Item description for Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by Brian J. Walsh & Sylvia C. Keesmaat...
Overview In this innovative and refreshing book, Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat explain our own sociocultural context to then help us get into the world of the New Testament and get a sense of the power of the gospel as it addressed those who lived in Colossae two thousand years ago. Their reading presents us with a radical challenge from the apostle Paul for today. Drawing together biblical scholarship with a passion for authentic lives that embody the gospel, this ground breaking interpretation of Colossians provides us with tools to subvert the empire of our own context in a way that acknowledges the transforming power of Jesus Christ.
Publishers Description Have we really heard the message of Colossians? Is this New Testament book just another religious text whose pretext is an ideological grab for dominating power? Reading Colossians in context, ancient and contemporary, can perhaps give us new ears to hear. In this innovative and refreshing book Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat explain our own sociocultural context to then help us get into the world of the New Testament and get a sense of the power of the gospel as it addressed those who lived in Colossae two thousand years ago. Their reading presents us with a radical challenge from the apostle Paul for today. Drawing together biblical scholarship with a passion for authentic lives that embody the gospel, this groundbreaking interpretation of Colossians provides us with tools to subvert the empire of our own context in a way that acknowledges the transforming power of Jesus Christ.
Citations And Professional Reviews Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by Brian J. Walsh & Sylvia C. Keesmaat has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
Christian Century - 06/28/2005 page 36
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Studio: IVP Academic
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 8.98" Width: 6.02" Height: 0.76" Weight: 0.8 lbs.
Release Date Nov 1, 2004
Publisher IVP-InterVarsity Press
ISBN 0830827382 ISBN13 9780830827381
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More About Brian J. Walsh & Sylvia C. Keesmaat
Brian J. Walsh (PhD, McGill University) is the bestselling author or coauthor of several books, including "The Transforming Vision," "Truth Is Stranger Than It Used to Be," and "Colossians Remixed." He is a chaplain at the University of Toronto and an adjunct professor of theology of culture at Wycliffe College in Toronto, Ontario.
Reviews - What do customers think about Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire?
Deep, Scholarly but Blatantly Biased Feb 13, 2007
I was repeatedly disappointed by the constant, nearly obsessive attempts to "subvert" this brilliant book of the Bible to promote what are passionate personal views on what they are convinced is the Roman "Empire" of today and the fatally flawed economic system this "empire" entices or enslaves others. Though I wish they had used their knowledge to convey a more unbiased contemporary re-telling of this awesome little book, Brian and Sylvia are to be commended for their deep, thorough study of this book and the culture it was originally presented in. I have deep respect for their sincere attempt to re-translate this incredibly powerful book. I just wish they had kept their personal political views from permeating and therefore precluding what could have been a really interesting take on Colossians.
"Free Markets" are not perfect and they have their dark side- most notably greed. However, every socio-economic structure that has mankind running it has its dark side. Annanias and Sapphira showed that even that the "Commonism" of Acts 2 has its dark side. Even with its many imperfections, Capitalism has probably lifted more people out of poverty (think micro-markets) who had a desire for a better life than all the other economic options combined. If you combined today's Capitalism with the self-lessness of Acts 2- I think you have something beautiful.
Capitalism certainly needs to become more humble and more generous to be sure. But for all it is failing to do- it is enabling those who are successful within it to do FAR MORE benevolence than those in any other known economic system.
When I think of the alternatives (communism / socialism / strict theocracy) and their "dark sides"- I shudder. Unfortunately, the "dark sides" and frankly, the lack of positives of these alternatives are never addressed, leaving the possible presumption that they may in fact be a better way.
I love fresh re-tellings and contemporary application of Scripture (that's why I anticipated this book coming in the mail!), but this book was way, way, way out in left-field. Now, if someone took this book- and edited out all the overtly political views (which curiously were never in the original Colossians)- we could have something truly inspiring.
Wonderful but ambitious Nov 3, 2006
I recently finished two books, each of which, in their own way, elaborated a common theme: understanding the New Testament as 1) a tool for confronting ideologies in conflict with the Kingdom Jesus preached, and 2) painting an alternate, Christian vision of reality which subverts reigning dominant paradigms. Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmat's "Colossians remixed: subverting the empire" elaborated this theme through a study of Colossians and Richard Bauckham's "The theology of the book of Revelation" through a study of Revelation. I found both of these books extremely helpful in developing a much deeper, richer, and relevant reading of scripture. The idea I found most intriguing was how important it is to understand the pervasive role that the ideology of the Roman Empire had in shaping the hearts and minds of those living in its shadow. The reason I found these books so helpful was that they put flesh on the platitude that we should "understand scripture within its original context." I think it's easy to read scripture without the lenses of history, myopically attempting to extract some lesson from its words by transporting it directly into our own cultural context. Perhaps there are many passages of scripture which can more easily transcend times and places than others: perhaps the beatitudes, and other passages on the themes of love and forgiveness found in the parables of Jesus. But I think there is much to be gleaned from scripture not just by looking for absolute rules to live by, but by understanding the kind of function that, e.g. the letters of the new testament had within the communities to which they were written. But understanding the function of scripture in this sense involves bringing to scripture some historical understanding, which corrects a historically myopic reading of scripture. These two books in their own ways have gone some way towards correcting my own historical myopia (which doesn't take much).
