Thinking globally with Jacques Ellul

I’ve been reading the opening chapter of Vernard Eller’s book Christian Anarchy: Jesus’ Primacy Over the Powers, from which I hope to blog some highlights in due course. In the meantime, here are some choice quotations from Jacques Ellul, on whom Eller freely admits to drawing very heavily (indeed, Eller’s book is dedicated to Ellul). The only link between these quotations is that each of them demonstrates why Ellul has become one of my intellectual heroes.

On political authority (from Anarchy and Christianity):

Political authority and organization are necessities of social life but nothing more than necessities. They are constantly tempted to take the place of God.

On the failed efforts of churchly activism (from In Season, Out Of Season, as are the remaining quotations):

When we see Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit act, a tremendous number of things come out of very little: look at the feeding of the five thousand. In the church we observe just the opposite: we put excellent men into action and we mount gigantic efforts that produce almost nothing. So I say to myself, “This means that the Holy Spirit is not working”.

Here is one that I found quite startling, as Ellul seems to be laying claim to one of the more famous political slogans of the past half-century. If anyone has any further information that would confirm or refute this claim then I’d love to hear it:

I have arrived at this maxim: “Think globally, act locally.” This represents the exact opposite of the present spontaneous [i.e., that which comes naturally to us] procedure…. We have the spontaneous tendency to demand centralized action, the state, through a decision center that sends down the decrees from above; but this can no longer have any success. The human facts are too complex and the bureaucracy will become heavier and heavier.

That statement is also interesting because people often cite the complexity of modern life as a reason why anarchy cannot work, whereas for Ellul that complexity is precisely why the state cannot work effectively in the modern world.

And finally, here is Ellul reflecting on the effects his work might have had (as opposed to what he had once hoped for):

Ellul: I was mistaken in my hope of triggering the beginning of a transformation of society.

Interviewer: Do you think you were speaking to deaf ears?

Ellul: I don’t pass judgments. I said what I thought, and it was not heard. I probably said it badly. But much more important, I may have had the opportunity at times to bear witness to Jesus Christ. Perhaps through my words or my writing, someone met the savior, the only one, the unique one, beside whom all human projects are childishness; then, if this has happened, I will be fulfilled, and for that, glory to God alone.

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2 Responses to Thinking globally with Jacques Ellul

  1. Phil Walker says:

    “I was mistaken in my hope of triggering the beginning of a transformation of society.”

    I think that’s always a danger, especially for thinkers. Do you think that’s the kind of childish human project Ellul was thinking of as he reflected on his life’s work?

  2. “Perhaps through my words or my writing, someone met the savior, the only one, the unique one, beside whom all human projects are childishness”

    I think this statement has been true in my life — my reading of Ellul has completely changed my understanding of Christ, Christianity and redemption. And it has solidified my faith in a God who truly loves humanity.

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