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.
So Ben Myers has posted a top 20 list of the books that have most influenced him… so I thought I’d come up with my list of top 20 most influential books. I am going to exclude the bible from the top 20, not because it hasn’t influenced me but rather because it’s in a whole different category
- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics – IV/1-2 (These two books completely shattered my world during my first two years of seminary as they opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking theologically)
- Tony Jones, Postmodern Youth Ministry (The best book on Youth Ministry as it doesn’t offer a model, but rather things to think about as one does ministry)
- Andrew Purves and Charles Partee, Encountering God (I’ve only read it once but given that I took a total of 10 classes in seminary from the authors their thoughts have shaped how I think)
- Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III/4 (While not as influential as IV/1-2 this volume on ethics helped me understand how ethics can be intensely situational yet rooted in the command of God. It also reinforced my belief that in ministry its more important to teach people how to think, rather than what to think)
- Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology (I took the man for six courses… need I say more?)
- John Franke and Stanley Grenz, Beyond Foundationalism (I read this book during my last year of seminary and I finally felt that I had found my place in the theological spectrum. This book also helped me understand how eschatology integrated into the day to day life of the church as the “orienting principle” for the church’s mission)
- John Franke, The Character of Theology (Similar to the book above, this prequel of sorts helped me get a grasp on how to think about the theological task in a postmodern world)
- Jurgen Moltmann, The Crucified God
- Jurgen Moltmann, The Trinity and the Kingdom
- Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope (I didn’t discover Moltmann until late in my seminary career, but two of the professors who I learned the most from in seminary were shaped by him. While often at odds with Barth, I found him challenging and enjoyed the fact that he stretched me to think of categories in different ways)
- NT Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (I’m actually in the midst of reading this one, but while I was in seminary and dating Renee long distance I used to spend hours in my car driving back and forth. NT Wright has more free audio available online than anyone else I know so I used to listen to his lectures off of my iPod. Wright helped me get inside the bible the world of the bible and to better understand Jesus’ intensely political message without simply collapsing it into either left wing socialism or right wing moralism)
- Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace (I read this book at the end of my time in college and while now I probably wouldn’t get much out of it, I remember really be challenged and yet refreshed by the concept of the discipline of living in grace)
- Doug Fields, Purpose Driven Youth Ministry (I’ve read this book twice – first while I was just out of college and again while I was in seminary. While Doug and I aren’t on the same page on everything, it’s given me a helpful way to think about ministry
- Athanasius, Against the Arians (I haven’t read the whole thing, but read significant parts for classes and papers. Really shaped my understand of the atonement as Christ’s whole life, not just his death)
- Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be (I only read a short except from this book, but it’s a phrase that I’ve found so apt at describing the world that it’s become a hallmark in nearly every sermon I preach or lesson I teach)
- T.F. Torrance, The Christian Doctrine of God (I feel bad putting Torrance down this low on the list because he should be higher, but alas. This book was my first serious attempt at working through the Doctrine of the Trinity)
- John Calvin, Institues of the Christian Religion (Ditto for Calvin, he shouldn’t be down this low. Once I left seminary I realized how much his understanding of the church and it’s sacraments had shaped my own)
- David Bosch, Transforming Mission (Read this book for Missiology and am still being challenged by it)
- Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (This book should be required for every person planning to do ministry in at least the United States)
- Brian McLaren, Generous Orthodoxy (McLaren, like Wright, has shaped me more through his lectures that I’ve listened to than his writing, but I read this book in the midst of seminary and came to a greater understanding of how he thought
- Stanley Grez, A Primer on Postmodernism
- Alister McGrath, Scientific Theology
- Dan Kimball, Emerging Worship
- The Book of Confessions of the PC(USA) – Particularly The Barmen Declaration and The Confession of 1967
So there you have it. The numbering isn’t really right – Bosch and Newbigin would definitely be higher on the list. But, what this list proves is that I’m (1) A total dork (2) Shaped heavily by the Post-Conservative/Neo-Orthodox Reformed tradition
So of late I’ve concentrated a fair amount of my reading on the Trinity. My final term in seminary I took a course on the Doctrine of the Trinity in which we read Moltmann’s The Crucified God and The Trinity and the Kingdom. Now, I’m current reading Barth’s Church Dogmatics 1.1 (the later part) where Barth develops his doctrine of the Trinity. At the same time, I’m reading Hilary of Pointiers On the Trinity (which as you might have guessed is his development of the doctrine of the Trinity)
What has been most interesting is to see where all three of these authors start their development of the Trinity. Moltmann starts with Jesus Christ being identified as the “Son” of the “Father” and proceeds from there. Not suprisingly, Moltmann emphasizes the “threeness” over the “oneness”. Barth starts by identifiying God as being “One” and then develops from there into the doctrine of the Three “modes of being”. Finally, Hilary starts with a doctrine of God the Father by defining God by what we are not. (Omniscient, eternal, etc.) and then develops the doctrine of the Son by expounding the “Christological passages” of the New Testament (John 1, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me”, etc.)
What has been most interesting is to see the three different approaches and what I see as their strengths. From what I can tell, Moltmann is correct in his assessment of the dangers of developing a doctrine of God from classical theism – by saying that God is everything we are not (as Hilary does) because it can end up being a stretch to connect that image of God to the image of God presented by Jesus Christ. Barth and Moltmann start in similar places, but Barth’s insistence on starting with God as one leads him toward his modalistic tendencies, while Moltmann’s starting with the three leads him toward his tritheistic tendencies.
What has been perhaps the most interesting is the realization that Barth rightly critiques the use of the word “person” given the post-enlightenment context in which he wrote. While Moltmann tries to explain how he is defining “person” I think he ultimately fails because the word just carries too much baggage. While I’m not sure the phrase “mode of being” (in English – this is one time I wish I knew German) is a great alternative Barth’s development of it has calmed some of my fears about the direction in which he was headed.
Well, that’s enough mindless musings for tonight. I have a feeling this is one of these posts that makes little to no sense, but it helps me sort things out in my head.