Interview: Buildings That Bear Witness to God

How theology sheds new light on the purposes of architecture.

It’s easy to go about our lives without appreciating the finer details of buildings where we live, work, and worship. The structures themselves, we might say, aren’t as important as the activities taking place inside. That would be a grave mistake, says Murray Rae, who teaches theology at the University of Otago in New Zealand. His book, Architecture and Theology: The Art of Place, shows how the design of buildings and public spaces gives shape and purpose to our lives and communities. W. David O. Taylor, assistant professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary, spoke with Rae about the interplay between architecture and theology.

Is there something unique about how architecture, as distinct from other art forms, opens up new ways of seeing the world?

Architecture both molds and represents our lives, our aspirations, and our failings as human beings. The distinctive feature of the arts that shape our built environment, including architecture, is that we live within them almost all of the time. Their primary purpose is not to be viewed or listened to but to give us somewhere to dwell. They provide a unique opportunity, then, to gain new insight into what it means to dwell in Christ—and whether our lives reflect God’s created order. Intriguingly, architects through the ages have tried to create buildings that reflect the given order of things.

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