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Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  661 ratings  ·  99 reviews
Power corrupts—as we've seen time and time again. People too often abuse their power and play god in the lives of others. Shady politicians, corrupt executives and ego-filled media stars have made us suspicious of those who wield influence and authority. They too often breed injustice by participating in what the Bible calls idolatry. Yet power is also the means by which w ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 6th 2013 by IVP Books (first published September 1st 2013)
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James Smith
Aug 31, 2013 rated it really liked it
Provocative, timely, important, written with some stellar prose and the poignancy Crouch is known for as a speaker. The end of the book takes a bit of a memoiristic slide in which Andy seems to be the constant example, but elsewhere he draws on the stories of others--in India, China, and elsewhere. I can't imagine who shouldn't read this.

I'll be writing a review for Comment magazine. Watch for it at
Barnabas Piper
Feb 16, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Crouch remains one of the best authors I have ever read at crafting a paradigm and a framework into which vital concepts of life fit. In this one he looks at the complexities of power and our abuses and misunderstandings of it as well as what God intends for it. It is transcendent book in parts, but plods a bit here and there. Over all it is well worth reading and a valuable, helpful book.
Jan 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I think many of us have developed our understanding of power from Lord Acton's axiom: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. For most of us, that is the end of story and this accounts, at least among many Christians I know, for a deep aversion to anything like the exercise of power.

Andy Crouch has a different take that is evident in the word play in his title Playing God. We often think "playing God" is the worst manifestation of abusing power. But Crouch would argue that as imag
Anita Yoder
Jan 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful, true words. Crouch is not only philosopher and theologian, but also an artist and teacher. He writes in layman's language, in the style of a winsome poet. I want to read all his other books, plus the one he's writing now. Near the end of this book, Crouch describes Rublev's painting called "Rublev's Trinity." The way he unpacks the message of the painting is like ending a symphony with a fortissimo. ...more
Fraser Perrett
May 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great, read. Very convicting while being encouraging. Very recommend
Dec 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very solid read. At times it got a bit slow. I was hoping for more clarity on dealing with relationships where there is or could be a power disparity. However, this book deeply challenged my thinking about power.
Mieke Mcbride
I’ll be thinking about this book for a long time. So much more sociology than I was expecting, and lots to think about in terms of how the gospel leads us to reimagine culture, power, institutions, and privilege.
Grant Hartley
Mar 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Andy Crouch may be best known for his former role as the executive editor of the evangelical magazine Christianity Today (and known by a smaller group, Christian sexual minorities who submit to the traditional sexual ethic, like myself, for his leadership on the advisory council of Revoice). In Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power, Crouch offers, and spends the rest of the book supporting, a thesis that is simple but profound and, for many, fairly shocking: power is not something which must ...more
Mark Jr.
Dec 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013, kindle, favorites
Andy Crouch’s title Playing God has a double meaning. 1) Idols play God by lording it over and ultimately enslaving those underneath their sway. 2) But this doesn’t mean playing God is necessarily wrong—we were created to mimic our Creator not just in service but in what Genesis calls “dominion.” The difference between 1) playing God and 2) playing God is the difference between using your God-given power to enslave or limit other divine image-bearers and using it to enable their flourishing. ...more
Oct 05, 2013 rated it liked it
“I can respect an honest pacifist, though I think he is entirely mistaken” writes C.S.Lewis in Mere Christianity. “What I cannot understand is the sort of semi-pacifism that you get nowadays which gives people the idea that, though you have to fight, you ought to do it…as if you were ashamed of it.” According to Lewis, this attitude “robs magnificent young Christians in the [armed] Services” of “gaiety and wholeheartedness”.

