What we have in Hipster Christianity is a jaded ethnography written by someone who spent a youth-group-lifetime trying to be one of the cool kids. As such, it seems he can only imagine someone adopting a hipster lifestyle in order to strike a pose. This is confirmed by a crucial turn in the book: McCracken identifies the “birth of the Christian hipster” in 2003, “when the first issue of Relevant magazine was released” (88). Well, this explains quite a lot. Did I mention that McCracken was also a longtime contributor to Relevant magazine? If Relevant magazine is the epitome and embodiment of Christian hipsterdom, then pretty much everything McCracken says makes sense. Relevant magazine is simply the latest in a long line of evangelical subcultural production: derivative, secondary, reactionary, and dependent on wider cultural trends, all with the hopes of showing that following Jesus doesn’t really require one to be a loser. Indeed, the magazine’s very title is a signal that this is just the continuation of the seeker-sensitive project of the megachurch. Its edgy rendition of evangelical faith doesn’t really displace the fundamental, core values of a constituency still comfortable with the status quo of bourgeois American individualism, consumerism, nationalism, and militarism. In other words, being a Relevant-hipster is the sort of thing you can add to your life without really disrupting the rest of it. It’s a style, not a way of life… .
When McCracken, in a remarkably cynical flourish in the vein of “Stuff White People Like,” catalogs the authors that Christian hipsters like (Stanley Hauerwas, Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Wendell Berry, N. T. Wright, G. K. Chesterton, and others; 97), he does so as if people could only “like” such authors because it’s “cool” to do so. But perhaps they’re just good. McCracken seems unable to really accept what Paste magazine editor Josh Jackson emphasizes: “It’s not about what’s cool. It’s about what good” (92). And if that’s true, then it should be no surprise that Christian colleges and universities are shapers of Christian hipster culture: if McCracken is lamenting the fact that Christian colleges are producing alumni that are smart and discerning with good taste and deep passions about justice, then we’re happy to live with his ire. The fact that young evangelicals, when immersed in a thoughtful liberal arts education, turn out to value what really matters and look critically on the way of life that has been extolled to them in both mass media and mass Christian media—well, we’ll wear that as a badge of honor.