The Subversion of Christianity | Jacques Ellul

Ellul’s Subversion is a compelling and challenging read. It’s challenging because Ellul was a French Christian-anarchist with a thorough grasp of church history. He often addresses situations and theological issues that are opaque to the modern Western reader. It’s compelling due to his penetrating mind and strong opinions. Perhaps compelling is to weak a word. This book is an important challenge to modern Christendom.

The problem with Christianity is that Jesus’ message has been co-opted and twisted by various forces throughout history. The chief ways Jesus’ message has been twisted are:

  1. Sacralization:Jesus’ message was essentially a desacralization of the world. No longer do we worship what we do not know—God was made flesh and lived with us. Humans, however, feel a deep need for the sacred, and history can be viewed as a pendulum swinging between eras of sacralization (i.e. the relic trade) and desacralization (i.e. the Protestant Reformation).
  2. Moralism: Jesus’ message was radically free. For Ellul, that freedom cannot exist in community(!) Either it blows apart, or rules and morality enters.
  3. Islam: This force has been largely ignored. The idea of holy war (a drastic perversion of Jesus’ message) influenced Christianity via Islam. Ellul also (dis)credits Islam with the origin of the slave trade which Christianity, to its shame, imitated.
  4. Politics: When Satan offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, he declined—the church has accepted with glee. This has always led to a perversion of the gospel.
  5. Nihilism: Ellul credits Christianity’s understanding of absolute transcendence, desacralization, and sin as the root of modern nihilism. I have to admit that this chapter was somewhat obtuse to me.
  6. Dominions and Powers: Behind all the worldly forces there is a spiritual power which (always aligning with humanity) twists Jesus’ message.

The good news is that the Holy Spirit is still at work and that God’s Church will never be defeated, even if it appears to be in exile with a slim remnant remaining. There will always be renewal and genuine Jesus-following life from the fringe.

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