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Christian Hipsters and Economics

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Anarchist punks are out and the socially-aware hipsters are in (even though they don’t want to say they’re “in”). A little over a decade ago, the hipster scene made its biggest comeback since the 1940s. Though they come in all shapes and sizes, many contemporary hipsters can be found riding their fixed-gear bikes to the farmers’ market or at a bar in skinny jeans drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon.

An interesting sub-category has emerged: Christian hipsters. According to Brett McCracken in an article titled Hipster Faith in Christianity Today, Christian hipsters are rebelling against the over-spiritualized Christian culture they were raised in. Some of them say they have been scarred by contemporary Christian music, door-to-door evangelism and the non-denominational megachurches of their childhood. McCracken, also the author of Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, says Christian hipsters are rebelling against

…the stereotypical evangelical church of the 80s – 90s: The Republican, middle class, abortion-clinic-picketing, anti-gay, anti-welfare, legalistic, not-so-interested-in-art-or-books WASP evangelical.

McCracken says the Christian hipster culture is small, but influential. Christian hipsters are returning to a more intellectual, traditional and back-to-basics Christianity. They are Protestants who may secretly wish they were Orthodox or Catholic in some respects. Chances are they read books by C.S. Lewis and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and probably prefer traditional hymns and Sufjan Stevens to Hillsong. Christian hipsters might like shopping at thrift stores, studying abroad, reading philosophy, drinking organic coffee, smoking cigars and serving beer or scotch at bible study.

Christian hipsters also express themselves theologically:

…through preaching that often emphasizes covenantal and ‘new creation’ ideas and attempts to construct a more ecclesiological or community-centric view of salvation. Things like soul-winning and going to heaven are downplayed in favor of the notion that heaven will come down to earth and renew the broken creation. Thus, the world matters. It’s not a piece of rotting kindling that we will abandon for heaven one day. It’s the site of a renewed kingdom. All of this informs hipster Christianity’s attention to things like social justice, environmentalism, and the arts, because if God is building his kingdom on earth, then it all matters.

As mentioned in McCracken’s book, the theological beliefs of the typical Christian hipster can be linked with the Emerging Church, which is associated with authors and pastors like Donald Miller, Brian McLaren, and Rob Bell. According to an article in Christianity Today titled Five Streams of the Emerging Church by Scot McKnight, the doctrine of the Emerging Church is hard to define because systematic theology is viewed suspiciously. Since living out the Gospel is more emphasized than doctrinal beliefs, Christian hipsters who associate themselves with the Emerging Church are generally more focused on helping the poor rather than evangelism.

So what are the economic implications of the Emerging Church? They have been criticized for placing a heavier focus on the material world rather than the spiritual world, which is somewhat reminiscent of the Social Gospel movement in America led by Walter Rauschenbusch in the late 19th and early 20th century, according to McKnight:

Sometimes, however, when I look at emerging politics, I see Walter Rauschenbusch, the architect of the Social Gospel. Without trying to deny the spiritual Gospel, he led his followers into the Social Gospel. The results were devastating for mainline Christianity’s ability to summon sinners to personal conversion. The results were also devastating for evangelical Christianity, which has itself struggled to maintain a proper balance.

The Social Gospel promotes the postmillennial view that Christ will not return until social evils are rid by human effort. Rauschenbusch was very critical towards capitalism and viewed socialism as the means to achieve justice on earth. It is too soon to tell if Christian hipsters and the Emerging Church will reflect the Social Gospel movement as strong as the past, but certain figures in the movement certainly echo a similar economic theme.

In his controversial book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope, McLaren’s theological views have been criticized for twisting the Gospel and suggesting social and economic issues are more important than spiritual issues. On page 210 of his book, McLaren says,

Genesis provides a genealogy for all the pain and evil in the whole social structure of humans on planet Earth: it can be traced back to a problem of consumption beyond limits.

Some claim McLaren has replaced biblical themes with political and economic themes of consumption and class warfare (reminds me of someone named Karl Marx).

