Andy Crouch – PLAYING GOD [Feature Review]

October 4, 2013 — 6 Comments



Page 4: Andy Crouch – PLAYING GOD [Feature Review]

I suspect that Crouch knows all of this and that it even occupies a place in his system. The problem with Playing God is that this place is not defined. That which is distinct about Christian power receives little elaboration, and important questions posed by the biblical witness remain unanswered. What must God’s people do that only they can do? In God’s sovereign purposes, are there not tasks of world maintenance that God uses rebellious powers to accomplish and tasks of world redemption that God uses only the church to accomplish?


This concept is best illustrated in the servant songs of Isaiah (in chapters 40-55). In the sixth century, many of God’s people lived in a foreign land under the oppressive thumb of Babylon. God had at least three tasks to accomplish: punish Babylon for abusing its power on loan from God, provide for the reestablishment of God’s people in Judea, and shine the light of God’s love to the nations. In the servant songs we see that God uses Cyrus of Persia to accomplish the first two tasks. With sword in hand, Persia walks in, assumes all Babylonian territory, sends the exiles home, and finances their rebuilding projects.

Yet the same power that God used to subjugate Babylon and restore Israel is elsewhere exposed to be just another international beast that is unfit to display God’s love for the nations (Daniel 8). So God chooses lowly, despised, unattractive, and weak Israel for this task. In Isaiah 49, God says to this broken instrument, “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (v. 6).


In the divinely ordained division of responsibility in this world, there are different tasks to which God calls different institutions and there are different sorts of power at work in them. Power is always in play and Crouch is certainly right in calling Christians to own up to this reality and to grapple with its implications. Yet in assigning all humans a common creational task and calling all people to draw from a common reservoir of power, Andy Crouch has sidestepped the most complicated dimensions of power-wielding with which Christians must contend. Having done so, he has neither adequately developed the theme of power as it emerges from wider biblical narrative nor identified the specific role of God’s people within it.


John Nugent is a Long Island native and Professor of Old Testament at his alma mater, Great Lakes Christian College in Lansing, Michigan.  He is author of the 2011 Englewood Honor Book, The Politics of Yahweh, and Founding Editor of The JH Yoder Index, a researching tool that enables users to identify where Yoder writes about specific topics, Scriptures, and persons.



  • 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.