Vintage Christianity for New Generations


Dan Kimball

Zondervan, 2003, 266 pp.


Kimball founded Graceland worship services out of working in youth ministry at Santa Cruz Bible Church.  He looks beyond the “seeker sensitive” church that meets the needs of those disappointed with church and probes how to connect with the generation growing up with postmodern values and no church experience.   The book is illustrated with conversations, sidebar comments, tables, and examples of art.  It has many concrete suggestions based on the Graceland experience.  This is the most forward-looking, experience-based church book that I’ve seen.  I appreciate his frequent reminders to focus on God more than methods. 


Part I provides a background understanding of the next postmodern generation and their relationship with church.  Part II deals with practical ideas. 


“The only way to stay relevant is to anchor your ministry to unchanging truths and eternal purposes while being willing to continually adapt how you communicate those truths and purposes.”  (Foreward, Rick Warren)


Some of Dan’s assumptions: There will be many models for the emerging church.  It is more mindset than model.  It measures success in terms of its mission.  “By looking at what our practices produce in the called people of God as they are sent out on a mission to live as light and salt in their communities (Matt. 5:13-16).”  (15)


Part I.  Deconstructing Postmodern Ministry, Candles, and Coffee


A “post-seeker-sensitive” approach to ministry…is simply going back to more of a raw and basic form of ‘vintage Christianity’…which unapologetically focuses on kingdom living by disciples.”  Worship gatherings promote “a full display of spirituality (extended worship, religious symbols, liturgy, extensive prayer times, extensive use of Scripture and readings, etc.) so that people can experience and be transformed by the message of Jesus.” (26)


“Previous generations grew up experiencing church as dull or meaningless, and so the seeker-sensitive model strove to reintroduce church as relevant, contemporary, and personal.  But emerging generations are being raised without any experience of church, good or bad.” “Their desire is to experience God and not just be told about him….” (27,36)


“Our worldview consists of the presuppositions and the foundation upon which our life’s meaning and purpose are based.”  “Our worldview is the lens through which we see everything.” (42)


Some worldview shifts (from a table, p. 44)

Modern (to 2000)

Trust in reason to discover truth

Faith in reason, science, logic

Print communication

Authority in Bible via interpretation by reason, science, and logic


Knowledge is power.


Conflicting beliefs/truths accepted

Faith in personal experience

Instant web communication

Suspicion of authority.  Bible open to many interpretations.  Many valid religious writings

Every viewpoint is a view from a point.


“The Enlightenment assumed that human thinking can solve everything.  So when modernism then assumed we could figure out God and systematize our faith, we went astray.” (49)  “…there actually are many refreshing aspects of going back to a more transcendent view of God, allowing for mystery, and bringing back the supernatural view of life.  We need to be thinkers and theologians more than ever in this day so we can discern the good from the bad and what is scriptural from what is man’s methodology or philosophy….”  (49)


“Pure modernism held to a single, universal worldview and moral standard, a belief that all knowledge is good and certain, truth is absolute, individualism is valued, and thinking, learning, and beliefs should be determined systematically and logically.  Postmodernism, then, holds there is no single universal worldview.  All truth is not absolute, community is valued over individualism, and thinking, learning, and beliefs can be determined nonlinearly.” (49)  “Contradiction is accepted.” 


“A person can claim spiritual belief without living out that faith in any genuine way.  Contradiction in spirituality is acceptable.”  “In a modern world, this would be called hypocrisy.  But in a postmodern world where the lines are blurred, it is simply a way of life.”  “Sexual, pluralistic, pop Christianity is in vogue….displayed in artists…who are vocal about their Christian beliefs but send hypersexual messages through their appearance and lyrics.  Beliefs blatantly contradict actions, and from a postmodern viewpoint, no harm is done.” (53)


“The postmodern world…understands itself through biological rather than mechanistic models….hungry for spirituality yet dismissive of systematized religion…in which image and reality are so deeply intertwined that it is difficult to draw the line….” (54)


“Postmodernity and the spiritual relativism it brings completely pull the rug out from under most of our current, modern ministry strategy and methodology.” (55)


“After that … another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.  Judges 2:10”  This generation of teens and young adults has simply no Judeo-Christian roots to return to.  (57-8)


The modern world: (59)

·        God is the Christian God. 

·        Ethics based on the Judeo-Christian worldview.

·        Characteristics: monotheism, rational, religion, propositional, systematic, local, individualistic, truth.

