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Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power Hardcover – October 6, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


"Perhaps no question with such urgent life-and-death consequences is more poorly understood among Christians in our era than the stewardship of power; but gloriously, in Playing God, Andy Crouch provides the clarity we need in this once-in-a-generation work of sweeping theological and sociological depth. It is fresh, rigorous, profoundly helpful and a delight to read." (Gary A. Haugen, president & CEO, International Justice Mission)

"How are power and idolatry related? What can we learn from powerful people in our business culture like Steve Jobs? How can a Christian in power be a good steward and use it to help solve injustice in the world? These are just a few of the questions that readers will ponder from Crouch's deeply layered study." (Publishers Weekly, October 14, 2013)

"If this book hadn't been by Andy Crouch, I wouldn't have read it. A book on power? No thanks. But a book on power by Andy Crouch? Yes, I'll give it a try, maybe a bit reluctantly. Glad I did. (So much so that I started over immediately and read it a second time.) (John Wilson, Books & Culture, "Favorite Books of 2013", December 2013)

"Readers will find plenty of insight and inspiration here. As a journalist, Crouch places high value on clarity of style and usefulness for everyday life. He brings in stories from his personal life and from popular culture that sustain interest and shed important light. And he illuminates his theme through multipage explorations of key biblical passages, which will be helpful to readers with preaching responsibilities. Crouch's evangelical perspective bears provocatively on a conversation pertinent to everyone." (Charles Scriven, The Christian Century, February 5, 2014)

"Andy Crouch's Playing God goes a long way to helping a wide variety of audience members understand networks of power and the power they personally hold. Having power is one thing. How one uses power is a whole other matter and strikes at the heart of what Crouch is seeking to argue in his worthwhile read." (Todd C. Ream, Christian Scholar's Review, XLIV:3)

"A good book prompts you to ask questions you wouldn't have otherwise. A great book embeds some of those in your gut so that you can't shake them for a while. On that score, Playing God is a great book. It provoked nagging questions I haven't been able to shake (or answer!). . . . Playing God's proclamation of the good news about power is crucial and timely--an antidote to both our penchant to seize power exclusively as well as our allergy to assume responsibility." (James K.A. Smith, Comment Magazine, September 27, 2013)

"Playing God is an excellent resource for pastors who are afraid to use the power at their disposal. Crouch contrasts God-given power that brings light, hope and goodness to the world with a different kind of authority: that which corrupts and can be abused." (Bill Easum, Outreach Magazine, 11th Annual Resources of the Year: Leadership "Also Recommended," March/April 2014)

"In the end, power is for human flourishing, and it takes the shape of the cross. As Crouch says, '. . . We are meant to pour out our power fearlessly, spend our privilege recklessly, and leave our status in the dust of our headlong pursuit of love,' like Christ, who loved us and gave himself up for us. That is our calling. That is what it means to play God in the truest sense." (Tim Hoiland, PRISM, Winter 2014)

"Playing God will be an important resource for undergraduate and graduate classes on leadership, reconciliation, and service. . . . It will also be helpful for organizational leaders in CCCU schools, helping them to think about how they view power and how their institutions organize the flow of power. Crouch is an evangelical thought leader, offering wise and intelligent advice here for Christians engaging a rapidly changing society and world." (Jenell Paris, CCCU Advance, Fall/Winter 2013)

"Playing God is an audacious, admirable work. Crouch's first book, Culture Making, aspired at nothing less than offering an alternative to Reinhold Neibuhr's seminal Christ and Culture. But the sequel is even bolder in targeting the philosophical giants Michel Foucault and Friedrich Nietzche, whose influence on the modern world defies superlatives. Crouch's contention is that the philosophers are right that power is everywhere--but perversely wrong in seeing it as essential coercive and violent. . . . Per Crouch, those called to redeemed lives, freed by the promise of resurrection from the prison of seeking status, can regard their power as a very good gift to be given away for the flourishing of all." (Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, Books & Culture, November/December 2013)

