A Theology for Hipsters (Part 19): Hipster Hot Topics (Part 6)

Christian Liberty

 I spent much of my educational work studying a particular figure from Christian history: the great protestant reformer Martin Luther. Luther is an interesting figure because he is at once both courageous and ridiculous. He was a crass man and many times over the top in his speech and his responses. Yet he was a man of boldness and devotion to Scripture. I couldn’t help but be fascinated by him. One of my favorite quotes from Luther has become a bit of a motto for me. Regarding Christian liberty and freedom in Christ Luther states, “Love God and do what you want.” It’s a great statement and one that I firmly believe echoes the sentiments of Scripture. It doesn’t mesh well with the legalism of the Fundamentalists, but it connects powerfully with their aging youth. For the average Christian hipster the discovery that there is Christian liberty is an amazing release into an enjoyable lifestyle.

It usually begins, for young Christians with freedom to smoke (pipes, cigars, or cloves) and drink (usually stout beers and scotch). These vices are usually considered sins by their Fundy parents, but hipsters indulge in them with freedom, often citing passages like Jesus’ turning water into wine and that “what goes into a person does not defile them, but what comes out does.” We’ll look with some detail on this subject later but it is increasingly a liberty found among Christian 20 somethings, for better or for worse. As was the case with Luther some of my most enjoyable and thoughtful theological conversations have come while sharing a pitcher with friends and fellow pastors.

Experimentation in style and clothing is a major hot topic for hipsters as well. The suits and neck-ties, denim jumpers and stockings have all been traded in for retro and vintage clothes. Their loafers are kicked off and their feet slip into a pair of Converse Chuck Taylors, or TOMS shoes. Unique personal expression is often found through clothing for the hipsters, but it is precisely this type of expression that most concerns Brett McCracken. He spends page after page of his work critiquing, analyzing, making tertiary snide remarks and generally mocking the clothing “obsession” (as he sees it) of today’s Christian Hipster. McCracken comments:

For the church or Christian trying hard to be cool, image is of the utmost importance. This very self-conscious endeavor requires wearing the trendy clothes, sporting the right haircut, and having the coolest design.

He goes particularly hard after, what he terms, “wannabe hip pastors.”

The wannabe hip pastors can be spotted a mile away. They are firmly entrenched in their mid thirties or forties, and yet wear clothes from Hot Topic, Hollister, Element, or Ed Hardy. They have the requisite ever-changing arrangement of scruffy facial hair, and they frequently sport earrings or (if they are really committed) tattoos. They wear tight-fitting clothes, a lot of black, and often don thick-rimmed glasses. The ones who are not bald spend a lot of time on their hair, frequently sculpting it into a spiky variation of the faux-haw. The more daring wannabe hip pastors might even wear jewelry or wallet chains. All of them care very much about shoes.[1]

We can again see McCracken’s assumption: that people don’t actually like this style it is all an attempt to appear “cool.” Clothes have long been a means of personal self-expression. So you shop where you shop, wear what you wear, and like what you like because it has both aesthetic and lifestyle appeal to you. Yet McCracken is unwilling to acknowledge that this could be true of Christian hipsters. They are merely interested in clothes for the sake of “cool” points, according to him. Even his assumption that a thirty or forty-year old could not like clothes from specific stores is a strange presumption. Why is Hollister or Hot Topic (which sells mostly kitschy t-shirts) a store for only teenagers? I am not sure McCracken has thought through some of his prejudices here. If it is true that Hipsters are finding new ways of self-expression, now that they are free from the oppressive thumb of Fundamentalism, then clothing seems as likely a place to experiment as any other. And there is nothing inherently sinful or selfish in this form of self-expression, despite McCracken’s conjecture.

In this realm of Christian liberty there is one other area where Christian Hipsters are parting ways with their forefathers: politics. More on that next week.


[1] McCracken.

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