Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire

by Brian Walsh and Sylva Keesmaat (2004), reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

Colossians is a subversive tract for subversive living and it insists that such an alternative imagination and alternate way of life is found and sustained within the context of community.”  For Paul, “the Christian household is an alternative to the dominant Roman model of household life” (p 9). Walsh and Keesmaat recognize the contextual nature of reading, and focus on postmodernity and globalization that shape our worldview; we live in a “global consumerist empire,” similar to that which the church in Colossae lived in, and so this is a critique not only of the time in which Paul wrote but also of our time.

The authors suggest we follow Paul, who was following the prophets (p 85). Paul weaves a vision of life, a vision that tells us who rules the world, where wisdom is to be found, and he identifies two themes that focus our response to the empire: a radical sensitivity to suffering and G-d’s overarching creational intent (p 107), a creation-wide intent of Israel’s G-d that militates against its being co-opted by a totalizing idolatry (p 104). Their perspective is powerfully given in a poem based on the great Christ hymn of Col 1:15-20. “We see a kingdom that is an alternative to the empire” (p 156) characterized by resurrection, ascension, liberation and eschatological ethics. Also, a relational ethic, an ethic of secession that leaves something to join with something else, seceding from imperial sexuality, idolatry, violence.

An ethic of secession arises when we cease to be comfortable in the empire. The writers invite us to explore what it means for a church that seems not to suffer but, rather to thrive, under empire, to live freed from “the oppressive absolutes of the empire” (p 233).

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.