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.