The Problem with Hipster Christianity

One day, I decided to call a guest speaker at my college a hypocrite.

He didn't have all of these things, in case you were wondering.

He didn’t have all of these things, in case you were wondering.

He was a very cool guy. Young. Super smart. Excellent speaker who told funny stories. His thesis was simple: Christians shouldn’t make fun of atheists. We shouldn’t assume that people who believe differently than we do are stupid or use cheesy church signs to ram anti-humanist clichés down everyone’s throat.

This is a good reminder, and something I care a lot about.

But afterward, in a small group Q&A time, I had a nagging question. So I blurted out, “You said that we should learn what we can from atheists, respect their intelligence, and not make fun of them.”

Cool Christian Guy nodded.

“So…several times in your talk, you made fun of fundamentalist Christian groups and the stupid things they say. Shouldn’t we extend the same respect to them? Shouldn’t we try to learn from them too?”

After a pause where I’m pretty sure my face lit on fire, Cool Christian Guy recovered admirably and said that he knew of someone who had written a book on just that subject, and it would probably be really interesting, and any other questions?

Which left me feeling a little unsatisfied.

Recently, my friend Paula and I were discussing Hipster Christianity. (If you don’t know what this is, or if you want to see if you are a Hipster Christian, take this quiz.)

Everyone needs more Hipster Jesus in their life.

Everyone needs more Hipster Jesus in their life.

While we both agreed that there is good in valuing “old” things like liturgy, hymns, and house churches, Paula had some wise words about a possible downside:

“The Pope? St. Theresa of Avila? Coolest, most relevant people ever. My Sunday School teacher with the Kentucky accent? My associate pastor? Old-fashioned—out of touch—obviously have no idea about being relevant or loving Christians. Somehow my criticism of evangelical subculture turned into a totally unloving rejection of the faithful and compassionate Christians who surrounded me.

“I understand why we critique things from our history—that’s necessary. But the generation before us—as every generation after—accomplished great good for us, too.”

This reminded me of a Christianity Today article I recently read. In it the writer tells the church, “You draw people to yourself whom I would never choose to spend time with.”

Past generations might have finished this statement with “that trashy single mom down the street” or “my gay coworker” or even “that snobby twenty-something blogger who writes unbiblical things and thinks she’s so smart.”

But this writer goes on to say, “Every Sunday, it seems, you put me in contact with the older woman who thinks that angels and dead pets are everywhere around us.”

And yet, she reminds us: God has called us to love those people too. Not just the “edgy.” Not just the “cool.” Not just the atheists or the marginalized, not just social justice causes or dusty old theologians or bands that have vaguely spiritual lyrics but really great music.

We’re called to love the teenage girl who only listens to (bad) Christian pop songs. The person in small group who says, “Now, we just need to have faith,” in response to any difficult theological question. The famous pastor, museum owner, or camo-wearing TV star who speaks for Christianity in ways you don’t agree with.

We're called to love the pastor who thought putting cheesy slogans on church signs was a good idea.

We’re called to love the pastor who thought putting cheesy slogans on church signs was a good idea.

It’s not wrong to critique the thoughts and ideas of those in the church. I’m not saying that in a spiritual discussion with someone we should speak only of happy things we have in common like a love of peace and harmony and chocolate.

I’m just saying that it’s very, very easy to move from graciously disagreeing with someone to mocking them in a disrespectful way or dismissing them entirely. Because that’s cooler. That’s funnier. That’s more sensational. That gets more clicks and likes and shares.

This seems like a bad motivation to me.

To be fair, Jesus said some pretty extreme things. It’s not an easy answer of “always qualify everything you say, be super gentle, and never ever use sarcasm.” When does humor go too far? It’s a tricky question.

But even when you disagree with other Christians, remember what we have in common. They are your brothers and sisters, and you are called to love them too.

CT hipster

So, blog readers, I want to know: what type of person is hardest for you to love? (Also, 30 imaginary bonus points if you tell me your hipster Christian quotient. For the record, I was a 77.)

14 comments

  1. My quotient: 70.

    Hardest Christian people- people who spend their time re-emphasizing their position on things and preaching to the choir (like spending half of a sermon talking about the dangers of people like Joel Olsteen, when literally no one in the church would actually take him seriously)–and the effect of that is everyone just feels self-righteous about themselves because they are not like “those other people” and happily affirmed in their position. It breeds this air of smugness and close-mindedness and feels like people are always on the defensive. I don’t know what the word for that is. Maybe similar to Meredith’s comment. Intellectual humility and open-mindedness are two things I like (and lack!) but I am VERY QUICK to notice a lack of it in others!! 😉

    1. I’m the same way! I usually get along with almost everyone…but if you have the two or three characteristics that bother me, watch out! I have a hard time even being open to the idea that the person could change. One of them is a lack of humility.

  2. 53. For me, it’s loud and/or thoughtless people. Even if they generally seem strong in their faith, I don’t respect them if they want to be the center of attention, regardless of anything. I take it as a sign that they don’t believe enough to actually apply it, or else they could stand to be humble and put others first. Just shows that I don’t have the whole “judge not” thing down yet.

    1. I don’t think any of us have that one down, Kacey. And while it’s a little different than what you’re talking about, I had to learn how to adapt to a totally different style of relating to God–and one that was much louder and emotion-based–when I was in Gospel Choir for two years. It helped a lot.

  3. (Standing reluctantly, shyly) Hi everyone. My name is Uncle and I scored (voice drops to an embarrassed stage whisper) a 61.

    Had to toss the yarrow sticks for answers on questions 5, 8, 15, 20, 29 and 30, though.

    Question 25 was the Howitzer in the arsenal. “Pro-life encompasses … Abortion? Certainly! But Christians have allowed the issue to degenerate into a feeble ” when does life begin” argument. No witness there; just “he said, she said.”

    The death penalty? Absolutely! What better way for society to be confronted with the value God places on each human life?

    Pacifism? Yes, yes, yes! Throughout recorded history God’s wrath (read: judgement) has been poured out, often through human agency, to effect societal change. And what about Jesus’ run-in with the temple merchants? Mmmm … Pacifism. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

    Truth to tell, I do not much aspire to hipsterdom.

    1. Your pro-life explanation was brilliant. (And I will say that my hipster-dom was helped significantly by old books and theologians.) Framing the death penalty in terms of the value of life seems fair to me.

  4. Well, I’m 18 and I got a 40. To be fair, I’ve also been called an old lady due to my old fashioned ways, tastes, and books. (Shakespeare, Keene, Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Dickens are my jam!)
    One question that bothered me though was the one that asked about what faith I was. This is because I’ve been Catholic my entire life, but I could only choose, “Catholic. For one month.” Alas. Ce la vi. It was very interesting, though, so thank you!

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