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A Contrast Community in the Midst of the Empire: The Church of Colossae Paideia Gathers 2012 Chattanooga, TN Michael Goheen
Consumerism: Pervasive and foundational reality of our day Consumer capitalism, both for good and for ill, is a pervasive and foundational reality of our day. (Rodney Clapp) The Consumer Society is a formation system: it forms us and our behaviour. (John Kavanaugh)
A Formation System • A consumer society is undergirded by a religious vision that shapes every aspect of culture • That religious vision expresses itself in a way of life • A consumer society is a ‘formation system’ that continually nurtures its religious vision and forms us into a certain kind of people
Three further comments about Consumer Society • It is a communal religious vision and way of life that is idolatrous Precisely because the culture of economism is a quasi-religion, with a pretence of encompassing the totality of life and of bringing happiness and fulfilment, we find ourselves obliged from a Christian point of view to denounce it as a dehumanizing idolatry . . . (Jane Collier)
Three further comments about a Consumer Society • Religious vision and way of life that is idolatrous • Communal idolatry is destructive • To the poor • To the environment • To the wealthy (e.g., chronic lack of time, increasing cost for service sector, debt, anxiety, psychological problems, distortion of education, family, sex, sports, etc., toxic buildup in bodies/foods, etc.) • To godly character (e.g., greed, envy, selfishness, triviality and superficiality, dissatisfied, ungrateful, entitlement, narcissism, apathy, addiction to mindless distraction, image over character, wastefulness, self-indulgence, etc.)
Three further comments about a Consumer Society • Communal religious vision that is idolatrous • Communal idolatry is destructive • Formation system so powerful that it even domesticates the church Documentary: Lord, save us from your followers Most Christians who follow Jesus look nothing like him. (Bill Maher) Christians are more committed in lived faith to the gospels of nation and culture than to the gospel of Jesus. . . . The impoverishment and domestication of the Christian faith . . is the central problem . . . (Kavanaugh).
Colossians as an forming, instructing, and equipping word • Paul’s concern: The powerful formation system of the Roman Empire threatens Colossian church (create ‘critical dissonance’ toward ‘counter order’) • Paul: • Offers an alternative story, vision, worldview to counter and critically engage the imperial one • Calls them an alternative way of life to counter and critically engage the imperial one • Urges certain practices that will serve to re-form and equip people in this powerful empire
Interpreting Paul’s letters • Historical starting point: • Jewish rabbinical past • Conversion
Paul’s understanding before conversion GOD Messiah Spirit Sin Death Evil Satan Injustice Shalom Knowledge of God Justice Righteousness Love OLD AGE AGE TO COME
Paul’s understanding before conversion GOD Messiah Spirit World Kingdoms Roman Empire: The Beast Kingdom of God OLD AGE AGE TO COME
Paul’s understanding after conversion Power of kingdom of darkness at work in Roman Empire Power of kingdom of God renewing all of life OLD AGE AGE TO COME
Two clues for understanding Paul’s vision for church • Two worlds of Paul: • Rooted in Old Testament story fulfilled in Jesus • Addresses communities living in pagan Greek and Roman context • Being church means being new humanity as an attractive alternative to pagan way of life . . . humanity renewed in Christ was the fulfilment of the vocation of Israel, which unbelieving Israel was failing to attain. Paul was zealous to promote this genuine humanity as the God-given answer to paganism . . . Paul articulated a way of being human which he saw as the true way (NT Wright).
