Bifrost Arts Conference: Liturgy, Music, & Space – Nicholas Wolterstorff on Why Church Architecture Matters

Zac HicksWorship Theology & ThoughtLeave a Comment


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Plenary Session: “Does Your Church Building Say What it Should Say?”

Nicholas Wolterstorff was the Noah Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale University, and taught at Yale from 1989 until he retired in June 2002. Previously, he taught at Calvin College, the Free University of Amsterdam, and the University of Notre Dame and was visiting professor at several institutions. After concentrating on metaphysics at the beginning of his career (On Universals), he spent many years working primarily on aesthetics and art philosophy (Works and Worlds of Art, Art in Action).


Too often we think of church buildings purely in functional terms.  However, the human being’s natural propensity toward evaluating “fittingness” (how fitting something is for its purpose) and processing with “synesthesia” (other senses being triggered and affected by input from another sense) necessitates that we understand ecclesiastical architecture in theological and affective terms.  In other words, architecture matters because it both speaks of our theology of worship and shapes us as worshipers.  A brief journey through church history illustrates this (Wolterstorff walks through various eras, discussing how architecture reflected varying degrees of passivity and active participation of the laity in corporate worship).  Wolterstorff encourages a balanced perspective when thinking about and planning our worship spaces (i.e. vertical/transcendent/majestic dimensions, coupled with horizontal/familial dimensions) and offers practical illustrations of what that looks like.


Here’s a PDF of my outline from this session. 

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