Church Architecture

Someone sent me a reflection about church architecture that included this quote from R.C. Sproul:

It behooves us, I think, to note the great care with which God gave His people plans for the tabernacle, their first worship environment. Like the temple that followed, the tabernacle was a place of beauty, glory, and transcendence. It was like no other place in the lives of God’s people. We need to understand that our church architecture communicates something to our visual senses, and, therefore, that architecture can promote or hinder our sense of the presence of God.

R.C. Sproul (attributed)

I haven’t read much of Sproul, but I admire what I have. This is a good example of how even the parts of the Bible that don’t seem very interesting — in my Bible, Exodus 25–27 spans five pages. In my Bible software, it spans 98 verses and 2400 words — are worth giving unhurried reflection.

I remember having the feeling of awe that Sproul describes when we went to Europe. It was especially evident in St. Peter’s, although we weren’t able to spend much time there. I understand Jacob’s desire to memorialize the thin space where he saw the angels going up and down the stairway to heaven.

But be careful. There are (at least) two dangers here, both related to idolatry. First, building God a house might be a noble idea, but then again, it might be an attempt to domesticate him, or at least put him in a box. If we’re honest, for most people it’s a little of both. And God doesn’t like being boxed in. Consider the way that the Israelites tried to use the Ark of the Covenant as a magic talisman. Note also that God never asked David to build him a Temple. God was happy with a Tent. Even the divine name seems designed (unlike our word “God”) to resist human attempts to limit or constrain or manipulate God.

Secondly, not every idol takes the shape of a Golden Calf. God specifically forbade the use of visual imagery to represent him and there’s a fine line between glorifying God and making an idol. God gave instructions for the Tabernacle and for the Temple, so I have to assume that, if they were followed, and followed properly, that danger was avoided. But when Nehemiah and Ezra rebuilt the Temple, it made people cry who remembered the old Temple. They missed the good thing that was being done right then, because of their lingering attachment to the former things. Jesus, for his part, seems remarkably unconcerned with the fine stonework in Herod’s Temple.

I can’t speak for other traditions, but Presbyterians aren’t enamored with the idea of sacred space. Yes, as the seraphim never stop telling each other, God is Holy, Holy, Holy — transcendent otherness, squared and cubed. And yet, as they also said, heaven and earth, are filled with His glory — all of earth, like all of heaven. If Jesus can sanctify a manger in a barn, or a gore-covered instrument of torture, then so can he make a big box in a strip mall become a house of worship.

Web Roundup – Dec. 28

Peter Attia podcast: Peter interviews Scott Harrison, founder of Charity:Water. An inspiring story of someone with a glamorous life who found real meaning and purpose.

Pew: Millennial households are earning more than most older Americans did at the same age.

Nonbeliever Tim Bray’s thoughts on attending a worship service on Christmas Eve.

Nutrition Coaltion: Low-Carb Diet Yields Groundbreaking Results for T2 Diabetes (Report to Congress). Plus this: Nutrition Coaltion: Diabetes and Obesity Still on the Rise – Billions Spent Promoting Dietary Guidelines Hasn’t Made a Dent. Some interesting stats in there. Also note where Alaska ranks!

“And among those animals on two legs there are some who are deserving of that description — humans.” Simcha Rotem, last surviving fighter in Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, dies at 94

A hero of the Rwandan Genocide has died. I’m still thinking about the theological implications of the method she used to deter the interhamwe militia.

Mary’s ‘Magnificat’ in the Bible is revolutionary. Some evangelicals silence her. “Some” people do all kinds of things. But good luck. It would be like trying to make water dry.

Six Reasons Why Young People Leave the Church

Capitol Hill has lost 40% of its buildings devoted to religious practice. Does a religious community need its own building to flourish? (WashingtonPost) (Note to self: Resist the impulse to tie this to the state of national politics.)

Sikhs, the new lions of the American trucking industry (GetReligion)

Aeon: Why religion is not going away and science will not destroy it

Cosmic Airburst May Have Wiped Out Part of the Middle East 3,700 Years Ago. My first thought on reading this was “Sodom and Gomorrah.” Someday I’m going to get around to reading 1177 BC: The Year that Civilization Collapsed.

Apropos the previous, consider the following from the ADN: Meteor swarm could be loaded with surprises in June.

But some of the traffic is going the other way: Voyager 2 Probe Enters Interstellar Space, Over 18 Billion Kilometers from Earth

Oops! I wrote all that late last year, but apparently I never got around to publishing the draft. I wonder how many of these links still work?

Holding on to Christ

Martin Luther, in my devotional this morning:

The person who holds on to Jesus in faith will receive forgiveness of sins. God’s laws will be fulfilled, death will be conquered, and the devil will be overcome. That person will receive the gift of eternal life. For in this one man, Jesus, all is settled. He has fulfilled everything. Whoever accepts him has everything.

The key part is “who holds on to.” He came to fulfill the Law, yes, but apart from him, the Law continues to operate.

Tab Sweep: December 13

Meanwhile, in China: Pastor Wang Yi’s Declaration of Faithful Disobedience (Faithwire)

Those who lock me up will one day be locked up by angels. Those who interrogate me will finally be questioned and judged by Christ.  When I think of this, the Lord fills me with a natural compassion and grief toward those who are attempting to and actively imprisoning me.

Carey Nieuwhof: Sermon 2.0

Andrew Sullivan: America’s New Religions.

