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Anarchy and Christianity [Paperback]

By Mr. Jacques Ellul (Author)
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Item Number 144276  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   109
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.46" Width: 5.58" Height: 0.28"
Weight:   0.36 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 31, 1988
Publisher   Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company
ISBN  0802804950  
EAN  9780802804952  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
Jacques Ellul blends politics, theology, history, and exposition in this analysis of the relationship between political anarchy and biblical faith. On the one hand, suggests Ellul, anarchists need to understand that much of their criticism of Christianity applies only to the form of religion that developed, not to biblical faith. Christians, on the other hand, need to look at the biblical texts and not reject anarchy as a political option, for it seems closest to biblical thinking. Ellul here defines anarchy as the nonviolent repudiation of authority. He looks at the Bible as the source of anarchy (in the sense of nondomination, not disorder), working through the Old Testament history, Jesus' ministry, and finally the early church's view of power as reflected in the New Testament writings. "With the verve and the gift of trenchant simplification to which we have been accustomed, Ellul lays bare the fallacy that Christianity should normally be the ally of civil authority." - John Howard Yoder

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More About Mr. Jacques Ellul

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Jacques Ellul was a professor at the University of Bordeaux. He is the author of Propaganda, The Subversion of Christianity, and The Technological Society. William H. Vanderburg is the director of the Center for Technology and Social Development at the University of Toronto. He is the author of The Growth of Minds and Cultures and The Labyrinth of Technology.

Jacques Ellul was born in 1912 and died in 1994.

Jacques Ellul has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Jacques Ellul Legacy

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Christ & Caesar  Feb 19, 2008
Jacques Ellul was the bad boy of western Christianity during his lifetime, continuously gadflying rigid hierarchies, smug or tepid Christians, and orthodox theologians with book after book that challenged conventional wisdom. (In this regard, he reminds one of Kierkegaard in the 19th century.) Anarchy and Christianity is one of his most penetrating criticisms of institutional Christianity. But like most of his theological works, it's not entirely (or even primarily) critical in tone. It also offers a vision of what Christian faith might be.

Ellul argues that both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures are wary of political (worldly) authority. The transition from judges to kings in ancient Israel was viewed as a decline by Hebrew Bible authors, and Jesus' entire public ministry is a challenge to both political and religious authority. The subsequent institutionalization of the Church, and the transformation of the living presence of Christ into "religion," break faith with the teachings and meaning of the Christ.

Ellul intends his audience to be not just Christians, but also the anarchist community, which has generally been militantly anti-Christian. In one of the more interesting sections of his book, Ellul tries to demonstrate that in fact genuine Christianity (as opposed to the institutionalization of it that both he and atheistic anarchists dislike) is deeply anarchistic. Through a series of masterful scriptural interpretations (pp. 32-44), Ellul argues that God is not omnipotent, providence doesn't rule out human freedom, and God is a liberator. This re-envisioning of God, which Ellul argues is more loyal to the scriptural model than subsequent theological analyses, is instructive. Is rejection of the monarchical understanding of God anticipates much of what liberation theologians had to say.

Also of interest is Ellul's exegesis of five texts from the Christian scriptures which he sees as central to the anarchic message of Christ (pp. 59-85), especially his reading of the Book of Revelation as an anti-governmental authority document (pp. 71-74). Much of what he has to say is reminiscent of the American Christian iconoclast William Stringfellow.

An instructive, disturbing, but ultimately inspiring read. Highly recommended.
an aimless ramble   Nov 4, 2007
Jacques Ellul's book is unfocused and frequently contradictory - I guess "paradoxical" is the polite term - occasionally verging on incoherence. Still, he provides an ultimately enjoyable, if often confusing, account of the relationship between Christianity and "anarchy," as Ellul understands the two movements. If the book is a relatively aimless ramble, still it is a thoroughly harmless and occasionally enlightening one.

A Protestant theologian of some renown, Ellul's personal intellectual odyssey was deeply influenced by major events of anarchist history that are utterly forgotten by my most Christians. Alluding to the Kronstadt rebellion of 1921, Ellul writes that "the Cronstadt sailors and the Makhno government seemed to me to have been truly revolutionary and I could not pardon their suppression." (p. 2). Referring to the Stalinist treachery in May of 1937, Ellul adds that "what led me to detest the communists was their conduct during the Spanish Civil War and their horrible assassination of the Barcelona anarchists." (p. 2). That's enough to establish Ellul's credibility as a political (or anti-political) radical.

But what of Anarchy and Christianity? "There has always been a Christian anarchism," writes Ellul. (p.7) "In every century there have been Christians who have discovered the simple biblical truth, whether intellectually, mystically, or socially." (p. 7). And yet, Ellul insists, "I am not in any way trying to tell Christians that they ought to be anarchists." (p. 4).

What exactly is this "simple biblical truth" that Ellul insists he is not telling Christians to follow? What do "anarchism" and "anarchy" mean?

"By anarchy," Ellul writes, "I mean first an absolute rejection of violence." (p. 11). As government, by definition seeks a monopoly on the means of organized violence (see Woodrow Wilson's The State: Elements Of Historical And Practical Politics), strict pacifists naturally tend toward anarchistic philosophies - witness, for example, Leo Tolstoy and Ammon Hennacy. Taking Jesus' nonviolent teaching seriously, says Ellul, "Christianity means a rejection of power and a fight against it." (p. 13).

Yet if Ellul finds himself "thus very close to one of the forms of anarchism," still he insists that he is not truly an anarchist at all: "The true anarchist thinks that an anarchist society - with no state, no organization, no hierarchy, and no authorities - is possible. But I do not. . . . I believe that the anarchist fight, the struggle for an anarchist society is essential, but I also think that the realizing of such a society is impossible." (pp. 18-19).

Just four pages later, though, Ellul insists "it is more necessary than ever to promote and extend the anarchist movement," for he says that "Anarchy . . . has a bright future before it. This is why I adopt it." (p. 23).

So, is Ellul an anarchist, or isn't he? It really is hard to tell from this book. Perhaps he means to say that it's necessary to strive for the impossible, and that this is what Jesus directed Christians to do. Recall Jesus' charge to his followers "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48 (NRSV). One need not believe that moral perfection is possible, in order to strive for it.

In truth, though, it is rather difficult to understand precisely what Ellul really means to say. I suspect he means to be difficult. Yet his book is studded with random jewels - insights or observations that demand further thought.

Of Romans 13:1-7 and Titus 3:1, so often cited as mandating submission to human governments, Ellul writes: "These are the only texts in the whole Bible which stress obedience and the duty of obeying authorities." (p. 50). He insists that they run counter to overwhelming antiauthoritarian currents in the scriptures - currents that he documents with scriptural citations.

Considering the temptation of Christ, when Satan offers Jesus the power of all the world's kingdoms (Matthew 4:8-11; Luke 4:5-7), Ellul writes that according to the biblical texts "all the power and glory of the kingdoms, all that has to do with politics and political authority, belongs to the devil. It has all been given to him and he gives it to whom he wills." (p. 48).

And of Jesus Christ himself: "For those who are not very familiar with the Bible it must be pointed out that Jesus never said himself that he was the Christ (Messiah) or the Son of God. He always called himself the Son of man (i.e., true man)." (p. 70).

There is much in the book to ponder, then, even if Ellul never manages to weave his rambling thoughts into a coherent statement on much of anything in particular.

Eric Alan Isaacson

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