Postmodern world: (60)

·        All religions are equal, Christianity has a negative ‘finger-pointing’ reputation.

·        Ethics based on what the culture accepts and personal choice learned from the media and press

·        Characteristics: pluralism, experiential, mystical, narrative, fluid, global, communal/tribal, preferences


“The basis of learning has shifted from logic and rational, systematic thought to the realm of experience.  People increasingly long for the mystical and spiritual rather than the evidential and facts-based faith….”


Perhaps a third of the baby boomers are more postmodern than modern (per Brian McLaren) (63)


“We cannot blame emerging generations for believing what they believe. …this is the only world they know.” (63)


“…we need to become like the spies Joshua sent to look over the land across the Jordan.”  “Are you listening to what their musical poets and prophets are saying?  If not, you may not understand their world and how they view it,…”  (68)


“Newbigin [after 38 years as a missionary in India] found that ministry in England was now ‘much harder than anything I met in India.  The cold contempt for the Gospel is harder to face than opposition.” (68)


“…we need to use the same approach we would employ entering a foreign culture.  …we need to see ourselves as a new kind of missionary.  And we must train people in our churches to do the same.  …the generations being born…don’t know who God is or what he has done, or what the Bible says about him, or who the true Jesus is.  We have to start all over again….”  (69)


“The United States is the most religiously diverse nation in the world….  The Immigration Act of 19655 eliminated the quotas linking immigration to national origins….radically altering the religious landscape of the United States.”  (Diana Eck, 71)  “This diversity impacts not only how we evangelize but also how we teach and educate people to think about other faiths and beliefs.” (72)


“We have lost the overarching story of God and man.  So we piece together our own stories.”  The ‘God’ people believe in today is pieced together from a mix of world religions and various personal beliefs. (73)


“We need to be opening our Bibles and exploring what the Scriptures say about all types of ethical and moral standards.  We need to know what it means to be holy.  But we need to rethink how we preach about it.” (74)


“Emerging generations are culturally sensitive and globally aware.” “We need to communicate to them with a global awareness and a global conscience.” (76)


“When people sense that you aren’t just dogmatically opinionated due to blind faith and that you aren’t just attacking other people’s beliefs out of fear, they are remarkably open to intelligent and loving discussion about choice and truth.”  “But effectively conveying Jesus’ teaching in a post-Christian world is no easy task.” (76)


College students interviewed at a California university thought Jesus is cool but Christians are messed up, dogmatic, closed-minded, the wicked ones.  Only 1 out of 16 claimed to know a Christian personally.  (80) 


“…we need to introduce people to Jesus, not to the Christian subculture of consumerism we have subtly created.”  What do people see in your church building?  What do your décor and bookstore communicate? 


Emerging generations are being taught theology and spirituality by the movies, television, popular music, and celebrities whose lifestyles are contrary to the Christian message.  (85)


Maybe some of our consumerism comes from the way we have understood the word ‘church.’  “We can’t go to church because we are the church.”  (91)  “The way leaders define church will determine how they measure success, where they focus our time and energy, how they design their strategies and form their ministry philosophies.”  (92)


“…the primary function of the church (people) is her evangelistic mission.”  (theologian Millard Erickson)  “Have we…turned our churches into vendors of religious services and goods?”  (93)


“If the church has become the place instead of the people on a mission, leaders only naturally start focusing their efforts on what people experience when they come to the place on Sundays.  In recent years, we have even added the words excellence and relevance to our values statements for church.  In doing so, we naturally began spending more time focusing on the quality of the music, sound system, and bulletins.  As the church grows, the pressure to continue this focus increases and the problem escalates.” “…as a result the church can subtly lose sight of its identity and missional function….”  “Could we be guilty of creating consumer Christians?”  (94)


“The emerging church must define the church scripturally again, teaching people how the church fits into the grand story of the Bible.”  “Then the focus would move off of ourselves.  We would then naturally break out of our consumer mindset, changing everything.”  People will “be on a mission together.  …feed deeply on the Scriptures….,  see themselves as ambassadors of Jesus, ….” (95-6)  [There is a huge leap here, from postmodern paganism to “naturally” becoming the church. dlm] 


Part II.  Reconstructing Vintage Christianity in the Emerging Church


There will be hundreds of models, each unique to its context.  Many will be contrary to today’s seeker-sensitive churches.  Trying to bring new styles into the existing worship service probably won’t work. (102-104) 


