Andy Crouch – PLAYING GOD [Feature Review]

October 4, 2013 — 6 Comments


Page 3: Andy Crouch – PLAYING GOD [Feature Review]

In their jobs, many believers will find themselves alongside unbelievers whose lives revolve around their own attempts at culture-making and world-creating. As we work alongside them we will bear witness to what we learned in Christ and experience as a part of Christ’s body (as Crouch would affirm). But we must not get sucked into thinking that culture-making and world-creating also constitute the center of our lives. In Christ, creation has already been made new and our commission is to show the world the shape of that new creation by filling this planet with Christian communities whose lives together reflect that newness. We must also invite the inhabitants of this world into this new creation and the congregations that inhabit it.


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. It is his role, not ours, to subject all rival creators under his feet and establish the fullness of God’s reign throughout the globe.


The presence of rival creators in this picture should not be underestimated. The church has enemies, and God has not called the church to vanquish those enemies but to love them and to overcome their enmity with goodness. To participate in this victory, which Christ won decisively on the cross, we must continue to wield the power that Christ demonstrated on the cross. The power of the cross is a kind of power to which Crouch pays insufficient attention. Nor does he tend adequately to the power of weakness, smallness, suffering, or faithful minority witness.

More significantly, Crouch does not account for the fact that from Abraham forward God has been asking a people to be less powerful than they could be in order to create space for God to be their strength and power. This is why God positioned the Israelites in Canaan as a people with no standing army or viable alternative to national defense and then forbade them from allying with neighboring nations, even friendly ones. Instead, God goes to great lengths in the conquest and later battles to show the Israelites that God wields power in their stead. For instance, God reduces Gideon’s army from thirty thousand men to three hundred because, in God’s words, “The troops with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand.”


This posture of intentional “disempowerment” in order to create space for the visibility of God’s power continues throughout the Old Testament narrative, is embodied in Christ’s incarnation, and is taken by the Apostle Paul to be central to God’s missionary strategy. It is precisely through weakness and lack of powerful rhetoric that God is able to work powerfully through the apostles and the early church (1 Cor 1-2).


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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.