Walsh and Keesmat argue that Colossians is, in fact, a subversive tract against the Roman Empire. What is an empire? Walsh and Keesmat define an empire as a kind of totalizing worldview: a picture of reality which is not so much explicitly assented to as a list of propositions as it is lived out and evidenced through one's actions and those actions' relationship to the collective rhythm of a society. According to Walsh and Keesmat, there are four aspects of an empire. Empires are 1) built on systematic centralizations of power, 2) secured by structures of socioeconomic and military control, 3) religiously legitimated by powerful myths and 4) sustained by a proliferation of imperial images that captivate the imaginations of the population (p. 58). In the context of the Roman empire, for example, the legitimation of Roman rule was summed up in the Pax Romana: the idea that Rome was the bringer of lasting peace, and could guarantee such peace in exchange for the allegiance of its subjects. What Paul does in Colossians, and what isn't obvious to us today, I think, is directly challenge Roman ideology. Implicit in Colossians (there waiting to be discovered with just a little bit of historical lenses correcting the myopia) is the message that it is Christ, not Rome, that brings lasting peace, and it is Christ, not Rome to whom we owe our allegiance. And don't let all the practices which legitimate the Roman empire, Paul is saying, lull you into complicity with her--whether that be benefiting from her wealth (e.g. church at Laodicea) or accepting the myths that attempted to legitimate one's place in a society structured to keep the power in the hands of the already powerful at the expense of the slaves, the women, and the poor (c.f. the "noble lie" in Plato's Republic).
Walsh and Keesmat's treatment of Colossians suggests to me a certain kind of exegetical methodology:
Exegetical methodology: First figure out the writer's message (which requires giving ourselves some historical perspective with which we can better understand the issues confronting the church at the time), and then rethink the message within our own socio-economic-political context.
For the Colossians, it seems there were two parts of the message: first, an engagement and criticism of the "philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world" (Colossians 2:8), which was the totalizing vision of the Roman Empire under which they lived. Second, and integrally related to the first part, is a painting of an alternative picture of a community modeled on the Kingdom of God, which Christ proclaimed, inaugurated and (somehow) made possible through his life and death. Walsh and Keesmat model this practice in writing some targums--an application and elaboration of the message adapted to our own cultural context--of passages from Colossians. This is not a new practice: the Jews of the Diaspora read the Torah in this same way (p. 38).
Walsh and Keesmat suggest that the reigning ideology of "pax Americana" is global capitalism, which is almost universally subscribed to, if not in word, then at least in deed. Of course, operating on the principles of global capitalism has brought great success for America, but economic success is not the end-all-be-all for the Christian. Concerns of justice should always trump it--a message we find throughout both the Jewish Scriptures and New Testament. And there is a real question about the justice of the kinds of economic relationships involved in maintaining an empire like the United States. These are big questions that aren't easy, no doubt. But reading scripture in a historically informed way which is sensitive to the concerns of the context in which it is written (which will almost certainly require extra-biblical resources) will allow us to arrive at the meaning of scripture. If we then engage in some cultural criticism of our own--something which Paul and John themselves did--then we'll have in hand an interpretation which has the power to transform the way we live by engaging the realities of our own situations. This brings new meaning to the idea of the word of God as living and active.
Something of a Mixed Bag May 27, 2006
I'm giving this book four stars because while there was a lot of good stuff in here, there was also some problematic material. To me, four stars should mean: a good book for those who are sharp enough and open enough to read thoughtfully and reflectively, taking the good and rejecting the occasional misstep.
In order to make this review at least somewhat useful to those considering whether to read or buy the book, I'll make a few general comments. First off, the writing style is very good. There is well-written prose, reasonably creative dialogue, narrative, poetry, targum, just about as many genres as one book could handle. This allowed the book to seem fresh each time I picked it up, and also kept it from getting old fast. Secondly, however, I should note that the book covers a wide range of issues and can get somewhat technical. It is definitely more accessible than say Barth or Aquinas, but it is still worth reading carefully. In particular, I'm thinking of A. Travison's review. Either he didn't understand the discussion of Postmodernism at all, or his comments are simply dishonest caricatures. To be generous, I'll assume that he just should have read that section a little more slowly.
Far from being an assault on reason, this book provides an insightful and balanced--if somewhat brief and condensed--analysis and CRITIQUE of postmodernism. They are not Postmodernists who think that everything is up in the air. They are not saying that we need to abandon reason. They are saying that "conservative" (for lack of a better word) reactions to Postmodernism have been shallow and naïve. They are saying that we need to calm down and not make an idol out of rationality. And we need to realize that we do carry a worldview with us into EVERY intellectual discussion in which we engage. So we can't pretend that we are unbiased thinkers. This insight is not new even to staunchly conservative Christians--just read Cornelius Van Til or Greg Bahnsen--even if they come to slightly different conclusions. I do not think this book is far from the truth, and its discussion of Postmodernism is certainly valuable for being honest with that movement and then moving forward to something better.
