Colossians Remixed
Subverting the Empire: Session 3
Opening Prayer:
“Ours is a seduced world”
By Walter Brueggemann, Awed to Heaven,
Rooted in Earth, p. 129
The Word of Truth
 Focus on Colossians 2:8-23
 What truth claims does Paul make in this
letter?
 Gospel as the “word of truth” (Col. 1:5)
 Prays that the Colossians “may be filled with
the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual
wisdom, and understanding” (Col. 1:9)
 Prays that the Colossians will “grow in the
knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10)
 Serves the Colossians “to make the word of
God fully known” (Col. 1:25)
 Teaches “everyone in all wisdom” (Col. 1:28)
The Word of Truth
 More truth claims made by Paul
 Desires the Colossians “have all the riches of
assured understanding and have the knowledge of
God’s mystery, …,Christ” (Col. 2:2-3)
 Concerned that the Colossians be “taken captive
through philosophy and empty deceit” (Col. 2:8)
 Admonishes the Colossians to stay focused on the
crucified, resurrected, ascended, “coming-again”
Christ (Col. 3:1-4)
 Speaks of the Colossians’ “new self” as “being
renewed in knowledge according to the image of its
creator” (Col. 3:9-10)
Colossians & Worldviews
 Aspects of worldviews
 Specific way to think about life that is
identified as reality
 Tend to forget they are a viewpoint
 Walter Wilson’s definition
 “A person’s comprehensive and pre-reflective
understanding of reality, an integrating
framework of fundamental considerations
which gives context, direction, and meaning
to life in light of one’s ultimate
commitments.” (as quoted on p. 100)
Colossians & Worldviews in Postmodern Era
 Colossians is a worldview
 Post-modernism seeks to deconstruct
worldviews
 Texts presenting a worldview are read
with a “hermeneutic of suspicion”
 “Question authority”
 Post-moderns see truth in terms of
regimes
Regimes of Truth
“Truth is a thing of this world: it is produced
only by virtue of multiple forms of constraint.
And it induces regular effects of power. Each
society has its regime of truth, its ‘general
politics’ of truth: that is, the types of discourse
which it accepts and makes function as true; the
mechanism and instances which enable one to
distinguish true and false statements; the means
by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and
procedures accorded value in the acquisition of
truth; the status of those who are charged with
saying what counts as true.” (Michel Foucault
as quoted on p. 102)
Is Colossians 2:8-23 a Regime of Truth?
 Like regimes of truth
 Paul uses his letter to exert constraint on the
Colossians confronting a different philosophy
 Paul invokes the authority of Christ in a manner
similar to Foucault’s “mechanisms”
 Paul speaks with apostolic authority, a specific type
of discourse accepted as valid
 Reading this text with a “hermeneutic of
suspicion”
 Raises the lost voice of Paul’s opponents
 Questions the validity of Paul’s claims
 Ultimately does to Paul’s voice what it claims Paul
does to his opponents
“What’s Sauce for the Goose…”
 What if we subject the opposing philosophy to
the same type of scrutiny?
 Have to use the Colossians text since we don’t have
a letter from this opposing philosophy
 Are Paul’s opponents a regime of truth?
 Exert a type of captivity based on deceit and
oppression
 Hide a merely human tradition behind this façade of
deceit
 Exerts its power of constraint with a multiplicity of
rules
 Uses its power for exclusion
 Employs the “mechanisms” of asceticism, fasting, &
visions
Regimes of Truth & the Kingdom of God
 Looks like Paul is unmasking a “regime of
truth”
 Is this just a battle between 2 “regimes of
truth”?