I do not fault McLaren’s desire to live in a better world. We all desire a better world because we were made for something far greater. Nevertheless, if McLaren believes human efforts can bring The Kingdom of God to earth, his beliefs are not biblical. In the words of Christ,

My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight for Me. But now My Kingdom is from elsewhere. (John 18:36)

Though the Christian hipster culture might not have a definitive doctrinal theology or a sound economic philosophy, they do have a deep passion for the poor and the desire to live out the Gospel. As Christians, the question is not if we should care for the poor, but how to care for the poor. We cannot properly care for the needy if we over-spiritualize or over-materialize the world because the church is called to address both spiritual and physical needs. Effectively caring for the physical needs of the poor requires a solid economic philosophy that fosters competition, innovation and wealth creation.

Elise Daniel Elise Daniel is a freelance writer and communications consultant in Washington, DC. Previously, she served as the Press Secretary for the House Committee on Natural Resources, a senior writer for the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, and has also worked at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Values and Capitalism Project at the American Enterprise Institute, and the Acton Institute. She graduated from James Madison University with a BBA in Economics. She is the editor and co-author of Called to Freedom: Why You Can Be Christian and Libertarian. Her articles have been published in RELEVANT Magazine, Real Clear Religion, the Gospel Coalition, The Federalist, Patheos, and the Daily Caller, among others.


  • I might be a Christian hipster, but I recently decided I don’t really like Sufjan Stevens… Derek Webb is more my flavor.
    Hipsters will easily fall into believing that collective action toward helping the least of these, the social gospel, has to be coordinated through the state.  Instead, we ought to look to the institution created by God for achieving the mandate to care for the least of these, the church.  Actually caring enough for others to be willing to sacrifice for them requires the touch of mercy and grace peculiar to those who have experienced Christ.  Forcing regenerate behavior on others is devoid of virtue.
    The social gospel movement gained steam when economists, fresh from school in Germany, abandoned their father’s religion, and turned to Bismarkian statism for curing the world’s woes.
    I reassert my christian economist hipster credentials by noting I learned much of this from a recent conversation with Dierdre McClosky.

  • El Guapo

    Very good posting about an emerging, misguided approach to Christianity.

  • I think the rise of the ‘Christian hipster’ culture is simply a resurgence of interest in the ancient, historical Christian faith, and especially the Eastern Orthodox doctrine of “theosis”, whether the hipsters know it or not (McCracken unknowingly describes theosis in the quote above: “Things like soul-winning and going to heaven are downplayed in favor of the notion that heaven will come down to earth and renew the broken creation”…namely, that eternal life begins now as we grow closer to the person of Christ).

    If you haven’t read it, I would recommend “To Change the World” by James Davison Hunter. I think he (without knowing it) gets to the heart of the vision of the ‘Christian hipster’: that is, developing a life of faith–where Christ infiltrates every aspect of life, at work or church–rather than searching for the “faith moments” of life (often fleeting emotion and coincidences referred to as “God-things”). Here is a quote from the book that, I think, sums up the unspoken (and even unrealized) belief of many of these seeker-Christian-hipsters:

    “Christians need to abandon talk about ‘redeeming the culture’, ‘advancing the kingdom’, and ‘changing the world’. Such talk carries too much weight, implying conquest and domination. If there is a possibility for human flourishing in our world, it does not begin when we win the culture wars but when God’s word of love becomes flesh in us, reaching every sphere of social life. When faithful presence existed in church history, it manifested itself in the creation of hospitals and the flourishing of art, the best scholarship, the most profound and world-changing kind of service and care – again, not only for the household of faith but for everyone. Faithful presence isn’t new; it’s just something we need to recover [p.36].”

