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New Book: A Hermeneutic and Model for Teaching Ephesians?

Another Chris mentioned a book the other day in his blog that caught my attention. I followed his link to copies of the Preface and first chapter. After reading most of the Preface I headed over to the bookstore and picked up a copy of Colossians Remixed: Subverting Empire by Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat.

I look forward to reading Chris’ reflections in future posts. He stated that he would likely have more in-depth posts later. I will not tread into his territory here then. But, I do want to note a few things that I picked up in the early pages that give me hope for developing a way to approach Ephesians with my class in the Spring.

The authors state their intention: “The epistle to the Colossians, we are arguing, was an explosive and subversive tract in the context of the Roman empire , and it can and ought to function in an analogous way in the imperial realities of our time.” (7) Thus, they characterize their book as an “anti-commentary”. They note three ways in which the book is an “anti-commentary”: 1) it lacks the typical technical apparatus; 2) it is not written for pastors and scholars; and 3) it asks a different question. On this last point, the authors state, “Ours is a cultural, political, social and ecological reading of this text because these are the kinds of questions that our friends and our students ask.” (8, emphasis added) In a sense, the authors are probing the “so what” questions. For instance, “if it is true that Christ is the Creator and Redeemer of ‘all things’ as the Colossian poem so eloquently puts it, then what might be the implications of such a breathtakingly comprehensive worldview for our ecological, political and economic lives?” [NB: A similar question for students of Ephesians would be something like, “What are the political, social, economic and ecological implications of ‘all things being gathered up (anakephalaisasthai) in Christ’?” Fortunately, as we will see, we get part of the answer in the second half of Ephesians.]

I wonder if these are the sorts of questions I should be helping my students to formulate and answer. I think it would need to be a two part lesson. We do not teach students to ask these sorts of questions, though I sense that they are lying beneath the surface for most of seminarians because they are breaking the surface for the people in the world to whom the seminarians are or will be ministering. But, the question also assumes the students are reading the text closely enough to understand the eloquence of such things as “a breathtakingly comprehensive worldview”. So while part of the lesson would be formulation of questions, it would also be development of skills and habits of careful reading of texts. How else can we begin to understand just how breathtakingly comprehensive the worldview of Colossians is without resorting to careful readings of the text and the contexts of the text?

The authors seem to have these sorts of things in mind in the first part of their book where they consider our context (the formulation of questions?) and the context of Colossians (getting a sense of the worldview?). Part two leads the readers into the complex conversations about truth. Part three moves the readers into serious reflections about praxis in light of the previous parts on contexts and truth.

I am more interested in the hermeneutic approach than I am the conclusions reached. Echoing the authors, I note, while an exploration of the authorship issues of Ephesians is fascinating, it is simply not a question most people are asking. And frankly it is not a question they need to ask, at least at first.

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