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If you’re a Christian, you don’t have “a calling.” You have three. Two of the three are fundamental and universal—that is, they aren’t optional and they aren’t individual, but they are by far the most important callings in your life. The good news (and hard news, actually) is they each come with a community who can help you fulfill them—in fact, without that community you won’t fulfill them at all.

Your first fundamental calling is shared with every other human being: to bear the image of God. We are here to reflect the Creator into the creation, and to reflect the creation’s praise and lament back to the Creator. To bear the image is to exercise dominion, caring for and cultivating the good world and making it very good through our creative attention. Most human work falls under this heading, which is why Christians work gladly alongside neighbors who don’t share our faith, and also why almost all human work is perfectly appropriate for Christians. It requires no more justification than this: bearing the image by working fruitfully in the good world is what we were always meant to do.

newsPlaying God has arrived!

Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power is in print! It can be ordered in hardcover from Hearts and Minds Books or directly from the publisher, InterVarsity Press, where you can also buy a DRM-free eBook version. The Kindle edition is available now for Amazon, and the hardcover should be in stock at Amazon by the end of September.

With Playing God, Andy Crouch explores the subject of power and its subtle activity in our relationships and institutions. Giving more than a warning against abuse, Crouch turns the notion of “playing God” on its head, celebrating power as the gift by which we join in God’s creative, redeeming work in the world.

“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

“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

“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

This article by Andy Crouch originally appeared in Comment, 2 November 2017.

Do you need to be part of an institution to flourish as a person and to make a real difference in the world?

From the seemingly trivial (bowling leagues) to the most consequential (churches), institutions are shared human enterprises, bigger than any one person, that extend human culture both over space and through time. They aim to endure at least to the third generation (our children’s children), if not to the thousandth. They are, in the words of political scientist Hugh Heclo, “authoritative communities” that ask us to engage in a sustained common project, sometimes at significant cost to our own autonomy and self-determination.

And for a good half century now, the ascendant answer to the question of whether we need institutions to flourish, at least in the dominant culture of North America, has been, “No, thanks, I’m good.”

This article by Andy Crouch originally appeared in The Gospel Coalition, 7 June 2017.

Winston Churchill’s tribute to the architecture of the House of Commons—“We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us”—has endured as an aphorism because material culture, like buildings, so often slips into the background. Only when we’re compelled to pay attention—as happens when we experience the disorientation of cross-cultural travel or when, as in Churchill’s generation, we must rebuild buildings that had been suddenly destroyed after standing for centuries—do we really see the reflexive power of culture, the ways that human life is shaped by material things.

But none of us can miss the most striking change in material culture in our lifetime. In a single decade we have dashed from a world with zero smartphones (if you don’t count the clunky pre-2007 ancestors of the iPhone) to a world with 2 billion of them. We’ve taken a kind of cross-cultural trip to a new world stuffed with glowing rectangles—and apparently, we’re traveling on a one-way ticket. We’re still getting over the jet lag, and the queasy discovery that although we bought these devices because of what they promised to do for us, they’re also doing something to us.

Jason Snell, former editor of MacWorld, is a very fine journalist who has been covering Apple for decades. A couple weeks ago, he posted his best guess of how Apple would announce a “Siri speaker” (an announcement that may well happen this coming Monday, 5 June). He called it “speculation, analysis, and a little bit of fan fiction all in one.”

Snell does a good job of channeling the Apple-exec diction that’s become so familiar from a couple decades of keynotes: “an amazing new product … sound so rich that it can fill a room … eight beam-forming microphones and a powerful signal processor embedded into the new Apple H1 chip.”

But the heart of his little essay is a treatment for a product video showing how the “Apple Home” would help a typical suburban family … well, help them do what exactly? Take a look—first at Snell’s treatment, presented without commentary, and then with some notes.

This article by Andy Crouch originally appeared in Christianity Today, 10 October 2016.

As a non-profit journalistic organization, Christianity Today is doubly committed to staying neutral regarding political campaigns—the law requires it, and we serve our readers best when we give them the information and analysis they need to make their own judgments.

