automatic pass…. in “this” time.

  19. Israel

    You have done nothing wrong. We never prevent people from posting even if they hate what we say. There appears to be a problem with our latest update. I will contact the “man behind the curtain” and find out what’s going on. Please check back later. For now, post your comment anywhere and I will find it. I am sorry.

  20. Israel

    I believe we must expose poor teaching that will lead others astray. I have seen one too many people leave the faith after they weren’t healed as promised. I have seen people leave the faith because they were never taught the difference between the Jesus of the Bible and the Jesus as portrayed by other faiths, such as the Mormons. I have seen one too many people believe they were “saved” only to walk away from the faith after they saw “proof” that what they were taught was a bunch of malarkey.

    We cannot be one when people are following a false Jesus. Such a wish for unity is in reality nonexistent. There is a difference between in house debates on such issues as baptism and eschatology. It is another thing to pretend we have unity with people who believe in a different Jesus. Every heresy begins with a misunderstanding of the nature of God. Remember, Oprah, a proponent of some of the silliness of spirituality out there claims she is a Christians!