  • Elvisraygun

    “Nevertheless, if McLaren believes human efforts can bring The Kingdom
    of God to earth, his beliefs are not biblical. In the words of Christ, ‘My Kingdom is not of this world. If it were, My servants would fight for Me. But now My Kingdom is from elsewhere.’ (John 18:36)”

    When Jesus says his kingdom is not “of” this world, what he means is that it does not derive its power or authority from the world (ie, the earthly powers or the gods of this age).  It is obviously *for* this world and even *in* this world (both now and not yet fulfilled), as even a cursory reading of the gospels demonstrates…or simply reciting how Jesus taught us to pray “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” 

    I know of no single emerging or ‘hipster’ Christian that thinks they can usher in the kingdom of God through human effort.  But writing like this obscures that Jesus has already inaugurated the kingdom of God and that we are participants in his work.  Whether its baptism, handing on the Bible, or working out our faith in fear and trembling, God’s primary mode of operation seems to be doing things through his image-bearers, his human creation.  That’s part of what redemption looks like.

    Unless you think we should just make all the mistakes and let Daddy clean up the mess, what exactly are you critiquing?

    • Josh

      The “already/not yet” approach is a confusing but essential part of a Christian’s worldview.  We know that God’s Kingdom is not of this world, but we also know that it is already “at hand” (Mark 1:15).  If we are charged with being stewards of what we are given (as in the parable of the talents in Luke 19) and we know that the end of the kingdom of the world is for it to become the eternal Kingdom “of our Lord and of his Christ” where he is eternally glorified (Rev. 15), then we should think of our work for God on earth as working for God’s Kingdom.  We cannot expect to do any good for God’s Kingdom without God’s grace, but we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Phil. 4:13).

      The hymn “For I’m Building a People of Power” captures this idea quite nicely.  It starts with God’s announcement that he is building his people to do his work and closes with the people’s active response.

    • Elise Amyx

      am not entirely clear on what your question is asking, but as I made clear in
      my post, I am critiquing some theological views of Christian hipsters and what
      the economic implications may be based on some leaders of the Emerging Church
      (ie. Brian McLaren).

      raise a good point that I should have made clear regarding John
      18:36. I agree with you that God’s Kingdom is “for” this world and that it is “in”
      the world (whether you interpret Luke 17:21 to mean “in you” or “among you”-
      either way, the Kingdom of God is in the world in some way) but what I am
      critiquing in my post is how and when the Kingdom of God is fully brought to earth. Social Gospel advocates are generally postmillennialists
      and believe it is by our own human efforts (fighting social justice, etc.) that
      will bring the Kingdom of God to earth for a millennium before Christ returns,
      which I strongly disagree with. This kind of moral advancement by human effort has always been
      the major critique with the Social Gospel. By quoting John 18:36 I was
      emphasizing the fact that the power does not derive from us, in the world, to
      bring the Kingdom of God down to earth so that Christ will return. This was not
      meant to mislead anyone to think there is not any element of the Kingdom of God
      on earth or that good works are not
      important. For this I refer you to Father Gregory’s comment where he discusses
      theosis as understood by Orthodox and Catholic churches. At the end of his post
      he brings up the necessity of the sacraments to show that “the Kingdom of God
      is not divorced from this life but neither can it be identified with this

      Now I am not saying
      Christian hipsters are postmillennialist or necessarily advocates of the Social
      Gospel and I made this very clear in my post. Most tend to avoid the eschatological
      arguments and it is really too soon to tell if there’s going to be a Social
      Gospel round two. It is also
      difficult to pinpoint concrete theological beliefs because the Emerging Church
      views systematic theology suspiciously. I
      am arguing that they seem to be more concerned with the material world than the
      spiritual world since they are rebelling against the over-spiritualized environment
      they were raised in. The critique is more focused around the figurative leaders
      of the Emerging Church (ie. Brian McLaren) which currently echo the Social
      Gospel and may or may not point Christian hipsters in a particular theological/political/economic
      direction. There are
      always several exceptions as many Christian hipsters are joining liturgical
      churches as well and would most likely not be influenced by figures like
      McLaren. My general sense is that Christian hipsters are correcting
      theologically in one sense but over-correcting in another, but the movement is just
      too recent to make any concrete conclusions and I was careful not to
      over-generalize any assumptions in my post.

    • I believe that we need to have both beams of the cross, the vertical and the horizontal.  I think one of the most plausible critiques of the social gospel is that it is very focused on looking around at one another, with little emphasis on looking together to Heaven. 

