Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Resisting the Empire

There is an interesting tradition within Jewish biblical interpretation call the Targum. This phrase, originally taken from the Aramaic translations of the Jewish scriptures and still used in this way, came to mean the blending of interpretation, translation and application of scripture.

In their book Colossians Remixed Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat apply this principle to various passages of the book of Colossians. Their main thesis in the book is that Paul wrote this letter to encourage believers to not be seduced by the values of the Roman empire and all it stood for, and that we should also do the same now with whatever worldly 'empire' dominates the ideas and practices today.

Their argument is that the empire we live under is that of global consumerism, and that the imperial nature can be seen through the oppression, commodotization and brutalization of people and the world. From this starting point they create a targum from Colossians 2:8 – 3:4. Here is a selection from that, bearing in mind that this is a blend of translation, interpretation and application:

Make sure that no one takes your imaginations captive through a vacuous vision of life rooted in an oppresive regime of truth that parades itself as something other than mere human tradition, as if it somehow had access to final and universal truth about the world apart from Christ.


In him you find your legitimacy, your entrance into the covenantal community, because in relation to himyour real problem – a deeply rooted sinfulness manifest in violence and self-protective exclusion – is addressed and healed.


Don't forget that you were once dead too – dead in the dead-end way of life that characterizes our cannibalistic and predatory culture. But now you are dead to that way of life, and God has made you alive with Christ by dealing with the real problem through radical forgiveness. You see, when the idolatrous power structures that bolster this oppressive regime nailed Jesus to the cross and poured out their fury on him, all of your debts were nailed there too. All of the ways the empire of death held you captive and robbed you of life – the exhausting and insatiable imperative to consume, the bewildering cacophony of voices calling out to us in the post-modern carnival ... the masturbatory self-indulgence of linguistic and societal games .. all of this is nailed to the cross.

Let's not beat around the bush here. What is at stake in this conflict at the cross is indeed a power struggle. And Jesus takes precisely the principalities and powers that placed him on the cross – the idols of militarism, nationalism, racism, technicism, economism – and on that very cross disarms, dethrones, conquers, and makes public example of them.


If all of this is true then, don't allow the front-men of these vanquished powers to tell you what to eat and drink. Don't buy into the simulated grocery stores made to remind shoppers of an era when shopping was more integral to community life. Don't be duped by advertising that tells you that various products are indispensable to constructing certain images and personas. This is all crap. They are still trying to captivate your imagination, to suck you into a globalistic regime of homogeneous consumption. Resist this McWorld nightmare with all the strength you have! Avoid the Disneyization of your consciousness. This stuff has no substance to it, no being ... but in Christ we find substance


If with Christ you died in your baptism to the principles of autonomous consumerism that still hold the world captive, then why do you live in a way that suggests that you are still in iron grip of its ideological vision? Why do you submit yourselves to its regulations to consume as if there were no tomorrow, to live as if community were an impediment to personal fulfillment, to live as if everything were disposable, including relationships, the unborn and the environment? ... Don't you know that copulating with the idols of this culture is like climbing into bed with a corpse that is already decomposing?


  1. Hi Ian, just wanted to say hi. It is Jessica, not Josh, by the way. I've enjoyed reading your blog... very thought provoking.

    Have a great weekend!

  2. Hi Ian - drifted over here after finding your comments on Phil Whittall's blog (and added my own, which you may wish to respond to!).

    I've sold a few copies of Colossians Remixed, have to confess I've yet to read it myself... but that excerpt has set me thinking... as if I don't have enough books to read already!

    Good to find you here. Do come on over and share some of your thoughts in the UKCBD Blog: I'm in the process of inviting authors, publishers and others to contribute guest posts and interviews; would love it if you'd like to be part of that.



    (you know, the awkward guy who sends you stroppy emails from his bookshop every now and then...)


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