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.