More "McLovin" for McCrackin: A Response to the CT Article on "Hipster Christianity"
This is part 2 of responses to the new Brett McCracken book. My first post I wrote almost entirely for the class I’m teaching on ministry and culture and I thought that was the end of the conversation. However, Mr. McCracken was the cover story in this month’s Christianity Today. AND my boss loved the article so much he emailed it to all the pastors on my district. So, I feel like I’ve been drug in to a battle I didn’t want to fight.
So, let me start with all the ways in which I AGREE with McCracken’s article in Christianity Today:
*Evangelicalism’s love affair with what is “trendy” is nothing new.
*There is a difference between an organic contextualization of Christianity in to culture in order to serve a community and a desire to be “cool.”
*Evangelical culture in the 1990’s was, “…schlocky kitsch. And it was begging to be rebelled against.”
*A critical critique of one’s culture is necessary for every generation of Christ Followers.
But, as you might imagine, there are few issues I struggled with:
*I don’t know if McCracken is aware of this or not but the word “hipster” is a derogatory term, not a term of endearment. His use of the term sets a tone in the article that is paternalistic and condescending.
* I don’t believe in the (Greek) dualistic separation between “Christian” and “secular” that McCracken uses. I prefer to subscribe to the Hebrew view of life that believes that God is present everywhere. And being Wesleyan in my theological orientation means that I believe in God’s prevenient grace that shows up in places that I least expect it.
McCracken admits that, “Hipster Christianity isn’t a monolithic subculture than can be easily categorized…” but then he buys back what he says by inundating his readers with generalization after generalization. Stereotypes are the lazy person’s shortcut to understanding people. As such, stereotypes are almost always an inaccurate representation of individuals. In McCracken’s case, I personally know Erwin McManus, Mark Driscoll, and others that he has mentioned in his article and they don’t fit neatly in to the description that McCracken is giving. As near as I can tell, McCracken has done no real research on emerging churches like Ryan Bolger and Eddie Gibb’s book, Emerging Churches (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005) his conclusions are mere generalizations drawn from anecdotal observations. As such, most of what McCracken has to say is only good for firing up older Evangelicals but lacks any definitive substance or academic credibility.
McCracken's so called "hipsters" are motivated by rebellion. It may be self-evident to say, but rebellion is not always bad. Its value depends on what the person is rebelling against. To be rebellious is to be in the good company of people like Martin Luther King, Phineas Bresee, John Wesley, and Bishop Desmond Tutu. McCracken seems to assume that those in his cross hairs are rebelling for the sake of rebellion. Yet, from my observation it seems to be a rebellion against arbitrary legalism that became an idol and imprisoned their parents and a rebellion against a faith that is so individualistic that it makes the world we are living in worse and not better. In short, it seems like something worthy to rebel against.
McCracken’s own immersion in this older Evangelical subculture is obvious. He laments, “When…Christian hipsters begin to look and act just like their secular hipster counterparts, drinking and smoking all the same things, shouldn’t we raise a red flag?” It is sad that McCracken doesn’t get the irony of this own words – does he really believe that a defining characteristic of those that follow Jesus from those who do not is in their legalistic lack of drinking and smoking? Many emerging Jesus followers would reply by saying – “Yes, that is the point of our ‘rebellion’! For many years that legalism WAS the only difference between many people who claimed the name of Jesus and the rest of the world.” (By the way, if one’s personal piety exceeds Jesus’ piety, THAT might be a red flag that something has gone askew.)
As a result, many people in Evangelical (specifically Nazarene) churches live with this cognitive dissonance – they drink but come to church and pretend like they don’t. People are not stupid. Let’s at least be honest about it. Most people in the churches that I have pastored drink and I don’t think my church is that much different than the others. But for most it is “don’t ask, don’t tell” on Sunday. Could I be so bold as to suggest that Jesus’ defining criteria for his disciples might a better one – love for each other?
Given that McCracken’s stereotypes are accurate (which I don’t think they are), what takes my breath away is in the next paragraph of the article. McCracken argues with a straight face that drinking and smoking are “…not…much better” than the greed, raping of the environment, idolatry of nationalism, disdain for the foreigner, and apathy toward the marginalized of previous generations of Evangelicals. [For those who have ever read the Bible, I will pause to let the weight of that sink in. Wow.]
In the end, I really don’t care what McCracken thinks. What saddens me is that many will read his article and minimize the really important theological shifts that are taking place in some churches as just one more fad akin to skinny jeans or hula hoops.