Raschke, Carl A. Critical Theology: Introducing an Agenda for an Age of Global Crisis. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016. 173 pp. $22.00
Carl Raschke wrote Critical Theology in the shadow of September 11, 2001 and the 2008 financial collapse. These two events ended and era in which we could “spin out glib ‘theological’ nostrums” and ushered in a time in which theological constructions must speak into the flesh and blood crises facing our world.
Raschke begins his work with an overview of “crisis theology” and the critical theory that arose from the Frankfort school in the wake of World War 1. While each of these schools offer insight into the current situation, they both ultimately fall short of addressing the crisis we face. Crisis theology created a God who was “wholly other” and had no connection to the flesh and blood problems facing people in the culture. The critical theory was unable to deal any longer with a theoretical framework that existed to justify nationalistic impulses and sought through an appeal to universal reason to bring about a new human freedom by liberating people from servitude to the narratives they had been fed for their whole lives.
Raschke’s proposal for a critical theology builds on these two schools’ distinct emphases by seeking to both know and do. He sees a critical theology as a faith informed by critical thinking with the final aim of emancipating people from their enslavement to the subtle ideologies. The driving force behind this critical theology is the “Christ event.” In the incarnation “the word was made flesh” and met us in our very own skin. In doing so he liberates us from every ideology or regime that would reduce people down to cogs in an industrial machine, shoppers in an economy, or automatons who exist for the benefit of authoritarian regimes. The “Christ event” culminated in Jesus’ death and resurrection, leading us to look forward to a greater “fullness of Christ to still be revealed.
For Raschke, a genuine critical theology will harness the power of the Christian message to work for the liberation of people from enslavement. It will not be captive to western individualism, but rather will speak to the corporate experience of a people who live in a time of crisis. He acknowledges that the work ahead involves great risk, but a critical theology will help us understand how desperate the situation is and convince us that the risk is worth it.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
While it must be acknowledged that much of Raschke’s framework in Critical Theology is built on a foundation that we would recognize as being outside the bounds of evangelical theology, this work does help us expand our horizons for seeing what the mission of the church can accomplish. He reminds us that the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus have implications for our lives that move beyond reorienting where we will spend eternity. Evangelicals don’t want to fall into liberation theology, but we often that forget these categories are rooted in Scripture and can be emphasized in such a way that they do not undercut our commitment to substitutionary atonement. Our churches should emphasize both the proclamation of Christ’s work and engage in ministries of mercy with the goal of setting people free from their sins and their patterns of life that keep them living under the tyranny of dehumanization and injustice. In particular, the Bible’s teaching on the image of God remind us that we want people to experience liberation from anything that treats them as less than fully human.
Raschke’s emphasis on our living in a time of global crisis teaches us that we cannot minister effectively while ignoring our cultural context. The message of the Gospel is timeless and the basic problem facing humanity has not changed since the fall, but the temporal issues and concerns facing our fallen world take different forms at different times. The Gospel message speaks into all of these concerns, and if our churches ignore them we will miss important opportunities to reach people in our culture. Wise Christian ministers will look into the pain and crisis points in their communities and labor to find practical ways to speak the healing and liberating message of the Gospel into them.
While Critical Theology contains some helpful emphases from which pastors can learn, its theological conclusions are built on the shaky foundations of liberal and post-liberal sources. Also, the amount of interaction with authors and movements with which most evangelical pastors will not be familiar means the time expended to read this work will be greater than the benefit received. If you want an intellectually stimulating read in order to interact extensively with sources outside of the evangelical mainstream, then there would be some gain in working through Critical Theology. For the average pastor though, the helpful challenges Critical Theology presents can be found in other more accessible works.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By