On the Height of the Buildings in Heaven

Ever wonder about the buildings in heaven? And the block sizes?

Two articles sparked similar thinking the other day. The first is in the most recent Atlantic, from Harvard economist and polymath Edward Glaeser. It’s about how skyscrapers promote human flourishing by pushing the price of space down and density up: the key ingredients for vibrant culture and business. It takes an especially interesting turn when Glaeser explains how Mumbai is failing its poor people by restricting building height:

Limiting heights didn’t stop urban growth, it just ensured that more and more immigrants would squeeze into squalid, illegal slums rather than occupying legal apartment buildings…Mumbai is short, so everyone sits in traffic and pays dearly for space…An abundance of close and connected vertical real estate would decrease the pressure on roads, ease the connections that are the lifeblood of a 21st-century city, and reduce Mumbai’s extraordinarily high cost of space. Yet instead of encouraging compact development, Mumbai is pushing people out.

The second article is by big-deal pastor Tim Keller, who catalogs the differences between different-sized churches. He puts the parting shot in someone else’s mouth, but it’s a bomb either way:

Schaller shows that the very large church is more accessible and capable of reaching young people, single people, the unchurched, and seekers than smaller churches are. He then poses a question: If the need for very large churches is so great, why are there so few? Why don’t more churches (a) allow the senior pastor to become less accessible, (b) allow the staff to have more power than the board, (c) allow a small body of execu­tive staff to have more decision-making power than the larger staff or congregation, or (d) allow directors more power to hire competent workers and release generalists? His main answer is that the key to the very large church culture is trust. In smaller churches, suspicious people are much happier…The larger the church gets, however, the more and more the congregation has to trust the staff, and especially the senior pastor…ultimately a very large church runs on trust.

To be fair to Keller, he says earlier in the article that different-sized churches shouldn’t be judgmental toward one another, but the implication is clear: to reach the unchurched, we need to get over our big church hang-ups. Or, put another way, we need to figure out how to make big churches better.

I’m interested in whether these two articles bear some mutually-informing relationship to one another. Maybe I’m reaching, but maybe not. The deep magic is everywhere.

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  • http://Bensonian.org Christopher Benson

    Kevin:

    No, I don’t think about the buildings in heaven and the block sizes because I find it best to conceive of heaven as the full presence of God, as C. S. Lewis encourages in “Surprised by Joy”:

    “While it is true to say that God’s own nature is the real sanction of His commands, yet to understand this must, in the end, lead us to the conclusion that union with that Nature is bliss and separation from it horror. Thus Heaven and Hell come in. But it may well be that to think much of either except in this context of thought, to hypostatize them as if they had a substantial meaning apart from the presence or absence of God, corrupts the doctrine of both and corrupts us while we so think of them.”

  • Mark

    He’s not the only one to say height restrictions are detrimental, and I think he’s probably right, even in the US. Intriguing connection to church size. Certainly small churches solve little because of their size.

    I choked on this however:

    >> or (d) allow directors more power to hire competent workers and release generalists?

    Because we all know that specialists are more competent than generalists. If only.

  • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com Jeremy Mann

    Christopher, thank you for mentioning this quote. Much as I respect Lewis, I don’t think I agree with this statement, if it is taken to mean that speculation about further details beyond “the presence of God” is fruitless. I see two reasons. First, the Bible provides further detail that, however poetic, helps the Christian paint a mental picture beyond what Lewis is saying. Second, I have found imagining heaven both a means of deepening my awe and thankfulness and of sharpening my focus on earth. No doubt there are dangers in taking this too far, but I’m curious about your thoughts on this.

    Mark, tell me a little more of what you’re thinking here, because I think I’m sympathetic to you. I assume you are talking about Keller’s point that as the church grows, it needs more staff that are trained somewhere besides seminary (but with supplemental theological training). I gather he means executive pastors that are management experts, or worship pastors who are schooled in fine arts, or counselors who are trained psychologists. But don’t many seminaries offer degrees in these fields? I know they do for sacred music and counseling.

    • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com Christopher Benson

      @Jeremy: C. S. Lewis obviously didn’t think it was fruitless to imagine further details of heaven beyond the presence of God. Exhibit A: The Great Divorce. His cautionary note, though, is worth heeding if and when we imagine that our imaginings have seized upon actuality.

  • Mark

    Jeremy: After reading it again, I see he probably just means that in larger churches that leaders have more specialized roles. That’s fine, but if they start evaluating qualifications for roles in terms of a professionalized or formal education other than those traditionally held to require it, I’d say be careful. I say this because of my views on the high degree of specialization that we now have in many areas that gives us narrow people striving for excellence through accreditation, and I think poorly.

    But I’m not a church leader, so what do I know? Specialization of task is clearly not a problem, as long as specialists of knowledge in a given area isn’t required. I may be in the minority, but I tend to think someone that doesn’t see themselves as a generalist isn’t going to be a very good leader in the church.

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