"The timeliest aspect of Playing God is its attention to social justice and how American Christians both empower and dispossess people around the world in attempts to help them. Rather than blindly striking at world ills, Crouch encourages us to understand idolatry and injustices as the negative consequences of ill-used power. If we 'play god' by swooping in and saving the day, we make ourselves into idols, rather than restoring the image-bearing capabilities of the people we seek to help. . . . There is something in Playing God both for those who are sensitive about their privilege and for those who feel hopeless to change anything. The reality is somewhere in the middle, and Playing God sets the stage for action, challenging us to acknowledge and use our power to increase mankind's capacity for image bearing." (M. G. Hager, Fare Forward, Issue 7, 2014)

"Crouch is insightful and backs up his anecdotal and social discussions of power with biblical examples . . . . This is worthwhile reading for anyone looking to reevaluate power and its wordly place within God's kingdom." (Church Libraries, Winter 2013-2014)

"With his trademark clear-headed analysis, Andy Crouch unpacks the dynamics of power that either can make human flourishing possible or can destroy the image of God in people." (Light Magazine, Canada, October 2013)

"Playing God is an essential book for thoughtful Christians, a true gift, a must-read. I am thankful that God has graced Andy Crouch with the power of words, with the gift of gab, with the ability to report and to ruminate. Perhaps it is enough to say this: this book will help you understand our world and be God's image bearers with Christ-like fruitfulness. We commend it to you as it is surely one of the most important books we've seen in years." (Byron Borger, Hearts & Minds bookstore, September 18, 2013,

"Once again, Andy Crouch cuts to the heart of the matter by challenging us to take seriously the One whose image we bear. Playing God is a clear and compelling call for Christians to steward the kind of power that enables flourishing." (Gabe Lyons, coauthor of unChristian)

"What do poverty, the cello, human trafficking, iPods, loan sharks, wine, the tower of Babel and the Olympics have in common? Crouch shows that all of these are expressions of power, God's unique gift to humanity. With unceasing eloquence, Crouch delivers a unique perspective on everyday life that opens readers' eyes to a whole new world of conflict, meaning and possibility. A truly transformative experience." (Brian Fikkert, coauthor of When Helping Hurts)

"This book plowed through my heart, leaving idol shards everywhere in its path. Andy Crouch, one of Christianity's most compelling visionaries on culture, examines power and the ways we should harness it for human flourishing and the glory of God. The book will prompt you to rethink assumptions and perhaps to reset priorities. It is a 'powerful' read, in the right sense of that word." (Russell D. Moore, president, Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission)

"Andy Crouch presents an essential treatise on one of the most important yet undiscussed topics for the promotion of justice in American Christianity--the issue of power. The work of God's justice in the world requires an understanding of the dynamics of power. Crouch shines the light of Scripture on what could be a divisive topic. Playing God should spark this long overdue conversation." (Soong-Chan Rah, Milton B. Engebretson Associate Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism, North Park Theological Seminary, and author of The Next Evangelicalism)

"It's likely that most readers of this book will both possess more power than they realize and feel uncomfortable with the amount of it that they know they've got. This book holds keys to liberation. It illuminates that power is, foundationally, good. It offers 3D pictures of what power is for (flourishing) and what its right use looks like (creative image-bearing that expands our own and others' joyful 'meaning-making'). Crouch's Bible-saturated teaching frees us from guilt and guides us in the active, humble and, importantly, essential calling to steward our power, thus helping us avoid the equal dangers of abusing our power and neglecting it. Playing God is a wise, deeply insightful, imaginative work; by heeding its lessons, Christians will be far more fruitful in their efforts to advance Jesus' kingdom in our broken world." (Amy L. Sherman, author of Kingdom Calling)

"This is a thoughtful and compelling book about power. Thinking of power as a gift which is meant for flourishing gives the reader much to consider. Institutions are meant for flourishing. Therefore, leaders of institutions must ask the question about how they are using the power gifted to them. Are they image bearers of that power or god players? The author's biblical and personal stories help the reader work through these and many other great questions." (Mary Andringa, president/CEO, Vermeer Corporation)

