On May 27, 2007, I met with Dan Kimball of the Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, California (vintagechurch.org).1 Dan is one of the better known emerging church pastors. My wife and I drove down from Boise, Idaho to meet with him and check out his church. He and I had been in e-mail contact and he was gracious enough to meet with me so I could ask him questions about his philosophy of ministry as well as inquire into his doctrinal views. I asked him about the Trinity - which he nailed perfectly. He affirmed the deity of Christ and his physical resurrection. He said baptism was not necessary for salvation and that we are justified by grace through faith. Afterwards, my wife and two other friends from the area attended the Vintage Faith Church service.
Now, you have to understand something about Santa Cruz. It has all sorts of people from Wiccans to surfers to atheists to college students. So, fitting into the Santa Cruz culture is not easy, especially if you want to be faithful to Christian teaching. In fact, Highway 17 winds through the hills between San Jose and the coast and is blanketed on either side by perennially green trees. An elder of a Church I've guest-preached at in Santa Cruz told me that out in the forest is where several different satanic groups perform their rituals. Another person told me that Santa Cruz was the drug capital of California. Now, I don't know if either statement is true - they'd know better than I - but combine that with the overall freethinking, new age feel of the area and a liberal Santa Cruz college where the staff has a strong hostility to Christianity, and you have an idea of the spiritual landscape. It's difficult and it is in this context that Dan does his ministry.
Talking with Dan Kimball
Dan doesn't fit the standard mold of what most might think a pastor should look like. He had a pompadour hairstyle, a short sleeve 50's style shirt, wore blue jeans with rolled up cuffs, and sported black shoes - but he pulled it off well.
Dan told me that he was on staff at Santa Cruz Bible Church for 13 years before SCBC started Vintage Faith in 2004, that he is open to women being active in the church, that they could not be elders (but was still studying the women pastors issue),2 that his ministry experience was with youth, and that his focus was to be a missionary to the community while staying true to the the Scriptures.
Dan mentioned the problem of the huge dropout rate from Christian churches. He wanted to know why so many people are leaving and why they aren't connecting with church. He wanted to teach in such a way that people would remember what was said. One of his approaches was to work with teams within the church. He would tell them what the sermon topic would be and they would come up with object lessons, paintings, videos, and whatever else might be conducive to remembering the message. During the sermon, he likes to ask questions and interact with the congregation.
He said that people learn differently: some are more visual than others, some prefer a written article, and some are more analytical than others. So he said he would try and use different methods of communicating the same message so that different people could hear the truth of God's Word in a manner that they can understand. He stated that our experience should be in concert with the Scriptures and said, "We have to be theologians to be able to communicate to the world properly." He also told me he taught on hell once a year.
Okay, so his philosophy of ministry was good. But, what about his doctrine? I asked him about the Trinity - which he nailed perfectly. He affirmed the deity of Christ and his physical resurrection. He said baptism was not necessary for salvation and that we are justified by grace through faith. He was open to the charismatic gifts (though he leaned towards cessationism),3 and didn't think a Christian could lose his salvation. He said we are born as sinners and that Jesus bore our sins on the cross. In our hour-long conversation, I found no anti-orthodox views. Of course, it is possible I missed something, but in our conversation I found Dan to be forthright and accurate biblically.
In short, Dan Kimball appeared to be within orthodoxy and was very concerned about how to communicate the truth of God's Word to the people and culture in which we dwell. Good stuff. It confirms what he says in in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope:
- "I believe that theology and doctrine are extremely important (see 1 Tim. 5:16; Titus 1:9; 2:1)...As a church, we could be called a Nicene Creed church in terms of our beliefs... I do hold to fundamental beliefs, such as what is in the Nicene Creed and other primary doctrines of the faith (the deity of Christ, inspiration of Scripture, the substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, salvation through Jesus alone)."4
- "Now, if anyone I know was questioning the resurrection of Jesus, I would go into a very strong form of defend mode. This is the cornerstone of our faith. There are times when I think we may need to take very strong stands about what we believe on critical issues, such as resurrection, salvation through Jesus alone, the atonement, and the inspiration and authority of Scripture."5
- "I know that the Nicene Creed was shaped by cultural debates and theological issues they were facing at the time, but I think it still does address some beautiful things about the Christian faith. So in terms of doctrines or beliefs to hold to - I believe in the truths of the Nicene Creed."6
The Church Service
After talking with Dan, my wife and I, along with two local friends, attended the church service. It's important to note that it was held on Memorial Day weekend, a time when church attendance is usually rather thin. That was not the case at this Sunday evening. I counted around 200 people, mostly in their 20s, who filtered into the church well before the service began. The place was full and the people friendly. A band played worship music up front; they were pretty good. And finally, Dan got up and preached a message on the deity of Christ. Now, this is a topic I'm very familiar with so I paid extra attention. Dan nailed it perfectly.