 “Is the biblical metanarrative, together with its
large-scale truth claims about the whole
cosmos, inherently totalizing, violent and
oppressive, or are there counterideological,
antitotalizing dimensions of this grand story
that militate against, delegitimate and subvert
any ideological, violent, totalizing uses of this
narrative?” (p. 106)
The Kingdom of the Beloved Son
 “Antitotalizing” dimensions of the biblical
metanarrative
 “A radical sensitivity to suffering” (p. 107)
Begins with the covenant established with Noah
in Genesis 6- 9
God identifies with suffering of the slaves in
Egypt (Ex. 3:7-8)
Continues in the liturgy of the psalms of lament
(Ps. 44)
Reaches its apex on the cross of Christ
On Suffering
“By deciding to endure a wicked world, while
continuing to open up the heart to that
world…God has decided to take personal
suffering upon God’s own self.” (Terence Fretheim
as quoted on p. 107)
“Biblical texts in this trajectory critique the unjust
status quo that legitimates itself on the basis of a
false presence (notably that of the temple and
monarchy) in the name of a God of justice and
liberation….A story that has God intimately
involved with suffering and that sees violence to
be the root of the human predicament should
engender a worldview that eschews all violence,
including violence to those who radically
disagree with us.” (p. 108)
The Kingdom of the Beloved Son
 Israel as a “light to the nations”(Is. 49:6), “a
priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6)
 Purpose to bring about the restoration of all peoples
 To restore all of creation, a party to the covenant with Noah
 The emphasis on total restoration actually undercuts
reading the biblical narrative as a violent regime of truth
 “First, …a story rooted in and radically
attentive to suffering is a story of liberation
from violently imposed regimes of truth, not a
story that legitimates newly imposed slavery.
Second, a story with the redemption of all of
creation as its focus subverts any partisan, selfjustifying co-option of its message.” (p. 109)
Colossians & the Biblical Metanarrative
 Language of Colossians 1:12-14
 Recalls the story of the exodus
Slaves are released from captivity
Slaves are given an inheritance
God responds to Israel with forgiving love, even
when they turn against him (Ex. 32:7-34:10)
 Jesus re-enacts the story of the exodus
We move from slavery to freedom
We are rescued “from the power of darkness and
transferred …into the kingdom of his beloved
Son” (Col. 1:13)
Colossians & Regimes of Truth
 “In profound contrast to regimes of truth with
their multiple forms of constraint, the kingdom
of the beloved Son is a kingdom won not
through violence imposed on others but through
violence imposed upon the Son.” (p 110)
 Cross of Christ takes central place
 “The cross was ‘the victory of weakness over
strength, the victory of love over hatred. It was
the victory that consisted in Jesus’ allowing evil
to do its worst to him, and never attempting to
fight it on its own terms. When the power of
evil had made its last possible move, Jesus had
still not been beaten by it. He bore the weight
of the world’s evil to the end, and outlasted it.”
(N. T. Wright as quoted on p. 111)
Centrality of the Cross
 Paul uses inflammatory language (Col.
2:13-15)
 Our trespasses are nailed to the cross as the
charge against Jesus
 Jesus turns the tables on the authorities
leading them captive in a victory parade
The Scandal of the Cross
“Instead of aping the enemy’s act of
violence and rejection, Christ, the victim
who refuses to be defined by the
perpetrator, forgives and makes space in
himself for the enemy.” (Miroslav Volf as
quoted on p. 112)
Colossians & Creation
 Paul’s greeting points to a shalom that extends
throughout creation
 Gospel “has been proclaimed to every creature
under heaven” (Col. 1:23)
 Sweeping nature of this gospel undermines the
opposing philosophy that denies the
embodiment of creation through ascetic rituals
 “All things have been created through Christ and
for Christ. He is before all things, and in him all
things hold together. Therefore through him God
is pleased to reconcile all things.” (p. 112 version
of Col. 1:16-20)
 Col. 1:20 pairs the concepts of “creational
scope” with “embrace of pain”
Vision of Colossians
“Here is a vision of radical,
creationwide inclusiveness of the
kingdom, in contrast to the dismissive
exclusiveness of the regime. All things
are to be reconciled—even the thrones,
dominions, rulers and authorities that put
Christ on the cross and continue to wreak
havoc in countless human lives. But that
redemptive inclusion comes via the path
of the cross, the embrace of pain” (p.
113)
Truth Emerges from Praxis
 Paul doesn’t debate theology with the
philosophical opponents
 Paul points to the problems with faulty
praxis
 The fruit that the Colossian Christians
bear points to the truth
Revisiting Moderism
 Upholds objective, rationalism as model for
distinguishing truth
 Definition objectivism
 “an approach to knowledge that attempts to eschew
all perspective rooted in particular times, places and
traditions, in order to aspire to the ‘view from
nowhere’.” (p. 121)
 How does the concept that “truth will set us
free” square with the violence and oppression
that reached its apex in the 20th century at the
height of modernism?