Paul and the Roman Empire • Nurture faithfulness in midst of beastly kingdom • Idolatrous, unjust, seductive, pervasive, powerful • Caesar is Lord; good news of peace; inaugurates new age; create community of fruitfulness
Paul and the Roman Empire • Nurture faithfulness in midst of beastly kingdom • Idolatrous, unjust, seductive, pervasive, powerful • Caesar is Lord; good news of peace; inaugurates new age; create community of fruitfulness • So Paul wants to nurture Colossian church toward • a different story with different good news about a different Lord • a different way of life serving a different Lord
Paul and the ‘Consumer Empire’ • Nurture faithfulness in midst of beastly kingdom • Idolatrous, unjust, seductive, pervasive, powerful • Economic abundance is Lord; good news of consumption; create community of prosperity; new age inaugurated by science and technology • So Paul wants to nurture 21st century church in: • a different story with different good news about a different Lord • a different way of life serving a different Lord
In Colossians, Paul . . . • . . . offers another religious vision • Israel’s story as it is fulfilled in Jesus • Christ is Lord over the powers of empire ‘For Paul, the powers were unseen forces working in the world . . . through the oppressive systems that enslaved and tyrannized human beings.’ (NT Wright) • Christ has established the true kingdom of peace and fruitfulness • Christ is the head over the body politic
Head over the body Bringing together these three words—head, body, and church—was politically explosive. . . because Paul is replacing Caesar with Christ and replacing the empire, with all of its symbolic and historical power, with the church. The church is a body politic . . . subject to an alternative sovereign. And he roots all of this in an understanding of the cosmos as created in, through and for Christ.(Walsh/Keesmat)
In Colossians, Paul . . . • . . . offers another religious vision • . . . calls for another way of life • Contrast community that is attractive: Challenging the culture’s way of life
New identity in Christ • Power to renew in God’s image • Raised with Christ • Allegiance to Christ • Power of idolatry • Died with Christ • Allegiance not to • Caesar OLD AGE AGE TO COME
Work out new identity in new way of life • Put on • new self • Clothe yourself in • new way of • life • Put off old self • Strip off, put to death old way of life OLD AGE AGE TO COME
New life in Christ Idolatry Image of Creator Compassion Kindness Humility Gentleness Patience Forgiveness Forbearance Love Unity Peace Wisdom Worship Comprehensive obedience Sexual sin (immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires) Greed Hostility (anger, rage, malice) Sins of the tongue (slander, filthy language, lying) OLD AGE AGE TO COME
A Community of Fruitfulness: What does it look like? • Love which binds together all virtues (3.14) • “Man only is as he gives himself away.”(Karl Rahner) • “Christ is all, and in all”: Comprehensive scope “ . . . whatever you do . . . do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (3.11, 17)
In Colossians, Paul . . . • . . . offers another religious vision • . . . calls for another way of life • Contrast community that is attractive: Challenging the culture’s way of life • Collaborating community that is loving: Participating in the cultural task While this new life is a reality that is meant specifically for those who belong to the body, it is by no means a life of sectarian isolation. Indeed, the church is called upon to participate actively in Christ’s saving work, to live a life that manifests Christ’s lordship in the world. (Walter Wilson)
Collaborating community . . . if Paul’s answer to Caesar’s empire is the empire of Jesus, what does that say about this new empire, living under the rule of its new lord? It implies a high and strong ecclesiology, in which the scattered and often muddled cells of women, men and children loyal to Jesus as Lord form colonial outposts of the empire that is to be: subversive little groups when seen from Caesar’s point of view, but when seen Jewishly an advance foretaste of the time when the earth shall be filled with the glory of the God of Abraham and the nations will join Israel in singing God’s praises.
Collaborating community From this point of view, therefore, this counter-empire can never be merely critical, never merely subversive. . . . There will be affirmation as well as critique, collaboration as well as critique. To collaborate without compromise, to criticise without dualism—this is the delicate path that Jesus’ counter-empire had to learn to tread. (NT Wright)
In Colossians, Paul . . . • . . . offers another religious vision • . . . calls for another way of life • . . . urges practices to form church into contrast community
Importance of community With such powerful social forces as the market and the media constantly exhorting us to excesses of consumption, it is ludicrous to think the most viable and faithful response is to face these forces as an isolated individual or family. - Rodney Clapp
Missional practices and communal formation • Baptism as counter-cultivation (2.11-12) [Baptism means that] they belong to the new world, where the rulers of the old world have no authority. . . . Paul’s frequent appeal is that the church should become in fact what it is in theory, should put into detailed operation the life to which it has been committed in baptism.’ (NT Wright)
Baptism as a commitment to counter-cultivation To baptize . . . is in a sense culturally subversive: it is a commitment to cultivate and give a cultic vision . . . which is a radical alternative to the social-economic ‘cultivation system’ that is the Commodity Form. It is also, and more significantly, the incorporation . . . into the very life of a triune, covenantal, personal God.
