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The Space Between

A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment

series: Cultural Exegesis

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"Jacobsen sets himself two goals: to get us to attend to urban space--the space between the buildings in a city or village--and to explain why Christians in particular should care about the quality of urban space. He succeeds admirably on both counts. A fine contribution to an extremely important topic."--Nicholas Wolterstorff, Yale University and University of Virginia
The entire material world can be divided between the Natural Environment and the Built Environment. Over the past forty years, the Natural Environment has received the greater share of attention of the two, but that is beginning to change. With a renewed interest in "place" within various academic disciplines and the practical issues of rising fuel costs and scarcity of land, the Built Environment has emerged as a coherent and engaging subject for academic and popular consideration.

While there is a growing body of work on the Built Environment, very little of it approaches the Built Environment from a distinctly Christian perspective. This major new work by Eric Jacobsen, author of the well-received Sidewalks in the Kingdom, represents a comprehensive and grounded approach. Jacobsen develops a framework for understanding the Built Environment and addresses timely and controversial topics such as gentrification, urban sprawl, and energy consumption. Employing tools from the field of theology and culture, he demonstrates how looking at the Built Environment through a theological lens provides a unique perspective on questions of beauty, justice, and human flourishing.

The Space Between is embellished with plentiful photographs, illustrations, charts, and exercises and will be of interest to students in cultural hermeneutics, theology and culture, urban ministry, or New Urbanism/Built Environment courses at the college and seminary level. Pastors, missionaries, church planters, and Christian professionals will also find it of interest.

About the Series
The Cultural Exegesis series provides methodological and foundational studies that address the way to engage culture theologically. Each volume works within a specific cultural discipline, illustrating and embodying the theory behind cultural engagement. By providing the appropriate tools, these books equip the reader to engage and interpret the surrounding culture responsibly.


"In The Space Between, Eric O. Jacobsen sets himself two goals: to get us to attend to urban space--the space between the buildings in a city or village--and to explain why Christians in particular should care about the quality of urban space. He succeeds admirably on both counts; cities will look different to you once you have read this book. Along the way he also introduces us to some of the most recent writings on urban space, and he offers a compelling explanation of why the urban space of our present-day American cities came to be as it is and why we should be dissatisfied with it. It's a fine contribution to an extremely important topic that has been neglected for too long by too many."

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology, Yale University; senior fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, University of Virginia

"Jacobsen's book awakens us from our Gnostic slumbers. It reminds us that as embodied beings, we not only move through space but inhabit particular places. And it asks us how we ought to make and dwell in the built environment to the glory of God. The Space Between takes us on an eye-opening tour of the places that both shape and reflect us. Readers may never look at their homes, neighborhoods, towns, and churches in the same way again. This is an important first step in reclaiming the locality of the local church."

Kevin J. Vanhoozer, research professor of systematic theology, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"Eric Jacobsen's The Space Between is a seasoned Presbyterian pastor's account of the reciprocal relationship between urban form and communal life. As Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, 'Life in society must be considered first and foremost as a spiritual reality.' And Jacobsen, working from a Christ-centered perspective emphasizing both justice and generosity, articulates not only for pastors and laypeople but also for neo-traditional urbanists what religious communities have to gain from traditional towns and neighborhoods, and what they have to give. Highly recommended."

Philip Bess, director of graduate studies, University of Notre Dame School of Architecture; author, Till We Have Built Jerusalem

"The Space Between presses the argument for the importance of the built environment to the mission of the church, deepening the challenge before us of partnering in the emerging kingdom of God. Jacobsen demonstrates that the church's intellectuals are bringing to bear on the world of ideas the insights of Christian theology and their own intuitive experiences of the places they inhabit. Given the scale of what we have built--from the sprawling exurbs to the troubled cities--there is much to say and do. The Space Between opens our imaginations to see that the places we make can and should be sustainable realizations of beauty and places of justice."

Christopher C. Miller, assistant chair for graduate programs, Department of Architecture, Judson University

"Jesus urges us to love our neighbor, but in many modern cities we have destroyed our neighborhoods, making it much more difficult to know who our neighbors are let alone love them. In this compelling and beautifully written book, Eric Jacobsen tells us how that has happened, why it matters, and what we should be doing about it. This book calls us to think again, and more theologically, about the way our built environment shapes our life together. It invites us to consider how, through the shaping of our neighborhoods, we may participate more faithfully in the coming kingdom of God."

Murray Rae, professor of theology, University of Otago

"Eric Jacobsen's The Space Between continues the project he began a decade ago with Sidewalks in the Kingdom: paying careful attention to the 'built' environments in which we live. Jacobsen's work is on a par with that of our best culture critics and analysts such as Robert Bellah, Christopher Lasch, and Neil Postman, and I don't make this comparison lightly. What Jacobsen delivers is careful and learned. It is persuasive. Moreover, it is profoundly biblical. If relevance matters, if incarnational presence matters, if connecting to our culture and our neighbors matters, The Space Between along with Sidewalks in the Kingdom is absolutely required reading for pastors and thoughtful Christian laity."

