I have really been enjoying teaching through Colossians the last few Sunday mornings in my adult Bible class. Paul’s letter is so relevant for us today in helping us understand how the things we believe as Christians are different from the belief systems of the world. There is an analogy Paul uses in Colossians 3 about putting off the old way and putting on the new clothes of the Gospel of Christ.
That is the image that Bruce Morton uses to frame Paul’s letters to Colossians and to Philemon (and a few words about the letter to Laodicea) in his book Renewed. Living in the Greco-Roman world as a monotheist was not an easy thing to do. In their world “gods” abounded and to believe in only one God put you in the extreme minority and eventually even opened you up to punishment. It was also a time of syncretization, where people mixed religious practices and popular philosophies together. In other words, there world was similar to our own in many respects and as such we have a lot to learn from what Paul wrote to the Colossians.
Renewed works through Colossians. Bruce draws from history and culture in the centuries in and around the first century to develop an adequate background for understanding the world that this letter was written in. Contemporary application is made throughout the book in an attempt to illuminate parallel points of connection between their world and our own. What we find is that the same religious and spiritual dangers that lurked in their day continue to haunt us still today, even across 2000 years of history, changes in language, culture, etc. People are people and people tend to do similar things expressed in different ways over time. This book illuminates many of those things and helps us understand how to find the solution to these issues in looking to Christ.
I think Bruce has done his homework in both their world and our own. That is evident in the sheer number of things he references in the book. That is quite helpful and at times provides some very useful information that illuminates the text. The downside to that, which is really my only problem with the book is that in such an extensive effort to make these connections I think there are some times where he overreaches a bit to make connections that probably aren’t really there in the minds of Paul or his readers. It is interesting to consider some of these things but often they are far too distant in time and space for us to have any level of certainty that the connection is solid.
Samuel Sandmel called this Parallelomania (see his article here – http://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/parallelomania_sandmel.pdf). It is important when we do exegesis to seek out authorial intent and that requires us to highlight the connection points that are likely and to diminish the points that require a high level of speculation. For instance, on page 104 the “Technitai guild” is proposed as a background for Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 5:18-21. This guild existed 300 years prior. This is an example of a connection point that requires too much speculation to include in the discussion.
I appreciated how thorough Bruce has been in his research. He has really attempted to leave no stone un-turned into two worlds: ours and there’s and it because of his thoroughness that at times I believe he overreaches. All in all that is not such a bad thing as I appreciate the intent even if I sometimes disagree with the execution. I also appreciate how he includes appropriate songs at the end of each chapter that most of the readers will be familiar with that serve to counter the cultural influences he is combating in each chapter.
This book would be helpful for a Sunday school teacher who is teaching through Colossians and is interested in making contemporary application or is looking for contemporary illustrations from Colossians to the 21st century. That is the strength of this book and it serves its purpose there quite well.
Last, I think this book will help you appreciate Jesus more and that is always a great thing!