The Hipster’s Theology Revisited

June 21, 2011 — Leave a comment

I felt that yesterday’s post needed a bit of clarification. Although indirectly related to William’s comment, his point led me to realize I was probably equivocating on the word “hipster.” There are really two (or at least two) senses one could take “hipster” to mean. I think I had both in mind and that detracted from the clarity of what I wanted to say.

The first is someone who is authentically a hipster. In a way this is hard to achieve since part of being a true hipster is to in-authentically like certain things (i.e. like them ironically). You like things from pop culture not because you think they are good, but because they are so kitschy you like them as a way of mocking them. In this instance, a true hipster would like, and/or possibly purchase The Christian Faith not because they plan to read it, but because it either adds to the aesthetics of wherever they place it (possibly) or because everyone hyped it up so much, it is ironic to actually value it (more likely).

This type of hipster probably won’t invest in the book, and wasn’t the target market anyway. They may know about it, but only to then one make oblique comments about its perceived value if it ever comes up in conversation:

“You hear about that new systematic theology Michael Horton put out?”

“Yeah, it’s not as good as his older stuff, too mainstream.”


“I’m really more into the Dutch theologians. I’ve picked up enough Dutch from visiting Amsterdam that I can get my way through the important parts of writers like Bavinck, Hepp, and Dooyeweerd. Really deep stuff.”

“I thought you’d only been there once.”

“It was for two weeks.”

“That doesn’t seem like enough…”

“I pick things up easily. Hand me that PBR.”

Now, the other type of hipster is not really a hipster. Or at least, an authentic hipster wouldn’t recognize this other person as a hipster. The operative word is “poser.” Too the masses, this person is still hip, but to the true hispter, this is person is just riding on their coattails to coolness. And don’t put it past a true hipster to wear an ensemble that incorporates coattails.

This person is the trendy hipster. Seminaries and Bible schools can be nexus points for people like this. If anything, I fit this demographic. I think I’m more original than most people, but hey, who openly thinks of themselves as (a) a poser or (b) just following what’s trendy. If you’re a young 20-something Christian and you in any way aspire to be cool, you fit this demographic. It is perhaps not a bad thing, it just depends on your motivations for trying to be cool.

What I was suggesting in the other post was that the target audience for Horton’s book is this type of person. A quasi-hipster of the Reformed variety. Someone like that probably is attracted to the new Calvinism but will never take the time to read Calvin. Grudem’s theology is solid, but its not explicitly Reformed and its dated (in terms of cultural relevance, not in terms of content). There is no fresh Reformed systematic theology for the new Calvinism, so Michael Horton was presumably commissioned to write one. I doubt Horton approached Zondervan with it already in tact (the preface suggests this). Zondervan elected to publish a new systematic theology, and so the question is, “why?”

What I was also suggesting was that the lack of care in editing the book and the general sloppy feel of the thoughts presented appears to incriminate the social conception of this group of trendy new-Calvinists. Either the book was just rushed to press (which the couple of parenthetical references to pg 000 and the errate throughout the footnotes indicate) or Horton just isn’t a very clear thinker on some topics (which the first half of the book indicates). Either way, the final product implies (to me) that whoever this book was written for isn’t perceived as very discerning.

Now, there is another option. It is possible that this book is like Calvin’s first edition of the Institutes. He published several, and we have the benefit of reading the final product that was crafted over the course of a couple of decades. Calvin was my age when he published the first edition, and the final edition was published when he was 50. Horton is twenty years older than me now, so given an average lifespan, he has 25 more years to revise this systematic theology that he’s just published. Maybe by the time I’m Horton’s age, his theology will have become the standard after being so well refined.

That is entirely possible, and I would like to see this book go to at least a second edition to clean it up a bit. As the magnum opus that some people herald it as, I found it disappointing. Maybe that’s all this really is. I had high hopes for a systematic theology, but on further inspection found it to be a lower grade than the other Reformed authors I had read. Maybe other people don’t experience that for the most part.

Maybe I only notice this because I had to read it critically and in depth and write a 3 page response every week for a couple of months about it. That being the case, I’m one of only a few who have read the published version with this level of detail. I posted before on the nature of criticism in reference to this book. Maybe I’m just being a bit too critical. But maybe, on the other hand, I resent that this book was published as is and was projected to knock my socks off and just failed miserably.

I certainly couldn’t do any better if I tried to write a systematic theology. Horton wrote about theology in a very readable manner and I like that he tried to make it more dramatic. In that sense, he improved on Berkhof. But some of us would rather have it the other way. Some of us would prefer to have clear crisp prose that may lack literary flourish, but offers clear answers to urgent questions.

When someone publishes a new systematic theology like that, then I’ll really be excited.



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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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