“An Unsatisfying Account”
A Review of
When Church and Cool Collide.
by Brett McCracken.
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide.
by Brett McCracken.
Paperback: Baker Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]
[ For a thorough critique of this work, read
David Session’s review in Patrol Magazine. ]
It’s rare that I am as disappointed with a book as I was with Brett McCracken’s Hipster Christianity. For a long time, I have been interested in youth culture movements and their intersections with the life of church communities, and I am certain that there is rich ground for exploration of the creativity, energy and social criticism that these movements have injected into churches, particularly over the last four decades. And on the flip side, there are undoubtedly a multitude of ways in which these movements have been co-opted within Christianity for ends related to church growth and marketing, which was the thought that popped into my mind when I first heard the book’s sub-title “When Church and Cool Collide.” And my anticipation of the book was further stoked by its creative and entertaining pre-release marketing, “The Christian Hipster Quiz,” which made its rounds on the internet earlier this summer. Unfortunately, however, Brett McCracken’s book fails to deliver, and his work has been the target of a number of recent pointed critiques (from John Wilson of Books and Culture to David Sessions of Patrol Magazine – whose excellent and thorough review leaves me little to say here).
To his credit, McCracken does, in the finest work that the book has to offer, pen a decent history of “Hip Christianity.” His descriptive work, however, is overshadowed by his flimsy analytical work, particularly his theological work which never seems to be able to imagine much of a Christianity beyond evangelicalism. McCracken does, over the course of the book, highlight a number of key facets of “hipster” movements within Christianity over the last decade – the emerging church, emphases on social justice and art, etc. – but these topics are addressed in a rapid and disconnected fashion reminiscent of a PowerPoint presentation. I am certain that there is deeper narrative about the intersections of the Church and youth culture that could be told, and I suspect that David Sessions is right when he observes that such an account would not fit neatly within McCracken’s evangelical framework. If you’re interested in a descriptive history of recent intersections of youth culture and Christianity, Hipster Christianity might be of some interest to you, but if you’re looking for deeper reflections about the significance of this history, then we must wait for a book that is yet to be published.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com