After spending some time with Andy Crouch’s book, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, I found it helpful to reflect on some of Crouch’s lessons in the book and see the overlaps with our daily work.
Crouch focuses his work on the heart of power: its inherent goodness, its corrupting nature, and the Christian’s role as an image bearer of God in redeeming and reimagining the way they steward the power they are entrusted.
But when we think of a definition of power, it doesn’t often embody “the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events” in a way that brings about human flourishing.
Yet, there is much power humans do wield. Even and especially in the context of our day-to-day vocation and work.
But instead of seeing the innate goodness of the gift of power, many have been left with a caricatured version of power that only hurts and never fulfills its intended purpose. It’s something to be avoided rather than something to be approached boldly with great reverence and caution.
Crouch opens his book by simply pointing out, “Power is for flourishing.” In a pithy manner, Crouch pulls our eyes up to the destination of the Christian story and power’s place in it.
Instead of simply chastising or minimizing the negative uses of power, he calls us to place power in the narrative arc of humanity. By placing power back in the context of the Christian story, we get a clearer picture from what we’ve fallen from to see our call to rightly steward and practice redemption in the here and now.
Iconic Imago Dei
Crouch’s main argument stems from the idea that power, rooted in the Christian story, is a good gift that must be stewarded wisely.
Power is much like work—a creational good that has been perverted and turned inward on itself.
Temptations like idolatry—“Every idol intimates that life apart from God is within reach”—and injustice —“Benevolent god-playing makes us, not those we are serving, the heroes of the story”—keep us from the intended reality.
This drives home image-bearing—the notion that human beings are created in God’s image—in a new manner. It’s not if we’re playing God, it’s which God we’re playing. The heart of image-bearing is whose image we are bearing.
Being children of the King implies a reframed allegiance.
Even considering Crouch’s example of an interviewer and an interviewee left me emotionally bruised. I, too, have been on the hiring and interviewing side of those types of conversations, and illuminating this hiddenness of power was one of his strongest efforts in the book. He helps us see our blind spots.
He also does well in encouraging readers to move from a prosperity gospel to a posterity gospel. Unlike the health and wealth empty promises of the prosperity gospel, the posterity gospel Crouch pushes us toward offers “the promise that generation after generation will know the goodness of God through the properly stewarded abundance of God in the world.”
To live in a world where Christians bring this to bear, from generation to generation, is a reimagined view of power that Crouch beautifully crafts for us. We are encouraged to think through institutional and sabbatical rhythms that create margin and flourishing for us and others.
Crouch seeks to stretch us towards systemic reform rather than yard maintenance. He pushes us toward the roots, not the branches.
The God We Are Meant to Play
We need to get to the root of our motivations to utilize power. Instead of simply appealing to our psyche through a finger-wagging list of injustices, Crouch appeals to our longing.
We are reminded of the ways our world feels undone, and that through God’s gracious love and example in Christ we see an image of what wholeness could one day look like again. “The power to love, and in loving, to create together, is the true power that hums at the heart of the world,” Crouch writes.
We are ushered to hope so we might reimagine a world that looks a little more like the Edenic paradise from which humanity first began.
This isn’t a tepid hope, though. We need candid honesty regarding the methods by which coercion, force, and violence taint our current understandings of power. But our hope is rooted in something much larger than us.
This is the heart behind this book: it’s not a matter of whether or not we will bear an image, it’s simply whose image we will bear.
Gage Arnold is the Communications Director for the Center for Faith & Work Los Angeles. He is currently an M.Div student at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, MO., and holds a B.S. in Journalism & Electronic Media from the University of Tennessee.