A few months back, a Bible study friend wondered aloud something I think many Gen-X & Y believers have probably wondered to themselves, whether privately, or in a more public setting. To paraphrase, are we in some way, fashioning a hipster version of the faith— especially in eschewing or questioning long-held traditions or interpretations of the faith? I then wondered, myself, if my own personal religious detours from the mainstream were truly based on more than self-serving whim, or the desire I fear I sometimes have to simply be a contrarian, for the sake of some glorified notion of rugged individualism, rather than an evolving, God-revealed theology.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it is a healthy, spiritually profitable course of action (for both individuals and bodies of believers) to question what are man-made religious constructs, versus those truly revealed in scripture. My generation, and that of my adult children, seem particularly critical of the conventional christian milieu many of us were raised with. This seems so pervasive, at times, that I wonder if we are not sometimes merely arguing for argument’s sake. After all, how can an adult be truly free, the thought seems to be, if one winds up drawing the same conclusions as our Silent Gen/Boomer Moms & Dads? Some of this, understand, I see as de rigeur. It is only natural to define oneself, including one’s beliefs, in contrast or opposition to those one was raised with as normative. I do think, though, that we need to be careful with this very human tendency, myself included. (Something about babies & bath-water, here, I think…)
Scripture instructs the relatively young, whose folks are likely to still be alive (maybe middle-aged, & younger), to utilize our elders in the faith, for their wisdom. That becomes hard to do, if the thought of being spiritually advised by a male or female elder elicits an automatic eye-roll. It doesn’t mean we need to ape every bullet point on the elders’ outline of beliefs & traditions, but if the only palatable theology is the spiritual flavor-of-the month, and the only acceptable version of the Saviour is some hipster/outlaw “Jesus-In-Blue-Jeans”, I’m not convinced that’s a novel improvement.
This is no argument for “Christ Classic”, as a brand. I think it’s endemic to every generation to test what aspects of the faith of our fathers (& mothers) holds true, & which are tradition without true meaning. What I struggle with, though, is the notion that focuses so much on Jesus’ humanity, as a counter-cultural icon, challenging the religious status quo—the rebel with a cause—that we negate or minimize His divinity. Do we do this, I wonder, out of a desire to make Jesus relatable? Do we Hipster Christians, with our relaxed, post-teetotaler stance, our thumping praise band, & aversion to overly “church-y” lingo/attire (which, btw, I’m “cool” with), take things so far that we water down the moral absolutes that the Biblical Jesus stood for, so that we can, instead, be all-embracing, avoiding any passe, “judgmental” trappings? Are our only choices to make Jesus into a slam-dunking Saviour, “hanging” out, or an overly rule-bound pseudo-Parent, euphemistically “harshing our [lifestyle & spiritual] buzz”? Why do we feel this urge to make Jesus our peer or older bro, & to take most of the beliefs we saw, growing up in the church, & turn them on their heads?
Why do we have the compunction to take anything our parents espoused, & not only question it, but have a welling disdain for it, almost as our default setting? Is it just a part of that normal process of individuation, whereby we decide, for ourselves, what beliefs to cling to, from our upbringing, & which to discard, or could it be something more?
Do we, for some reason, feel the need to be apologists for a Christ & Christianity that are maligned or misunderstood, by society, at large? Do we think that re-inventing Jesus as a hip, counter-cultural icon—a one-of-a-kind philosopher-loner—that he’ll be more marketable among our “cool kid” friends? I’m not sure I know.
It seems I have more questions, at times, than answers. I know one thing, though. The older I get, the more open I am to receiving spiritual wisdom from my nearly 72-year-old mom, who embraces much timeless religious tradition, yet has some rather independent, novel spiritual thought, as well. I can tell you that I did a certain amount of harm to myself, spiritually, as a teen & young adult, largely because I stubbornly wanted to define myself as anything but conventional.
I’m becoming convinced that we’d all benefit from worrying a lot less about how to market our beliefs, to make them seem attractive & easy, & far from old-fashioned (hello—Jesus lived a couple thousand years ago!), or cool, & really just dig into timeless truths, no matter what our age. Christ doesn’t need for us to re-invent Him, or turn Him into something He’s not. That means maybe Hipster “whatever, man” Jesus has probably gotta go.
That doesn’t let tradition apologists off the hook, either, though. Just as those of us under 50 probably don’t have the right to update the Saviour’s “look” or out-look, neither do the other generations get to create a Christ who meets their political or rhetorical whims, either. We younger ones may have some legitimate gripes, there, especially where Jesus-As-Whipping-Boy has been applied. The tendency to create Christ on our own terms, as middle-aged & younger gens, sometimes arises out of painful, bitter memories of Christianity used as an excuse for very human excesses & abuses.
Note: I found a trove of images related to “Hipster Jesus”, including several where the Saviour is swilling PBR & brandishing smokes. I decided to go with more “middle of the road” pictures, as these left me uncomfortable, but I may return to them at some point, in a separate post.