Times Square and Reformed Theology

From all corners of the world worshippers come to visit this sanctuary. From several directions they gather at the center of the shrine. They are amazed by its glory and shine: just a glance at it energizes and fascinates them. Facing neck cramps they look up to it and marvel at the images presented. The meaning of life, the good life, is expressed in colorful compositions and the representation of the saints, embodying that good life. Those images force the believers to look up, where the flashing colors keeps drawing attention. Around the believers multiple vehicles circle around the center of the shrine, dividing the margins from the holy of holies.

As you might have been aware of at the end, I am not writing about an actual shrine or sanctuary, but about Times Square. The amazing location in downtown New York that draws millions of visitors each year to its sky reaching screens, on which commercials and logos from world famous brands and multinationals.

In comparable words, James Smith describes the local mall as a cultural liturgy: a practice that forms and shapes our identity. Central to that approach is an emphasis on the embodiment of ethics in the liturgy. Everyone worships something, desires something. For the one that might be God, for another that are the powerful images at Times Square—or maybe one thinks he or she is worshipping the first, but in reality is mostly turned to the latter. But how is it possible that those embodied images are thus formative? What does those practices have to do with ethics? What comes first: worldview or worship? What does that means for church practices? How do ethics relate to those ‘cultural’ liturgies?

An hour away from the flashing lights of Times Square is the New Brunswick Theological Seminary. Reformed theologians from all over the world are gathered here to reflect on these questions. Papers and lectures are prepared, discussion will be lively, and views will be argued. But before that is the case, we start with praying and singing for the glory of God. Does worship precedes worldview? I don’t know yet, but at least it precedes a scholarly debate.

Ruben van de Belt

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