Can Power be Redeemed? Book Review of Playing God by Andy Crouch

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playing god thumbBecoming faithful stewards of power is God’s design for human flourishing, or so claims Andy Crouch in his latest book, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. In today’s article, read Guy William’s summary and review of this important work which thoughtfully engages a critical issue for the church today.

“Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely… but it rocks absolutely too!” So declares a spoof on the famous observation of Lord Acton. That short and humorous addition offers important commentary on our tenuous relationship with power. We may be wary of our capacity to abuse power, but that doesn’t mean we don’t desire it.

Power as Gift

Andy Crouch’s latest book, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power (InterVarsity 2013), tackles this sticky topic, confessing his conviction up front that “power is a gift” (p. 9). A few paragraphs later, he gets to the heart of the conversation among intellectuals today and stakes out the ground for a Christian position. Is power “essentially about coercion,” such that “even when [it] looks life-giving and creative, it actually cloaks a violent fist in a creative glove”? (p. 10) The joking twist on Lord Acton above plays on this view. Crouch answers no. Grounded as he is in the biblical story, power is a good that is corrupted by sin. “I actually believe the deepest form of power is creation, and that when power takes the form of coercion and violence, that is actually a diminishment and distortion of what it was meant to be.”

In four main sections of his book, Crouch explores the Gift of Power, the Grip of Power, Institutions and Creative Power, and the End of Power. The chapters within each section flesh out the problems and possibilities, addressing the topic at both the individual and corporate level so that the reader tours power and it’s implications in one’s work and relationships, as well as in society’s institutions.

Coming to Grips with Our Power

Part of faithfulness involves owning up to the power we possess and for which we are, therefore, responsible. Ignorance or naivete about our own power, individually or collectively, can be as much an impediment to faithfulness as deliberate abuse of power. Many a well-meaning Christian leader (including pastors) has misunderstood “servant leadership” as power-eschewing leadership. This view does not square with reality, and therefore cannot be a faithful response. Becoming faithful stewards of power is God’s design for human flourishing.

Another difficult correction for Christians and Christian institutions regards our ministries of compassion. Rightly seeing the power dynamic in relationships that involve helping and receiving help can unmask ways in which helpers unwittingly do harm even while our efforts are well-intended.

The Takeaway

Playing God is a worthwhile read for any thoughtful Christian. Crouch’s overarching thesis and exploration chapter-by-chapter (including dedicated work on specific biblical passages) will help preachers and teachers in particular work through their own thinking on the subject of power, with implications for sermons, bible study lessons, and one’s own leadership.

As it turns out, not only is there good news about our stewardship of power, the “church celebrates a greater power in worship” (p. 272). Jesus Christ has demonstrated and made possible a better way since, unlike us, he refused to grasp after equality with God (Phil. 2), instead putting sin and corruption to death through the unlikely yet ultimate power of cross.

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Guy Williams is Senior Pastor of the United Methodist Temple in Port
Arthur, Texas. A graduate of Texas A&M University and Asbury Seminary,
he is married with three children. Follow him on twitter @guymwilliams
or find him online at guymwilliams.net.

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