Should Christianity try to be “cool”?

Should Christianity try to be “cool”? September 10, 2014

Brett McCracken, author of Hipster Christianity,  argues that there are intrinsic contradictions inherent in the various attempts to make Christianity “cool.”  See what he says after the jump, whereupon I offer some thoughts on my own on the efforts to adapt Christianity to one culture or another and offer a modest proposal.

From Brett McCracken, Hipster Christianity, revisited – ConvergeConverge:

In the book I address specific instances where the inherent qualities of cool clash with those of the gospel, where the medium of cool isn’t just a neutral vehicle for the gospel but rather a form that changes and even subverts the gospel. Here are a couple of those points of dissonance:

  • Trendiness: The medium of cool is necessarily ephemeral: always changing, always moving on to the next thing once the current cool thing becomes too popular. To embrace a cool aesthetic is to adopt a posture that values the “next” more than the “what is and was.” How does this fit with a faith that isn’t ephemeral, but eternal? How can we simultaneously embrace a sacred view of time, and a valuing of tradition, when we’re so compelled by the ever-changing contours of cool and disposability of trendiness?
  • Exclusivity: The medium of cool is necessarily exclusivist; it can only exist as a minority, in-the-know subculture. Not everyone can be cool. Indeed, this idea drives fashion’s fast-moving ephemerality. If something is cool for too long, it becomes known and accessible to too many. How does this exclusivism square with a faith that is fundamentally inclusive and open-to-all? Imagine walking in to a hipster church as a visitor, looking around and seeing that everyone around you is a fashionable 20-something with impeccable, intimidating style? It makes you uncomfortable, self-conscious. The people might be incredibly nice when you get to know them, but their visual identity alone (the trendy clothes, the beards, the tattoos, etc.) evokes something that makes you feel like an outsider. Is this a feeling that anyone should feel in a church?
  • Individualism: The medium of cool is necessarily individualistic; it’s about setting myself apart from the pack, drawing attention to an individuated me and my against-the-grain, totally unique tastes. It is and has always been about individuals taking the (stylistic, philosophical, political) road less travelled. But how does cool’s inherent individualism square with a Christian faith that beckons us outside of the self, calling us to deny ourselves and put others first? Can the Christian values of community, collectivism and humility be effectively enacted in a community where cool is a valued currency? Does the gospel take on an unhealthy self-focused bent when it is clothed in the packaging of cool?

True enough.  The problem is that adolescents and young adults just starting out have a morbid preoccupation with group identity and social status.  They have a need to be part of some group and to consider that group superior in some way to other groups.  This is normal and usually fades with time once the person finds his or her niche in society.

Unlike other religions, Christianity–though it has cultural implications–does not offer an entire cultural identity (as Islam and Hinduism do), nor is it supposed to be just a cultural religion.  Rather, it is for all people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9).

And yet, people have the tendency to turn Christianity into a cultural religion; that is, to use it to bolster and to make sacred their own particular nation, tribe, people, or language.  Thus, Christianity easily acquires the flavor of America, of one ethnic group or another, of suburbia, of the small town, of rural life, of the deep South, of the various social classes that make up different congregations.

The ones who are trying to make Christianity cool tend to be reacting against those other cultural versions that they associate with the cultures (usually of their parents) that they are trying to break away from.  So we have the various cliques and fashions and identity markers of the young.

Young Christians go through this too, but they know that the faith of their childhood is still highly relevant to their lives today, including to the new social scene they belong to or aspire to.  They might not realize, though, that in cultivating a “hipster Christianity,” they are doing essentially the same thing that they are reacting against in the now-embarrassing congregations of their childhood.

So what if the Church were to worship in a style that no culture of today follows?  What if its music were utterly different from everyone’s popular tastes?  What if people of all cultures and sub-cultures–every nation, tribe, people, and language, including teenagers and hipsters, factory workers and financiers, people of every ethnicity, farmers and suburbanites and urbanites, little children and the elderly–could worship together?  Wouldn’t that be cool?

 

 


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