Missional practices and communal formation • Baptism as counter-cultivation (2.11-12) • Worship: ‘Welcome to the real world’ (3.16) Worship is a world-making endeavour. By singing songs of praise to God, we proclaim the source of ultimate sovereignty in the world. By singing the poem of Colossians 1.15-20, the early church subversively announced that Christ, not Caesar, is Lord. By singing that song today, we proclaim that Christ—not the global market, not the president of the United States, not Microsoft, not military might—is Lord of our lives (Walsh/Keesmat).
Missional practices and communal formation • Baptism as counter-cultivation (2.11-12) • Worship: ‘Welcome to the real world’ (3.16) • Watchful and thankful prayer (4.2) Prayer will be crucial, as a regular method of centering her life, of bringing order to the constant demands and tasks that fashion a home and young family. Without this centering in faith the totality will never be made conscious. She will be lost in particulars which become duties exacted of her rather than expressions of love and choice. Without centering, she will be unable to see how the compassion, affection, care and structuring she provides her children are important social acts, are furtherances of justice, and are profound methods of resisting the Commodity Form. She will be unable to see how the crucible and joys of intimacy with husband and children are actually the testing and living out of the revelation of Christ. (Kavanaugh)
Missional practices and communal formation • Baptism as counter-cultivation (2.11-12) • Worship: ‘Welcome to the real world’ (3.16) • Watchful and thankful prayer (4.2) • Watchful: Eyes open to spiritual battle in culture • Thankful: Countering dissatisfaction We are held captive by dissatisfaction. . . . ingratitude is ingrained within every social class within the culture of money. It is how sin takes shape within us, conditions us, and holds us captive. . . . the longer we live ungratefully, the more we strengthen the claims of a culture that takes everything and everyone for granted. (Mary Jo Leddy)
Missional practices and communal formation • Baptism as counter-cultivation (2.11-12) • Worship: ‘Welcome to the real world’ (3.16) • Watchful and thankful prayer (4.2) • Teaching and practicing radical and intentional parenting (3.21) The remarkable power of technology to shape worldview along with the enormous amount of time young people spend with its many forms makes the small amount of time they spend in Christian nurture seem almost negligible by comparison. The best preaching, worship, and education programs of a church simply cannot compete with television, movies, the internet, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter, and the ever-expanding list of technologies that shape our vision of the world. If families are not taught to make radical, costly, and time-consuming commitments to nurturing their children, the future of the church as a missional community in the West will be bleak (Goheen).
Missional practices and communal formation • Baptism as counter-cultivation (2.11-12) • Worship: ‘Welcome to the real world’ (3.16) • Watchful and thankful prayer (4.2) • Intentional parenting (3.21) • Importance of teaching and growing knowledge and wisdom (1.9, 28; 2.2-3, 8; 3.16) • Colossians as example of teaching to transform [Wilson] • Teaching alternative story and worldview • Understanding rival (culturally dominant worldview) • How to live faithfully
Community of Fruitfulness in a Consumer Society A community of self-control and marital fidelity in world saturated by sex. A community of truth (kind humility and gentle boldness) in world of uncertainty and suspicion. A community that knows God’s presence in a secular world. A community of generosity and enough in world of consumption. A community of forgiveness in a world of hatred, competition, violence, grudges, and revenge. A community of thankfulness in a world of entitlement. A community of praise in a world of narcissism.
Community of Fruitfulness in a Consumer Society A community of self-giving love in a world of selfishness and self-gratification. A community of wisdom in a world of proliferating knowledge and information technology A community of humility in a world of arrogant self-interest. A community of patience in a world of immediate gratification. A community of compassion in a world numbed by overexposure to violence and tragedy. A community that uses language positively in a world of destructive communication. A community of joy in a world dominated by a frantic and hedonistic pursuit of pleasure.
Community of Fruitfulness in a Consumer Society A community of depth in a culture of superficiality. A community of cheerful seriousness in a culture of triviality. A community committed to the important issues of our globe in a culture of apathy and indifference. A community of self-giving in a culture of self-absorption, narcissism, and entitlement. A community of joyful purpose in a culture ‘amusing ourselves to death.’