David W. Gill, Mockler-Phillips Professor of Workplace Theology & Business Ethics and director, Mockler Center for Faith & Ethics in the Workplace, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

The Author

  1. Eric O. Jacobsen
    Emma Jacobsen

    Eric O. Jacobsen

    Eric O. Jacobsen (PhD, Fuller Theological Seminary) is senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, Washington. He is the author of The Space Between: A Christian Engagement with the Built Environment, Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New...

    Continue reading about Eric O. Jacobsen


Outreach Magazine's 2012 Resource of the Year Award Winner
2012 Book of the Year Award,
Foreword Magazine

"A fascinating and thorough examination of the development and role of spatial relationships within a human-built environment and how it affects the human situation. . . . This is not another tome about 'going green' but a serious, meticulous examination of the physical apparatus, animated by human players, that makes cultures thrive, communities effervesce, and people feel as if they belong somewhere. It is a formidable read that demands resolve of the reader. But its worth justifies its heft. It is an excellent choice for the college classroom and students studying the social sciences."

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"One might characterize Jacobsen's new work as an expansion of Sidewalks in the Kingdom, but that hardly does justice to the breadth of the current volume. The Space Between uses the public realm (defined by Jacobsen as the space literally between buildings that encompasses at various times porches, yards, walks, and streets) as a point of departure for a thoughtful reconsideration of North American Christianity, and the degree to which it has been shaped by the built environment. . . . Jacobsen's accomplishment is to tease out the degree to which thinking about how we design (or not) our cities has affected how we carry out the work of the church. . . . His insight into the degree to which the suburbanization of North America has been bad for church and community life is stunning--even more so if you had not previously considered the possibility. . . . Along with thoughtful critique, Jacobsen offers a variety of helpful ideas for the church to re-engage with the city in the space between. . . . I think the real target audience is anyone in a position of church leadership, either clerical or lay leaders (and those who would someday become either). The themes that Jacobsen touches on are of course important to design professionals, but even more important, I think, to those entrusted with stewardship of the church in our time. . . . [Jacobsen's] is a prophetic voice that needs to be heard."

David Greusel,


"Since Jacobsen's . . . introductory book Sidewalks of the Kingdom, many were hoping that the Presbyterian pastor turned new urbanist would write a more substantial follow up, taking readers further into the fascinating study of our built environment. His nearly decade of further study, writing, speaking, and engaging this interdisciplinary field has paid off with extraordinary fruitfulness, and Jacobsen's new book is, without a doubt, one of the most important books in the field, and should be considered to be one of the most important books of the year. It is winsome and well written, thorough and informed, inspiring and helpful. In many ways, it is just what a nonfiction Christian perspective book can be, weaving together solid theology, astute observations, profound analysis, helpful biblical study, and tons of concrete illustrations. And illustrations! (The literal kind this time--drawings and photographs.) . . . There is a section specifically for and about church spaces, making this a very useful resource for congregational study. Although there is plenty here for professionals in the fields of urbanism, it seems to me that any educated 'culture maker' who wants to be faithful in efforts of social reformation should pick up this book. . . . This book is an excellent call to envision our lives as they might be, and to think about, and work for, renewal in towns, cities, and suburbs. . . . The Space Between is a gift, a challenge, and a promise."

Byron Borger,


"A thoughtful project developing the argument for compact, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use urban areas put forth in Jacobsen's earlier book, Sidewalks in the Kingdom. . . . Jacobsen's analysis raises many important questions. . . . The reader will gain a capacity to perceive the surrounding physical environment with a critical eye and become an advocate for urban design more conducive to fostering intimate human interaction."

Mark A. Torgerson,


"Using biblical references, the insight of major urban movements, and his own experiences, Jacobsen inspires readers to reconsider how the built form of their surroundings may inhibit their ability to lead a full Christian life. Jacobsen artfully weaves together the linear progression of the story of redemption, which starts in the Garden and ends in the Heavenly City, with our understanding of the urban environment. . . . Readers of all backgrounds have much to glean from Eric Jacobsen's thought-provoking commentary regarding the built environment and its interplay with the Christian life. . . . [This book] provide[s] clear examples of how we as Christians can work toward building the City of God in our interaction with those around us, and in shaping our built environment."

Kalinda Gathinji,

Sacred Architecture

"Jacobsen provides a theologically informed introduction to the built environment, and for those already familiar with the concept, better tools with which to engage it. . . . Jacobsen has read widely and draws upon a broad range of works. . . . The Space Between is unique, however, it its contextualization of the discussion in terms of the new urbanism. . . . The Space Between is a fine contribution to an important topic, one that deserves our attention; indeed, one would be hard pressed to find a more accessible introduction. In particular, Jacobsen succeeds in giving us a Christian reading of the built environment and the new urbanism. As such The Space Between will appeal to pastors, college professors, and their students."

Christopher R. Brewer,

Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society

"As part of an urban church that is engaged in ongoing conversation about what Christian faithfulness looks like in our place, I [am] excited to dive into this book."