"In deft moves of integrating sound biblical theology with astute observations about culture, Andy Crouch wades into the immense topic of power--the powers, institutional power, cultural power, racial power--to offer the alternative Christian perception of power, a power that can be reshaped by the gospel about Jesus Christ, refashioned by love and reoriented by a new community called the church. In this book worldly power is deconstructed and replaced with a new kind of gospel power." (Scot McKnight, professor of New Testament, Northern Seminary)

"Playing God is certainly a healthy challenge to the spiritual-power paradigm by which many of us may be operating without even knowing it. For anyone interested in a firmly theological yet brilliantly practical discussion on our place as God's children on this earth, Playing God is most certainly a great place to begin. Any leader who fears an inability to use their power well should pick up this book and take comfort from its stories." (Andrew M. Whytock, Haddington House Journal, 2015)

"Crouch helps us place power within the overall biblical story, beginning not at the fall but at creation. By doing so we discover that power is a gift, rooted in creation and tied to our calling (or 'vocation') to bear God's image in the world." (Fitz Green, Study Center Newsletter, Fall 2014)

"Playing God is highly commendable reading for any student of scripture who longs for a deeper understanding of how we, as stewards and witnesses, are to use our gift of power to live and flourish in this world between Creation and New Creation. It will inspire your heart and engage your mind, while simultaneously confronting and challenging any strongholds of power that you may cherish." (Susan M. Haack, Ethics & Medicine, Vol. 31:1, Spring 2015)

About the Author

Andy Crouch (MDiv, Boston University School of Theology) is executive editor of Christianity Today and the author of books such as Culture Making and Playing God. Andy serves on the governing boards of Fuller Theological Seminary and Equitas Group, a philanthropic organization focused on ending child exploitation in Haiti and Southeast Asia. He is also a senior fellow of the International Justice Mission’s IJM Institute. His writing has appeared in Time, The Wall Street Journal and several editions of Best Christian Writing and Best Spiritual Writing. Crouch served as executive producer for the documentary films Where Faith and Culture Meet and Round Trip, as well as the multi-year project This Is Our City, which featured documentary video, reporting and essays about Christians seeking the flourishing of their cities. He also sits on the editorial board for Books & Culture and was editor-in-chief of re:generation quarterly. He also spent ten years as a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Harvard University. A classically trained musician who draws on pop, folk, rock, jazz and gospel, Crouch has led musical worship for congregations of five to twenty thousand. He lives with his family in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Books (October 6, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830837655
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830837656
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #61,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Andy is the author of Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, published in October 2013. His book Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, won Christianity Today's 2009 Book Award for Christianity and Culture and was named one of the best books of 2008 by Publishers Weekly, Relevant, Outreach and Leadership. In December 2012 he became executive editor of Christianity Today, where he is also executive producer of This Is Our City, a multi-year project featuring documentary video, reporting, and essays about Christians seeking the flourishing of their cities.

Andy serves on the governing boards of Fuller Theological Seminary and Equitas Group, a philanthropic organization focused on ending child exploitation in Haiti and Southeast Asia. He is also a senior fellow of the International Justice Mission's IJM Institute. His writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal and in several editions of Best Christian Writing and Best Spiritual Writing. He lives with his family in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.

From 1998 to 2003, Andy was the editor-in-chief of re:generation quarterly, a magazine for an emerging generation of culturally creative Christians. For ten years he was a campus minister with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Harvard University. He studied classics at Cornell University and received an M.Div. summa cum laude from Boston University School of Theology. A classically trained musician who draws on pop, folk, rock, jazz, and gospel, he has led musical worship for congregations of 5 to 20,000.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By David Swanson on September 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Playing God by Andy Crouch is a really good book. I'd heard the author allude to this project a couple of years back, if memory serves, and had been anticipating it ever since. As a white man who serves a multi-ethnic church in a predominately African-American neighborhood, I've thought about power a lot. I was curious what Crouch would say about it and am happy to report that his insights are fresh, theologically nuanced, and utterly intelligible. I assume many people will read this book and be helped by it.