While the book is pretty liberal (I consider myself liberal politically, and this book goes beyond what I would do), it is also quite Biblical in most of its ethical discussions (in other words, it seems to be theologically conservative). The criticisms of American economic policy is quite proper. The call for us to live a radically selfless lifestyle in order to insure justice for the poor of the world is right on. In our drive to have more and better things we are destroying the environment and human life, what is wrong with pointing this out and saying we should do something radical to change it?
On the down side is their discussion of husband/wife, parents/children and master/slave relationships. As with much of the book the discussion is somewhat underdeveloped. They don't ever get around to really saying what exactly the husband/wife or parents/children relationships should look like, for example. They do make it sound a lot like Paul didn't really mean it when he said that wives should submit to their husbands. It is made to sound as though any and all hierarchical relationships are inherently abusive, but I don't think such a claim could be maintained. Sadly, they are less clear in this section than I would have liked (or, perhaps I just need to reread it more carefully).
My only general complaint is that their exegesis is weak on the whole. Even when I agreed with their conclusions or principles (which was often), it seemed as though they were stretching to dig it out of Colossians.
A kinder, gentler Regime of Truth Mar 15, 2006
This book was recommended to me by a friend. He said I should keep an open mind, since he knows I have a conservative political bent. After reading Colossians Remixed, however, I don't think that the biggest problem with the book is the writer's liberal politics (though their political rants were grating).
More importantly, these liberal politics are only a symptom of their slanted exegesis of the book of Colossians. Even the "exegesis" itself is suspect, since the authors don't interpret Colossians directly. First, they write their "targum", or interpretive paraphrase, of the letter, and then they form their conclusions and recommendations based on that. In my view, they have to do this, since the book of Colossians does not, on its face, advocate any sort of leftist critique of empire. In a sense, they are saying that Paul had a secret agenda that was lost to us until now, because of our previous lack of understanding of the historical context of the letter to the Colossians. If you take this to its logical conclusion, any person given a bible can't read it correctly until they have Walsh and Keesmat put it in "proper" historical context for them. You can call me a simpleton, but I'd rather err on the side of letting scripture interpret scripture. Even if you take as a given that America is an empire (which I don't), if you read all of Paul's epistles to give yourself more context, you realize that sin, judgment, justification, and righteousness before God are much more important to Paul than the Christian community's position in relation to the empire.
Let me focus on a couple key chapters in the book that give me concern. In the chapter titled "Regimes of Truth and the Word of Truth", they set out to make the Bible more palatable for a postmodern generation. They say "...as soon as we say that Colossians is an ancient writing preoccupied with something like what we today describe as a worldview, we find ourselves in some tension with the postmodern cultural and intellectual climate." They go on to ask, "Is the biblical metanarrative, together with it's large scale truth claims...inherently totalizing...or are there counterideological, antitotalizing dimensions of this grand story..." The authors then go on to say that yes, we can find antitotalizing dimensions of the biblical story. Specifically, these being that Jesus came to minister to the marginal and the oppressed, and that the biblical story transcends oppressive praxis to become a metanarrative of "redemptive inclusion." This might sound nice, but I think it can lead to problems. The authors are asking: Is there a way we can present the biblical story to postmodern people in a way so as not to offend them? This is a give-away that I am not willing to make. Let's face it, telling someone that they are a sinner and they have a date with judgment is no fun. However, to blunt this truth and tell a postmodern generation that the gospel is God's inclusive love story is reductionism. Many aspects of God's character are downplayed in this "gospel", such as his holiness and hatred of sin.
In the subsequent chapter the authors go on to challenge rational epistemology. They say, "It's really quite simple. All that we are saying is that the commitment to reason is just that-a commitment. And this commitment has no more rational foundation to it than any other commitment...we should be committed to Jesus, not rationality." The authors here are presenting the reader with a reasonable argument that tries to convince her to throw her reason out the window. They had to use reason to write their book. I have to use reason to contribute this review. I reason that their argument is ridiculous. Being reasonable is part of being human.
In conslusion, I have grown weary of this genre of books with their fresh perspectives and lost messages and secret interpretations that tinker with historic Christian doctrine. The authors might say I'm stuck in a fundamentalist paradigm. But I say, give me truth for all time, not relevance that will change with the next election or philosophical fad. The writers have simply wrapped much of the theological liberalism of the past century in a pop-art cover and tried to pass it off to a new generation. Don't be fooled.
If I hear global capitalism one more time... Feb 28, 2006
I approached this book with some hope that it would yield help in understanding the great truths of "Christ in you, the hope of glory", the "new self"; and many of the other profound distinctives of this letter. I was even open, as a stalwart conservative evangelical, to stretch my orthodoxy to make it more generous, but what I got was an effort to make every word of Colossians fit the neo-liberation theology agenda of its authors. Let the book say what it says, not what you had hoped it would say.