I don’t plan on writing about this topic forever, but the review hits a strand of critique that I think worth mentioning. Here’s Smith:
To be blunt (because I’m not sure how else to put this), the Christian bohemians I’m describing are educated evangelicals. So when McCracken lists (not so tongue in cheek) “ten signs that a Christian college senior has officially become a Democrat” (159), I’m sorry but the list just looks like characteristics of an educated, thoughtful Christian (and believe me, I’m no Democrat). Or 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.
Look, clearly there’s something good about all the authors Brett mentions. I would rather read them than Left Behind, and it’s not because I’m a self-loathing hipster who happens to think he’s found enlightenment. But describing Brett’s tone as one of “ire” and suggesting that he “laments” the advancement of young evangelical tastes seems neither generous nor accurate. I’ll quote from 101, just after he lists hipster Christian models:
“But so go the paradoxes of Christian hipsters like [Lauren] Winner. They are torn between the very liberal, humanistic impulses of academia and progressive culture on the one hand, and the somewhat archaic, inescapably old-school values of Christianity on the other. But increasing numbers of young Christians are gracefully embracing this paradox.”
Or later, from his chapter on social justice:
“A defining characteristic of the new generation of cool young Christians is that they are aggressively on the side of activism, of social justice, of getting their hands dirty to serve others and help the world (though they sometimes speak more about it than actually do it). Maybe it’s trendy, and maybe it’s predictable. But this trend toward serving the world can really only be a good thing.”
If that’s ire, we need more of it.
But Smith’s point about the role education plays is worth noting. He’s right that hipster Christians tend to be more educated than their parents.
But just because we all happen to have gone to college doesn’t mean that we’re free from the possibility that our beliefs are more influenced by trends than we might consciously realize. As Smith knows, knowledge has a social dimension to it (or see here). It is filtered to us by institutions, institutions which sometimes are as motivated by trendiness as they are by truth. The academy is as littered with fads as the dumpsters behind malls are, but there seems to be a presumption in Smith’s critique and in many of the responses to Brett’s book that currently popular beliefs are exempt from this possibility.
And pointing the possibility out is apparently enough to get tarred as “someone who spent a youth-group-lifetime trying to be one of the cool kids.”
Smith is right to suggest that not everyone who believes in social justice is a poser. But the question of whether and how much we are affected by trends is at least worth considering, and Brett’s book attempts to do that. His attempt may be imperfect, but for every young evangelical who is willing to raise critiques of people our own age, there are a dozen who think we’re the hope of the world.
And why wouldn’t we? It’s precisely what we’ve been told since kindergarten.