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Book Review: Colossians Remixed

I recently completed reading Walsh and Keesmat’s “Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire.” This book is an interesting genre that I haven’t seen before – part commentary, part biblical paraphrase, part social commentary. To say the least, it’s an interesting read and I’d recommend.

Walsh and Keesmat’s exegesis of Colossians is solid. Their exegesis of Colossians is well done with Christology at the center. Their creative use of stories and targums offer great suggestions for pastors who preach week to week. Walsh and Keesmat also do a great job setting Colossians in it’s historical context and help the reader understand Paul’s Roman context.   It’s also extremely accessible.  Many commentaries are extremely technical in nature and this book is not.  Therefore, it’s far more useful for actual preaching than most commentaries I’ve looked it. They also make interesting use of an imaginary critic who helps them engage some of the immediate objections to their work.

One of the parts of the book that I appreciated the most was that this book can clearly be termed “post-modern”.  This is a serious attempt to engage the two extremes of our society – the radically modern “there is one set of universally accessible absolute truths” and the other radically modern nihilism “to each his own truth and don’t try and interfere with each other”.  In so doing this book isn’t reactionary, but rather a serious attempt to engage contemporary Western culture.  And on that note, Walsh and Keesmat wrote this book with their bible in one hand, and their newspapers/internet/television in the other – there is no question that their desire was to contextualize the message of Colossians to our culture.  If more preaching was like Walsh and Keesmat’s writing then the church might not be as irrelevant as it seems we are.

That being said, the most interesting part of Walsh and Keesmat’s book is their social analysis – and this is where I think the book falls flat on its face.  Walsh and Keesmat would definitely be described as having a more “liberal” outlook on political and social life.  Their book is full of anti-United States rhetoric as well as anti-free market comments.  The number one enemy in the eyes of Walsh and Keesmat’s eyes are large multi-national corporations that prey on the developing world.  They also tend to target corporate CEO’s as the symbols of evil in the world.  They also spend time decrying consumerism and marketing, etc.  Also on their list of targets are chain stores and supermarkets, etc.

Now, really, I have not objection with any of this.  It’s not that I agree entirely, but I think they have some good points.  My problem is in the hypocrisy that is exposed.  On one page Walsh and Keesmat talk at length about the value of all people and about how its dangerous to objectify someone or something because it enables us to hate them.  On the very next page they piecemeal quotes from corporate CEOs and set them up as straw men who epitomize evil.  Literally on the next page they do exactly what they said we shouldn’t do on the page before.

My other critique is that they published with IVP.  Now, I like IVP – my issue is not with their choice of publishers but rather that they used a multi-national publishing house that is known to pay their authors quite well (comparatively).  If Walsh and Keesmat were serious about everything they wrote, they would have self-published it as a simple PDF file rather than giving it to a major publishing house to put a fancy cover on it, market it, and sell it through large chain stores.

Walsh and Keesmat do eventually retreat from their hardline anti-corporate stance because, well, they have to.  They acknowledge that because we live in a society that has adopted a consumer economy that our very livelihoods depend on being consumers.  To that end, they do offer helpful suggestions for living lives mindful of justice (using food co-ops, public transportation, etc.) but they cranked their rhetoric up quite a bit more than was needed in my opinion.

That critique aside, as long as you don’t mind the anti-coporate and anti-american rehetoric I think there is a great deal to be gained by reading this book.

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