Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Colossians Remixed 2

posted by xscot mcknight

We are reading through Colossians along with Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat (W-K), with their Colossians Remixed, and today we will look further at the first chapter.
We read Colossians in its context and — just as importantly — we read Colossians from our context. W-K see three major themes in our context today, and they are the one shaping “William’s” quest — who represents the postmodern — as we begin to read Colossians:
1. Postmodern disquiet, flanked simultaneously by
2. Cybernetic global optimism fueled by
3. Globalism.
#1: “In the face of betrayals [the world doesn’t bring what we say it offers] and failures of past overarching metanarratives, culturewide suspicion and incredulity takes hold. A single story, providing coherence to personal identity, grounding for ethical action and passion for life in history, is displaced by a carnivalesque existence of fragmentation, numbness and boredom. Final decisions based on rational analysis give way to the undecidability of keeping all options open and the spiritual promiscuity of pop religion” (25).
In other words, “Someone has told them a story, spun them a line, about the good life, and it has proved to be a lie” (22).
Crucial, so it seems to me, is the combination of #1 with #2: those with a postmodern numbness somehow are also confident and optimistic about world progress (an old modernity theme) through technology. Is the campaign to ending poverty part of this? Is it the revival of an old modernist optimism of world peace in a new guise? (I sometimes refer to this as the eschatology of politics and I want you to know that this question haunts me at times.)
#2: “the new and improved [cybernetic] modernity is confident that information technology will be able to deliver on our deepest dreams and realize our most precious values” (27). This cultural force comes with promise: “the blossoming of a new civilization that will eventually bring an end to international conflict, resolve hitherto intractable problems like poverty and environmental degradation, and produce increased prosperity for all” (28).
Here’s my question: Is the attraction of some in the emerging movement for progressive liberalism, or classic Protestant liberalism, not a postmodern but a modernist impulse? Is it an attraction to an eschatology of political process?
Hauerwas: “To often postmodernists turn out to be liberals in their ethics and politics who no longer believe in the conceits of liberalism but have nowhere else to go.”
#3: Globalism transforms the imagination and is in essence a religion. It is not “just an aggressive stage in the history of capitalism. It is a religious movement of previously unheard-of proportions” (30). Globalization is an empire that is totalizing. And W-K argue that the postmodern disquiet is participation in globalization and its protest against power is really its defense mechanism for choice and pluralism. “Not only is postmodernity no real threat to the empire of consumerism, it also provides ideological comfort to that empire” (32).

Comments read comments(16)
post a comment
Mark Van Steenwyk

posted September 18, 2007 at 12:25 am

Yes, I believe that the commonplace emerging attraction towards progressive liberalism is a modernist impulse. Liberalism has been forbidden fruit for so many evangelicals. Perhaps the new political freedom that has been birthed out of our theological freedom has caused many emerging folks to lay hold of that forbidden fruit.
But mostly, I think it is so darn difficult to conceive of political engagement in a postmodern way. American Democracy is a child of the enlightenment. The current political system still assumes a modern set of assumptions. It takes a great deal of creativity to envision an alternative. Many within the emerging church have appropriated Yoder or Hauerwas or the proponents of Radical Orthodoxy to rethink ethics and politics, but I think a great deal more thought needs to be done.
I find myself drawing more and more from the thinking of William Cavanaugh (a student of Hauerwas). Reading such thinkers has brought me down the path of Christian Anarchism. Others within the movement are drawn to this path as well, but I think that most in the movement feel it is too reactionary or unrealistic. And without any other viable alternative, they get sucked into the Wallis agenda. :)

report abuse

Ted M. Gossard

posted September 18, 2007 at 4:36 am

Good to see how we are influenced and in my reading lately I’ve been reminded that modernism is still quite a formidable influence over most all of us.
The optimisim I encounter just seems to fly in the face of scripture and the Story we find in it; and I think right now in terms of Ecclesiastes which somehow (as rest of scripture) has a stunning critique of both modernism and postmodernism.
I am very wary of the hope placed in politics on every side. I really tend to overreact then, to place little use for it, but it has its place.

