What is “Hipsteranity”?

I’ve seen the term “Hipsteranity” floating around, here and there, in various places across the internet.  To the best of my knowledge, no one has actually defined this term at any length or in any substantive way.  If that’s truly the case, then let this post be the first to make the attempt.  When the term “hipster” comes to mind, we typically think of someone in the Millennial generation (20s or early 30s) who is said to have unconventional creativity, relative affluence, progressive politics, a proclivity toward alternative health practices, and a general “indie” streak.  In another sense, it’s hard to really define hipsters and some have said that this subculture is a manifestation of post-modernism.  I’m using the term in its modern sense.  And so when we talk about Hipsteranity, what we’re really talking about is a blend of this hipster subculture with modern Evangelicalism.

Whether the acolytes and camp followers of Hipsteranity really wear skinny jeans, eat all organic foods, sport ridiculous beards, listen to indie rock, or buy all of their clothes from thrift-stores is really irrelevant.  What I’m talking about here are theological trends more than anything else.  Your average devotee of Hipsteranity will likely have a few recognizable traits and characteristics.  Next to his glass of local craft beer, you’ll probably find a book by Rob Bell or maybe even Brian McLaren.  When he goes off to Bible study (or whatever it’s called these days), he’s most likely toting an ESV.  His church service is some kind of “experience” in which the t-shirt-clad pastor is sitting on a bar stool–not giving a sermon, mind you–but giving a “talk” to the congregation.  Consistent with his demographic, he’s probably not going to be married.  Even if he is, he and his wife will have very few or no children.

To be sure, Hipsteranity transcends the theological spectrum.  While Hipsterians embrace theological liberalism generally, not all of them embrace obvious heretics like Bell and McLaren.  The movement exists within orthodox circles as well.  Even within the Reformed camp, Hipsteranity has made its mark.  This is especially the case with regard to the so-called “Young, Restless, and Reformed” (YRR) group.  They may have orthodox views on basic theological concepts (e.g., authority of Scripture, virgin birth, deity of Christ), but they’re liberal in virtually every other way.  Popular figures who reflect them include writers like Tim Keller, Thabiti Anyabwile, John Piper, and Russell Moore.  Their favorite websites include places like The Gospel Coalition and the Reformed African American Network.  Among the patchwork of different groups making up Hipsteranity, the YRR crowd is probably the most unique since they uphold basic orthodox doctrines while at the same time embracing liberalism when it comes to culture, politics, music, and so forth.

Speaking broadly, Hipsterianity is very ecumenical in nature and has a very “mere Christianity” outlook.  Many (if not most) of these folks grow up in largely conservative households, both theologically as well as politically.  Rejecting many tenants of their upbringing, they embrace all kinds of progressive causes.  Promoting these causes under a thin packaging of Christianity, Hipsterians have styled themselves as “social justice warriors” and have co-opted the rhetoric of cultural Marxists.  They are especially obsessed with racial issues, hence they lock arms with movements like Black Lives Matter.  Stopping the slaughter of unborn children, defending the institution of marriage, and preserving religious liberty are causes looked upon with a jaundiced eye.  Typical of their Millennial demographic, Hipsterians are also more likely to embrace women pastors, homosexuality, and “transgenderism.”

Within the milieu of Hipsteranity, most of their angst seems geared toward tradition and especially anything that smacks of inequality.  They love to lampoon and criticize the cultural deficiencies (real or perceived) in “Red State” areas of the country (along with broader Evangelicalism).  Through the lenses of their Buddy Holly-style glasses, they correctly see the failures of the “Christian Right” for what they are and are tired of the conventional culture wars of the past several decades.  As I alluded to earlier, the substance of Hipsteranity is really nothing new at all.  It’s the same old theological liberalism hiding behind a plaid-flannel shirt with thin suspenders.  What Evangelicalism is grappling with right now is what the so-called “mainline” Protestant denominations went through about a century ago.  The biblical gospel is coming into conflict with yet another social gospel.  Truly, there’s nothing new under the sun.

I don’t write all of this to deride anyone or make light of this movement.  Nor is this necessarily a polemic against a particular theological current.  Many of the people who make up Hipsteranity are fellow believers in Christ.  Sure, I’ve generalized quite a bit here.  It’s almost impossible not to do so.  I’ve done my best to describe a movement which self-consciously eschews labels and descriptors.  As much as our modern culture hates labels, they are essential to have any meaningful identification and communication.  I write this post because we need to be aware that such views are plainly within our midst.  It’s probably safe to say that most of you reading this know individuals who fall into this category to one degree or another.  And I’m not suggesting at all that these Hipsterians all agree on the same things, emphasize the same things, or look the same way.  I’m simply saying their general way of thinking has impacted the church and will continue to do so in the future.

For the record, I have nothing against beards (I have one), craft beer (it’s great), eating organic (I do that), or shopping at thrift stores (I do that too).  But I’m not going to build a doctrine around that which is trendy or novel.  In the realm of theology, novelty is not a good thing.  We shouldn’t be chasing after the latest popular social cause and making that our central mission.  We shouldn’t imbibe theological trends which cause so many to stumble and abandon biblical teaching altogether.  When we do this, we’re playing with fire and the consequences are generational.   I’ll fully acknowledge that the Hipsterians bring legitimate criticisms and concerns to the table, but it’s the basis upon which they bring those concerns which makes me pause.  For example, it’s one thing to want to be a good steward of creation and thus advocate sound policies to protect the environment.  It’s quite another thing, however, to import the worldview of radical environmentalism (replete with its idolatry) into what is supposed to be a biblical conversation.

It remains to be seen what impact this movement (for lack of a better term) will have on the future of Evangelicalism.  Personally, I think we’ll have to wait a few generations to see the impact in its fullness with clarity.  For biblically-grounded Christians, it’s up to us to remain ready to give an answer to theological liberalism no matter what its present manifestation looks like.

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