It is undoubtedly one of the more bizarre paragraphs in Lewis’ oeuvre.
Justin Lonas
May 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Quite good, quite helpful. Andy is more philosopher than theologian, and that works in his favor for books like this, where he takes a high-level idea (power and power dynamics) and brings it back from its cultural captivity to enable a more theological understanding of it (power as God's character, image-bearing as a calling to rightly used power) to emerge. ...more
Cory Shumate
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of my top books this year

So good. One of the best books I’ve read this year. Crouch, as usual, provides a different way of looking at the world, with nuance and insight, while shining fresh light on power from personal relationships to institutions to eschatology. Delightful.
12/1/2016: switching this audiobook to my never-finished shelf. I find some of his thoughts interesting, but I've been disappointed so far that it's just not at a level to interact with the poli sci books of various sub-divisions that I'm reading about power. I think it's probably a good resource at a popular level, but I found some of his explanations frustratingly over-simplified myself. I've kept his list of references to check out, and actually, I already have one of the Oliver O'Donovan boo ...more
Mar 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cultural-studies
My highest praise for this book is that I can't help but keep bringing it up in conversation over the last few weeks while reading it. Timely, and informing so many of my thoughts already.

I've read two books by Andy Crouch this month, both of which caused me to make significant, joyful alterations to my schedule and budget. A book that influences my thoughts, conversations, time, and down to even my checkbook is a good work indeed.
Ben Smitthimedhin
Apr 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I still remember when I presented my research paper at the University of Iowa on Shusaku Endo's cynicism about the institution of the Catholic Church (which mirrored his cynicism about postwar authoritarian Japan). One of the professors at U of I asked me during the Q&A if I thought power could be a force for good since it has such a corrosive effect. I had half-baked answers about how I believed that the kingdom of God is a kingdom of humility, and that the paradox of the Christian faith is tha ...more
Mitchell Dixon
Jul 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: god-humanity
Crouch does an incredible job at portraying what biblical power should look like, how power is abused today, and what power will one day be. He goes from such grand scales of institutions and governments to the personal disciplines and stories of real people. I think this should be a required read for those on politics and in CEO positions.

What I really appreciate is that Crouch gives a very optimistic and realistic dimensions of power, with what could be and what ultimately always is with huma
Jun 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Wow, what a book. Penetrating and paradigm-shifting examination of power. Certain sections could have been shortened or eliminated, but overall this is a gift of a book.
Jan 25, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2021
2.5 stars

So... apparently this book took me 8 years to read. I remember reading the first half of it very quickly, and getting a lot of insight from those chapters... but the second half of it dragged.
Samuel Kassing
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is one of the most important books that I’ve read in the last five years.

This is the best theological treatment of power that I’ve ever encountered.

Crouch’s illustrates wonderfully, his prose are clear, and he is wonderfully centrist.

Pick this book up!
May 16, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I only give a five-star rating to books I consider not just thought-provoking, but paradigm shifting, and this one earns it. I rarely find contemporary Christian authors that simultaneously engage with a rich Christian historical legacy, while also cogently addressing modern problems. Books by contemporary authors often fall into two categories: self-help books with a weak theological veneer, or tomes that were dusty before they were even reached the self, and do not address a living church.


Mar 05, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: for-school
good food for thought, to reframe power in a more positive light. but just very obviously written from a very specific (white american male) perspective to a very specific audience (white middle class american) that I could not place myself within. the way he describes things in broad terms as if declaring global truths is in reality only applicable to a specific context. (and doesn't this happen all the time in North American writing :/) ...more
John Alsdorf
Jun 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An important subject, handled with truth and grace

Andy Crouch has written a book that every Christian will benefit from. He helps us realize the true nature of the power we all have, beginning even in infancy....and how it can be used to contribute to the flourishing of family, neighbors...all.
Oct 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that I think will be really impactful for me. Crouch examines God's creative intent for human power (flourishing and imagebearing). Here is my full review: ...more
Jul 05, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, religion
Highly intriguing look at what is, for me at least, an increasingly complicated subject. Most interesting were Crouch's thoughts on the Tea Party and privilege. Great read. ...more
Barry Davis
Feb 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The focus of this book is emphasized in the subtitle: power is indeed a gift from God (Phil. 4:13) but is in desperate need of redemption. After making the case for “original power” as presented in Genesis 1-4 (the first two chapters on creation and the second two about the new creation), the author provides examples of how this God-given power can move the individual into idolatry, injustice, or both. Redeemed power should be about “image bearing - reflecting and refracting the creative power o ...more
Peter Neumann
Feb 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The gift of power

This is an engaging and reflective work by Crouch. He argues that power is not something to be viewed as evil, but is a gift given by God, to be wielded carefully by his image-bearers. Of course humans have not always used this gift well. And because it is power, its misuse causes tremendous damage.

