One thing I love about Jacques Ellul is that you can open one of his books at random and almost always find something profound and illuminating. (This also makes his books quite hard to read: there’s so much in there that I can only read him in short bursts before being overwhelmed by the density of the material.)
For example, I opened his Ethics of Freedom (which I’ve yet to read) at random the other day and found the following (p.90):
How can it be said, then, that freedom exists only in Christ and only for those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour? In spite of the experience of history, however, I do say this. Only in Christ and through Christians can authentic and undeviating freedom arise, take form, and spread in the world.
Nevertheless, the history of Christianity and the church is also marked by terrible failures. As I have often said, I do not like to accuse our forefathers in the faith of having been wrong, as though we were better and more enlightened than they. The church is a unity in time.
We cannot dissociate ourselves from the church in the middle ages, at the time of the Reformation, or in the nineteenth century. At these periods, too, the church was the church of Jesus Christ. It was his authentic witness. It carried the truth to men.
But in relation to its ethical task, and its function of representing the lordship of Jesus Christ on earth, we can only say that it has been a serious failure and indeed a veritable catastrophe for man in general. This enables us to measure the degree to which grace alone has made it the church of Jesus Christ and always sustained it as such.
Wonderful stuff. Not many writers are able to make such high claims for the gospel and Christian faith (“freedom exists only in Christ and only for those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour”) while at the same time being so clear-eyed about the failure of the church (and Christians) to live up to their calling (“a serious failure and indeed a veritable catastrophe”), yet also avoiding the arrogance of blaming this on those ignorant hick Christians back then (“as though we were better and more enlightened than they”). Genius.