 “’Objectivity’ does not set us free from oppressive
regimes.” (p. 120)
Modernism Revisited
“The agenda of modernity has overreached
itself. Its optimism about human capacities is
misplaced and its assumption that there is a
neutral standpoint wrong. There can be no
indubitable foundation of knowledge, no
uninterpreted experience, no completely
transparent reading of the world. A cosmic or a
divine language to express ‘what was the case’
is not available to us; all our languages are
human languages, plural dialects growing on
the soil of diverse cultural traditions and social
conditions.” (Miroslav Volf as quoted on p. 122)
Modernism Revisited
 Overreaching  pride  idolatry
 Remember modernity was viewed as being in
opposition to the Christian faith when it
emerged
 “This is not a world of objects that sit mutely
waiting for the human subject to master them.
Rather, this (is) a world of created fellow
subjects, all called into being by the same
Creator, all born of the Creator’s love, all
included in the Creator’s covenant of creational
restoration, and all responsive agents in the
kingdom of the beloved Son.” (p. 123)
Toward Biblical Knowledge
 “Knowing” in biblical terms connotes
intimacy and relationship
 Yada, the Hebrew word for knowing, is used
for sexual intercourse
 “Christians know the world from a
committed place, a place of faith.”
 Modernism replaces God as the judge of
truth with “reason”
Criteria for a Truthful Worldview (p. 127)
 “Comprehensive in scope”
 Should address all of life
 “Coherent”
 Specifically in the way of life it endorses
 “Sensitize its adherents to justice”
 Do we hear the cries of the oppressed?
 Makes humble claims and is “open to
correction”
 “Generates a praxis … of life”
Why Praxis Matters
 “What our world is waiting for, and what the
church seems reluctant to offer, is not more
incessant talk about objective truth, but an
embodied witness that clearly demonstrates
why anyone should care about any of this in
the first place.” (Phillip Kenneson as quoted on
p. 128)
 Compare with Col. 2:1-4
 Paul wants to “encourage the hearts” of the
Colossians
 Paul wants the community at Colossae to be “united
in love”
 Christian truth is embodied truth
When Christian Praxis Fails
“When the church fails to be a listening
community, attentive to the cries of the poor,
then the gospel is implausible and alternative
social philosophies take on an air of
plausibility. When the church becomes a site of
bitter enmity while the world is spinning ever
more quickly into war and violence, then the
gospel is not only implausible, it is an
embarrassment. In the face of such failures to
be a community that embodies the truth that
came to save the world, it is no wonder that
alternative visions become more plausible to
us.” (p. 130)
Notes on Targums of Walsh & Keesmaat
 Organize biblical story in 6 acts
 Act I - Creation
 Act II - Break in relationship with Creator
 Act III - Israel’s story
 Act IV - Jesus’ story
 Act V - Church’s story
 Act VI – Eschaton
 We are in Act V acting with no script
 We need to improvise based on the script for
Acts I – IV and part of Act V
Targums & Biblical Interpretation
 Improvisational nature of life requires a
paradoxical reading of scripture
 Innovation paired with consistency
 Fidelity to the narrative paired with imaginative
reading
 Stability paired with flexibility
 Justified by “inner-biblical exegesis” within the
scriptures
 Living a faithful life implies being in touch with
the scriptures and with the world
 Suggest reading Bible using “dynamic analogy”
Targum on Colossians 2:8—3:4
 Read targum by Walsh & Keesmaat
Bibliography
 Background Clipart. Microsoft Office Online.
http://office.microsoft.com/clipart/default.aspx?lc=enus (16 Jan. 2005)
 Brueggemann, Walter(2003). Awed to Heaven, Rooted in
Earth. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress.
 Curran, Leo. Photo of “Arch of Titus: Triumphal Booty”.
Maecenas: Images of Ancient Greece and Rome.
http://www.tlg.uci.edu/~tlg/index/resources.html (27
Feb. 2005).
 Walsh, Brian J. & Keesmaat, Sylvia C. (2004). Colossians
Remixed: Subverting the Empire. Downers Grove, IL:
InterVarsity Press
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