Just because we are neutral, however, does not mean we are indifferent. We are especially not indifferent when the gospel is at stake. The gospel is of infinitely greater importance than any campaign, and one good summary of the gospel is, “Jesus is Lord.”

The true Lord of the world reigns even now, far above any earthly ruler. His kingdom is not of this world, but glimpses of its power and grace can be found all over the world. One day his kingdom, and his only, will be the standard by which all earthly kingdoms are judged, and following that judgment day, every knee will bow, in heaven, on earth, and under the earth, as his reign is fully realized in the renewal of all things.

This article by Andy Crouch originally appeared in Christianity Today, July/August 2016, p. 33.

I have two or three social media accounts, created in moments of inspiration or boredom, that I have never actually used. The companies that provide those accounts naturally want to turn me into an active user. But since they know nothing about me, the promotional messages they send, rather than being tailored to my actual interests, are the most generic form of popular culture you can imagine. “Here are some people we think you might like to follow,” Twitter gamely suggested recently to one of my dormant accounts—Ellen DeGeneres, CNN Breaking News, and Kim Kardashian West.

Those generic promotions come to mind when I hear fellow Christians talking, as they so often do, about “the culture”—as in, “the culture” is becoming more secular, or we need to engage “the culture.” Talking about “the culture” in this way causes us to stab blindly in the dark, much like Twitter’s email. It also causes us to miss our actual cultural responsibility and opportunity.

This article by Andy Crouch originally appeared in Christianity Today, 3 December 2015.

We can say with some confidence that all the following are true.

1.a. When news of a tragedy reaches us, almost all of us find our thoughts overwhelmed for minutes, hours, or days, depending on the scope, severity, and vividness of the loss. This is called empathy—our ability to put ourselves in the place of others and imagine their suffering and fear, as well as heroism and courage, and to wonder how we would react in their place.

1.b. Almost all human beings, whatever their formal religious affiliation, find themselves caught up in a further reaction to tragedy: reaching out to a personal reality beyond themselves, with grief, groaning, and petition for relief. Even those far from the church will find themselves, almost involuntarily, addressing God in these moments. This is, in a way, another and perhaps higher form of empathy. It reflects our instinct that our own experience of personhood, identification, and love must ultimately reflect something—or Someone—fundamental to the cosmos who is personal, who has identified with us, and who responds to us and all the world with love.

In recent years, many new colleges and universities have embraced a new tradition: “The Last Lecture,” in which a beloved professor is asked to give the lecture they would give if they had just one final chance to address their students and colleagues.

The Last Lecture was already a popular series at Carnegie Mellon in 2007, but everything changed when a computer science professor named Randy Pausch was asked to speak. When he gave his lecture, Dr. Pausch was about to turn 47 years old, and he and everyone at Carnegie Mellon knew that he was a few months away from dying of stage four pancreatic cancer. You can watch the 75-minute lecture on YouTube—millions of people have—and you’ll see a man who clearly loves his work, loves his colleagues, loves his students, and loves his wife, and most of all loves his children. The real reason he wanted to give and record his last lecture, he said, was so that his elementary-school-age children would understand what was most important to him.

Now, though I am also 47 years old, as far as I know this is not my last lecture. And I want to assure you that this lecture will not last for 75 minutes! But I thought of Randy Pausch’s last lecture as I was preparing for this day. Because I want to let you in on something that every faculty member here knows, and almost no student knows. What gives the the “last lecture” such poignancy is that every professor knows what it’s like to give a last lecture. They do it every spring.

This article by Andy Crouch originally appeared in andy-crouch.com, 8 April 2015.

For some reason, any kind of fasting prompts questions about logistics. So, to start with the F.A.Q.:

Did you really turn off all screens for all of Lent? Mostly, yes. My laptop and tablet disappeared into a cabinet. I turned off my email altogether. Same with Twitter, Instagram, Feedly, and the rest of my familiar digital companions—all gone. I deleted nearly every app on my smartphone except those relating to weather and travel plans. And I kept my phone and message apps active to communicate with family and friends.