There will be plenty of thoughtful reviews of Playing God; rather than add to that pile I'll share a few reasons why this book benefitted me and a few questions it raised.

As Crouch points out repeatedly, power, when it's talked about at all, is generally perceived negatively. For most of us, power is assumed to be a a zero sum game: one's attainment of power is equal to another's loss of power. Crouch points back to the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche as the most influential proponent of this view. In Nietzsche's world we each strive to extend our power over all space, competing with others on the same quest. In intentional contrast to Nietzsche, Crouch describes true power as the process of creating space for others to flourish. This, he says, is the vision we find in the Bible and represents power's gift.

Many readers, like myself, will not have realized how influenced they have been by Nietzsche's cynical view of power until they read Crouch's compelling case for a much more hopeful perspective. Later in the book the author helpfully (very!) differentiates power from privilege, dynamics I've made crudely analogous in the past. This is a somewhat common topic in our church; I'm convinced that white privilege is the achilles heel of most multi-ethnic churches.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By James R. V. Matichuk on October 13, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I admit it. I am suspicious of power. Some of my uneasiness stems from where I have seen injustice done towards those on the margins. But I also embody the typical GenX suspicion of authority and institutions. I mean, I am no anarchist, but I have an Anabaptist-like suspicion of all who wield power. Yet Andy Crouch's new book, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power has got me to think hard about the positive, creative purpose of power. According to Crouch, power is not the problem, misdirected power is. Power is a gift from God which enables each us to flourish and engage in the creative task of image bearing.

After Crouch's introductory chapters, Playing God unfolds in four parts. In part one, Crouch lays his case for Power being a gift. Two biblical explorations-The creation account in Geensis 1-2 and the wedding feast of Cana where Jesus turned water into wine-frame part one. Crouch avers that the creation account provides a picture of God's creative power and its connection to our image bearing. In chapter two, "Power is a Gift," Crouch argues against Nietzsche's `Will to Power' and might-makes-right vision of power. The Christian vision of power unfolded in the Bible is, "Real power, not just passive-aggressive coexistence but the power to turn the page of history, to deliver the poor, reconcile the lost, and raise the dead" (53). The Nietzschean view of power is unmasked as idolatry (ascribing ultimate power to an illegitimate source) and injustice (grasping at power, while leaving others powerless-chapters three and four, respectively). Chapter five shows that the alternative to injustice and idolatry is to be an icon reflecting God's image. Power becomes a means of creatively embodying the Kingdom in our context.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Daniel S on October 27, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been waiting for a book like “Playing God” by Andy Crouch for years now, since I got more serious about reading (and applying what I read). There really is not a lot out there on Christian non-fiction related to the notion of “power”. It’s discussed somewhat in philosophy circles and even some theological circles, but even then it is under the umbrella of discussions around politics, economics, or social justice. All that is well and good, Crouch would say, but where is God in the midst of it and what do normal, everyday Christians, do with any of that?
In his book, Crouch offers an excellent portrayal and exposition of key narratives and events in the Bible within the meta-narrative scope of human history and experience. He also reflects deeply, yet with pristine precision of making sure his reading audience “gets it” a thought provoking and powerful (pardon the pun) discussion of power – its misuse and we can get regain or use it once more for good. Each chapter builds on its predecessor, with a common theme going through that of “idolatry and injustice”. This, argues Crouch, is at the core of what is really going on here. Why is it that “institutions” misuse their power? Idolatry and injustice. Why do some instigate violence as a means of power? Idolatry and injustice. Why do some use their privilege (which is not inherently evil) for evil instead of good? Idolatry and injustice.
The book talks about relatively “heady” objects of discourse, but in insightful and transparent ways – often times Crouch brings in personal examples in his life, which is always a good way to grab a reader’s interest (words without actions are just words).
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