Thomas Turner, author of the blog Everyday Liturgy, interviews Brett McCracken on his new book, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. Focusing mainly on the role of music in popular Christian youth culture, the interview also covers the driving question behind McCracken’s book: can, or perhaps should, Christianity be “on trend”?
Brett: Well, I think a lot of it has to do with what you just said about the “cultural response vs. spiritual response” shift that happened when “Christian music” became an industry that tried to compete with, or at least copy, the styles of the broader world. The emphasis on worship music in the church thus began a shift in the “seeker-sensitive” direction—away from hymns and songs full of complicated theology or difficult-to-sing harmonies, etc.—toward a more simple chords, simply lyrics, path-of-least resistance approach. It became this thing that could be used to attract people to the church, to get them in the door. Worship music in the church became something that was asked to “do” rather than just “be,” if that makes any sense.
In terms of cool/hip specifically, I think they influence the music greatly. When you get in this mindset of “what does the audience want to hear?” then you begin to select music that is “on trend” and reflective of what is cool at the moment. Basically, it makes the music much more disposable and quickly replaceable. It’s all about “what’s next.” Songs sung a few years ago like “God of Wonders” are hardly ever sung these days, because it’s passe to be singing something that was trendy 8 years ago.
[. . .]
Thomas: What do you think people involved in the worship practice of a church need to learn or unlearn when it comes to how we let culture affect our worship?
Brett: I think we need to attempt to shift our focus away from a utilitarian view of music in worship that looks at music in this cause-effect model (some call it the “hammer approach”). The cause-effect model wants music to be this “performance” that somehow attracts outsiders. Rather, I think we should look at worship more as a “window into heaven” or just a reflection of what the saints are called to do: worship God. It should be less about what’s cool and more about “is this praising God?” I think we need to stop worrying so much about whether the congregation is liking it or enjoying it (though to some extent we must think of this) and more about whether it is turning us toward God and the cross.