17 August 2011

Building the Kingdom through residential architecture?

Here’s a Colson commentary from the other day. It’s a great illustration of how these folks think. It clearly displays the assumptions of Dominionist thought and hints at the frightening extent to which these people would flex their muscles if given unlimited power. This can be seen clearly even when it comes to a seemingly innocuous topic like residential architecture.

Here’s the link to the original post and my comments are interspersed below.

Habitats for Humanity

Beauty Amid Junk and Bewilderment

By: Chuck Colson|Published: August 5, 2011 9:30 AM

Our homes -- the style, design, furnishings, and decoration -- say a lot about who we as individuals are and as a culture.

Brent Hull, who is new to our Centurions Program, thinks a great deal about houses. Houses are, in fact, his business and they’re the subject of a book he is writing.

Over the years, he has observed three problems with American homebuilding. First, he says, homes are often poorly designed. That is, in part, because most are not designed by architects, but by builders. This saves homebuyers money, but can come at the cost of good design. Second, when architects are involved, most reflect the modernism and relativism they were taught in architecture school. Third, both good materials and good craftsmanship have become scarce and expensive.


As to the first point, is this an argument rooted in some kind of Biblical thought, or this is simply elitist pomposity?

To the second point, I think you perhaps so some of the modern architectural styles reflected in cutting edge houses in the 1970’s, especially in newer construction areas like on the West Coast. However, I don’t think the average home architect is trying to project modernism when they’re designing a house for middle class America.

Third, the materials themselves have eliminated much of the craftsmanship. Building a house today is more like assembling something rather that actually crafting or building it. Why? This is the funny part…the economic system Chuck Colson promotes encourages efficiency over any other consideration. Streamlining and profits, the Capitalist ethic have driven our culture to mass produce Wal-mart style cheap junk that has now extended to almost every consumer item in society… including our building materials.


Most homes prior to World War II were built around a distinctive architectural style, like federal, Victorian, and colonial revival. But after World War II, we began to mass-produce tract homes. Suburbs like Levittown, Long Island, bland and uninteresting, sprawled out with cookie-cutter sameness.

“Not coincidently,” says Hull, “the change in homebuilding happened at nearly the same time that relativism and modernity crept into the American psyche.”


Suburbia developed for a host of reasons, again largely stemming from the economic and social culture of our country. White people didn’t want to live with minorities in the city. The ‘American Dream’ took on a hyper-covetous consumeristic flair. People wanted more and the suburbs could give it to them. The growth of the automobile culture and the rapidly expanding wealth of post-war America also contributed to this.

Mass production is a result of the Capitalist mindset. Produce it cheap to drop prices and beat your competitors. Capitalism has often exhibited a complete lack of soul…hence our modern McAmerica, our plastic cookie-cutter franchise culture. I blame people like Colson for this, because he and his political allies have laboured to propagate this for decades…in the name of Christ no less.

Is he being deceitful here or he is really blind to the fact that he’s complaining about the fruits of his own system?

If Relativism and Modernity have anything to do with this issue, it’s the fact that the profit-driven mindset says…it’s doesn’t matter if it’s cheap junk, people will buy it and then in a few years when it prematurely falls apart…they’ll buy more. Legal? Yes. Ethical? No.


My friend and a developer, Paul Cauwels, adds:  “During the McMansion era of the late 80s and 90s, the focus was on size and first impression the house gave, not on function and quality. Consumers with a post-modern and relativist mindset drove the problem as much as the design.”


That’s not post-modernism…that’s arrogance and pride. McMansions are the architecture of Empire…the status symbol that the Villa represented in Rome. The Real Estate Agent or Banker that bought or built the McMansion is trying to show off….not demonstrate a rejection of moral absolutes.

Again if anything it is the unrestrained Capitalist model that says…if you’re dumb enough to buy it and not look around to make sure you’re getting the best quality, than that’s your problem.

It’s made Wal-mart billions of dollars. We finally realized that to save the few bucks and buy their junk wasn’t saving us anything. We kept having to buy more things, because their stuff didn’t last very long. It’s better to do without and spend more to buy something a little better.

Sadly though, there’s not a whole lot more to choose from. In our rural area Wal-mart has wiped everyone out. Thankfully we have the internet which opens doors for us.

The problem here, with Wal-mart, the McMansions, and with most manifestations of the Capitalist ethic… is there no sense of society, it’s only the individual thinking about himself. He doesn’t care if the town looks like garbage…he’ll live somewhere else among the rich folks. To him it’s all about making money and fulfilling one’s own needs.

Colson is expecting fallen man to naturally love and think about his neighbour. He often seems to suggest that we can teach fallen man to act Christian if we just work hard enough and even more dangerously this type of thinking enables him to redefine the very term…Christian.

