Perhaps it is because I come from the same background (Western Anglo-Catholic) as the approach from which Richard Kieckhefer comes in this text that I find such a resonance with what he has to say. 'Theology in Stone' looks at various aspects of church design, from the long tradition of church building in Christianity up to the present time. His text begins with four principle factors in basic church design, and then looks in some detail at three particular styles.
The four factors highlighted are not typical architectural concerns, but rather wrapped up in spiritual, theological, and aesthetic values. How does the space work? What is the central and centering focus? Is there an aesthetic impact compatible with the intention of the church? How do symbols function and resonate? There are no universal answers to these types of questions. As Kieckhefer states, 'Response to a church [is] conditioned by culture and by cultural interaction.' Response is also related to expectations, usefulness, the people populating the church, and a number of other concerns. However, perhaps most importantly, response to a church is a learned process that generally 'requires informed reflection. The meanings of a church are seldom obvious.'
With regard to spatial dynamics and centering focus, Kieckhefer states, the purpose of the building is expressed. The symbolic resonance goes to the meaning of the church, and the aesthetic impact relates to the form. Kieckhefer takes classic church architecture ideas and applies them not to the task of planning and building a church as much as to understanding how the buildings function and have meaning for those who use them now. Kieckhefer also differentiates between the issue of what a church has meant and what a church can mean.
The churches Kieckhefer highlights include Beverly Minster, a church in the then second city of York (York, of course, being the second city, ecclesiastically speaking, of England, after Canterbury). The examination of this church, along with others, takes into account the surrounding community, the geography of the church's placement, and the population that peoples the church. 'The meaning of church architecture can never be read in abstraction from local ethos,' Kieckhefer states. This is also true of Chicago, where there is about as diverse a collection of churches as anywhere else on the planet. Still, there are discernable patterns here, according to Kieckhefer. 'There were three basic approaches to liturgical space in these churches: the design of Roman Catholic churches was appropriate mainly for intercession, that of Protestant churches for proclamation, and that of Eastern Orthodox churches for meditation.' Kieckhefer examines here the churches of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, 'a time just before the rise of architectural modernism and liturgical reform.' Kieckhefer's third area of discussion focuses upon the work of Rudolf Schwarz, whose strong, simple designs rely on reinterpretations of classic architectural ideas and embraces liturgical principles both ancient and modern.
Kieckhefer concludes the book with a dicussion of modern issues, doing significant theological reflection, including the tension between modern and traditional designs (both from intention and actual application), movements toward increased congregational participation, and other pulls between orthodoxy and dogmatism (which Kieckhefer describes as being opposites for his purposes here). He sees great resilience in the past, which can give new life and freedom to modern designs.
Kieckhefer writes well, and his arguments are interesting to follow. They tend toward the sacramental side, but has a healthy respect for different views in his presentation. His endnotes are helpful and worthwhile, but a bibliography (even as a simple list) would be helpful. There is a good index, and a number of black-and-white photographs (most done by Kieckhefer himself).
This is a text that will be of interest beyond the architectural crowd, but to any who seek to understand the way in which church architecture has meaning and can mean for the community.