So it wasn’t a total fast. But compared to my normal life, in which a rectangle is glowing in front of me seven to nine hours a day, it was a dramatic and initially disorienting change.

This article by Andy Crouch originally appeared in Christianity Today, March 2015 (vol. 59, no. 2), p. 32.

Of the many new words that bubbled up from our technological culture in 2014, perhaps the most unsettling is doxxing.

Typically carried out by anonymous online users with axes to grind and little to lose, doxxing involves making someone’s private information public. That includes home addresses, phone numbers, financial histories, medical records—anything that can be found in the endless databases available to canny hackers.

Doxxing can be a drive-by prank on most anyone who draws attention. But more often its targets are singled out for humiliation. In a series of events last year that came to be called GamerGate, certain active video gamers targeted journalists, mostly women, who had criticized the outright misogyny found in many popular video games. The backlash began with the bilious insults that have become astonishingly common online. But it quickly escalated to “revenge blogs” purporting to reveal those journalists’ past indiscretions, and doxxing attacks.

Doxxing is extreme and rare. But it marks the limit of a trend that affects every one of us: aspects of our lives that were once private and fleeting can now be publicly, and permanently, exposed.

This article by Andy Crouch originally appeared in Christianity Today (October 2014), p. 72.

The statesman and theologian theologian Abraham Kuyper is all but forgotten in his native Netherlands, but his reputation continues to flourish in the United States among Christians looking for better ways to imagine their role in Western society. They often come to Kuyper for his account of the “cultural mandate”—the biblical theme of responsibility for the world so often neglected in narrower versions of conservative Christianity. But they stay for Kuyper’s most distinctive contribution, his carefully developed account of culture’s “spheres,” each with its own features, functions, and significance. The family, government, science, art, education, and more are each essential. None can be reduced to the other, and each requires particular virtues and bequeaths us particular forms of flourishing.

Now, the Dutch Reformed heartland of western Michigan has given us a cultural product that Kuyper surely never imagined, but that would surely make him proud. It is designed to help the church reclaim our true calling: to live out our salvation, in the words its title borrows from the Orthodox writer Alexander Schmemann, “for the life of the world.”

This article by Andy Crouch originally appeared in Time Magazine online, 10 September 2014.

Technology keeps getting more and more personal. First “personal computers,” which sat on your desk, gave way to laptops, which sat in a rather more intimate position. Now laptops are giving way to tablets and phones, which nestle in your hand and slip into your pocket. And early next year, the Apple Watch will wrap around quite a few wrists, which it will tap gently to signal that a friend is calling or a message has arrived.

You could say the Apple Watch will be the ultimate personal computer, but more to the point, it is one of the first intimate computers. It promises to be with you every moment of the day (though it will part with you at night for recharging—such sweet sorrow), aware of your every motion, responsive to your touch. It will be close enough, Apple promises, to feel your heartbeat—and share that heartbeat, in a feature that is either sweet or slightly creepy, with a friend.

I think Sting sang about this kind of intimate watchfulness a generation ago: “Every move you make, every breath you take, I’ll be watching you.” Oh, that song was not so much sweet as slightly creepy? Well, it won’t feel that way with the Apple Watch—unlike Sting’s hovering would-be lover, it is watching you in order to serve you. After all, in the reverent tones of Sir Jony Ive, narrating the watch’s introductory video, this is technology that “embraces individuality and inspires desire.” What could possibly go wrong?

This article by Andy Crouch originally appeared in Christianity Today, September 2014, p. 29.

If we lived in normal times, few would notice if the Supreme Court agreed that a group had the right to practice its religious views without government interference. The plaintiffs would sigh in relief, the chastised government agency would formulate new rules, and we’d all move on.

Obviously, we do not live in normal times. The farther we get from the Supreme Court’s decision on behalf of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, the less it feels like a victory for anyone. Instead, it reminds us that fewer and fewer of our neighbors understand how religious organizations—and all communities smaller than the state—contribute to human flourishing and the common good.

This article by Andy Crouch originally appeared in A Sista’s Journey, 9 January 2014.

Here are two simple questions.