Something he clearly knows nothing about.


Philip Bess is professor of architecture at Notre Dame, one of the few schools in the country that teaches traditional rather than modernist architecture. Bess notes, “Where once there was both a theoretical and practical agreement that buildings should be durable, comfortable, beautiful and related to each other in a proper hierarchical order, today we build everyday buildings [such as houses] for short-term economic gain and monumental buildings as exercises in novelty, self-expression, and advertising.”

The result, he says, is “junk and bewilderment” because “we lack a shared and reasonable understanding of the nature and purpose of architecture and building,” which are to make “good places for human beings.”


You don’t like the bewilderment? Trusting solely in the market produces chaos because again it’s only individuals thinking for themselves. Why is the Dog-eat-dog system the Christian one?

Granted I don’t want the government telling me how to build my home and that’s what’s funny. These same folks often do! The wealthy are often the ones pushing for regulation down to what colour you paint your house and the standards for your lawn etc…. When it affects THEIR investment, they want you to conform.

I would rather have the chaos and be free….but even better, see a non-legislated social change where people thought about someone other than themselves.

We’re a long way from that. Political agendas will not change this…the whole culture has to be re-formatted.

We’re long past the point of Reform in our gluttonous culture. The only thing (I think) that will change people’s mentality about consumerism, waste, and standard of living is simply….hard times. Only when people have to go without will they re-think what they need. The youth of today cannot be re-shaped by injecting some kind of Social Christianity into the mix. Spiritually speaking the gospel transforms. Socially speaking, societies can change even without the gospel, but it’s a brutal lesson.

But even many who went through the Depression in the 1930’s forgot those lessons as the wealth in our nation exploded. 1950’s standards were frugal when compared to today, but many of these now elderly folks have whole-heartedly embraced the modern consumer ethic. And how look at how they raised their kids…and how they’re kids raised their kids…and even worse, the grandchildren of the Depression generation are now raising their kids…if you want to call them that. They’re almost but not quite human.

And as far as beautiful…how do you define that? I shake my head when I hear Sacralist Christians waxing eloquent about the Biblical definition of beauty when it comes to art, music, and architecture. Colson has to define it according to Western Sacralist standards for you won’t find the Scriptures even focusing on this issue.

They’ll point to the Temple and say see, it was to be beautiful. Right, but that was a typological picture of Jesus Christ. The message there is not about architecture for modern American homes and even less for modern American ‘church’ buildings. To extrapolate such a meaning is to abuse the typology if not miss it entirely.


And he’s right. He’s also letting his Christian worldview show. Bess understands that everything we do, including building, reflects our core beliefs. For Christians, all we do should reflect the good, the true, and the beautiful. All three are necessary for a life that reflects our identity as creatures made in the image of God. Separate the good, the true, and the beautiful from the design and craftsmanship of our homes, and all you have left is “junk and bewilderment.”


The good, true, and beautiful. How is he defining these? What makes the house good?

Maybe it’s good to think about my neighbour and…live in a smaller house?

Use less energy?

Why the concern for this? Paul hardly seemed concerned with the slum architecture of the Roman cities he passed through. Would he have been if Constantine had been Caesar, or is this whole discussion generated by an alien philosophical grid being imposed on Scripture?


Or as Bess so eloquently puts it, “The more architects and planners have turned their attention to building up the City of Man apart from some vision of the City of God, the meaner and uglier the City of Man has become.”  Well put, and worldviews do matter.

Regardless of where we live or what kind of homes we live in, we can use our Christian worldview -- that is our vision of the City of God -- to make our homes “good places for human beings.” Our homes -- and our lives -- can and should reflect the good, the true, and the beautiful to a world overwhelmed with “junk and bewilderment.”


And here it is…the Sacralist kingdom. Somehow we’re building the City of God with our home architecture. This exhibits a very sad and deficient understanding of the Kingdom of God. I’m afraid it’s pretty typical of these folks.

Have they understood nothing of the Scriptures?

What’s the Christian posture toward our homes?

We’re pilgrims and strangers. We’re laying up treasures in heaven. Our homes….should be of very little concern to us. Functionality is really all we’re looking for.

Anything else is pride and an attempt to make a name for ourselves or an exhibition of some bizarre Dominionist generated view of Transformed Culture.

What a sad commentary. Of all the things happening, this is what Colson feels the need to comment on.

But if you’re a Dominionist, EVERY area has to be conquered in order to build heaven on earth.

When you’re in a competition to build the best Tower of Babel, it helps to think through every facet of every building block…I’ll give them that. They’re trying.

But unfortunately this type of thing continues to distract the Church from its true mission and leads to confusion regarding the nature of the Kingdom.