report abuse


posted September 18, 2007 at 6:57 am

I would agree that almost from the start postmodernism was co-opted by consumerism. Like everything else, it can turn too quickly into a fashion statement. And yes, people are always trying to shove postmodernism into a modernist frame because that’s what they understand. But leaving that aside, in my experience, admittedly limited, emergent is attractive exactly because it is living a critique of liberal eschatology. I’m pretty well positioned to see this sliver of the world as I divide my time between a liberal church and an emerging church (though of course, like a good emerging church, it denies it’s an emerging church). The emergent church I experience is not classically liberal, though there are moments it wants to lean that way. It’s looking at life through a different set of lenses. Is it that Jesus is at the core, an authentically experienced Jesus, and not a hippie on the peripheries to be dragged in as an afterthought? I don’t know. It’s more than that but I can’t think it through right now. I can see, however, the possibility of emergent alienating enough orthodox Christians that it becomes an imitation of the liberal paradigm, which would be a severe disappointment and for that reason I think it needs to keep revisiting and honoring and revisiting and cultivating its conservative edge … So for your question: I hope not, I hope not. I agree with the first writer that we need to think a lot more … take time to contemplate. And keep challenging emergent when it starts sliding towards liberalism …

report abuse


posted September 18, 2007 at 6:59 am

Exactly. I’m very wary of the hope placed in politics too …

report abuse


posted September 18, 2007 at 7:31 am

I was surprised by #2, in all its modern glory. It will have a continuing problem: humans have a sin nature; anything they can dream up for good they can also use for bad.
But this intrigues me. Is it commonly understood that postmoderns have rejected the god of science as a liar (it didn’t and won’t solve all our problems) but replaced it to some degree with the cyber god of the information age?

report abuse

John W Frye

posted September 18, 2007 at 8:37 am

Is it too soon to tell where emergents are in terms of Protestant liberalism and modernism? Perhaps in their reaction to “do nothing” evangelicalism or to the evangelical penchant to reduce all politics to abortion and gay marriage issues, emergents ‘look like’ classic (Protestant) liberals, but still they have not landed (matured) as an expression of Jesus-like, kingdom of God activism.

report abuse

Scott Watson

posted September 18, 2007 at 8:41 am

I’m interested in the effect # 2 & 3 are having on those who,on the surface, would tend to be against postmodernism theologically and ideolically.In many circles in conservative Christianity,an “orthodox” theology is wedded to a type of technological optimism. So, authentic spirituality is matter of technique by following formulas;there is a fundamentally consumeristic orientation to God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit;and technology is the key to evangelization.

report abuse


posted September 18, 2007 at 9:48 am

I used this book a couple of years ago as my primary supplement in a study of Colossians. The class was at a upper middle class suburban church, teaching the Parents of Teens class. I enjoy subverting the empire…..

report abuse

Julie Clawson

posted September 18, 2007 at 5:25 pm

Is it really that postmoderns have bought into progressive liberalism or that that have been influenced by theories of pragmatism? I get a tad sick of being told that my choices are to either place my hope in the government to save the world or reject political involvement Hauerwasian style. I don’t see technology or the government as the hope for progress and making the world a better place. But I believe that we are called to spread Kingdom values which involve making this world a better place. Just because some of us want things to be different and better does not mean we buy the modern conceptions of progress. And just because we think that the government might have a role to play in helping improve things in the world does not mean that we think it is the “savior.” Using it as a tool (and letting it clean up its own messes) is just a pragmatic approach to caring for others. I guess I just get frustrated when this continues to be presented as an either/or dichotomy.

report abuse

Bob Robinson

posted September 18, 2007 at 7:47 pm

Great question (and thanks for bringing this incredible book to awareness of your readers – one of my favorites).
Yes, I think that many of us emerging church folk have reacted against evangelical conservativism (what we might label “fundamentalism”), and the only option that we are able to find is liberalism. Thus, the old standard political stands of Protestant Liberalism (with its emphasis on “social justice”) have made their way into the emerging conversation as the only viable political stand (one sees the embrace of Jim Wallis and the political activism of Brian McLaren as examples).
There needs to be a mediated way, one that does not swing too far one way or the other, simply because it is in reaction to the status quo.
I know that I was guilty of this swing for a while – swinging the pendulum from red to blue. But I am trying now to look at politics in a more “purple” way. Which is not easy, especially in the heightened rhetorical punditry that has become the norm in today’s American political discourse.

report abuse


posted September 18, 2007 at 9:09 pm

“in” it’s context but also “from” our context. so good – so important.

report abuse

Mike Clawson

posted September 19, 2007 at 11:56 pm

Ditto what my wife said. And a counter-question: does the Hauerwasian/(McKnight?) aversion to political eschatology just open the door to an irresponsible and reactionary anti-government libertarianism? Are we in danger of simply turning our back on the political process and letting those with a will-to-power seize as much of it as they can get because we’re too busy shunning Modernist utopian politics to stand in the way of gross injustice? (And isn’t this perhaps one way of interpreting what has already been happening these past 7 years?)

