Book Review: The Life We’re Looking For, by Andy Crouch
Andy Crouch, The Life We’re Looking For: Reclaiming Relationship in a Technological World. Convergent Books, 2022. 240 pages.
If someone asked you to lay out the spiritual case against “virtual church” without any reference to the meaning of “ekklesia,” could you do it?
The question may seem little more than a pedantic hypothetical. But consider something: the majority of people in American evangelical churches are dominated by digital connectivity in almost every facet of their lives. Their work is done remotely through email and video calls. They learn from online lectures and instruction portals. They talk to family members through texts, direct messages, and FaceTime.
To the emerging generation of Western Christians, the idea that church is one thing that cannot exist in a virtual space seems increasingly arbitrary and implausible. We can live our lives in every other way through a screen. Why not corporate worship?
The necessity of embodied worship faces a plausibility problem in many evangelical contexts today, and this is almost certainly due to a widespread failure to think holistically about the Christian’s relationship with technology. If the rise of virtual church has produced any positive effect, forcing Christians to interrogate at a deeper level their dependance on digital technology may be it. To that end, Andy Crouch’s book The Life We’re Looking For is a necessary and convicting work. While it leaves certain important questions unanswered, The Life We’re Looking For represents precisely the kind of thinking about theology, humanity, society, and the gospel we need right now.
TECHNOLOGY AND DEHUMANIZATION
Readers who are expecting either a jeremiad against social media or a diagnostic checklist of, “How far is too far with my phone?” may be surprised to find Crouch is far more interested in talking about people than technology.
The heartbeat of the book is a rearticulation of what it means to be a human person, which Crouch declares is a “heart-soul-strength-mind complex designed for love” (33). He gets this from the biblical Shema, which calls on God’s people to love him with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind. From this command, Crouch deduces that human persons are far more complex and ennobled than the ambient culture lets on. In fact, he notes, “The world we have inherited seems almost designed to cut us from the heart-soul-mind-strength fullness we were wired for at birth” (38).
How does it do that? We could summarize Crouch’s analysis in three words: Superpowers, magic, and Mammon. Superpowers are technologically-mediated abilities that seem to enable us to be more and do more, but at the cost of our humanness. “Magic” refers to the utopian, transhuman dreams that undergird much of the digital revolution. “Mammon” is by far the most important of these three terms, for it is Mammon that, according to Crouch, shapes and directs Western society’s systematic uprooting of human personality in favor of power and profit.
The core of The Life We’re Looking For is a hybrid of social critique and personal manifesto. The religion of Mammon, Crouch writes, means those who want to live fully as the persons God made us are facing systemic resistance from power brokers of culture.
“God wises to put all things into the service of persons and ultimately to bring the flourishing of creation through the flourishing of persons,” Crouch writes. “Mammon wants to put all persons into the service of things and ultimately to bring about the exploitation of all creation” (78).
The alternative to this system is a renewal of personhood that begins with our conscious choices. With the biblical view of personhood firmly in heart, we can arrange our lives and our households to, for example, exchange the superpowers of devices for the humane enrichment of instruments. We can resist participation in ecologically destructive practices, choosing instead to be content with limits. And we can reorder our habits and rhythms to pursue embodied relationship rather than maximal autonomy, even when doing so makes us economically or socially inconvenienced.
This brief summary doesn’t do justice to the elegance and conviction of Crouch’s book. The Life We’re Looking For is a profound and often moving meditation on the beauty of human design and relationship.
It’s also an incisive piece of cultural criticism. Crouch’s point that many modern technological innovations turn out to be little more than “boring robots” is superb and should challenge individuals and churches tempted to be awed by the latest and greatest novelties. Further, Crouch’s consideration of human identity in light of the greatest commandment, and his evaluation of technological culture’s effect on that identity, is a genuinely helpful contribution.
Often in evangelical contexts, the conversation about technology is entirely reactive (“Do I feel like I’m using this wisely or unwisely?”) and often cashes out to a question of efficiency and technique (you can use your phone this way; try not to use your phone that way). But Crouch’s exploration of technology in light of Christian anthropology reframes the issue in a needed way. Rather than asking what is permissible, believers should be asking what is helpful, and more to the point, what is more humane.
One possible critique is that the book, while founded on some key theological principles, is not Scripture-heavy. This isn’t a theology of technology or a biblical reflection on our devices and Christian life. As mentioned above, Crouch wants to recenter the entire discussion about technology around who we are as image-bearers created to love God and others. This framing leads to an emphasis on anthropology that may disappoint readers expecting something more directly didactic.
A more significant critique concerns the question of how pastors and spiritual leaders could begin to lead those under their charge in the direction charted in the book. In other words, how do you preach this? The challenge of refusing to live under the values and habits of Mammon is not merely a matter of individual willpower. As Crouch notes, the key unit here are households (which he defines as thick communities of embodied love that go beyond biological family).
But even households will largely fail to bring about meaningful transformation in their communities if not joined up in something larger and more spiritually potent. Crouch offers only fleeting counsel here and leaves some important questions unanswered.
Nevertheless, what Crouch does offer is a powerful and winsome case for Christians to live radically different lives. As the pressure mounts on pastors and churches to become vehicles of Big Tech, The Life We’re Looking For proves resistance is not only biblically justifiable, it is beautiful. This is a manifesto spiritual shepherds should read, believe, and share.