Anonymous said...

I know I said it before, but I'll say it once more: I'm really glad that you're writing on the blog again. I can't tell you how much I missed this. Your posts truly challenge me, cause me to ask questions, and ultimately aids in reshaping the way I think about things. Christ followers could really benefit by encountering more stuff like this and less from Colson and Demar, etc.

- David

Anonymous said...

Colson's prattle in this article is almost funny, and it shows how extremely Americo-centrist is his entire "world" view. I wonder if the man has ever travelled or lived anywhere outside the lower 48.

Compare the most predictable boring subdivision or tract housing in the US to the dismal "palati" of communist Albania or Poland, not to mention the stinking slums of India's cities or the chaos of a Cairo street, and I think you'd have to say Americans live like kings and queens. With a vast majority of the world's people having no housing at all, in hovel slums, garbage dumps, and IDP and refugee camps, it's astonishing that someone claiming to be Christian puts so much energy into critiquing the evils of modern American housing! Because we are supposed to be fixing our minds on things above and not on the things of this world!

Obviously Colson and I have polar opposite beliefs about the mission and means of the Church: He believes Jesus gave the Church a building program but I believe Jesus gave us a rescue mission.

So the dominionist worldview results in the major distraction of the Church and causes christians to discuss and study such temporal carnal things, all of which are destined to burn up anyway; as people Jesus loves still go suffering and unaware of the marvelous Gospel. While Colson wrings his hands over cheap American construction methods, (which Proto is entirely correct in noting that the situation was produced by the very capitalist mentality Colson champions!) I see no concern to obey Jesus' life example nor Jesus teachings in Matthew 25.

There might be some real mercy happen, some real love demonstrated, some remarkable witness take place, if christians were led by popular churchy authors, radio celebs, and influence-mongers to put their energies toward rescuing the perishing and shepherding the Flock rather than building the Tower of Babel.

Jesus didn't even have a hole to sleep in like the wild fox, much less a home "reflecting truth and beauty" (whatever that is) and He bids us follow Him. If we even have a home we are blessed beyond what our needs are, for Scripture instructs us to be content with daily food and clothing. The New Jerusalem is our home!

"Worldview" theology is seriously Christo-American and Christo-Western romanism: false religion. Scripture tells us that the world, and all of its desires, is passing away, thus we are not to love (desire, serve, give our hearts and minds to) it. Followers of Jesus might do better pleasing their Lord by developing a "Heaven-view" instead.

Conversions happen in the power of the Holy Spirit when unsaved people witness the character and resurrection life of Jesus in His saints, usually in prison cells and squalid camps and war ruins. Nice architecture has NO POWER to affect anyone or anything for eternity!

Proto is right on understanding and exposing the silliness, anti-biblical focus, and hypocrisy in Colson's ramblings here.

I wonder if my believing Acholi friends are exhibiting the correct worldview in their round mud and grass "gwoms?"

Pity my brother or sister in a North Korean prison who I guess will be unable to "advance the kingdom" since they have no house and no vote. (Sarcasm)


Cal said...

Victoria you clearly don't understand the gospel dear lass! Does not the Scriptures say "The Baal helps those who help themselves"?.

Why else would God doth forsee to create such beloved bootstraps if they were not for pulling ourselves up?

Oh dear misguided woman! Do you not read the words of the mighty blonde-haired beast, our mighty savior? Listen to his beatitudes,
"Blessed are the rich..err..entrepreneurs, for they trickle down to the poor;
Blessed are the self-helped, for they won't be debby downers;
Blessed are the mavericks, for our enemies, my friends, shall not escape;
Blessed are those who hunger for the American Dream, they will..?;
Blessed are those making the world safe for democracy, for they shall be called sons of liberty;
Blessed are the patriotic at heart, for they shall see the birth of a nation;
Blessed are those who fight for making the world safe for democracy, for they shall inherit our nation's future;
And Blessed are those who fight for America, for they shall be called the best and the brightest and the best damn thing this world got.

The Disciples said "This is a hard teaching. Who can understand it."

He then proceeded to mutter against them, calling them "Ignorant commie leftists" and leaving them, took his speed boat across the sea of Galilee to spend time with the Romans in town who were having mighty fun with the new gold acquired from favors of Tiberius"

Clearly Madam, we need our architecture, how else will we party with the Romans when they come into town with their new wealth? We musn't look shabby!

Now I must be going, I'm having a surgery to remove this blasted tongue that has been wedged into my cheekbone.

Anonymous said...

Ha ha...you're both right.

But how sad that so very FEW get it. It's so plain....he can use the adjective Biblical all he wants...but ol' Colson doesn't have the first clue as to what Biblical is.