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.
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.
Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.