Colossians Remixed reaction

Just finished reading and discussing Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat’s Colossians Remixed with a couple of my favorite peeps. I would describe it as ok but not good or good but not great, depending on my mood.

Their overall project is to reread Colossians from a somewhat postmodern perspective with a view towards how it might inform and be meaningful to postmodern readers who are suspicious of absolutes, feel ethically paralyzed in a world of diverse choices and viewpoints, or are anxious to cut themselves off totally from any external metanarrative.

In the earliest parts of the book they point in interesting directions:

In this discernment of our cultural context, postmodern emphases on choice, diversity, difference and otherness simply function as a smokescreen simply function as a smokescreen to cover the homogenizing forces of global capitalism. (32)

They go on to indicate that modernity and post-modernity, viewed via political/economic lenses represent a similar set of political/economic choices oriented towards autonomy and acquisition.

Stanley Hauerwas puts it this way: “Too often postmodernists turn out to be liberals in their ethics and politics who no longer believe in the conceits of liberalism but have no where else to go.” Economic globalization is late capitalism without the framework of a modernist ideology of progress to provide it a narrative foundation and ethical direction. (33)

This attention to the interplay between the political/economic and the epistemological really piqued my interest and seemed part of the basic grounding of their project. Unfortunately, they mostly ditch this insight in the rest of the book. As a result, the book — an argument for embracing elements of postmodern epistemology as a better way to conceive of the message of Colossians — is approached in a thoroughly modernist way! They set the problem in Part I, discuss epistemology (working with the individual) in Part II and then attack praxis in Part III. We attack knowing first, then doing can follow. And most of this can be done at the level of the individual (their Ethic of Community has to wait for p. 169).

I think they didn’t read their Hauerwas or their MacIntyre well enough. These things can’t be separated like this, certainly not with knowing preceding doing. If anything, doing precedes knowing or, better, there ought to be a dynamic and ongoing interplay between these. My ability to understand and conceive of moral choices is shaped by the practices I am a part of, my ethical choices, the story I am a part of, and this happens by involvement in tradition, a larger community.

I would have loved a book written holding the epistemology and praxis in interrelation throughout, diagnosing their connections in the problem, observing how our practices shape our knowing and imagining, working out how a newly conceived, engaged knowing re-informs practice. Alas, not quite in this book. But still there are a lot of fruitful pointers here for our own work on this project. A project that is definitely communal and definitely the work of being the church and will be way more convincing, inviting, exciting and engaging for the suspicious, paralyzed or hostile folks Walsh and Keesmaat want to draw in.

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1 Response to “<em>Colossians Remixed</em> reaction”


  1. 1 periphery January 6, 2009 at 2:37 pm

    I bet that David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite offers a much more nuanced, intelligent, responsible engagement of postmodern theory from a Xian perspective. I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time; I think I’m going to make the one extra-curricular book of prose (besides E S-F, of course) that I allow myself to read this semester.


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