Can we have Jesus without justice?

And can we have justice without Jesus?

The answer to the first question is straightforward enough. If you define “justice” as “bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free, and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor,” then Jesus himself makes justice central to his ministry in his “inaugural address” in Luke 4. These sweeping promises from Isaiah are fulfilled in the person of Jesus himself: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:22).

This article by Andy Crouch originally appeared in Time Magazine, 20 January 2014.

Omari Sealey seems like a good man, the kind you’d want at your side during life’s hardest moments. He is the uncle of Jahi McMath, the 13-year-old who was declared dead by doctors three days after a tonsillectomy went horribly wrong on Dec. 9. He has bravely stepped before the cameras, along with Jahi’s mother Latasha Winkfield, to explain why they refuse to remove the equipment keeping Jahi’s body alive.

“Our faith is so strong that we don’t even think about the possibility of death,” he told CNN in December. “We believe with all the prayers from everyone around the world and the prayers with our family that she will wake up.”

I admire such faith. I am moved by the outpouring of love and concern from around the world and the donations (almost $55,000 and growing) to the family. But I’m afraid Jahi’s family is putting its faith in the wrong place, in technology that can never give them the miracle they seek.

This article by Andy Crouch originally appeared in Christianity Today, 20 December 2013.

For an ancient holiday, Christmas has had a surprisingly cozy relationship with the modern world. The commercial radio age began on Christmas Eve, 1906, when "O Holy Night" was sung on the first AM radio broadcast. You could write a whole history of Christmas broadcast television, from sleepy Whoville and its Grinch to Charlie Brown specials (not to mention Gian-Carlo Menotti's NBC opera Amahl and the Night Visitors, broadcast in 1951). Christmas provides the leitmotif for It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street, Elf and Home Alone. And 2013 brought us Christmas albums from Mary J. Blige, Erasure, Nick Lowe, and (no joke) Bad Religion. Without Christmas, our popular culture would be as flightless as Santa's sleigh without its red-nosed reindeer.

This article by Andy Crouch originally appeared in Christianity Today, 10 December 2013.

The Twittersphere lit up this past week with the revelation that Mark Driscoll's new book includes passages that bear a striking resemblance (though not quite word-for-word equivalence) to material from the book that is cited as their source. Further digging found a Bible study guide published by Driscoll's church in 2009 that did lift an entire passage, word-for-word, from an InterVarsity Press commentary on 1 and 2 Peter. The ensuing controversy has revolved largely around one of the last truly scandalous words in the English language: plagiarism.

I believe this scandal is largely misplaced.

This article by Andy Crouch originally appeared in Christianity Today, October 2013.

This Sunday, thousands of pastors will prepare for worship. Some of them will wear distinctive clothing—the albs and stoles of liturgical churches echo ancient priestly garments. But many more pastors will wear nothing that marks them out as different from their congregations.

Walk into many of our churches today, especially the ones that are growing fastest and spreading their influence widest, and you could never pick the pastors out of the crowd.

Except, perhaps, for one difference.

This article by Andy Crouch originally appeared in The Wall Street Journal, 15 August 2013.

When Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII are canonized as saints later this year, the world will be reminded that there is no other Christian tradition approaching Catholicism’s rigorous process of naming saints. The Vatican administers an internal process that includes a “devil’s advocate,” a lawyer dedicated to making the case against the candidate’s sanctity, and the requirement of two verified miracles attributed to the deceased. (Saints always are deceased—the church borrows the Greek maxim, “Call no man happy until he is dead,” and applies it to holiness as well.)

Even the Vatican’s strictness on sainthood may be easing, however. When the coming canonizations were announced last month, Pope Francis waived the miracles requirement for John XXIII. But the church still remains unique in its sainthood practices.

The only non-Catholic denomination that has something like it is the Eastern Orthodox church, whose worshippers bestow a kiss on the icons that crowd the sanctuary, greeting them like members of their family. For Catholics the saints are “up there,” well placed to whisper special requests in the divine ear. For the Eastern Orthodox, the saints are “right here,” surprisingly intimate presences in the earthly church.