report abuse

Alan Rutherford

posted September 22, 2007 at 11:04 am

I’m currently reading Colossians Remixed with a book group in Portland.
Clawsons, or anyone, could you say a little more about Hauerwas’s ‘aversion to’ or ‘rejection of’ political involvement? I have the Hauerwas Reader and a am curious where he articulates this position.

report abuse

Mike Clawson

posted September 22, 2007 at 7:39 pm

Hey Alan, I’m not an expert on Hauerwas. I was just referring to Scot’s statements which he seemed to be attributing to Hauerwas. And I didn’t say Hauerwas had an “aversion to political involvement“. I said an “aversion to political eschatology” – i.e. Modern utopianism. That’s rather different.
Both Hauerwas and Scot rightly point out that politics cannot save us. We shouldn’t think that we are going to bring the kingdom through political means. However, I’m worried that we can take this too far, into a form of libertarianism that is so cynical of political involvement that it fails to stand in the way of injustice and or to use what power is available to us in defense of the exploited, the oppressed, the environment, etc. This is what I seem to hear in a lot of the Wallis-bashing that seems so fashionable among the “Hauerwasian-mafia” lately.

report abuse

Scot McKnight

posted September 22, 2007 at 9:49 pm

Well, I do get assigned to the Hauerwasian group — I don’t like Tony’s “mafia” term — but I’m a Yoderian type Anabaptist in these matters.
My contention with Wallis is that gospel means justice in the sense of helping the poor. True, but not true enough.
And I have read all of Wallis’ books and I think other than the Call to Conversion his best thinking was his Faith Works book. That one got closer for me to a Christian theory of social justice.
When I speak of the “eschatology of politics” I mean an eschatology that sees the Eschaton being achieved through the political process. I see no legitimacy to witdrawal and separation; but I fear confidence in the political process.
If either a Republican or Democrat gets voted in on the next election won’t bother me nor will I get excited for either. I will vote my conscience, but my hope is in Christ and the Church.

report abuse

Alan Rutherford

posted September 23, 2007 at 2:24 pm

I hadn’t heard Hauerwas’s hitmen (is that better?) bash Wallis before, but it wasn’t hard to guess. I thought back to when he blogged about abortion, saying that it could be significantly reduced by programs that lifted women out of poverty. That exemplifies a lot of confidence in the political process! It seems like when the church focuses this much on political solutions to defeat structural evil, it squeezes the transformation of life and character out of our redemptive message. In contrast, a heavy emphasis on direct social action through service (to moms, kids, the poor, addicted, sick, etc,) guarantees some results, tells the christian story, and transforms us in the process.
And I’m not so keen on how political activism transforms the activists, either!

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

More Blogs To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Jesus Creed. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Red Letters with Tom Davis Recent prayer post on Prayables Most Recent Inspiration blog post Happy Reading!  

posted 11:15:58am Aug. 16, 2012 | read full post »

Our Common Prayerbook 30 - 3
Psalm 30 thanks God (vv. 1-3, 11-12) and exhorts others to thank God (vv. 4-5). Both emerge from the concrete reality of David's own experience. Here is what that experience looks like:Step one: David was set on high and was flourishing at the hand of God's bounty (v. 7a).Step two: David became too

posted 12:15:30pm Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Theology After Darwin 1 (RJS)
One of the more important and more difficult pieces of the puzzle as we feel our way forward at the interface of science and faith is the theological implications of discoveries in modern science. A comment on my post Evolution in the Key of D: Deity or Deism noted: ...this reminds me of why I get a

posted 6:01:52am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Almost Christian 4
Who does well when it comes to passing on the faith to the youth? Studies show two groups do really well: conservative Protestants and Mormons; two groups that don't do well are mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics. Kenda Dean's new book is called Almost Christian: What the Faith of Ou

posted 12:01:53am Aug. 31, 2010 | read full post »

Let's Get Neanderthal!
The Cave Man Diet, or Paleo Diet, is getting attention. (Nothing is said about Culver's at all.) The big omission, I have to admit, is that those folks were hunters -- using spears or smacking some rabbit upside the conk or grabbing a fish or two with their hands ... but that's what makes this diet

posted 2:05:48pm Aug. 30, 2010 | read full post »

Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.