      It is true that we have a nonnegotiable obligation to care for the poor and to do our best to alleviate their hurt or to help them at least bear their suffering. But it’s important that we don’t put a greater emphasis on realized eschatology than on delayed eschatology.  It’s a noble thing to have a deep desire to serve the poor, but we must remember the reason we care for one another in the first place: to prepare one another (and ourselves) for the coming of Christ’s ETERNAL kingdom.  It’s important to realize that while Christ’s kingdom is inaugurated, it is not FULLY inaugurated until we pass from this life into the next. 

      Christianity was not born to simply eradicate the world of suffering. Christ gave us His church that it might help us bear our suffering with grace and dignity, and to remind us that we are exiles, pilgrims. We are only passing through.

  • Roger McKinney

    I recognize myself in your characterization of hippie
    Christians from the ‘70’s, and some of my children in the current hipsters. I
    often regret my criticisms of establishment Christianity in my younger days. I
    was much too harsh and downright arrogant in my rebellion and belief that we
    had found a better way.


    I realize now that my rebellion was rooted in the reality
    that Christianity no longer dominated culture in the US.
    Of course, our pastors regularly told us that our parents had failed to win the
    US for Christ,
    so we were determined not to fail. In our naiveté we thought being more
    culturally attractive to non-Christians was all that we needed.


    One’s soteriology will determine one’s methods. If you think
    non-Christians reject Christ because Christians aren’t cool enough, then you
    will focus on being cool.


    Also, young people hate being ridiculed. They want to fit
    in, be accepted. Non-Christians tend to be very rude and abrasive in their
    ridicule of Christians. Young Christians who haven’t learned to deal with
    ridicule and stand alone will try to imitate those who ridicule them in order
    to fit in.


    There is much to criticize and praise about the established
    church today. Christian hipsters will soon mature and realize that they have
    not discovered the silver bullet to authentic Christianity and winning the
    nation for Christ. Meanwhile, we should let them alone and let God sort them

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  • Stereotypes are so sweet. I love them, they are so helpful. Imagine if I had to look into someones heart, and see what is actually there. No, no, I’d much prefer to group people into subcategories, like popular music. I’m with you, no one could actually believe that when Jesus said he came for the poor, the destitute, he actually meant the poor and the destitute. And what’s with this idea of Justice all these urban outfitters wearing kids are all hyped up about! Jesus clearly came to tell us not to reject the idea of religion, but merely to make minor altercations. Remember all those stories of him chumming around with Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, and Zealots? He had only the nicest, affirming things to say. 

    No, God is far more interested in my own piety and self righteousness than how I treat my neighbor, The sermon on the mount proves that! 

    Give me the law, I say, all that christian liberty is for the birds.

    In all serious: this statement made me vomit: 
    Effectively caring for the physical needs of the poor requires a solid economic philosophy that fosters competition, innovation and wealth creation.

    Thank you God, for capitalism.

    • Roger McKinney

      Mark, there is good reason using sound hermeneutics to think
      that when Jesus referred to his mission for the poor in the beatitudes he was
      referring to the “poor in spirit”, or those humble towards God. God hates a
      haughty spirit, especially one directed at him.


      Jesus cared for the materially poor, as evidenced by his
      statement to the rich young ruler to giver all he had to the poor.


      At the same time, we have learned some new things about helping
      the poor since 30 AD. We have found that capitalism does far more to lift large
      numbers of poor people out of poverty than charity. China
      is only the latest example, where over 300 million people were lifted from
      starvation to relative wealth. People didn’t know that in 30 AD.


      Just as you don’t limit your medicine to what was known in
      30 AD, so you shouldn’t limit you economics to it. Charity is good and often
      necessary, but it doesn’t do for the poor what capitalism has done.

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  • Elise Hilton

    If we do not create wealth through competition and innovation, then who will fund the charitable organizations that care for the poor?

    I believe we will, as Christ said, have the poor with us.  We will always have people who, for whatever reason, cannot care for themselves.  However, many financially distraught people are eager to care for themselves financially if only they have a way to do so.  That requires economic education.  Is that type of education not also care for our neighbor?

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