Chapel, Beauty, & Architecture

November 2, 2010

I love Dallas Theological Seminary – the classes, the professors, and the general learning environment. But as I was giving a tour of the campus I realized that there was one thing that I am a bit disappointed in here at DTS, and that is: the chapel. Now, I’m not saying that I don’t like the speakers we bring in, and I’m not complaining about how much we have to attend – I have been greatly edified by the speakers and worship. What I’m disappointed in is the building, the architecture of our chapel.

Now I’m no architect, nor do I claim to be, but there is something in the beauty of churches and cathedrals that I miss in our society today. I am somewhat dismayed by the shift in church buildings from being magnificent things of beauty to being simply functional meeting places. There’s something missing without the beautiful architecture.

Dr. John Hannah, in my Historical Theology class, made the comment about the architecture of medieval churches. He said that they fit form to function, not vice versa. He noted the atmosphere created when you enter a great cathedral with high sloping arches, great (often colored) windows letting in beams of light – you tend to become reverent and silent. The first thing you want to do is look up at the domes and arches, and you gasp in silence at the beauty of the architecture. Dr. Hannah said that he thinks this promotes worship, it promotes reverence, it inspires beauty in worship.

I have to admit that I am sad that most churches have gone the route of fitting function to form nowadays. I see it in the churches today, and I see bits of it in the chapel here at DTS. Here is a picture of it:

It has the beauty of the high arches, it has such potential, but what gets me is the large, barren, white walls. There is so much more that could have been added. Whenever I walk into our chapel I compare it to the beautiful chapel that my good friend Robbie Crouse is able to attend at Beeson Divinity School, pictured below:

The sides of the chapel are simply beautiful as well! I was in awe as I visited Robbie and was able to walk through and see all the thought and intentionality that went into making this chapel a place that inspires worship among those who attends it. I wish that were the case for DTS. Our chapel can seem barren and empty, almost reflecting a view that creation and beauty and art have nothing to do with worship. It’s sad. Perhaps I’m being snobbish, but I can’t deny that I am saddened that we don’t find it a worthwhile endeavor to spend money in creating a beautiful place for worship. 
“Give unto the Lord the glory due His name,
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”
-Psalm 29:2

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1 Comment

  • Reply Rick Nohr November 3, 2010 at 5:10 am

    Bro, I hear what you are saying, because I too am inspired to worship by beauty. However, I have also been in some stunning cathedrals in Europe, with amazing acoustics, yet the only thing heard in those four walls were the footsteps of tourists.
    God does not dwell in buildings made with human hands (1 Cor 6:19; Eph2:22).
    I think one of the problems with nice buildings is that we end up worshipping ourselves and the work of our hands instead of God. One of the catalysts of the Reformation was the drive to construct St. Peter's Basilica. The church was so driven to make the building that they justified horrific doctrinal error.
    I've met believers in Haiti who worshipped under a mango tree. I know you FEEL more like worshipping in a beautiful building, but do you TRULY need that building to worship God?
    Another question that I wrestle with as well is, how can we spend millions constructing ornate buildings while there are people who don't even have clean water to drink?
    Some people make connections to the construction of the temple to justify nice buildings, but God dwelt in the Holy of Holies AND He told them explicitly how to make the tabernacle. God doesn't dwell in buildings made with human hands. He dwells in you.

    Rick Nohr

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