Power is something we seem to be most keenly aware of when we lack it. We hear about the decisions made in Washington, and we’re reminded that we lack the power to legislate. We watch professional athletes on television, and we’re reminded that we lack the power to run through the tackles of 250-pound linebackers. Many of us listen to beautiful music, and we’re reminded that we lack the power to sing on key.
But in Andy Crouch’s newest book Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, he shows us that power is not merely something that other people have. Power is something that everyone has, whether we realize it or not. Defining power as “the ability to participate in that stuff-making, sense-making process that is the most distinctive thing that human beings do,” Crouch proceeds to craft a discussion whose universal appeal comes by way of its universal relevance. Power touches each of us, leaving none of us exempt from the need to know how to handle it—whether it is in our parenting, our business relations, our habits of consumption, our cultural involvement, our financial decisions, or any number of other things.
It is common for people look at power in one of two ways: either it is something to be seized and exercised at will (hence tyranny), or it is an evil to be avoided and destroyed (hence anarchy). Yet in his characteristically careful and insightful manner, Crouch takes his readers down a better road, showing that power is to be neither hoarded nor despised, but received and stewarded as a good gift from God—fraught with dangers, to be sure, but a gift nonetheless.
Crouch is anything but naïve; he admits, “Any claim that power can be a good thing is subject to intense suspicion, if not the settled prejudice of cynicism.” But his case is a good one. He is a patient writer (thus requiring patience to read), but his patience proves persuasive. He takes the time to develop a nuanced argument which brings biblical clarity to an issue that many of us rarely even consider.
Be warned: this book can be devastating at times. (His chapters on Idolatry and Injustice are as convicting as they are brilliant.) But I am not entirely convinced that some timely devastation wouldn’t do us all some good—especially those of us who take our power and privilege for granted. As Crouch points out, “The powerful have a hard time seeing their own power and its effects. We do not see when our exercise of power is cutting off life and possibility for others; we do not see the ways others are resisting or undermining our own power.”
What makes this book so valuable is that it helps us see. It opens our eyes and points us toward the horrifying possibilities of how we can (and often do) abuse and neglect our power. But it also points us toward the hopeful possibilities of how we can steward our power for the flourishing of others and the glory of God.
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