Tag Archives: power

One-Minute Review: “Playing God” by Andy Crouch

Just finished reading Playing God by Andy Crouch.

Here’s my one-minute review:

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“What’s ‘Playing God’ all about?”
Playing God is a book that explores the complex issue of power; its uses, abuses, and potential for redemption.  Crouch’s overall thesis is that power is a gift from God that should neither be uncritically embraced nor fearfully avoided by Christians.  True power, Crouch believes, holds tremendous redemptive potential when channeled through humanity’s deepest calling to be image-bearers of the true God.  Playing God explores how corrupt and abusive  power is always rooted in idolatry and injustice, while making it clear that Scripture provides us with an understanding of power that can lead to life and flourishing for all.

“Should I read it?”
Maybe.  Given my personal passion for the topic (I devoted an entire chapter of my book Mere Disciple to the topic of power!),  as well as the depth and breadth of Andy’s insights on this topic, I wish I could offer a yes without hesitation.  However, Playing God is not a light read.  It’s very dense in parts, and I’m not sure it’s quite as accessible as I would have liked.  While Crouch does a remarkable job of dealing with a spectrum of issues tied to power, I’m not sure if Playing God would be a good starting point for someone looking to wade into the immensely important topic of power and our use of it.  I would never discourage anyone from reading through Playing God, but if you pick it up just realize that it’s going to feel like work some of the time.  That’s not the end of the world, but I could see some people not having the fortitude to push through some of the more philosophically dense chapters, and deciding to leave Playing God unread.  Which would be a shame, because Playing God offers inspiring, uncommon, and dynamic insights into how Christians in all spheres of life should understand and use power.

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Culture Making, Playing God, and the Common Good

Last year our lead pastoral team attended a Q session in New York City that featured Andy Crouch and Timothy Keller exploring what it means for Christians to be culture-making agents for the common good.

It was a fantastic experience. Keller has long been a major theological/pastoral mentor of mine, so I was looking forward to meeting him and “sitting at his feet.” What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the impact that Crouch’s sessions would have on me. At the time of the conference I had just started to wade into Crouch’s writings (I was about half-way through Culture Making). Having written about the relationship between power and Christian leadership in my own book, Andy’s reflections brought a new level of coherence to my thinking as I was challenged to develop a more nuanced understanding of how power is connected to culture making, playing God, and the common good.

During the New York sessions I remember being struck by how timely his thoughts were to my own pastoral context and the issues facing the city of Hamilton in particular. After his third session I approached Andy and asked if he would be willing to come up to Hamilton and facilitate a TrueCity event that would help galvanize Christians in this area into a deeper engagement with his themes. He was incredibly warm to the idea, and after hearing about the TrueCity movement it only took a few emails to secure a date: January 16th, 2014.

I’m still working with the TrueCity leadership team to figure out the exact parameters of the one day event, but the following two questions will be framing our time together:

1. “What is the role of the church in pursuing the ‘common good’?”

2. “How do we [church leaders] handle power in a way that causes our churches to flourish in the pursuit of the ‘common good’?”

Although the event is still months away, I find myself increasingly excited as Andy’s influence grows and his ideas continue to resonate and build momentum within the Christian community.

If you’re new to Andy Crouch, here is a series of six short videos that give you an introduction the six big ideas found in his new book Playing God: Redeemer the Gift of Power. I hope they entice you to dive into Andy’s writings and let them shape your discipleship journey:

Andy Crouch, author of Playing God, on Playing the Cello from InterVarsity Press on Vimeo.

Andy Crouch, author of Playing God, on Either/Or from InterVarsity Press on Vimeo.

Andy Crouch, author of Playing God, on Idolatry from InterVarsity Press on Vimeo.

Andy Crouch, author of Playing God, on Poverty from InterVarsity Press on Vimeo.

Andy Crouch, author of Playing God, on Flourishing from InterVarsity Press on Vimeo.

Andy Crouch, author of Playing God, on Institutions from InterVarsity Press on Vimeo.

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Thrones and High Chairs

I’ve been listening through Richard Rohr’s CD set “Fire from Heaven” over the last few weeks.  It’s a recording from a men’s retreat that focused on helping men (re)claim their identity in Christ.  It’s definitely geared towards those middle-aged and beyond, but I’ve found the talks very helpful on a number of levels.

A few days ago, I had the CD playing in my car, and in the midst of talking about men, authority, and leadership, Rohr just kind of threw out a metaphor and moved on.  I guess when you have tomes of wisdom, you can’t stop to unpack each insight, but his “throwaway” really struck me.

Rohr was discussing men and the two ways they veer towards holding leadership, authority, and power in their lives.  He said all men at some deep, unconscious level, want to be kings.  By kings, Rohr was referring to the archetypal king who embodies wisdom, justice, power, authority and grace.  Rohr mentioned that men will either occupy high chairs or thrones, depending on which path of spiritual growth they take (or refuse to take).

He said if men don’t mature beyond a “what’s in it for me?” worldview and grow up in God–really grow up–they’ll  likely become “high-chair tyrants” when they find themselves in positions of leadership.  The feet of a child in a high chair never touch the ground.  A high chair tyrant is childish and isn’t connected to reality–he isn’t grounded.  He usually lives out of arrogance and ignorance (I think this is a good summation of a lot of leadership in our world today).  One of the problems with high-chair tyrants is that they are unaware of how disconnected and ungrounded they are.  When someone is brave enough to confront them, any challenge is dismissed because it’s coming from one of the “common folk.”

However, Rohr notes that one of the main differences between a high chair and a throne is that, when sitting on a throne, one’s feet touch the ground.  A king is literally grounded, in touch with the earth, the community–it touch with what is real.   His authority, power and leadership are rooted in his experience with the earth (i.e., reality), and not his own ideas or ego-driven assumptions.

My experience tells me that the high chair will always be tempting, because it offers a shortcut to attention and authority without much work.  Just get a title or a position and start bossing people around–after all, you’re in control now!  You can even throw tantrums and often get what you want because of fear.

But the path towards kingship, the path that will shape us into leaders who are grounded in truth and live to serve while holding our kingdoms together, that path demands deep soul work.  It means confronting demons and a relentless commitment to live in reality, not in the fantasy of what we’d prefer.  Easier said than done, especially as one comes into successive levels of power and authority.

May we seek the narrow way; the way of the King.  Through his leadership, may we be refined into men who sit on thrones and not high chairs.

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