Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 2 (August 2013)

playlist_add_check Review Article

Carl Raschke. GloboChrist: The Great Commission Takes a Postmodern Turn. Church and Postmodern Culture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008. 176pp. $19.80.

Evangelicalism, with which I often futilely resist being identified, is in dire need of women and men dedicated to working in academia for the sake of the church. Academic writing and publishing, in both mainline and evangelical streams, tends to serve the academy primarily and the church secondarily. I applaud Carl Raschke for his commitment in GloboChrist to strengthening, challenging, and moving the church to become the faith community of God’s intent. Raschke continues, in the tradition of the rabbis, to ask really good questions—questions we cannot ignore, if we are serious about our task of leading in the twenty-first century. Because, we know, at a deep level, that questions are more important than answers.

Specifically, I found Raschke’s treatments of current attitudes towards economics, politics, globalism, and religion to move us beyond the rigidity of fundamentalism in conservative communities of faith as well as the lackluster, laissez-faire thinking in liberal Christian circles. His voice is welcome and fresh.

Raschke’s is a prophetic voice that demonstrates one does not have to sacrifice intellectual integrity for the sake of getting the church’s attention. The clearest example of this in the book is found within the “4 R’s principal” elaborated throughout chapter five (though I usually have an allergy to such formulas—this formula was helpful). Raschke suggests that local churches, serving a GloboChrist (from Colossians 1), will exhibit four core values: (1) radical (back to the root), (2) relational (people-centered), (3) revelatory (capturing the human imagination for God’s work), and (4) rhizomic (like Kudzu in the American South, a network/band of kingdom-minded communities).

I also appreciate the subversive way Raschke names, exposes, and defeats the many American Jesuses, which are mere caricatures of the Jesus found in the canonical Gospels. He does this by introducing the idea that every church/movement faces the daunting task of “indigenizing” the Jesus story. Moreover, christology (Jesus), eschatology (end things), soteriology (cross and resurrection), and missiology (our purpose) too often get pimped by American consumerism and denominational politics. Raschke challenges readers to develop a larger (and paradoxically smaller or local) view of Jesus at work in the world. This happens through indigenization: “universal concepts are intelligible only if they are understood in light of specific circumstances. Meaning or signification is located in the singularity of an event” (39). This is the hard work each generation faces.

As stimulating and helpful as this book is, I have one significant objection to Raschke’s epistemological assumptions. While so much of his treatment of globalism, politics, economics, and religion challenges both the right and left (in America and the West) in provocative ways, I found his ultimate conclusions regarding Islam to be rather predictable and, predictably, neo-evangelical. That is, Raschke continues to perpetuate the myths and biases that fuel so much of the animosity of Christians in the West versus Muslims throughout the world. For instance, almost all of his citations regarding contemporary Islamic thought betray the fact that Raschke believes Islam to be a religion inherently comprised of violence, power, control—a religion primarily concentrated among Middle Eastern Arab-speaking men. For instance, Raschke claims, “it has been said that if ‘fundamentalism’ means the attention and strict adherence to all the minutiae of the Qur’an, then all Muslims by definition are fundamentalists” (110).

Raschke sees the unavoidable clash of civilizations and revelations as necessarily creating a scenario in which Christianity will have to win out over and against Islam. My straight-forward suspicion is that Raschke, while clearly important, brilliant, and prophetic, has yet to engage Muslims in personal relationships. If he had done so, his tendency toward narrow categorizations of Muslims as “Middle Easterners” who operate as “fundamentalists” in every area of their life would have been blown up long ago. I find it strikingly ironic that although Raschke argues for a stronger claim of relational faith, when he arrives at Islam there are no people, no stories, no experiences, and no faces. It appears to be all esoteric; he does not draw upon shared-life, embodied moments. If there was ever a moment in the book in which the reader needed and deserved a real tangible expression of a very complicated subject (Christianity and Islam)—Raschke had such a moment and missed it as he was building his case for the overall situation and the necessary Christian response.

The truth is, however, that Islam is just as global as Christianity. The majority of Muslims in the world live outside the Middle East, do not speak Arabic, and are not of the radical ilk insinuated in chapters four and five. While formidable and dangerous, Islamism (radical Islam) does not constitute the whole of a faith of over one billion people. Islam is just as complicated and varied as Christianity.

Islam is not the enemy, terrorists are. And terrorism is the result of the perfect storm of economic depravity, fundamentalist notions of revelation and eschatology, and the truth that Western nations’ attempts to expand and colonize have left us in a precarious global situation, as Raschke argues but then falls woefully short in providing a framework for moving forward. He also fails to name clearly the sins of Christianity while he is so comfortable naming the sins, injustices, and problems within Islam. He generally refers to a weak Western Christianity but fails to name and recognize the history of violence by Westerners/Christians towards Muslims. We are where we are because we have all (Muslims and Christians) sinned and fallen short of the glory of the one true God.

And here, I think the Anabaptist voice is much truer to the trajectory of the Gospel accounts of Jesus than are the other Protestant appropriations of a Jesus who sought not to be savvy, sophisticated, and overly intellectual in his approach to the enemies of his day (Samaritans, Romans, religious leaders). Rather, Jesus sought to go the distance, to love all the way, even unto death. If the powerful global church has an eschatology worth touting, it is the eschatology of Revelation in which Jesus (and the church, his faithful band of martyrs/witnesses) is not the powerful lion after all. Rather, Jesus is revealed as the unexpected lamb, whose blood is his own. His sacrifice becomes the liberating moment in human history in which all the powers of death—and all death’s friends—are exposed for the hucksters they have always been. Raschke rightfully and powerfully states: “The kind of radical, relational, and incarnational Christian witness that a postmodernized Great Commission entails would have the ferocity of the jihad and paradoxically also the love for the lost that Jesus demonstrated” (131). I am simply astounded he gives the reader no tangible pictures or embodied narratives of what this incarnational approach looks like. For incarnational to stay esoteric is antithetical to the very nature of incarnation.

A few years ago, on the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, I preached in my home congregation in Nashville on the good news that God has overcome the world through sacrificial love, not military power. I then boarded a plane via Southwest and flew to LAX in order to speak to a group of college students at Pepperdine University. Both groups, while vastly different in many ways, left me with this striking feeling: people—whether Christians in Nashville or Christians on the West Coast—are hungry for answers and stories bigger than fear, anxiety, panic, stereotype. Why? Because all of the former are simply byproducts of death; and people—whether spiritual or not—are drawn to life, hope, and the sense that “there has to be more than this.” Death doesn’t need to be the last word.

Christianity (2.5 billion) and Islam (1.3 billion) comprise nearly half of the world’s population. We all have stake, religious or not, in the condition of the relationship between the two. The answer cannot simply be, “Let’s kill them and let God sort it out” or “Let’s convert them all.” There may be times for nation-states to wage war. There may be times for conversion (though, if you are not willing to consider Islam, do you have the right to ask a Muslim to consider the Jesus Way?).

Why is it that Raschke calls us to move beyond our fear and paranoia as we follow the GloboChrist into the world only then to bow to fear, reductionism, and anxiety when it comes to Islam—arguably the single most important practical theological issue of our time?

The test of Christianity for the remainder of this century will be, as it was the last twenty-five years of the twentieth century, whether or not we can make good on the inherent biblical notion that Christianity, with its central message about the kingdom of God in the image of Jesus, have been unleashed in the world.

Josh Graves

Lead Minister

Otter Creek Church

Nashville, Tennessee, USA