GetReligion: What explains the durable popularity of Handel’s ‘Messiah’?

Leading Ideas: 4 Reasons Visitors Do Not Return and 5 Lies We Tell Ourselves About Church Growth:

Church growth does not proceed from working harder or more diligently at what you are already doing. Growth means doing something new. And the first step toward doing something new is to quit kidding yourself about what you are doing now.

Infographic: How long does it take to read the Bible?

Is Jesus fully human, fully divine, or what? Scot McKnight on The Light of the World

Half of Americans plan to attend church at Christmas? Americans Say Religious Aspects of Christmas Are Declining in Public Life (Pew).

Who is Galileo, anyway? 43-year-old single now the most-streamed 20th century song on Apple Music and other platforms (9to5mac). See also this BBC interview with Brian May.

Food labeling laws used to prevent competition: Cato: No use crying over Spelt Milk.

I wonder how he fares on RateMyProfessors? Lund Professor freed student from Islamic State war zone. The campus security people sound pretty good too.

Insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results. Nina Teicholz: Ketogenic Diet Myths vs. Facts.

Every additional human being born appears to make resources proportionally more plentiful. Human Progress: Introducing the Simon Abundance Index.

Tim Ferriss interviews Walmart CEO Doug McMillon

Sleep expert Matthew Walker at Google: “Why We Sleep: the New Science of Sleep and Dreams.”

Weekend Roundup – November 17, 2017

He’s not worried that you’re following along on YouVersion: Pope Says No Phones in Church. Parishioners Keep Scrolling. (Note: you can get YouVersionhere.)

Not sure Francis would agree: The Reformation is over. Protestants won. So why are we still here? “Winning is dangerous — what do you do next? Do you return to Mother Church? … a number of my Protestant graduate students … convert because Catholicism is an intellectually rich theological tradition better able to negotiate the acids of our culture.”

For better, and for worse: Churches merge, close: ‘We no longer live in Christendom. We really have to accept that it’s a thing of the past’

Declining almost as fast as their congregations: UMC’s Young elder numbers slip in 2017

But some UMC congregations are fighting the trend, like Adam Weber’s Embrace Church: S.D. church makes ‘fastest-growing’ list. What’s their secret? “What we wanted to do was lower the bar for people to come in the front door,” Weber said. “We tried to open the door as wide as we possibly could.”

This played a role in my conversion: Are Free Minds and Free Markets Compatible With Christianity?

So much for the divide between science and religion: At Vatican, ‘Tenets of Faith’ Seen as Crucial in Climate Change Effort

Speaking of which, apparently there’s a debate between supporters of the Meteorite and Deep-Ocean Vent theories: We’re More Confident Than Ever That Life on Earth Really Did Come From Meteorites

Did the sun stop moving, or stop shiningHow Scientists Identified the Oldest Known Solar Eclipse … Using the Bible

Like “Friendly” ones. Welcoming Churches are Dying Churches. “Yes, we need to be welcoming… but more importantly, we need to be invitational. That means taking a risk and putting ourselves out there for possible rejection when we invite people to our church. It means going out into the world, making contact with people and building relationships with them.”

When Everything Is Missions: Kevin DeYoung reviews When Everything is Missions, by Denny Spitters and Matthew Ellison, who argue that a missionary is “(a) sent (b) across a boundary to where the gospel is not known, (c) to see a church planted that (d) can reach that region with the gospel once the missionary leaves.” I get what they’re saying, but I don’t think that (c) is always required and (d) defines the problem so nobody is a missionary unless they are planning to leave. But suppose you (a) go to work and (b) nobody there knows the gospel and (c) you invite them to be part of a home Bible study and (d) someday you move to a different town and the study moves to someone else’s home. Doesn’t that make you a missionary, even by their own definition?

(Cross-posted at jlppastor.)

Gun Violence Information

It doesn’t seem like it. Mass killings happen randomly, yet rate has remained steady, study finds. However, other data support that conclusion: Kieran Healy: Assault Deaths to 2015

Point and Counterpoint: America’s unique gun violence problem, explained in 17 maps and charts (, and I used to think gun control was the answer. My research told me otherwise. (Leah Libresco, formerly with 538)

Christians don’t have to live in fear, but we do need to rethink what it means to be a church today: How Your Church Should Prepare for an Active Shooter

(Cross-posted at jlppastor.)

Knowing Your Why, Baseball Edition

Church revitalization begins with knowing your why, your reason for existing, the irreducible minimum that everything else either supplements or, occasionally, is at odds with.

If you know your why, it’s easier to figure out what you must do, what you can do without if you have to, and (sometimes) what you need to stop doing. But it’s hard, because everyone in a church already has a why, a reason they attend church, support it financially, and participate in its community and ministries. Most if not all of those why‘s are good reasons, and most are roughly aligned with the why‘s of the other people in their church.


But most churches don’t do the hard work of figuring out their why. If it ain’t broke, why make waves, etc. What if you figure out your why and your best friends at church have a different one?

But it’s not just churches. Major League Baseball has the same problem. (And they charge a lot more for season tickets than churches do!)

Bishop Barron – long interview

I’ve enjoyed a lot of Bishop Barron’s postings inspired by things going on in pop culture. So I was intrigued when YouTube recommended this longer form interview between him and Dave Rubin. Barron is especially interesting here discussing gay marriage, since he’s talking to a married gay man.

Here’s part one of two:

The part about gay marriage is in part two, about 10 minutes in.