Playing God

Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power

When used rightly, power results in creative image bearing that expands our own and others’ joyful “meaning making.”

—Reviewed by Raj Attiken, DMin, principal moderator, the Innovation Commons, and retired president of the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

Playing God addresses the impor­tant, yet poorly understood, topic of power—personal, institutional, cul­tural, and racial—and offers a Christian perspective of power shaped by the gospel about Jesus Christ. Andy Crouch, executive editor at Christianity Today and a senior fellow of the International Justice Mission, examines power and the ways we should harness it for human flourishing and the glory of God.

“Power is a gift.” That, according to the author, encompasses the book’s central, controversial idea. Although diminished and distorted by sin, power is a gift nonetheless. Power is for human flourishing. When used rightly, power results in creative image bearing that expands our own and others’ joyful “meaning making.” Crouch claims that power is not always a zero-sum game in which one’s increase in power means a decrease in someone else’s. The best kind of power occurs when powerful people create new power in other people without the total power being reduced, as when a teacher teaches a student.

After the introductory chapters, Playing God unfolds in four parts. In part 1, the author lays his case for power being a gift. He uses two biblical accounts—Creation (Gen. 1; 2) and the wedding feast of Cana (John 2)—to frame this section of the book. Crouch also argues here against Friedrich Nietzsche’s “will to power” and “might­makes-right” vision of power.

In the next section, Crouch ques­tions the assumption that power is ultimately about violence and coercion. Two biblical passages that bookend the next section of the book are the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20 and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet in John 13. The Ten Commandments orient us with the proper disposition to power and questions our underlying idolatry and proclivity toward injustice. John 13 shows how Jesus, aware of His power and privilege, modeled a differ­ent order of power for His disciples.

Part 3 addresses the role of institu­tions. While institutions are broken and often responsible for profound injustices, they are also necessary for human flourishing. Crouch notes that “in any failing institution, as common as the abuse of power is the neglect of power” (214). He urges trustees to work within broken institutions to provide places and ways for people to flourish. His biblical exploration of Philemon illustrates how the apostle Paul did not attack slavery directly but used his power, influence, and hospitality to advocate on behalf of Onesimus.

In the last major section of the book, Crouch describes the “end of power” in terms of its telos, its proper limits and the eventual cessation of human power as this power is swal­lowed up in praise of God.

Playing God is a clear and compel­ling call for Christians to steward the kind of power that enables human flourishing.

—Reviewed by Raj Attiken, DMin, principal moderator, the Innovation Commons, and retired president of the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.


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—Reviewed by Raj Attiken, DMin, principal moderator, the Innovation Commons, and retired president of the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

July 2014

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