Justin Taylor–An Interview with Andy Crouch about the Idol and Gift of Power

I have heard a lot of sermons, and read a lot of books, articles, and blog posts, on imitating certain attributes of God and the incarnate Christ (e.g., compassion, love, goodness, mercy, humility). And I have heard a lot and read a lot about avoiding certain vices that are contrary to the kingdom (e.g., selfishness, envy, pride, lust). But I can’t recall offhand hearing much of anything about power””either as a gift to be redeemed or an idol to be rejected. You’ve invested a significant amount of time now thinking about the redemption of power to promote flourishing for the common good. Why do you think the Church has neglected this topic in particular?

That is what prompted me to write this book: a dawning awareness that I was almost never hearing Christians””especially in the dominant culture””directly address power as either a gift or an idol. Now, that is not at all the case in many minority-culture communities. I’ve spent perhaps 50 Sunday mornings of my life, cumulatively, in African-American church settings, and I’d bet that at least a third of sermons I’ve heard in those settings have directly addressed power and powerlessness in the context of American society, and how Christians should respond to those realities.

But of the couple thousand Sundays I’ve spent in majority-culture church settings, I could count on one hand the times the teaching directly addressed those topics. But the privilege of being in a majority is you rarely have to examine your own power closely. You often are not even aware that you have it. Oddly, power is frequently most invisible to the powerful””especially the form of power that I call privilege. So perhaps it is not surprising that majority-culture Christians rarely address it.

Power is a truly tricky topic, and that’s another reason you don’t hear a lot about it directly….

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One comment on “Justin Taylor–An Interview with Andy Crouch about the Idol and Gift of Power

  1. Terry Tee says:

    This really set me thinking. A thought-provoking piece, although with its references to Nietzche zero-sum conceptions of power it becomes unnecessarily high-falutin. But what are the implications for a Christian? For example, by birth, education and station in life I have the power of self-confidence and articulacy. This by the way is a power that I often long for young people to have today, because they seem so inarticulate, in the sense of being enable to dialogue, negotiate or present a case. Many of those reading this site have this power. How do we use it? Do we use it for good, for others, and if so when and how? Do we misuse it to browbeat or to present a puffed-up picture of ourselves?

    I also wanted to draw attention to powerlessness. I am in the middle of a long swing of visiting parishioners, 6-8 families a week. It has been most instructive. Good people, whom I deeply respect. Yet in some cases there is a sense of powerlessness, even among people with excellent jobs and sought-after qualifications, because in today’s world employment can vanish overnight. So people work long hours, do not speak up and live with a background sense of unease. Power and powerlessness sometimes exist side by side. Again, I wonder what the Christian response should be.