Well, supposedly I am, being that Brett McCracken devotes chapter seven, in the heart of his book, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide to the emerging church movement. “The emerging church,” we are told by McCracken, “undergirds much of what hipster Christianity is all about these days.” And, cribbing a quote from my chapter in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope about the ECM being “pluriform and multivocal,” McCracken responds with this devastating critique: “I mean, how hip is that?”
I’m not the first to think that McCracken’s analysis is suspect and grasp of history is delinquent. John Wilson of Books & Culture wrote a brief but withering essay criticizing McCracken’s thesis. In response to a Wall Street Journal op-ed penned by McCracken, in which the author hamfistedly uses books by Lauren Winner and Rob Bell to point up evangelicals’ obsession with sex, Wilson writes,
Wait, wait. We’re talking about books … that prove what? Every workday, new books written by evangelicals (or writers with a strong affinity for evangelicals, whether or not they self-identify as such) appear on my desk. These books take up an enormous range of subjects. A few of them, yes, are about sex. And this is supposed to be evidence for some striking trend? (I wonder whatever happened to my copy of Total Woman.) By the way, why are these two books in particular said to be representative of the frantic, ill-conceived “plan” to keep young people in the fold? As I read them, Bell’s and Winner’s books are both deeply informed by Scripture and grounded in the life of the church.
I’m with Wilson. If McCracken wants to pick on evangelicals using sex to sell books and fill the pews, point to Ed Young, Jr. with a bed on the stage, preaching to his congregation the benefits of having sex every day for a month. Winner and Bell, in contrast, thoughtfully write about sex from a biblically literate and generally evangelical perspective.
What I’d like to ask McCracken is, what’s the better option? For Christian leaders not to write books about sex? For preachers not to preach about sex?
In fact, McCracken admitted yesterday on Doug Pagitt Radio (part one, part two (the audio is not working right — check back on Doug’s site for a fix) UPDATE: hear the interview HERE) that he wished he wouldn’t have used those two examples in the WSJ piece. But, even without the hamfisted use of Winner and Bell, the question remains, What cultural expression would McCracken have us use to communicate the gospel?
That’s what McCracken seemed unable to do yesterday on the radio, and that’s to propose an alternative. See, the deal is that everything is hermeneutics — that’s all there is. We communicate the gospel in our own cultural idioms. It’s the only way we can. McCracken says that the culture of urban hispters is not appropriate for the gospel, for it smacks too much of desperate marketing tactics. Instead, McCracken says that our communication of the gospel should be “real” and “authentic.” (That’s funny, I remember a book from a decade ago that argued that youth ministry should shift “from relevant to real” for the sake of the gospel.)
But what, I ask, is “real” and “authentic”? To what cultural expressions should the gospel be linked? Is English good enough for the gospel, or should we revert to Greek and Hebrew? (I wonder, does Brett know Greek and Hebrew?)
Well, alas, the Grand Rapids-Carol Stream cabal ensures that McCracken will get his 15 minutes. He was, as I said, featured in the Wall Street Journal, an op-ed that has been “liked” on Facebook over 22,000 times (I mean, how hip is that?) And he wrote the cover article for next month’s Christianity Today. His book will sell more than any of mine, so maybe this is all sour grapes.
And this coming from me, a single dad who lives in the suburbs, drives a car with 85,000 miles on it, struggles to pay the rent, and occasionally puts on a tan shirt covered with patches to lead 10-year-old boys in the Pledge of Allegiance at Cub Scout den meetings.
I mean, how hip is that?