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Here’s the PDF download for the College Ministry. While creating it I was also able to further simplify my vision for this ministry and how we’re going to try and realize it as a community.

Here’s the PDF download for the Post-Collegiate Young Adult Ministry. We have a great team of leaders who guide this new ministry in our church.

A couple days ago the Wall Street Journal printed an article by Brett McCracken called “The Perils of Hipster Christianity.” Anyone who’s up on the discussion of the decline of 20’s and 30’s in the church today would read McCracken’s article and simply shrug and say, “nothing new or helpful here. Yes this demographic is in decline and yes there are a lot of failed attempts at being current and culturally relevant. And no the answer isn’t simply to try and be hip.” That’s how his article first hit me. But I continued to give it some more thought. . . and below is the response I have to it.

Review & Response:

One of the things McCracken does early on in the piece is alert his readers to a statistic that says 70% of all young Protestant adults between 18-22 stop attending church regularly. It’s an old stat. One that has generated its own discussion inside social-scientific criticism. I find sources like Christian Smith’s book “Souls in Transition” a better guide on what that stat actually means for churches and young adults than just ‘hey they’re not here anymore???’. All and all the stat is real and acurrate but there’s more to the story. Of that 70% that vacate the church many of them fall into para-church campus ministries away from home or return latter in their post-college lives when they’re married (that is an old trend). So the 70% isn’t the whole picture but there is a problem, churches aren’t connecting well to college and post-collegiate young adults.

The rest of McCracken’s article goes on to say a lot of people are trying to fix the problem by being hip, “Increasingly, the “plan” has taken the form of a total image overhaul, where efforts are made to rebrand Christianity as hip, countercultural, relevant.” McCracken chooses a number of examples to demonstrate this: a movement called “the emerging church”; hipper techniques like R rated movies at church or quoting cultural icons in sermons or use of new media solutions; and shock tactics like talking about sex.

McCracken at this point in the article raises a valid question: will these changes work? On the surface he admits they seem to, because younger generations are coming back and some people are converting, but McCracken follows up with a more significant question, “what sort of Christianity are they being converted to?” Enter David Wells. McCracken goes on to quote the well-known critique of evangelicalism who basically says this kind of Christianity is “putting itself out of business with God…younger generations…are as likely to walk away from these oh-so-relevant churches as to walk into them.”

McCracken closes out his piece by saying “If the evangelical Christian leadership thinks that “cool Christianity” is a sustainable path forward, they are severley mistaken. As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don’t want cool as much as we want real…Jesus himself is appealing, and what he says rings true.

A couple things stood out to me about McCracken’s particular approach to the issue:

1) He’s right the answer isn’t being hip and he’s also right that for some churches that is the only answer they’re trying to apply to the problem. He’s also right that we need to ‘go back’ (something he shared in an interview on his book). The discussion of course is what does that mean, what does that look like, and how do we do it in community with others without branding people in uncharitable ways.

2) He’s evidently not down with the ‘hip-scene’ and has some animosity toward it. One question I had as I read him was is he able to separate consumerism from the emergence of new cultural trends? Trends that people aren’t simply trying on but are identifying with in genuine ways (I think Crouch’s work on culture would do him a world of good). Does he realize, for instance, that Indie music isn’t the problem and neither is new social media or good marketing and if a church practices these things it doesn’t then therefore mean it minimizes being “real” or holding out Jesus to culture. My assumption is McCracken does realize these things, check his bio out on his blog. However you definitely leave his article asking can he distinguish between the two and is he helping his readers distinguish between the two?

3) His examples were a mixed bag of research. I think his take on the emerging church as a movement that simply seeks to be cool is totally misguided (check out Fuller Seminary’s research on Emerging Churches by Bolger & Gibbs; or one of the movements speakers Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church). His quick stab at Mosaic church in Los Angeles as a church that meets in a nightclub as an example of wannabe cool Christianity does disservice to the missiological/pastoral questions that church is raising. Also his critique of Bell and Winner for using the word Sex in their materials or speaking to that subject was strange to say the least. They’re both responsibly dialoging with the wider culture from a clear framework shaped by the biblical-story (Winner has done grad work at both Duke and Cambridge and is very careful in her work). Bell & Winner’s contextualizing of the Christian faith is significant and mature and are in their own ways models of how to speak in the language of today’s culture (something btw Scripture models for us in its use of Koine Greek which was the language of the streets). To me McCraken’s research comes off sloppy at best or passive-aggressively jaded at worst.