I found two area of the book especially insightful. First, Crouch argues that institutions are a primary way that power is multiplied, and through which most good and lasting changes
Ronald J. Pauleus
Andy does a good job speaking Power, what it is and how it’s suppose to work, from a biblical perspective. He has helped changed my previously wrong view on Power.

“It is a source of refreshment, laughter, joy and life—and of more power. Remove power and you cut off life, the possibility of creating something new and better in this rich and recalcitrant world. Life is power. Power is life. And flourishing power leads to flourishing life. Of course, like life itself, power is nothing—worse than no
Stuart Houghton
Aug 31, 2019 rated it liked it
A good effort from Andy Crouch; I liked the emphasis on using power to empower others by sharing of knowledge and skills. In the aid and development industry this is called "capacity building"; but capacity includes the capability to do something and the willingness to do it. I got the impression Crouch has never worked in a workplace where power is abused. This is because he has some good points about organisations needing over 15% of people who you can trust to always do the right thing - "tru ...more
Justin Armitage
I wouldn't normally read a book about power, but Andy Crouch's "Playing God" was well worth it. "Playing God" relies heavily on biblical truths and Crouch uses these truths to shed light on the role and purpose of power in our culture, and offers a hopeful alternative. Chapter 4 on injustice and idolatry is excellent; he devotes 6 pages to a note about evangelism and social action that were perhaps the best discussion I've read about what's more important and how the two are inseparable. Overall ...more
Nathan Meyers
Sep 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
There are few books to read as presciently timely as this one. In an age where most (everyone?) sees power as a zero-sum game, idolizes politicians, and argues over whether sin can be systemic & institutions are worth preserving...Andy Crouch dares (or really dared in 2013) to ask "what if God created power good?" Not as a zero sum game but as a way, rightly understood from creation to Jesus to ultimate resurrection, to create opportunities for greater flourishing? He then brilliantly unpacks th ...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

For twelve years Andy was an editor and producer at Christianity Today (CT), including serving as executive editor from 2012 to 2016. He joined the John Templeton Foundation in 2017 as senior strategist for communication. His work and writing have been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Tim

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“It is a source of refreshment, laughter, joy and life—and of more power. Remove power and you cut off life, the possibility of creating something new and better in this rich and recalcitrant world. Life is power. Power is life. And flourishing power leads to flourishing life. Of course, like life itself, power is nothing—worse than nothing—without love. But love without power is less than it was meant to be. Love without the capacity to make something of the world, without the ability to respond to and make room for the beloved’s flourishing, is frustrated love. This is why the love that is the heartbeat of the Christian story—the Father’s love for the Son and, through the Son, for the world—is not simply a sentimental feeling or a distant, ethereal theological truth, but has been signed and sealed by the most audacious act of true power in the history of the world, the resurrection of the Son from the dead. Power at its best is resurrection to full life, to full humanity. Whenever human beings become what they were meant to be, when even death cannot finally hold its prisoners, then we can truly speak of power.” 8 likes
“In his indispensable book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen boldly invites us to imagine ourselves not just in the place of the younger son, and then the elder one, but also in the place of the father. Many of Jesus’ parables are waiting for this kind of attention—his shepherds, widows and vineyard owners are not just clues to the true nature and identity of God, but to what we are meant to become by grace. But for us the path to becoming the shepherd requires first recognizing that we are the lost sheep; to become the searching widow, we must understand that we are the coin lost in the cranny; and to become the father requires first coming to terms with ourselves as his equally foolish, equally prodigal children. And that is, in a nutshell, what discipleship is about. In the crucible of discipleship we come to see just how distorted our vision for our own power has been and how small we have become, but we also discover just how lavish our Father’s goodness is and how much glory is waiting for us, how much more we are meant to be.” 4 likes
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