Reading, rereading, hearing, rehearing, teaching, reteaching, discussing, rediscussing….the letters of Paul and books/sermons/teaching from them. Sometimes, I become quite bored, I’ll admit. In the conservative evangelical circles I move in, Paul gets a lot of attention, and everyone assumes they understand him. He is didactic and blunt. He’s easy for preachers to expound (except when he’s not.) He comes out and says things without having to wade through parables and stories. There is a conservative concensus on most of the background of his letters. For most conservative Bible teachers, Paul is the preferred source.
Which means you hear a lot of the same things, the same interpretations, the same comments, delivered the same way, citing the same sources. I sometimes wonder why most people who write books and commentaries on Paul’s letters even bother. Most of it really has all been said before. Hundreds and hundreds of times.
So when someone begins talking about Paul in a new and a fresh way, I want to listen. I need a kick in the pants to get enthused about Paul. I suspect most of what I’ve heard about Paul’s letter is probably wrong as well as dull. When Paul turns out to be the defender of everything fundamentalists love and when there is a Pauline verse on everything that nicely fits into the worldview of every conservative Bible teacher on the radio and at the bookstore, I’m suspicious that Paul has become an inkblot that everyone identifies in predictably self-justifying ways.
So despite the predictably worries, warnings and narrow reactions of most in the fundamentalist and conservative reformed quarters, I’m very interested in the New Perspective on Paul, the work of N.T. Wright on Paul and the recent work of many younger scholars influenced by both. Not because I agree with everything these scholars are saying, but because my own encounter with Paul simply needs some fresh excitement and stimulation. I’m not wanting novelty, but I do want a fresh approach.
For that reason, I was excited with the prospect of reading Colossians Remixed by Canadian scholars Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat. The book is endorsed by N.T. Wright, and both authors are associated with the Institute For Christian Studies in Toronto. Walsh is well-known for his provocative book on Postmodernism.
It took me a while to get to the book, but I’ve now finished it, and it was one of the more interesting and stimulating reads I’ve experienced this year.
Keesmaat and Walsh have written a kind of “remixed” commentary that includes sections on major themes, extended imaginings of situations in the Colossian church, “targums” on the text that rewrite the book into contemporary idioms, contrapoint dialogues from a skeptical reader and applications from the political left that will probably ruin the book for a lot of conservative readers.
That would be a shame, because despite the fact that many readers will find the leftist political rhetoric in the applications to be annoying and predictable, the methodological approach to the text of Colossians is exciting, provocative and useful. It’s well-written, and passionately involved in a quest to place this letter into the dual worlds of Paul and the contemporary reader.
Walsh and Keesmaat take the idea of “subverting the empire” as the central motif of the book. They keep this idea crucial as they place the life of the Christian community in the contemporary “empire” of western, America-dominated, consumerism and global corporate culture. Living in a new empire is the theme of Colossians, and the writers let each section of the book examine what it means to be a Christian in a world with an aggressively idolatrous religion of consumerism.
I have to admit that I don’t listen to liberals or leftists very seriously, but when those who are serious Biblicists connect their understanding of the Biblical text with the contemporary world in a way that makes that text speak clearly, I will listen. Walsh and Keesmaat earned my respect, if not my agreement.
While I haven’t changed my politics, I was not offended by the way the authors interpret the many aspects of today’s global consumer empire in a way that presents an idolatrous, seductive environment for the church very parallel to the first century. I haven’t yet made the connection between SUVs and Praise and Worship music, but I am quite fascinated by the sincere confidence that the text speaks deeply to the world I live in.
Colossians Remixed isn’t a textual commentary for the verse by verse preacher. It is an electrical charge on the thematic level that will excite your reading of the text and perhaps encourage you to teach the book in a way that will surprise- or even anger- Christians who have been lulled into a complacent assumption that Paul has nothing new to say.
I highly recommend the book. Conservatives, be warned. The applications will take you on quite a tour of the current mindset of the political left, and if you are sensitive to anti-Americanism, you will get your nose tweaked. I respectfully disagree with some of those applications, but I am enjoying Colossians more than ever before.