C. Christopher Smith,

Englewood Review of Books

"The Space Between provides a comprehensive survey of neighborhood thinking over the last 60 years; specifically, for local churches, this is one of the few places where all of these writers are brought together with the aim of encouraging congregations to enter into the life of their places, and as such is invaluable. . . . [Jacobsen] provide[s] a necessary sustained look at how the very structure of our developments--be it our houses, church buildings, neighborhoods, suburbs--all work in a direction that may or may not encourage the sort of flourishing and reconciliation that we believe to be the work of the church. And, unfortunately, how we physically structure our living and working has often been an oversight; thus, Eric Jacobsen is an important writer to pay attention to."

Brent Aldrich,

Englewood Review of Books

"In this fine addition to Baker's 'cultural exegesis' series, Jacobsen bridges the gap between biblical exegesis and urban studies. As such, this book will open our eyes to the world around us which we have made and which daily makes us. It challenges the exegete to ground their work within the built environment and extends a daring invitation for urbanists to consider the Bible as a meaningful contributor in their work. On both these fronts, Jacobsen's book is fruitful, and worthy of a wide readership. . . . As a biblical scholar-pastor I find his book very stimulating, and would have rejoiced over it when I was a young Christian geographer. . . . I hope this book will be a spur and catalyst for far more Christian engagement of this kind, whether that be at the macro-scale of policy and lobbying, or at the local-scale of lives lived Christianly within the built environments we have at present. . . . We all need more engagement such as Jacobsen offers and demands, characterized by his helpful synthesis and vision, and warmed by his pastoral concern mixed well with analytic insight."

Matthew Sleeman,


"I love it when an expert in a specific vocation helps us see how the Gospel applies meticulously to our tangible world. Eric Jacobson's book is what Abraham Kuyper imagined when he famously gave Christ claim to 'every square inch.'"

Gabe Lyons,


"Jacobsen writes with the mind of a professor and the heart of a practitioner, weaving history, theology, illustrations, and practical examples into a compelling portrait of life lived well before God and with others. Church and civic leaders will find it especially insightful, but so will soccer moms, college students, and cubicle-dwelling commuters. All who embrace his perspective will find themselves more self-consciously drawn toward wisely built places, and more committed to improving fragmented ones."

Walter Henegar,

The Gospel Coalition

"Jacobsen provides a helpful explanation and background of the new urbanism that is driving urban development. Several parts of the book are indeed helpful for any urban church pastor/planter as Jacobsen addresses such topics as urban sprawl, gentrification, and the ecological effects of urbanization. . . . Missional living in an urban environment is multi-dimensional and requires a robust theology for engagement. The urban pastor or church planter would do well to read Jacobsen's work to undergird his own urban theology."

Page Brooks,

On Mission

"I would recommend [this book] for any Christian who wants to think carefully about the built environment. . . . The Space Between could be seen as a sequel to Sidewalks in the Kingdom, although both books stand on their own. It is a deeper and more theological take on the same subject: how we make our cities today and how we could make them better."

David Greusel,

WORLD Magazine

"[This book] makes a compelling case that members of the Christian faith have a special calling to care for cities, and that the form of cities matters to the success of faithful practice. . . . I liked this book. None of the planning concepts were new to me, but I liked that they were offered in a different context. I certainly don't think you have to be Christian to enjoy the book, especially given the commonality that Christianity has with other religions. But it will help if you don't mind quite a few new urbanist references with your consideration of cities and if you have a strong sense of social ethics."

Kaid Benfield,

Switchboard (Natural Resources Defense Council staff blog)

"Jacobsen has matured into one of the Christian community's most astute cultural critics. And in this important, fascinating, wide-ranging, quite exceptional book he has given us a theologically mature but quite readable study of how we see and inhabit our built environment. . . . It is truly an eye-opening study. . . . If we want beauty and health and justice and sustainability, we must grapple with the insights and wisdom of this spectacular book. If we want to move beyond the talk of worldview to a lifestyle and way of being that is healthy and profoundly Christian, this is a way into that hope of embodied discipleship and faithful living. . . . The Space Between is very highly recommended. . . . One of the very best and most important and most interesting titles of 2012!"

Byron Borger,

Hearts & Minds BookNotes blog

"[Jacobsen] provides readers with tools for better understanding and interacting with the built environment, specifically in light of Christian formation and ministry. . . . The Space Between brings the now mature disciplines of creation care and urban ministry together to spark a new and critical conversation among Christians--how we must be aware of and ultimately help to shape the built environment."

Mike Wells,

Center for Community Transformation blog (Fresno Pacific University)

"This is a very special book that talks about something we normally take for granted: Our built spaces. There is a lot of wisdom in Jacobsen's book as he takes on the uphill task of helping readers see meaning of the design of cities and neighbourhood spaces. With brilliant cultural analysis and theological engagement, Jacobsen gives us a piece of work that is not only very original but very practical too. The perceptive reader will be able to see that there is a sense of movement in and out of both time and space in the book. . . . Jacobsen helps us trace the biblical narrative as well. By beginning with the garden to the city, from the city to the built initiatives, and finally to Sabbath rest, Jacobsen is essentially telling the biblical story from Genesis to Revelation through the lens of 'The Space Between.'"

Conrade Yap,

Panorama of a Book Saint blog