Andy Crouch – PLAYING GOD [Feature Review]

October 4, 2013 — 6 Comments


Page 2: Andy Crouch – PLAYING GOD [Feature Review]

In Culture Making, Crouch starts out with skillful cultural analysis and continues in the middle with impressive biblical exposition. So I was hopeful that he might finish strong, but alas the book devolves into almost a sort of self-help book by offering a tidy formula for success.


There is no suggestion that beginning with Abraham and culminating in Christ, God was pioneering a new sort of culture on behalf of the world. Cultural creativity is not eschatologically informed, but something believers do just like everyone else—only as especially enlightened members of the wider public. There is little sense that the church’s life together is itself a sign or foretaste of God’s kingdom.


Nor is it clear that the church continues Israel’s mission as a set-apart people that exists in and for the world as a specific sort of social, political, cultural reality. Crouch exhibits a solid grip on the subtleties of specific scenes within the Bible story, but not a macro-level understanding of the calling of God’s people within it.


I hoped that Playing God would perhaps fill out the picture a bit more, especially since I noticed that Crouch specifies practical roles the church plays toward the end of the book. Unfortunately these insights, which are fine in and of themselves, also fail to satisfy. For those with a strong ecclesiology they come off as damning with faint praise.


The role of God’s people, indeed all people according the Crouch, is to “play God” by joining God in being creators. This is what sets humans apart as divine image bearers. Crouch takes the dominion mandate in early Genesis to be central to what human existence is about. He then shows that this mandate requires power and that God’s people should learn to be comfortable wielding it—as long as we do so well, and here Jesus’ teaching and example are instructive. We serve people and all of creation with power on loan from God. We anticipate the new creation envisioned in Revelation by joining world powers in pushing creation in that direction even now.

The problem with Crouch’s thesis is that Genesis 1-2 was not written to establish the agenda of God’s people. It was written to show how sinful humans corrupted God’s good creation and why God chose to form a set-apart people to carry out a specific purpose within God’s global creation project. That purpose is not described, in the rest of the Biblical narrative, as doing rightly what humanity’s primeval forebears did wrongly. Israel and the Church are not called to be co-creators alongside the wider citizenry, but priests and witnesses for the benefit of the wider citizenry.


Both communities—Israel and the church—are called to do so by ordering their lives according to a pattern that they do not create but receive from God. We are told in the New Testament that the world will despise that pattern and will reject us. We must nonetheless maintain our witness to that pattern, for it anticipates the new creation that God is bringing. Bearing witness to God’s reign is our primary vocation. It is the organizing center of every congregation’s corporate life and the specific life of each member.


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  • I thought that he was pretty explicit that the difference between sacred and secular us of power was the purpose if use. Secular use of power is for the welder of the power. Sacred use of power is to empower others to fulfill their own gGod ordained roles and their own sacred uses of power.

  • scotmcknight

    Incisive and clear and insightful.

    Andy’s pure Kuyperian in approach, that’s a historic posture of many Christians in the church, and I think I’d examine Crouch from that angle. From that angle, he’s correcting Kuyperian strategies at times. That’s how I read him.

  • erbks

    Thanks, Scot. This comment and your related tweet are helpful in providing some context for Andy’s work. ~Chris

  • Alison Swihart

    This was an excellent review, in spite of the fact that I haven’t read the book yet. I try to read several reviews before delving into the real thing. Thanks.

  • I have now read the book *Playing God* some months later than this review was published. I tend usually to agree with John Nugent’s ecclesiology (I thought) and tweeted this review enthusiastically but I have to say I think Nugent has caricatured Crouch’s book here and that many of his objections were adequately treated by Crouch. For example, Crouch’s book is suffused with reflection on Scripture. I understand though that Nugent as a biblical scholar may have a different standard than myself. I suppose where Crouch and I would both part ways from Nugent is this statement on page 3 of the review by Nugent: “Christians are not responsible for making this world a better place, but for being the better place that this world will never be until Christ returns.” I find this kind of dichotomy unnecessary. Not even Yoder would have said such a thing; Yoder’s book is “For the Nations.” I don’t really want to have an argument here but just wanted to commend to Anabaptist types who might be interested in Crouch’s book to read it for yourself.

  • John Nugent


    Thanks for entering the conversation 5 months later. And now, 5 months after your response, I have discovered that you said something and can finally respond to you.

    The main point of my review was that the ecclesiology of Crouch’s book is extremely thin, and if he wants to take his project to the next level, he would do well to make a more robust ecclesiology more central to his analysis than it was in this work. I will leave it at that and engage your interesting comments about ecclesiology.

    In saying that the church is “not responsible for making the world a better place, but for being the better place that the world will never be until Christ returns” I am not denying that the church exists “for the nations.” My closing reflections on Isaiah highlight precisely that God’s people exist for the nations. I develop what I think this looks like at length in the epilogue to Politics of Yahweh.

    The key word in the sentence you quote as encapsulating the apparent
    difference between our ecclesiologies is “responsible.” The OT story (and church history) is replete with God’s people wanting to be responsible for that to which God never called them. So the important question that is seldom asked becomes: For what does God hold his people responsible in Scripture?

    The answer to this question must somehow come from the narrative of Scripture. Yet nowhere in Torah, the Prophets, Jesus, NT letters, or even letters to the churches in Revelation are God’s people held responsible for failing to make the world or wider societal social structures better. They were certainly never told, “In the beginning you were told to be fruitful, multiply, exercise dominion, and create a wonderful world – why haven’t you been doing that? When will you finally get on board with the cultural commission?”

    This is a glaring omission given the prominent role world-betterment plays in many theologians’ social ethics. There is certainly no shortage of admonition, accountability, and redirection in Scripture, but all intra-biblical critique has nothing to do with the “make the world a better place” agenda. This omission must be taken seriously.

    By way of contrast, consider how frequently in Scripture God and his spokespersons hold Israel and the Church responsible for not being the set apart exemplary people that God has called them to be in Moses and Christ. This is so because being a set apart exemplary people—or paradigm, pulpit, pilot project, demonstration plot, and first fruits of God’s kingdom—is the role God has given his people (as a group) as a part of God’s wider task of redeeming this world. The entirety of 1 Peter focuses on this critique.

    As God’s people do this, it will have a variety of effects. Sometimes it will be embraced, other times rejected. Sometimes it will result in praise, other times persecution. Sometimes our witness will be ignored; other times people will listen. Sometimes our witness will help the world become qualitatively better, for an indefinite duration, in specific places. Other times, our set-apart difference will harden the hearts of the world and strengthen the resolve of its rebellion. Sometimes. Scripture reports, the latter is even God’s will. Despite the diverse possible outcomes and by-products of our witness, our commission to scatter communities through out the world whose life together displays God’s reign remains the same.

    As far as I can tell I am not forcing a dichotomy between two things that the Scriptures clearly hold together. Rather I am distinguishing between two different agendas because one often has the negative consequence of eclipsing the other and when it does the multivocity of power gets obscured in the process.

    Thanks for the push back.