Saturday, August 28, 2010

Beyond a Christianity That's Cool

Brett McCracken has written a new book entitled Hipster Christianity.  The book has apparently just been released, and I haven't read it yet.  However, McCracken used material from the book to write a recent article in the Wall Street Journal.

Part of the thesis seems to be that Christianity is trying to re-brand itself once again.  McCracken suggests that the change is a reaction to numbers.  The latest generation isn't attending church, and leaders are working hard to find the magic formula to bring in waves of young evangelical Protestants.
Increasingly, the "plan" has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant. As a result, in the early 2000s, we got something called "the emerging church"—a sort of postmodern stab at an evangelical reform movement. Perhaps because it was too "let's rethink everything" radical, it fizzled quickly. But the impulse behind it—to rehabilitate Christianity's image and make it "cool"—remains.
There are plenty of "emergent" church folk who would take issue with McCracken's judgment that the movement fizzled.  Despite that small quibble, McCracken is correct.  The church desperately wants to be cool.

However, this is nothing new.  Style and attitude have always accompanied the journey of faith.  Fads come and go even among Christians.  Probably, 21st Century Americans understand this better than anyone.  We live in a culture in which style trumps substance every day.  We covet celebrity, and those futures are more volatile than any financial market.  Today, among Christians or "Christ followers" there is a certain style in ascendancy.

I have spoken about this video before, but it illustrates the point well.  For all the desire to be inclusive, we are merely replacing one style with another.  Clearly, the "Christian" in the video above is a caricature.  In a way, McCracken is suggesting a caricature of the "Christ follower".  The "cool" or "hip" of one generation are just as self-righteous or judgmental as another.  We have merely changed what we value.

Every generation is so self-regarded that it often cannot see the contributions of another.  For example, I have heard edgy preachers condemn those wealthy churches who worship Mammon, but then rely on those same churches for contributions for their "alternative communities."  In addition, consider the churches that actually promote themselves as "This is not your parent's church".  As much as proponents will not admit it, this is a soft condemnation of our parents' church.  Something was missing which we have figured out.  

The danger is when style and attitude become unmoored from something more substantive.  In the past, the church was identified by a set of moral behavior or by its theological doctrines.  Both were limiting in their own ways.  After all, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.  We worship God, not our good works or intellectual constructs.  Nonetheless, living in an age of biblical illiteracy and moral license makes one pine for stale orthodoxy.

I am a product of this generation.  I don't want to return to a golden age that never was.  Likewise, I don't want to enter into a golden age devised at some late night seminary bull session.  I am part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.  A respect for others, whether "cool" or not, shows my unity with the greater church.  Who knows?  Maybe I'll learn something from those who came before me, or at least I'll discover that I've never had an original thought.

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