May 2010: Books Read

1. Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh. This is an unusual book. It is about the letter of Paul to the Colossians, but it is not a commentary in the usual sense of the word. In fact, the authors in the Preface call it an “anti-commentary.” Rather than digging into the technical details that commentaries usually deal with, their main goal is to read Colossians in such a way as to make it relevant to our current postmodern and globalized context.

I really enjoyed this book. It is creative, and it did a lot to convince me that Colossians can in fact address contemporary concerns. I’m always skittish when the word “empire” gets thrown around, though. To their credit, at least Walsh and Keesmaat specify what they are talking about when they use the word. Empires, for them, are “(1) built on systemic centralizations of power, (2) secured by structures of socioeconomic and military control, (3) religiously legitimated by powerful myths, and (4) sustained by a proliferation of imperial images that captivate the imaginations of the population” (58). In parts of the book, it seems that when Walsh and Keesmaat talk about empire, they are talking about globalization. In other parts (like on pages 62 and 187), they attach the word to the United States. I think that the United States can be empire-ish in some of the things that it does, but making a one-to-one correlation between the United States and ancient empires is overstating the case. It’s bombastic, but ultimately unhelpful, in my opinion.

That is my main gripe about the book. Aside from that, I think this is a creative book that challenges Christians to think of ways to live more faithfully (if less comfortably) in our present context. For that, Walsh and Keesmaat should be commended.

2. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas. Reviewed earlier here.

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2 thoughts on “May 2010: Books Read

  1. bobritzema June 28, 2010 / 6:13 am

    It does sound like an interesting book. The authors’ definition of empire does seem to fit not only Rome but the British empire, the USSR, and the United States. It also seems to fit most modern nation-states. If the book is using Colossians to critique that group of entities, that seems to me a good thing. I agree with you that the term ’empire’ may not be the best way to characterize such political-military-economic-social-mythic organizations, though. Do you have a term for them that you prefer?

    • elliot June 28, 2010 / 8:17 pm

      Maybe the term “hegemonic state” would be more accurate, but I don’t think it would ever catch on. It just doesn’t have the same punch that “empire” does.

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