A Word about Church Architecture

Christopher Benson and Matthew Milliner have been doing the Lord’s work over at Evangel in agitating for the recovery of a non-pragmatic understanding of church architecture.

Of course, they’re swimming up stream among us evangelicals:  one whole wing of our happy movement doesn’t think we should have buildings at all.

The irony, of course, is that the same Christians who tend to be suspicious about spending money on architecture tend to also have a robust appreciation for the arts.  A stereotype, yes, but part of the emerging critique of traditional evangelicalism has been an aesthetic one:  the Church has neglected artists and the arts, and so they set out to recover them.

And rightly so.  May their numbers increase.

But the dichotomy between architecture and the rest of the arts simply isn’t sustainable.  If the arts are somehow tied to culture, then how much more architecture?  As it turns out, a lot.

G.K. Chesterton:

Architecture is the most practical and dangerous of the arts.  All the other arts we have to live with.  They are things we have to live with, and some have even said, with regard to some kind of music and paintings, that they are things they could live without.   But architecture is not a thing that we only have to live with–it is a thing we have to live in.  We live with it as Jonah lived with a whale.  Jonah could not see the monster and there is a great deal to be said for living in the most hideous house you can see in the landscape.  That is the one place you will be unable to see it.

A beautiful building can be a sign of the wastefulness of God over and on his people, a witness that points forward to the establishment of his eschatological people.  And it can be a tutor for those (the mentally disabled, particularly) unable to grasp the cognitive aspects of the faith.

In this sense, it is a sign of the decay of the culture of Christianity in America that we spend more time improving our homes than our places of worship.   If we wish to make our home within the dwelling places of God, then we ought defend and promote a non-pragmatic aesthetics most especially within and among his people.

email
  • christofmeyer

    Oooh Brother preach the truth! This argument is so strong, so tight, and has so much potential that I feel it needs a bigger platform, bigger loudspeakers, and even a roof over it (a building!) to keep out the dreary dampness of the “architectoclasts”.

    In fact, we could even go further and build, for our good argument, a collection of buildings – a city of words! – to surround and protect this good thought.

    May God lead our generation to build a richer, sensory-friendly, expression of God’s love for his lost children. Amen & Amen.

    Amen.

    • http://mereorthodoxy.com Matthew Lee Anderson

      Christof, amusing and overly kind, as always. :)

  • Pingback: Stones Cry Out - If they keep silent… » Things Heard: e107v2

  • Pingback: Things Heard: e107v2 | Pseudo-Polymath

  • http://twitter.com/mattleeanderson mattleeanderson

    From the blog: a word about church architecture. http://bit.ly/90v83c

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://pithlessthoughts.blogspot.com/ s-p

    Ohhhh, Matthew… you’ve stuck a sharp stick in one of my sore spots. “You live in paneled houses while My house lies in ruins…GO up to the hills and bring down the wood and build the house so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored, says the Lord.” (Haggai 1:4,8)
    I spent 25 years worshipping in “discount Christian warehouses” after leaving Catholicism. I came to realize I sacrificed beauty for pragmatism in the name of “doing the Lord’s work”. But the “Lord’s work” and the delineation of “sacred space” as an icon of the work of the Lord in and around man was never and either/or. Dostoyevsky’s “Beauty will save the world” is firmly rooted in the historic Christian view of art, architecture and creation as sacrament. The quasi-gnostic rejection of creation and embracing of Western atheistic utilitarianism and pragmatism in modern protestantism is evidenced by their lack of sense of “sacred space” in the name of a “spiritual Christianity” where the only sacred space God cares to dwell in is that which is in our heart or between our ears. The fact that the new evangelicals are longing for art is a result of the aesthetical Mohave Desert wanderings of the last couple hundred years. If we can recover beauty maybe we can recover Christianity and our humanity created in the image of Beauty.

    On “Sacred Space” http://audio.ancientfaith.com/ourlife/sacredspace1_063006.mp3

  • Jeffrey Allen

    It’s amazing how something does not resonate until it is defined and called to your attention.

    In this case I’m referring to “Sacred Space”
    I can clearly feel the “sacred” when I go to my wife’s
    church. Probably the sun filtering thru the stain glass windows and visually looking at the crucifixes and other item like the altar, church colors, vestments, candles, the “eternal light” and even the wooden pews, and not to forget the heavenly sleep during the incredibly boring sermons.
    I can even feel it at my church even in its stark simplicity, mainly the light and the pews and also the
    reverence.

    Where I don’t feel it is when I go to Calvary Chapel. Our live in god child goes to school there. There are no windows and the theater seats don’t do much for me. It is indeed a “Christian Discount Warehouse” as someone else had said. Said Warehouse accomodates 8000 people over their week end services.

  • http://www.worldandmind.com Ben

    Hey Matt,

    This is really interesting, and strikes me in a couple ways. One, I’m from the D.C. area where there are no skyscrapers nor buildings taller than the Washington monument (by law). What you see in D.C. is a more robust architecture throughout. And two, now I’m temp living in Charlotte, a city that over the past decade has constructed its own number of skyscrapers and architecture. The two are very different. Anyways, I love living in the city, and this city happens to have some nice architecture as well.

    I always catch myself looking at it as I’m driving into downtown. Charlotte is small by comparison, but there’s still a majestic kind of thing that effects me. Our modern evangelical churches don’t strike this kind of awe, and there’s a good conversation to be had about that. Thanks for the arts & architecture connection, good stuff to think about. I’ve also been following your blog recently. I enjoy the posts and provoking thought, namely the breadth of subject matter. Check out mine as well. As a fellow writer, I’d love any thoughts/comments of yours if you like. It’s in the early stages, but slowly on it’s way.

    Thanks!

  • Pingback: The Crusades, Church Architecture, and Liberty University’s Strangest Student « owen strachan