13th Annual Day of Common Learning Synopsis


Article by SPS Student Megan Wildhood.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014 was SPU’s 13th annual Day of Common Learning.  The keynote speaker for the occasion was Andy Crouch.  According to his LinkedIn profile, Crouch describes himself as a journalist who strives to make complicated things clear.  He is also a worship leader, minister, writer, executive editor of Christianity Today, father and husband of a physicist. 

To begin his keynote address, Crouch assumed the most powerful position in Royal Brougham Pavilion: on stage, in the spotlight with abundant amplification; thus he embodies the theme of the day: Power.  “We don’t often talk about it,” he said, and wonders if it’s possible to have an honest yet hopeful conversation.  He has found that many Christians are either honest with hope (i.e., cynical) or hopeful with being honest (i.e., naïve).

When we think about power, most of us are familiar with British polymath Lord Acton’s axiom, even if we don’t know the name: “Power corrupts and absolutely power corrupts absolutely.”  Actually, what Acton said was “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  The concept of corrupted power is commonplace in our understanding of power.  And there is something about power that distorts human relationships.  Brilliant and ultimately insane German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche asserts that the desire for power is the will to domination and is present in every assertion of power.  Everyone secretly wants to extend its forces to master space and time.  We all secretly want to be God but there’s only room for one.  A slightly less domineering but equally off-putting form of power easily conjured by our modern consciences is coercive power – that which overcomes resistance, or makes someone do something they may or may not want to do by force, incentive or persuasion.

Crouch argues that these forms of power, coercive and corrupted, are indeed very real in our world, but they are not the realest forms.  What he calls “Genesis 3 power,” or the “declaration of independence” from God that led to fall from God – this is the world we currently inhabit.  Crouch states that in this world, Nietzsche has a lot of truth.  But there is a power that existed before the fall, what Crouch calls “Genesis 1 power” and this is neither coercive nor corrupted but creative power. 

To illustrate his point, Crouch presents a fascinating grammar lesson about the verbs in these Genesis passages.  We tend to think of verbs as imperatives or commands, such as “do this” or “make it so.”  But imperatives are almost nonexistent in Genesis 1: Nearly all the verbs are in the jussive form.  That is, God’s “let there be” and “may there be” action is not a command but a request.  Similarly, Mary’s declaration to the messenger angel upon hearing the news, “let it be with me,” is in the jussive.  Jesus in Gethsemane prays in the jussive: “Not my will but let thy will be done.”  The first three verbs in Lord’s Prayer are in the jussive.  This form does not overwhelm or cause by force but permits, makes room for something new to happen.

In the first three days of creation, God takes chaos and brings order.  God fills the following three days with abundance.  On the sixth day of creation, the jussive switches to cohortative: “Let us make” – yet this is still not a command.  This kind of power requires a kind of community and relationality to operate fully.  Human beings were created by this power, male and female, innately with difference and diversity.  Only after this crowning of creation do we get an imperative but it is the most expansive kind of command: “Be fruitful and multiply.”  Image bearers will then start to exert creative power.  Crouch asserts, “True power is for flourishing.  It discovers undiscovered abundance and says over it that “this is very good.  Be fruitful and multiply.”  He challenges us to consider who is flourishing because of our power and encourages us that creation does not flourish without the presence of an image bearer.

According to Crouch, true power is not the will to domination or power that diminishes another for the sake of itself.  Instead, true power causes mutual power, one that curbs the chaos that threatens all beings.  Christians are in the world to answer the question: Whose account of power is more deeply true, Nietzsche or Crouch?  For the faithful, it is the creative, room-making power that calls all beings to flourish.  Why then does Nietzsche’s account seem so plausible?  According to Crouch, human beings, the only creatures that bear God’s image, have more authority (i.e., capacity for meaningful action) and more vulnerability (i.e., exposure to meaningful risk) than any other creature.  Four possible combinations flow from this:

1) High vulnerability and high authority.  This is a true image bearer.

2) High vulnerability and low authority.  E.g.: Poverty, or being a victim.

3) Low authority and low vulnerability.  This is the safe state of being entertained (e.g., think cruise ship).

4) Low vulnerability and high authority.  This is idolatry.

Every idol promises two things: 1) You shall be like God (i.e., you will have all the authority you want), and 2) you shall not surely die (i.e., and there is no meaningful risk).  For our world, technology might fight this description.  The epitomic example is the company Apple Inc., which promises omniscience, omnipresence, omnipotence while insulating us from risk (i.e., each other and our limitations).  However, injustice is rampant in a system where some have authority without vulnerability and most other people have no authority but much vulnerability.  The corollary is always poverty.

The picture of the world as it today contains a lot of options for numbers 2, 3, and 4 above but not much number 1.  Violence is perpetrated by disappointed idolaters trying to extract from the world what it will not freely give.  Privilege says you can have power without risk and removes vulnerability from life but it is always a distraction from our true purpose.  So what must be done to get more of number 1?  Crouch proposes restoring the image, which has already been done in and by Jesus Christ.  He who was total power itself inhabited that power in total nakedness (Note: that’s how every Roman prisoner was crucified) and vulnerability, even to death, even death on a cross.  So for those who follow this political prisoner from the 1st century, what are we to do?  Answer: Go to the places of injustice, poverty and violence; seek the good; call forth abundance; and restore the image.

Posted: Wednesday, November 19, 2014