He did not preach from a pulpit. Instead, he walked around in the center aisle, close to the people. Near the ceiling towards the front of the church, a video ran during a sermon "break". It turned out that Dan was culminating his series on the "I Am" statements of Jesus. The video consisted of a young man holding a piece of cardboard in front of his face with "I am the true vine."7 It then switched locations and the same person held another cardboard sign that said "I am the way", and then another location with another sign that said, "I am the door", etc. It was well done. Though I attended his church several months ago, I can still remember the message because of that short video: Jesus is God in flesh.
When the sermon ended, he pointed towards a back room door where people could go and wander through the church building to different rooms where they would see the I Am statements of Christ - written, painted, and drawn in chalk on the sidewalk outside - at different locations. People would talk about what they were seeing. Again, good stuff.
Would I recommend the Vintage Faith Church?
I haven't read everything Kimball's written. Maybe there is something he's said that is way off base. So far I haven't found it. If it's there I'd like to know. But, from what I've seen of his preaching and based on our interview, I wouldn't expect to find anything from Dan that would be bad. I found Dan to be a genuine Christian who is honestly concerned about preaching the truth of God's Word in the culture in which he dwells. He wants to reach people for Jesus and he wants them to remember the words of truth. His doctrine is fine and he appears to be a man of integrity.
However, since receiving his last email, part of which is listed below, I've discovered that he sometimes allows women to preach. This alone would cause me to not recommend his church. (See my articles on this The Elder in the Church and Should Women Be Pastors and Elders?) If that sounds harsh, so be it. But, I cannot apologize since I must be true to what I see scripture teach, no matter how much I like Dan and what he is doing there in Santa Cruz.
I received an email from Dan Kimball on 3/16/08 where he offered a few minor corrections along with this comment about women pastors. We dialogued and on 3/31 he emailed me the following. He said I could post it. I added the underlines for emphasis:
"With men and women roles in ministry and leadership - it is a bit complicated to explain, but wanted to clarify what we are doing here. Vintage Faith Church isn't using the formal term "elder" as a title for people in the same way many churches don't use the term" deacon". However, we have lots of "eldering" happening, just like churches who don't use the formal title of "deacon", but have lots of deaconing happening. We feel that we want to try and remain as faithful as possible to what those with the "elder" title were actually doing in the New Testament which was truly "pastoring" more hands-on as house church leaders. So we are breaking up the shepherding responsibility and pastoring to those leading smaller groups of people in mid-week community groups and other mentoring relationships where people can truly be relationally pastored by those with pastoring/shepherding gifts. We do however, have a formal leadership structure and team for the roles of oversight of vision and mission, guarding and protecting as shepherds what is happening in the whole church. This team oversees the vision, our theology, holds the pastors accountable and cares for us, oversees the church budget etc. In most churches today, there is an "elder board" (interesting we adopted a business term) who meets every two weeks or once a month. But often out of necessity, these elder boards function more like a business meeting overseeing the affairs of the organization and people of the church. At Vintage Faith Church we understand we do need to be making decisions like what happens at the average "elder board". But we are using the name "Leadership Council" to designate that team instead of calling it "the elder board". In the Leadership Council, there are both males and females who do help make decisions and give input for the larger church direction. We value and need both male and female perspective and wisdom as we make decisions. We hold the Scriptures with great authority and take the teaching of God's Word very seriously at our church. We do have both male and females who preach on Sunday worship gatherings. The teaching team is primarily male, so the majority of the teaching is primarily done by males. But we do have some very gifted female teachers who pray, study the Scriptures and then communicate what the Scriptures teach to the church. My role as the Teaching Pastor means I do oversee the Sunday teaching schedule and the teaching team. We also have both male and females teaching various classes. It's not easy making sense of how to fully translate roles from the early church who met in homes with several elders leading the house church, to today's contemporary context. But we try to remain faithful to prayer, the Scriptures in the best way we can. And as you know, there are all types of opinions on this from wonderful, Spirit-filled men and women from throughout church history and from scholars today. I wish we lived closer and we could have a coffee (or many dozens of cups) and open the inspired, authoritative Scriptures and study and discuss this together. But that is what we are doing right now in our church."
I like Dan and he's been very upfront with me as I developed this section on the Emerging Church and this article on him in particular. Still, I must take issue with his view on women preaching as it is against scripture. Preaching is an authoritative action by its very nature and women are not to be in such teaching/authority positions in the church: "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. 13 For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve," (1 Tim. 2:12-13). This is not a cultural issue for Paul's time. It is for us now - since it is based in Adam being created first.
- 1. At the time of this article, Dan has authored two books: The Emerging Church and They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations. He has co-authored Emerging Worship: Creating Worship Gatherings for New Generations and Listening to the Beliefs of Emerging Churches: Five Perspectives.
- 2. See my articles The Elder in the Church and Should Women Be Pastors and Elders?
- 3. Cessationism is the view that the charismatic gifts ceased with the death of the apostles.
- 4. Pagitt, Doug and Tony Jones, eds., An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, Grand Rapids: Baker, p. 216-217.
- 5. Ibid., p. 222.
- 6. www.dankimball.com/vintage_faith/2006/05/my_doctrinal_st.html.
- 7. I don't remember the exact order of the "I Am" statements, but the video went through all of them.