Tuesday, June 10, 2008


“Shrine” is not a frequently used term in evangelical conversation. “Shrine” belongs to misty Roman Catholic terminology for weird places filled with statues. Then I encountered the thinking and logic of John Inge, author of “A Christian Theology of Place” and he provoked me to a new way of viewing church buildings.
“Shrine is a permanent and much needed reminder that this is not a human-centered universe; it revolves round God and for God. It is, in other words, a place which witnesses to the fact that God has acted in history in Christ….that God is acting in the world in and through the lives of the who dedicate themselves to his will…and that God will act in history to consummate all places in Christ.” (P 103) Inge calls shrines “the permanent antennae of the Good News.” (p.104)
What makes a shrine distinctive is that in a shrine (unlike a museum) worship happens and the Eucharist is celebrated, which also looks to the past action of Christ, the present presence of Christ with his church and the future hope of all things being gathered together in Christ. Church as shrine, then takes all the global space and “refracts it” through the local body. When Christians gather to worship, time and space shift from being defined by secular and profane categories to God’s redeeming conditions and terms.
Inge throws down the gauntlet before Protestants, evangelicals and especially emergent evangelicals with the charge that for us, we have become “impatient with church buildings” seeing them as necessary only for the gathering for worship and teaching, but no more.
How many of my friends in churches that choose not to invest in building and architecture carry those sentiments? Inge traces those sentiments back to Protestant Reformers who reject all Roman Catholic imagery and statuary as idolatry, and strip spaces as bare as possible, turning them into functional meeting halls, totally reliant on the proclaimed (audibly) Word of God.
“When it comes to the environment of worship, we should never underestimate the influence of our building upon the way we think about God.” (p. 117) The way we choose to use (or abuse) our places for worship tells bigger stories than many of us want to admit


At 9:45 AM , Blogger Beth B said...

Amen. The Orthodox understand this shift of time and space and foster it via liturgy and iconostasis. Catholics do it through liturgy, eucharist and (supremely!)their philosophy, art and architecture.

What is fascinating to me is that fact that these traditions are not nominalist in their theological presuppositions. This means participation of particulars in universals is part and parcel of their life and worship. IMO they are better able to be authentically trinitarian as a result. You might say that the centrifugal ("particular," "different") and centripital("universal," "unity") forces are balanced.

We Protestants, however, were born Nominalists and have been struggling ever since. We are not characterized by "participation," but by division. Centrifugal forces outweigh centripetal ones.

Incarnation therefore becomes difficult for us, and we are constantly tempted to fly off, either to a gnosticism which holds the spiritual as more "real" than the material, or to a social gospel which holds the material to be more real than the spiritual. Either way, "shrine" becomes unecessary or even pernicious.

It is no accident that Protestantism tends to produce musicians more than artists or architects!

At 12:54 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

But what about the early Christians worshipping in the catacombs (no, I'm not advocating that; obviously, it was an emergency measure)?


At 8:05 AM , Blogger Beth B said...

Even the early Christians, having been forced to the catacombs under the extreme circumstances of persecution, decorated the walls with drawings.

Why did they do that? Was it simply to "brighten things up?" or did they have a deeper desire to hallow even these rude spaces and so connect with Him who creates and redeems all things?


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