James K.A. Smith of Calvin College has a scathing review of Hipster Christianity up at The Other Journal, and it’s a thing to behold. I can’t insist strongly enough that you read the whole thing if you have been following this book, but a few excerpts nonetheless.
Smith distinguishes between hipsters and posers, the sort of style-conscious psuedo-hipsters McCracken’s book seems to take for the real thing. He echoes my criticism that Hipster Christianity almost totally ignores the young Christians who are really worth talking about:
But let me be very clear now: Relevant-magazine hipsters are really just posers. Like all the posers hanging around the half-pipes of my youth, these are people looking for cool by association, with a slight thrill of rebellion as a side-effect. And while McCracken’s analysis perhaps pertains to a bunch of suburban kids who have adopted hipster as a style—just as they might have adopted “urban” as a style—his analysis doesn’t even touch those students I know who, from Christian convictions, have intentionally pursued a lifestyle that rejects the bourgeois consumerism of mass, commercialized culture.
Smith really lays into McCracken’s final chapters, and puts his finger on the book’s tone-deafness better than anyone has:
In contrast to the Christian bohemian commitment to a good life that reflects the shape of kingdom flourishing, McCracken’s concluding chapters read like a naive, slightly whiny appeal to protect Jesus-in-your-heart evangelical pieties—which, of course, can sit perfectly well with the systemic injustice that characterize “normal” American life. …
I think the reason these concerns don’t show up in Hipster Christianity is because McCracken lacks a theology of culture, and because of that, he has a tin ear for the issues of systemic (in)justice that really define the bohemian lifestyle of what we might call authentic hipsters. Indeed, while he tries to berate Christian hipsters for being individualists, McCracken’s understanding of Christianity is almost hopelessly individualist, fixated on matters of personal piety and individual salvation. Within that frame, authentic Christian hipsters don’t make much sense; such a life could only be a style, a pose. But precisely because McCracken lacks a sufficient theology of culture, and hence lacks any attention to systematic (in)justice, most of the Christian hipsters I know will never read this book; but all of the posers will.
Again, read the whole thing. Matt Lee Anderson isn’t so thrilled, and I agree with him that McCracken isn’t nearly so hostile to authentic Christian hipsters as Smith makes him sound. I’m quite sure McCracken rejects consumer Christianity as strongly as the rest of us. But his entire framework seems “hopelessly individualist” when he devotes so much time to C.S. Lewis and worries that Christian hipsters are “too accommodating of sin.”
David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol. He covers religion for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, and is a graduate student in the Draper Program for Humanities and Social Thought at New York University. He can be reached at hdavidsessions at gmail dot com.
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