Critical Theology by Carl A. Raschke

In Critical Theology: Introducing an Agenda for an Age of Global Crisis, Carl Raschke uses the analogy of a black hole to describe how everything we know or think we know approaches an event horizon beyond which we cannot see, but where we know there to be a massive power source of creative destruction. He was using the analogy to describe the disparate field of “religious studies,” but I think it’s an apt description of the book itself.

I enjoyed this book more than I understood it. This is perhaps to be expected from a book that does not intend to describe something as much as to predict the forthcoming emergence of a new philosophical perspective. Raschke sorts through important perspectives and methodologies of the past century, praising their strengths but pinpointing weaknesses, in order to lay out the need for a “critical theology” to properly assess and address the post-secular globalized context we now find ourselves in. He gives excellent overviews of the development of critical theory, political theology, the secular-theological approaches of Zizek and Badiou, and religious studies, showing how each has contributed but nonetheless falls short of being able to understand our current realities. Like postmodernism and postsecularism, Raschke’s agenda is therefore primarily negatively defined, often dealing in nuances so fine that it’s difficult to tell how he hopes we’ll move past an existing theoretical approach. Throughout, and as often happens when I read books that push my comprehension, I experienced moments of elation: brilliant vistas of complex and abstract insight. I really do think he’s onto something here.

The crux of his argument for a critical theology, building on the secular theologies of Zizek and Badiou, is the way in which the incarnation and cross of Christ changes everything, providing the event that empowers existing theories ranging from the semiotic to the psychoanalytic to the political. On that we certainly agree. What he wants to do with that, or how exactly the Christ event changes us by elevating otherness, is only loosely sketched; presumably it will be worked out in an entire era of theory. I look forward to it!

Technically/stylistically, there were a number of errors that made an already dense read a little frustrating. Abstract theory is hard enough without misspellings. I also felt that he could have brought his thoughts together into a stronger conclusion, particularly because a good summary of his thoughts would have made the book much more accessible to the lay reader. That said, if you want a jumping-off point to study critical theory, Habermas, Heidegger, Zizek, Badiou, Lacan, or political theology, this book gets just enough into each of them to spark interest. Perhaps I’ll dig into each of them at some point, and revisit this book with a stronger foundation.