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Review of Raschke, "The Next Reformation"

Review of Raschke, "The Next Reformation"

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Published by James K.A. Smith
First appeared in Pneuma.
First appeared in Pneuma.

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Published by: James K.A. Smith on Apr 09, 2011
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Carl Raschke,
The Next Reformation: Why Evangelicals Must Embrace Postmodernity
(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004). 235 pp., paper.Reviewed by James K.A. Smith,
Calvin College
Carl Raschke (Religious Studies, University of Denver) has given us a singular book:rather than engaging postmodernism as merely an academic phenomenon or merely apop-cultural “Xer” trend,
The Next Reformation
is without peer insofar as it engagesboth philosophy 
and ministry
in postmodern culture. Raschke is one of only a handfulof legitimate experts on postmodern “thought” (he was reading Derrida for theology inthe 1970s, long before Derrida was hip) who is comfortable not only in the rarefied air of French theory, but also in the nitty-gritty of ministry on the ground—and in the streets,and at the altar. The movement of the book is from theory to practice and in theprocess, Raschke does an admirable job of showing students and pastors why they should care about what people are
thinking
. He then shows why and how ideas havelegs that impact the practices of worship and discipleship.Raschke also writes from a deep (and, I gather, recent) charismatic experience,and in many ways, this book is Raschke’s apologetic for why charismatic Christianity isthe most “thoroughly postmodern” form of ministry (157, 204-205). So surprisingly enough, he sees Pentecostals and charismatics as the most authentic heirs of Luther’sReformation impulse (208) and Jonathan Edwards’ revivalism (203). Just as Raschkefound himself “on his face,” his theological presumptions slain by the Spirit (201), so heconcludes that “after theology we must all get on our faces.” Modern theology “ends”with a postmodern altar call (215).1
 
There is much to like about the book. Raschke has an uncanny ability to rangefrom advanced theory and theology to the specifics of ministry. He also provides aninsightful diagnosis of the postmodern milieu and solid, accessible introductions to key postmodern thinkers including Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, Baudrillard, Foucault,Levinas, and others. Along the way he also launches a sustained critique of what hedescribes as “modernist” or “rationalist” evangelicalism, and offers an apologetic forcharismatic spirituality as the properly postmodern alternative to such sanctifiedrationalisms. But with these strengths in mind, and out of a more basic sympathy, Iwould like to articulate several areas of concern regarding Raschke’s project andargument.1. I found Raschke’s framing of “postmodern evangelicalism” as the new Reformation (208) over-blown, at times triumphalistic, and in the end, anti-catholic.While I am sympathetic to enlisting Luther (208) and Calvin (201) as resources forpostmodern theology and practice, Raschke seems to enlist the Reformers
against 
thechurch catholic—and thus sets up Pentecostal and charismatic spirituality as aprimitivist (156, 171), anti-catholic stance (110). While others are asking whether theReformation is over, Raschke seems bent on stoking the fires of protest once again. Soon his accounting, postmodern Christian faith is a recovery of “the primitive church.”But if, as can be shown, the Reformers were actually affirming the catholic tradition, andpostmodern theology extends the Reformers’ project, then shouldn’t we see postmodernfaith participating in a recovery of ancient and medieval tradition? Rather than castingcharismatic spirituality as the “next Reformation,” I would prefer to follow RobertWebber and articulate charismatic spirituality as a key element of catholic, “ancient-future” faith.2
 
2. Raschke’s pro-Reformation, anti-catholic stance (logically) issues in anaffirmation of what Tillich described as the “Protestant principle” (25): a non-sacramental, anti-liturgical sensibility which is suspicious of not only God’s presence insymbol and matter, but also speech. So this “Protestant principle” shows itself on twolevels in Raschke’s account: on the one hand, there is a clear aversion to liturgy andunderstanding worship in sacramental terms (185, 201-202), exhibiting the common(but I think false) notion that the Spirit is to be simply identified with spontaneity (aswell as the somewhat naïve assumption that there is not a liturgical order to even themost free-flowing charismatic worship). On the other hand, this Protestant principleleads Raschke to be so suspicious of any identification between God and our wordsabout God that he ends up with a kind of skepticism with respect to God-talk. Equatinga postmodern theology with a radical negative theology, he remarks that we cannotmake
truth claims
about God, only “faith claims” (58). But this shows the weakness of the Protestant principle, I think; in fact, I would argue that such logic rejects the very paradigm of the Incarnation: that God descends to inhabit the material conditions of our bodies
and our speech
. While Raschke is right to be suspicious of overly-confidentkataphatic theologies, I’m not convinced that apophatic “religion without religion” is thebest corrective. So while Raschke, reacting to a misguided rationalist evangelicalism,will conclude that “Christian truth is not, never was, and never will be propositionaltruth” (209), I think it would be better to have a qualified response which affirms thatChristian truth is not
only
or even
primarily
propositional—and yet, God seems pleasedto inhabit even our propositions in some way.I would further suggest that Raschke’s anti-sacramental, anti-incarnational, andanti-institutional stance (the three are necessarily linked) runs counter to a pentecostal3

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