Magazine article The Christian Century

Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power

Magazine article The Christian Century

Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power

Article excerpt

Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power

By Andy Crouch

IVP Books, 288 pp., $25.00

Playing God is the exercise of power, and power is good. Power is a gift, a means of peacemaking, a God-sanctioned key to human flourishing.

This is the striking claim advanced in Andy Crouch's insightful and engaging book Playing God. Crouch, the executive editor of Christianity Today, presents here an evangelical take on the Christian social ethic, offering criticism as well as affirmation of the movement in which he now plays a leading role. His argument says yes to power--he declares that the idea that Jesus "gave up" power is dead wrong--but he also addresses "idolatrous power," the distortion that seizes advantage over others by means that can descend into brutality.

Lord Acton said that power "tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Crouch demurs, not dismissing the point altogether but saying that human well-being depends on generous employment of power. Distorted power is corrupt and corrupting, but not all power is distorted. True power is creative ability in the service of "comprehensive flourishing"; it is power exerted in the spirit of Christ, the "trustworthy image" of God. A focus on the "dark underbelly of domination" in human relationships may shed important light, but power can be redemptive, too. True power is creation, not compulsion. Instead of making winners and losers, it creates room "for more power"--more opportunity, that is, for more people to build abundance and blessedness on earth. Power as aggression is deadly; power that bears the image of God is life-giving.

Crouch wants readers to realize that responsibility before God requires passionate embrace of power. Neglect of power--whether because of disinterest, laziness or cynicism--is a spurning of the divine call. If God's ultimate end is shalom, comprehensive human flourishing, then those who bear God's image must throw off passivity and engage the joys and pains of creative effort on behalf of human betterment.

Here Crouch's criticism of his own evangelical tradition comes into play. When telling the Christian story, evangelicals too often begin with the Fall and end with Satan being cast into the lake of fire. But this abbreviates the story and reduces the good news to escaping from the world. A "divine skyhook" takes the place of divine empowerment for renewal and creativity. …

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