Emmanuel School of Religion
Empire Subversion in Colossians:
a review of Colossians Remixed
For New Testament Theology
15 May 2006
Johnson City, TN
http://www.larynandjanel.com/blog/book_review_colossians_remixed_subverting_the_empire.html I have often found myself in a dilemma here in seminary, struggling between the polarized Christian sub-culture of conservative vs. liberal, biblical literalism vs. biblical anecdotalism, immersionists vs. non-immersionists. I find myself among friends who reject the hard-nosed biblical literalism, yet hold the Bible to be genuinely authoritative. Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh present a refreshing alternative approach to the Bible and Christian spirituality in Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. Keesmaat and Walsh use the book of Colossians as a launch pad into their vision of scripture as a story of people struggling with what it means to live faithfully in the midst of a culture that is saturated with seductive, opposing ideas, and ideals.
For Walsh and Keesmaat, context is incredibly important. They established very clearly from where they are doing their theology, but also make a great effort in attempting to understand the place from which Paul is writing his letter to the Colossians, thus emphasizing the import of our context as well as the original. They propose a hermeneutic of scripture that calls attention to the participatory nature of the story. Instead of memorizing scripture verbatim, only to be arbitrarily recited when it seems appropriate, Walsh and Keesmaat invite us to enter into the story as a whole. They cite N. T. Wright, the Archbishop of Durham, in giving the allusion of us being actors in a play or story that has not yet been completed, are being guided by a great Director to the story’s fulfillment. As the world’s history unfolds, as our culture and society develop, we are called to continue the unveiling of the story. However, we won’t know the story unless we are familiar with the story’s beginning. This is why Walsh and Keesmaat greatly stress our need to be deeply immersed in the text so that we can be absorbed in the story. They use the imagery of a plant that is deeply rooted in the soil, yet dynamically growing above the soil as a metaphor for our freedom and rootedness in interpreting the scriptures as part of our ongoing story.
Colossians Remixed itself is an example of Archbishop Wight’s view of scripture, in which specific texts can be interpreted and directly applied using parallels of context. In order to do this, however, you must familiarize yourself with the original context as well as having a good understanding of your own. Walsh and Keesmaat do a very thorough job of helping us understand the ancient context of the Colossae, supplying us with historical background on the daily life experience of those living in the Roman Empire and explaining the words and images Paul used in his letter that the original hearers would have picked up on immediately, but perhaps we do not since we are far removed from the original context. They argue that Paul gives many allusions to Old Testament sources, drawing from his own experience as a Pharisee, and infusing it with images that would be readily understood by the people of Colossae, thus giving fresh meaning to the Colossian worldview, and turning the empire’s propaganda on its head.
Once Walsh and Keesmaat give the readers an understanding of the ancient context of Paul’s letter, they address the question(s) of the text’s meaning in our contemporary context. They ask the reader to imaginatively consider the parallels of the empire Paul preached against, and the various forces in our world that act in similarly oppressive ways. The Roman empire kept their control over the world and gained their wealth by means of economic oppression, so too we live in an ‘empire’...
Cited: Walsh, Brian J. and Sylvia C. Keesmaat. Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. 2004.
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