“Do not be conformed to the culture around you…”
In a recent sermon, we explored the way Paul’s poem in Colossians 1:15-20 served, in part at least, to subvert and reshape the imaginations of the believers in Colossae who were immersed in the cultural narrative(s) and values of the Roman Empire, i.e., the Pax Romana.
I was drawing from the work of Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat in their book Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire who argue that Colossians (and this poem in particular) “constitutes a frontal assault on the empire” and “leaves little in doubt as to who is sovereign in creation, who images the invisible God, who holds the cosmos together in peace and who brings about the reconciliation of all things. And it isn’t Caesar!” Likewise, they continue: “If this is true, the the primal responsibility of Christian preaching is to empower the community to to reimagine the world as if Christ, and not the powers, were sovereign.”
Likewise, we today are having our imaginations shaped by various competing cultural narratives all around us, whether we’re aware of it or not. I agree with Walter Brueggeman that “the key problem of our time, which seduces us all, is the reduction of the imagination so that we are too numbed, satiated and co-opted to do serious imaginative work.”
What exactly is seducing, numbing and coopting our imaginations? I referenced Tim Keller’s description of 5 major cultural narratives or worldview lenses from his book Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism. Christians should be aware of and how Paul’s “subversive poetry” or “revolutionary song” can help us live into the Big Story of the gospel that the Scriptures are unveiling. I added a sixth, “consumerism”, to the mix as well.
David Schrock has helpfully put Keller’s Five Narratives into a chart which I wanted to share below since I skimmed quickly over them in my message Sunday. Enjoy!
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: How/where do you see these narratives at work in our world today? Where/how do you see these narratives at work in the church? How does the narrative world behind Paul’s poem in Colossians 1:15-20 challenge these narratives and the values inherent to them?