They take their faith into every sphere of life, including the workplace, politics, economics, education, and the arts. And in all these realms, they seek to glorify God. They obey, imperfectly to be sure. But their incipient obedience leads to significant changes in society.
– Hugh Whelchel, How Then Should We Work?
What if power was rooted not in coercion but creation?
This was the subject of Trinity Forum’s evening conversation on October 17th, featuring Andy Crouch, author of Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power.
Crouch began the discussion with the story in which the Pharisees asked Jesus whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar:
Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:20-22).
Just as the coins bore Caesar’s likeness, something directly bore the image of God: human beings. When Jesus mentioned “the things that are God’s,” he was referring to the idea that human beings themselves were image-bearers.
Crouch noted that “God’s culminating intention for his creation is that it be full of his image.” In fact, God declared his work “good” throughout the creation account. But once God created man in his own image, the world was not simply good, but very good.
These image-bearers are given the cultural mandate, in Genesis 1:28:
Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
Through the cultural mandate, God gave humans dominion—authority—over the earth. They were to unleash the abundance of the earth. This required intentional stewardship by God’s image-bearers to reach its full potential.
Thus, humans have dominion in order to further abundance and flourishing. From this foundation, institutions develop. According to Crouch, institutions are self-replicating “cultural patterns that have lasted for generations…Not many institutions survive without some attention to human flourishing.”
The use of power through these institutions, therefore, is not a necessary evil, but a way to bring about God’s coming kingdom. Unfortunately, due to the fall, humans don’t always want to be image-bearers; they want to be image-makers. That’s how we get idols, and that’s how power goes from being a tool to a controlling force.
Crouch noted that,
The only problem with idols is that they stop working…and as the benefit decreases, the demand increases.
The idol of power is no exception.
Crouch used the history of the Caesars as an illustration:
They initially went from using their power for the flourishing of the people to abusing it and trying to become as gods.
They went from being senators to kings to playing the role of God.
Since power is a good but easily-corrupted tool, Crouch noted that it is imperative that Christians hold positions of influence in order to point to the restoration of God’s kingdom:
The whole creation is groaning for the sons of God…waiting for the return of true image-bearing…this leads not to diminishing but flourishing…Proper exercise of power is not a zero-sum game.
In his book, How Then Should We Work? Hugh Whelchel agrees that Christians should be transformers of culture through their work:
We are to be actively involved in the transformation of culture without giving culture undue prominence…the idea of Christ transforming culture…celebrates the goodness of creation and therefore of human culture. It recognizes the fallenness of creation, but it also recognizes God’s desire to restore creation by the death and resurrection of Christ through the ministry of the church.
Christians who hold positions of influence have unique opportunities to transform culture through their work, and they should embrace their vocations as such. Whelchel says,
Christians are already positioned as leaders and decision makers within many of the institutions necessary to establish cultural renewal…Yet they are ineffective because…they do not understand that the most powerful tool God has given them to impact the world around them is their vocational work.
But Crouch balanced these exhortations by cautioning against the dangers of striving for power.
We are made for more than we could possibly imagine…that’s what makes us seek out that power…yet the one [Jesus] who had most did not grasp at it.
Christians who hold positions of power must be especially careful to keep the culture from becoming an idol and transforming them.
Acknowledging this dilemma, Crouch concluded that Christians may choose to seek positions of influence as a way of fulfilling the cultural mandate—as long as they do so with great caution, humility, and are…”constantly immersing [themselves] in an alternative story,” the story of man’s purpose and the restoration of God’s kingdom.
Can power be a positive thing? Should Christians seek positions of power?