4) His own irony is what stuck out to me most from his piece. He is in effect suggesting and expressing a different countercultural movement within the younger evangelical generation: a throw-back traditionalist movement as a way to protest mainstream which is itself considered ‘cool’ in some circles. What I’m saying is this: McCracken’s answer slots him into his own countercultural grouping and that doesn’t necessarily help him find or hold out the “real” anymore than anyone else’s. This is where sociologists work on cool-culture can I believe mature McCraken’s own self-criticism and allow him to see the shaping effects of rebelling he himself has been crafted by (“The Nation of Rebels,” “Branded Nation,” “No Brow,” “Hello I’m Special,” etc.).

5) I do believe he genuinely wants to help people find the real and escape unsustainable answers but I’m filled with concerns regarding his posture, research, and proposals.

I’m hoping that his book will be a better showing than his article was where brevity may have forced him to act in a short-order manner with his arguments or editorial forces may have been less kind than Baker Press’s process was.

For those out there looking for mature answers with less angst than McCracken for the absence of 20’s and 30’s in the church today I turn you to works like Christian Smith’s social-scientific study “Souls in Transition” at Notre Dame or Tim Keller’s pastoral ministry with Post-Everythings at Redeemer NYC or Andy Crouch’s work on Culture-Making with InterVarsity.

I’m reading one of Lee Siegel’s books right now called “Against the Machine.” Its a great read, very challenging for a guy like myself who’s an early adapter/tech-savy kind of person. Love to hear your thoughts on Siegel’s thesis. BTW he’s not simply making a case against the internet, he’s making a case for being more critically self-aware of our use of the internet AND how it uses and shapes us.

Here’s a short Keynote I put together: download the PDF here. I’d like to post a zip file of it but WordPress’s free accounts don’t allow for it or work with Mac files. The PDF at least gives you a basic sense of where I head. The action shapes I use aren’t fully illustrated but besides that its a start.

A couple of resources I found helpful were Christian Smith’s book “Souls in Transition” and Gabe Lyons book “UnChristian” and Richard Florida’s book “The Creative Class.” Love to hear what you’ve found helpful on the topic.

Follow up this short video by reading Michael Goheen’s great book, “The Drama of Scripture.” Easily one of my favorite reads on getting a sense of one way to approach the biblical story.

Don’t forget to check out his new album coming out soon, “Stockholm Syndrome.” Click below for a quick trailer.

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What are your favorite coffee cafe’s and why? Some of my favs would have to be “Chestnut Hill Coffee Company” in Philadelphia. They have the best lattes I’ve ever had and the atmosphere of the trendy two story cafe totally takes you in.

Another favorite would be the “Stardust Video and Coffee Cafe” in Orlando (the pic above was shot their on my Mac as I sat waiting to meet a friend). The place has a very cool indie vibe to it. You can not only get coffee but as well have a glass of your favorite Belgian beer with one of their many great lunch items.

The last favorite that has to be mentioned is a coffee cafe my wife and I visited only once, “Cafe Mekka.” It was in Nevada City, Ca and it was incredible. Not only were the lattes great, but the atmosphere was perhaps the best of any coffee cafe I’ve been in.

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Here’s the link. I’ve been jamming out to it for the past few days. What a great gift to fans in tough economic times!

(HT: Daniel Kirk via Facebook)

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“Neither at the beginnig, nor at any subsequent time, is there and can there be a gospel that is not embodied in a culturally conditioned form of words. The idea that one can or could at any time separate out by some process of distillation a pure gospel unadulterated by any cultural accretions is an illusion. It is, in fact, an abandonment of the gospel, for the gospel is about the word made flesh. Every statement of the gospel in words is conditioned by the culture of which those words are apart, and every style of life that claims to embody the truth of the gospel is a culturally conditioned style of life. There can never be a culture-free gospel. Yet the gospel, which is from the beginning to the end embodied in culturally conditioned forms, calls into question all cultures, including the one in which it was originally embodied.”

Leslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks, pg. 4

I’ve been thinking about Newbigin’s thoughts on how the gospel and culture relate to one another. Here Newbigin is looking at the gospel as a proclamation, an announcement, and is saying that the words of that announcement are always culturally conditioned, and that any lifestyle built from the gospel is as well culturally conditioned.

What intrigued me about Newbigin’s thoughts was not that he acknowledged the culturally conditioned nature of the gospel (which btw sometimes isn’t acknowledged), but rather what intrigued me was that while he says the gospel is culturally conditioned he at the same time says that the gospel challenges every form of culture it has been conditioned by, even its original form. 

So by implication what this means is that contextualizing the gospel in cultural forms, symbols, and stories can’t be reduced to merely being “relevant” with the present cultural forms, symbols, and stories. There’s a counter-cultural nature to the gospel that must be present. The gospel always calls us to faith AND repentance. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Newbigin quote: Where is it helpful and what questions does it leave you with?

(Photographic art by Oryctes, piece entitled “passess silencioses“)