A Theology for Hipsters (Part 14): Rebelling Against Fundamentalism (Part 5)

As we talk about the birth of the Christian hipster there is one factor which we must, especially, not overlook: music. “Cool” as we saw above, is usually communicated through art and the medium of music has long been a key factor. In fact, it has been argued (I think correctly) that most of the youth counterculture revolt of the Sixties was disseminated by means of rock n’ roll. Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changin’” became the anthem for a whole generation of hippies. For the modern Christian hipster who discovers Dylan in college the song has a renewed role of inspiration, as if Dylan were singing it to each of them afresh. At college Christian students, particularly those who grew up in the sheltered confines of Fundamentalism, discover all sorts of new sounds and artists that appeal to them. Their tastes are being reshaped and refashioned. We’ll look at some of the big name Hipster artists and albums in a later post. Music, however, has always played a key role in “rebellion” and it is no less true for the Christian Hipster. What do Christian hipsters learn from the influence of these and other albums? Several important factors that will go on to shape their lives, faith, and Christian walk.

First, they learn that music does not have to be functionally evangelistic in order to be good. Many of the albums on that list, even the ones by Christian artists, embrace subtlety and they craft a message that is both mysterious and spiritual but without blatant Christian overtones. For some this is unacceptable. Christian music is to be different precisely because it is “Christian.” But for the young college student it is a breath of fresh air. In many ways the machine that is CCM has, in an attempt to duplicate the world’s success, sold out. They produce inferior quality music and most of which is a copy of real quality secular music. This all happened in the 20th century when commercialism and Christianity collided. Christian bookstores began to promote their bands by offering them as a “godly” alternative to the popular secular groups of the moment. So if you like Green Day you’ll love MxPx. If you like Alanias Morrisett you’ll love Jennifer Knapp. If you like KORN then you’ll love POD. The comparisons left a lot of young teens with a bad taste in their mouths.[1] What happens when they go away to college is that they find there is real quality art being produced in the world and that much of it has strong Christian overtones but without being awkwardly written for the purpose of evangelism.

Secondly, they hear some stinging critiques of the church that sympathize with their concerns. Jon Foreman sings about church as routine and religious ritual but with no heart for what God loves (“Instead of a Show,” Limbs and Branches). Derek Webb mocks the church for its boycotts and challenges it to be known not for what it’s against but for loving others (“T-Shirts (What We Should Be Known For), I See Things Upside Down). These artists and their songs strike a chord with the disaffected youth emerging from the blindfolds of Fundamentalism and inspire them to go further and deeper into the pursuits of what the church is supposed to be about.

Thirdly, they are led into a community of fellow hipsters. Music has a way of building community and with each new album these teens find more people to connect with. The single disenchanted Fundamentalist fruit would not, likely, sustain a departure from the teachings of his childhood, but a group of disenchanted former Fundies would help one another break from the cycle. Furthermore, many of the artists on these albums become key spokes people for an alternative way of Christian living. We will explore some of the key figures in coming posts. As students follow the lives and Tweets of their favorite artists they are introduced to a whole “underground” movement of Christian subversives just like them. This involves more than music, it involves social justice, clothing, and missions, but it usually begins with music.[2]


[1] Pastor Matt Chandler tells a story of going to see a Beastie Boys concert one night and then being invited by Christian friends to go see dc Talk the next. He states that he thought the first couple of minutes were a skit. At that point in his life the Christian alternative seemed silly to him. It did to many young Christians as well.

[2] Lots of organizations utilize the draw of music to build up their project or brand. So, To Write Love On Her Arms draws attention by hosting concerts.

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