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Excerpts from The Subversion of Christianity – The Contradictions

According to Henry, this project had its impetus in a comment made by Geoff on his blog while discussing the book Christian Archy by David Alan Black.
In the first chapter of Christian Archy, Black credits Jacques Ellul and Vernard Eller for their contributions to the topic of “Christian Anarchy” and for influencing his own thoughts and writings on the subject. I thought it would be good for us to start this project with a discussion of some of the comments of one of those two influential authors.
The first chapter of Ellul’s book The Subversion of Christianity is called “The Contradictions.” In this chapter, Ellul outlines some the basic problems that he found among the church. For example, he writes:

How has it come about that the development of Christianity and the church has given birth to a society, a civilization, a culture that are completely opposite to what we read in the Bible, to what is indisputably the text of the law, the prophets, Jesus and Paul? (p 3)
What Jesus says is that those who hear his words and do them are like the one who builds on the rock. In other words, the rock is hearing and doing. The second part, however, is more restrictive. Those who hear the words he speaks and do not do them are like the one who builds on the sand. Here undoubtedly practice alone is the issue. We can thus say that it is the decisive criterion of life and truth. (p 5)
If Christians are not conformed in their lives to their truth, there is no truth. This is why the accusers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were right to infer the falsity of revelation itself from the practice of the church. This makes us see that in not being what Christ demands we render all revelation false, illusory, ideological, imaginary, and nonsalvific. We are thus forced to be Christians or to recognize the falsity of what we believe. (p 7)
In fabricating Christianity, therefore, Christians have known what they were doing. They have freely chosen this course. They have voluntarily forsaken revelation and the Lord. They have opted for new bondage. They have not aspired to the full gift of the Holy Spirit that would have enabled them to take the new way that he opened up. They have made a different choice and left the Holy Spirit unemployed, idle, present only on sufferance. This is why the burning question is a purely human one: Why have Christians taken this contrary course? What forces, mechanisms, stakes, strategies, or structures have induced this subversion? For human aggrandizement and nothing else. (p 13)
quoted from Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986)

What are your thoughts on Ellul’s indictment against modern Christianity?

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  1. Alan,
    The simplistic answer to your questions is that we have closed our eyes to what Ellul mentions at the foot of page six, “No recognizable revelation exists apart from the life and witness of those who bear it. The life of Christians is what gives testimony to God and to the meaning of this revelation. ‘See how they love one another’ –this is where the approach to the Revealed God begins”.

  2. In a very real sense, we are the message.
    God uses a living metaphor, He writes on the fleshy tablets of the hearts of His people, to be known and read of all men.
    Paul expounds on this in II Corinthians where he used the word, “manifest” (KJV, “made manifest” “manifestation” and “manifestly declared.”) seven times. The TDNT gives this definition of manifest: “what can be perceived by the senses, but in such a way that the perception involves understanding.”
    Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and *maketh manifest* the savour of his knowledge by us in every place (II Cor 2:14)
    Forasmuch as ye are *manifestly declared* to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart. (II Cor 3:3)
    But have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by *manifestation* of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God. (II Cor 4:2)
    Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be *made manifest* in our body. (II Cor 4:10)
    For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be *made manifest* in our mortal flesh. (II Cor 4:11)
    Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are *made manifest* unto God; and I trust also are *made manifest* in your consciences. (II Cor 5:11)
    But though I be rude in speech, yet not in knowledge; but we have been throughly *made manifest* among you in all things. (II Cor 11:6)

  3. Art,
    Yes, that’s a good point. That word translated “manifestation” is the same word translated “reveal” or “make known.” While God reveals himself in many ways, we are one of those ways.

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