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Luther Lattes and Calvin Cappuccinos: DTS Grads Serve Up Coffee and Theology

by Ann-Margret Hovsepian on December 1, 2012 in Profiles

“Coffee shops have always been at the center of movements,” according to Tim Kimberley (ThM, 2007), executive director of Edmond, Oklahoma’s Credo House, where patrons can drop in for high-end coffee, a theology lesson, or both. Kimberley recognizes that while Christians in other parts of the world face persecution, in North America spiritual resistance is of a more intellectual nature.

With this in mind the team of five that runs Credo House sees their role as a neutral-territory coffee business that brings people together and allows them to witness a Christianity that is respectful, dignified, and intellectually honest.

Falling in love with church history

Kimberley grew up on an Iowa farm but developed a passion for computers, which led to jobs in web design and programming. He trusted Christ in college and felt strongly that he “wanted to proclaim God’s Word and tell people about the Lord,” so he started a website with that aim (HeLives.com). While studying at Dallas Theological Seminary, Kimberley focused on historical theology and fell in love with church history. “I wanted to teach people about the Lord and the Bible, but also about their roots.” He believes there is a great lack of knowledge of church history in churches today.

After seminary a series of events—including a season of church planting in Portland, Oregon—culminated last fall in the opening of Credo House, which combines Kimberley’s passions: “I wanted to create a place that is part of a movement, just like TOMS sells shoes but is part of something greater.” Credo House cofounder Michael Patton (ThM, 2001) served as adult education pastor for the congregation where DTS chancellor—then president—Dr. Charles Swindoll served as senior pastor, Stonebriar Community Church.

According to Kimberley, Patton was instrumental in starting a popular theology class there with single students who, at one point, wanted to have their own facility and ended up spinning it out, “and from there we’ve created this neutral coffee shop. We’re not a church; we’re a regular coffee shop devoted to the church.”

Building the Credo House -- a frontline of thinking

In reference to his earlier comment about coffee shops historically being at the heart of movements, Kimberley points to the first example in the Western world at Oxford University, where students and professors were learning great insights. They realized that such insights should have a broader audience than Oxford, so they started coffee shops where the dons and students would hang out.

“We realized coffee houses are places designed for movements, for learning,” Kimberley said, “and we knew it would be good for discipleship—not to replace seminaries, but as venues where we could make a profit while doing what the Enlightenment did in the Western world. Though the Enlightenment brought some negatives from the perspective of Christians, it was effective in spreading ideas throughout the Western world.”

In the case of Credo House, Kimberley explained, the product is coffee, but the movement is discipleship. In short Credo House’s staff views their coffee house as a bridge between seminary and people in the church. “We help train people the Lord is leading to go to seminary so they have some theological foundation and can get even more out of seminary. Those whom the Lord is not leading to a Bible college or seminary we try to provide with an accessible but not watered-down theological education.”

Some of Credo House’s staff members have seminary degrees, others don’t. Each one, however, has been or is being trained to make excellent coffee and offer counseling. In that sense, Kimberley said, “We want our baristas to take on the role of modern-day bartenders. Those making the drinks are equipped to faithfully share about the Savior. We serve gourmet coffee, but we’re also passionate about helping people believe more than they did yesterday.”

The name “Credo House” denotes that the shop is a house of belief—in Christ. “We’re unashamedly Christian,” Kimberley said. “Non-Christians can come in and not feel threatened, but they also realize that we’re not wishy-washy. It fits with everything we’re about: a house that is inviting for people to enter. The focus is on belief, not as a blind step into the darkness, but into the light.”

The Credo House team likes creating a bit of mystery by posting Latin phrases around the shop. Some of these include credo ut intelligam (“I believe in order to understand”) and in necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas (“In necessary things, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity”). Customers look around the café and sometimes ask, “What does that say? What’s that painting? What’s that about?” Kimberley said this gives the staff an opportunity to chat with patrons as employees explain how the Latin phrases relate to faith and one’s walk with Jesus.

Fulfilling the Great Commission in every line of work

Credo House is intentional about making a profit, for which Kimberley makes no apology. Its owners want to be as successful as possible in making the best coffee in town, because being profitable will enable them to use more funds to reach more people with the gospel. “A business can be all about making a profit, but also all about a movement,” he said. “That’s okay. You don’t have to say, ‘We’re just a parachurch ministry, so we don’t have to get serious about coffee.’”

Kimberley believes that when God calls someone into a business, that work is his or her ministry. “If people don’t see their work as their ministry, they lose the opportunity to do their best,” he said, and so they fail to “see how they can change the world in the industry in which God has placed them. If you’re a plumber, you can find creative ways to change the world through your business.

Our staff can say, ‘I can worship God through properly frothing a latte.’” He suggests that Christians should explore ways to fulfill the Great Commission through the tasks they do in their work, thinking deeply and purposefully about their jobs. When people see that what they do with their days can make a difference in the lives of others, he said, they end up producing more and being more profitable.

Being profitable and idealistic are not mutually exclusive, according to Kimberley. He believes that at Credo House “when our coffee is good, our ministry does better. I think the Lord honors that.” Thus the team does not focus on just the business or just the ministry aspects of the coffee shop, because they are passionate about both. Still, Kimberley recognizes a priority when it comes to truth: “I wouldn’t go to the stake over what’s the proper temperature to froth milk. I would for eternal values.”

For the business to be healthy the team has worked on perfecting the recipe for what it takes for Credo House “to be true to who we are, to make a profit, and to make a difference,” Kimberley said. “We want to show people an organization doing something totally different in a winsome way. At our last event two atheists came in. They enjoyed our coffee, but they also realized that our conversation was intellectually honest, and they didn’t leave feeling disgusted. They didn’t necessarily agree with us, but it was clear that they left chewing on something.”

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