Approaches to Worship (from table on p. 105):

Modern, Seeker-Sensitive

Emerging, Post-Seeker-Sensitive

“Services” served to congregation

For those with bad church experience

User-friendly, contemporary

Break the “church” stereotype

Stained glass, crosses and symbols out

Comfortable seating focused on stage

Light and cheery

Sermon is the focus

Communicate with technology & flare

Accommodate large growth


For those with no church experience

Experiential and mystical

Break the “Christian” stereotype

Stained glass, crosses, symbols in

Living room or coffee house feel

Dark and serious

Holistic experience is focus

Experience the ancient & mystical

Large gathering of small groups


“These new approaches will be messy!” (107)


“Our hope is that the emerging church will break out of the consumer Christian mentality.  Our aim in making a worship gathering more experiential is that people would participate in the service rather than remain spectators.”  Beware, “lest you train people to become consumers of religious goods and services.” (112)


“What the New Testament church did not have were buildings.” (Rick Warren, 113)  They were “very Christ-centered and very participatory and community oriented.  Very vintage.”  “They came to worship the risen Jesus through song, prayer, the Lord’s Supper, and teaching.” (113-14)


“We must first ask whether God is truly encountered and worshiped and whether people are encouraged to become disciples of Jesus.” (114)  “…so that…there is no doubt we are in the presence of a Holy God.  I believe both believers and nonbelievers in this emerging culture are hungry for this.”  (116)


“Emerging post-Christian generations…want fluidity and freedom…the arts and a sense of mystery…an organic approach…vintage-faith.”  (121)


The scriptural theme of God’s story is woven throughout and is the theme of the entire gathering.  (122)  It functions with ebb and flow and is interactive and participatory, more artistic than engineered.  (123) 


Emerging generations are attracted to architecture and a spiritual atmosphere.  Darkness represents spirituality, indicates something serious is happening.  Avoid suggestions that the band or speaker are performing or “above” the congregation.  Candles “symbolize sobriety, spirituality, simplicity, quietude, and contemplation.” Aesthetics and environment should reflect you and those you are trying to reach.  (134-142)


Incorporate art by using powerful visuals while you teach.  Drama can be effective or embarrassing.  Use dramatic Scripture and poetry readings.  Have actors express various emotions while a script is being read.  Use drama in ways that resonated with the culture.  (148)


Honor older generations who have been down the road of life.  Use them for testimonies and telling stories.  Give females up-front roles as much as possible.  The role of women is a huge issue.  Incorporate children and families.  Use street interviews to gain insights into unbelievers. (150-51)


You can do all of the above with volunteers if you plan ahead.  Go to for links to art resources.  (153)


Suggestions for experiential worship:  Use music that is God-focused rather than me-focused.  Read from the Scriptures before singing or in the middle of a song to give insight into the words.  Provide times of silence for people to worship.  Pause to allow truth to sink in.  “Quiet may be to a healthy mind what clean air and water …are to a healthy body…”  (Marianne Moore)  Have times of quiet while Scripture is projected on the screen.  Present the offering time as worship.  Model and value prayer.  (158-169)


Preaching as storytelling:  “We start in the middle of a story that they don’t know or that they know very little about mainly through negative experiences.  We offer them escape from a peril they don’t know they face, and we use words that either aren’t part of their vocabulary or that they don’t correctly understand.  Because people in the emerging culture don’t know the story, preachers must become storytellers again.” (172)


Start with creation and the origin of man and sin.  Show how the ancient wisdom of Scripture applies to living as a disciple.  Emphasize the experience of the one who is Truth.  Explain biblical terms.  Supplement words with visuals, art, silence, testimony, and story.  Motivate people to learn from the Scriptures during the week     Continually tell the story of God and humans.  Paint the big picture of the Bible story.  Make preaching God-centered vs. man-centered.  Go into depth.  Use complete sections of Scripture.  Shape worldview by telling the story.  Use all preaching to teach kingdom living as a disciple.  Regularly teach that Jesus is the only way to God.  Frequently address human sexuality.  Define marriage and family.  Teach on hell.  Teach the trustworthiness of Scripture.  And more  (175-182)


The modern mindset:     facts àbelief àbehavior

Shift to:                         experienceàbeliefàbehavior   (187)


Develop a scriptural focus by getting the focus on the story and off the preacher and encouraging people to bring Bibles. (191)


Further chapters focus on Evangelism, Spiritual Formation, and Leadership.

List of resources.