Carl A. Raschke. Critical Theology: Introducing an Agenda for an Age of Global Crisis. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016. See here to purchase the book.
Carl A. Raschke teaches religious studies at the University of Denver. In Critical Theology: Introducing an Agenda for an Age of Global Crisis,
Raschke explores how Christian theology can contribute to political
liberation. Raschke refers to a global crisis, which includes disarray
on the global scale and the aftermath of the economic collapse in 2008.
Another problem that Raschke discusses is how the communications media
enslave people by emphasizing commodification. Karl Marx’s thought
plays a role in Raschke’s analysis, as Raschke notes Marx’s insight that
the superstructure (i.e., society, media, etc.) often supports and
reinforces the class system.
Raschke presents a history of Christian theology’s political
programs, primarily in the twentieth century. Bultmann, Heidigger,
Otto, and Barth were significant figures in this. Neo-Kantianism also
had significant influence in the story that Raschke tells. (Kant, of
course, was a philosopher, but there was a transcendental and religious
dimension to his thought, which would influence later neo-Kantianism.)
Raschke also discusses the Frankfurt School, which offered analysis that
was supportive of liberation, albeit from a largely secularist
standpoint. (Yet, Raschke says in an endnote that some have argued that
the Frankfurt School was actually open to religion playing a role in
Raschke profiles thinkers whom he believes can inform the agenda that
he believes is important. Raschke discusses how Badiou and Zizez
interpret Paul in a manner that is consistent with political
liberation. Law refers not just to the Torah in their thought, but to
structures of society that enslave. Grace ran contrary to such law in
Badiou’s thought, and Zizez regarded love as a cure for treating people
as commodities. Zizez interpreted faith as optimism regarding the
future. Badiou and Zizez were still secularists, but they believed that
aspects of the Christian religion could be helpful in their analysis
and articulation of the importance of political liberation.
What elements of Christianity does Raschke highlight as significant
in terms of the agenda that he introduces? He appears to agree with
Zizez’s emphasis on love. He highlights the incarnation, in which God
in Jesus was present with humanity. That may relate to God’s concern
for humanity, which a political theology presumes, but it also seems to
relate to how Raschke believes Christians should interact with other
cultures and religions in a post-modern age. At the same time, Raschke
maintains that Christians should regard ethics as transcendent: human
value and dignity are not relative but are absolute principles from God.
The book is highly abstract and complex, and one may wonder if a lot
of academic and philosophical language is being unnecessarily used to
express the simple proposition that love is the answer. It is tempting
to think so, and yet Raschke does wade in waters that are deep and
complex. These waters concern trends from the past and the present, in
thought and in life, and how the agenda that Raschke introduces engages
In terms of the political program that Raschke promotes, Raschke
seems to emphasize the power of ideas, used by God, to effect change.
He is critical of violent revolution. He talks about the New Left, and
he may be supportive of political activism, motivated, for Christians,
by theological concerns. His hope may be that more people will see the
Christian religion as something other than an object of study, a set of
creeds, or feel-good platitudes, and to embrace it as something that can
make a positive difference in the world for all people, especially the
This book has its positives. It is informative in its exploration of
theological and philosophical political thought, and some of that
thought interacted with other fields, such as psychology. This book is
deep and rich. The treatment of Paul by Badiou and Zizez was definitely
creative. Raschke’s discussion of how thinkers in the New Left opposed
totalitarian Communism was also interesting, since many right-wingers
tend to lump the two together as allies.
In terms of negatives, this book could have been clearer in terms of
its prose, hopefully without sacrificing its depth. The prose in the
endnotes was very lucid, and perhaps Raschke would have done well to
have used that kind of prose throughout the book. Moreover, while
Raschke is interacting with and contributing to an academic discussion,
Raschke should have explained how these academic thoughts could make a
difference on the ground.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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