Coolness, Cash Cows, Cutting Edge, and Christianity

Completed Books 2011I’ll never forget the time I told my Sunday School class that Christianity wasn’t cool.  They shot me puzzled looks, thinking I was saying that Christianity is dumb.  After a little explanation, they pretty much agreed that it’s not so cool.  This also reminds me of the first time I heard a youth pastor speak.  I was in high school sitting by my friends during chapel.  I don’t remember all the details, but the guy obviously tried too hard to be hip.  Instantly he became the object of our laughter.  None of us heard a word he was saying because we had a tough time taking a 35-going-on-18-year-old seriously.

For these and other reasons, once I saw Hipster Christianity by Brett Mccracken, I ordered it.  In this book, Mccracken wrestles with the evangelical attempts to make Christianity cool (from Third Day to Rob Bell to Mark Driscoll to CCM to Christian art).  He also discusses the fact that coolness is a cash cow in our society (which is why anything that sells well in popular culture is quickly baptized and put on the shelves of Christian stores).

“Bridled cool is an economic cash cow and can magically turn any idea, product, or personality into the next big thing.  Pastors and twentysomethings-starved churches are increasingly the first in line to tap into a piece of that.  Suddenly cool isn’t a worldly indulgence from which Christians recoil; on the contrary, it is increasingly the chosen means of message delivery (p. 20).”

He continues.

“But as with all things cool, no one in Christianity is really talking about this in any sort of direct way.  The talk is usually about ‘contextualization’ or ‘postmodernity’ or ‘meeting the culture where it’s at.’  But it all really boils down to one simple desire: the desire to make Christianity cool.  And this desire is bigger and stranger and more difficult than we’d like to admit.  It comes with implications, baggage, and inherent problems that need to be discussed.  The question of cool is loaded, and it’s time we stopped dancing around it (p. 20).”

Mccracken is exactly right.  The desire to be cool Christians or to make Christianity cool is something we really need to consider.  How should we live as Christians in a culture that is driven by style, the cult of youth, looks, numbers, and appearances?  In Reformed and calvinistic circles there’s a recent trendiness in drinking certain kinds of beer and smoking cigars or pipes (and advertising it); in younger evangelical circles tattoos and piercings are cool.  Quite a few Christians dress and talk like their favorite mega-star pastor (who is ubercool because he said “sex” 27 times in his sermon and he dares to question hard doctrines).  Some churches spend all their time and money trying to have trendy logos and a cool church atmosphere with tons of pop culture references (from Bono to the Matrix).  Christian publishers try to get tons of endorsements from all the most popular speakers and teachers.  The list goes on – Christian fads are too numerous to count and they’re found in almost every tradition/denomination.

Go out and get this book: Hipster Christianity.  You might not agree with everything Mccracken says but I guarantee it will make you think.  I especially liked the last section where he shows ways in which Christianity is the opposite of cool.  “Cool” means staying up with every passing fad while being self-confident, first, cutting-edge, rebellious to some extent, and in tune with the details of culture.  Christianity, however, is about never-changing truths, confidence in Christ, repentance, being last, taking up a cross, obeying Christ’s commands (even when nobody else is doing it), and being more in tune with Scripture than the passing trends.  Rather than doing our all to be cool, hip, and relevant, we should do our all (by grace!) to stay faithful and true to God’s word, even if it brings the scorn of society.  As Christians, we shouldn’t care if our churches and pastors are cool or hip; we should care if they are faithful to the truth.

shane lems

sunnyside, wa

3 thoughts on “Coolness, Cash Cows, Cutting Edge, and Christianity”

  1. Sounds like a great read! It’s interesting that I read this post today, because my wife and I were just talking last night about how some things about Mark Driscoll really seem kind of odd to us. We have several friends and relatives in the Seattle area and pretty much all of them go to one of the various Mark Driscoll churches, even though they all come from different religious backgrounds. It’s cool that he’s preaching calvinist doctrines to people who might not have heard them before, but the cult of personality surrounding him makes me really uneasy. I was especially unnerved when I found out that his satellite churches use live video of him for their sermons instead of having their own preachers. That just smacks of cultishness to me, despite whatever great orthodox things he’s doing.

    I actually think there’s a lot of striking parallels between him and Doug Wilson, oddly enough. They’re both cults of personality in the vaguely Reformed world, and neither were actually parts of normal Reformed churches. I guess Mark’s actually talked at Doug Wilson’s church as well, from what I understand. (That must have been interesting.) Both seem to be really into culture, bringing back “manliness”, and saying controversial things. :-)

    Anyway, I don’t mean to denigrate Mark, because it sounds like he’s doing a lot of great things, and I’m glad my friends are involved in Church at all (when so many people are age aren’t), but the whole trendiness of it all just strikes me as odd. It seems like people my age are always picking churches based on how exciting they are. First it was the charismatic movement, then it was the rock’n’roll worship movement, now it’s the cult of personality around people like Mark. It’s just like our generation isn’t OK with church just being church any more.

    Some day I need to talk to my friends at Mars Hill and see what it is that makes them go there as opposed to the other churches in town. I’m also curious why so many older, traditional Reformed people are in love with Driscoll, despite him not being fully Reformed. (Maybe it’s just that they like having a popular “cool” guy on their side.) As some one who likes old fashioned Protestant worship, I have a feeling I’d feel pretty weird in one of his churches. :-] (And I play in an indie pop band!)

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  2. Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Pat – good stuff, I agree. The live-video feed is pretty wierd, especially when it is fed to different cities and even different states! It’s one thing if you have a live feed going into the nursery, for example, but a whole other thing if it is going 600 miles away to people you don’t even know!

    And concerning trendy, I’m wondering how long this will last. Just like the Chicago Bulls lost fans when Jordan retired (again and again), I’m guessing when these rock-star preachers fade, people will latch onto the next fad.

    Thanks again!

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  3. istm this is just another example of smoke-and-mirrors niche marketing: we have the doninionero churches for c/a groupies, churches dominated by homeschoolers, churches dominated by church schoolers (pity the dissident), churches which pthe red trinity hymnal for baby boomers stuck in 1985, the blue trinity hynmal for self-styled conservatives who prefer 19th century will worship to contemporary or “blended” services, etc ad nauseam. for every church which prides itself in “drinking certain kinds of beer and smoking cigars or pipes (and advertising it),” we have x number which ban both and advertise it. it’s all the same game,; only the players change. perhaps the real problem is remembering what a church is, and then actually being it?

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