Jacques Ellul- The Seduction of Christianity
Chapter 2-The Chief Forms, Part I
Last month, we went over Ellul’s premise that Christianity was a mass of contradictions. He claimed that while the Church claims to be G_d’s people, it is devoid of anything Biblical. He believes that instead of being a counter-cultural force, Christianity instead mimicked every culture it found itself in rendering itself useless. In Chapter 2, we look at how the chief forms of the Church damaged its message.
Ellul posits here that regardless of the ‘good intentions’ of those who corrupted the message trying to adapt the message to their own time, it was that exact practice of modification, as well as making an alliance with cultural power structures in social, political and intellectual realms that has caused its irrelevant status.
His point is that at various times a ‘little bit’ of leaven was added; a little alteration here, a little there, until the mass of additions obscured the entire historical message of G_d with His people. Yeshua’s warning that a little “hametz” ruins the entire dough, echoes throughout the consistent sprinkling of improvements to the story.
Lest we get ‘puffed up’ about the ‘other’ Christians who do not happen to share our views, both types of Christians, liberal and conservative, fall off the horse here; albeit on opposite sides. We are all guilty of adding yeast (hametz).
Unfortunately, says Ellul, the Christian community also began to absorb the world around them in the spirit of evangelism. What actually happened, he says, is that the newly initiated social, intellectual and political elites brought in rituals and customs that were in complete opposition to the practices of Yeshua and the early body of believers. The church today is similarly plagued. We currently see the political polarization of the community; putting politics above unity. Both the conservative and liberal Christians have accommodated a force that Yeshua would not have seen as something to put before God, because unity or edah was more important to Yeshua; It is not important to Christians.
The incorporation of the powerful into the Church forced it into a ‘progressive’ stance. Because the Church had already changed the message to accommodate the people, they were now obliged to keep changing the message and were in fact, locked into making Yeshua ‘relevant’ to each new cultural trend; does this sound familiar? The Church was ‘seeker sensitive’!
The accommodation to the world had resulted in the slavery of the Church to the new god, current culture; instead of affecting the culture, the Church was now its slave. Forced into a ‘future-looking’ headlock, it was unable to look back, unable to find comfort in the historical revelation of G_d’s history with His people. Moreover, while the story of G_d had not changed, and there must have been certain issues that clashed with what it knew to be right, the Church continued in denial and created new postures to justify itself as the various challenges arose.
Ellul mentions several categories of such challenges. He mentions changes to the nature of authority to subject, exploitation of nature, new relationship between a ruler and God and a new desire to go into the world and ‘conquer’ or, using the nicer word, ‘convert’ it. Institutions such as the lay state, democracy and socialism became ‘normal’ even though none bears any relationship to Yeshua or God. Ellul tells us that Feuerbach has summed up this idea, and refers us to his writings.
Ellul points out what he believes to be the fatal flaw in the Church’s wrong turn. He says that all of the subsequent ‘errors’ that well-intentioned Christians made, all fall back on this one issue.
He opines, “It seems to me that everything goes back to a phenomenal change in the understanding of revelation. Namely the transition from history to philosophy; I believe that all the errors in Christian thought go back to this” (Ellul, p.23) He continues, “By coming to the Bible with their own questions they used the Bible for their own means instead of trying to understand what it really said”. ” They expressed a profound and authentic faith marked by a concern for the truth, yet it was all completely falsified by the initial transition”. “That”, he says “is why the deviations were stronger than the truth that they retained”. ” Instead of listening to the text as it was, theologians tried to draw from it a coherent philosophical system.” “The biblical stories were treated as myths from which one had to draw some abstract universal thought”. (Ellul p. 23-26)
While we may think we need tools to understand the text on our own, Ellul says “Hebrew thought has its own tools of knowledge that are fully set forth in the language”. He admonishes that “we should bow and submit and convert to these instead of forcing G_d’s revelation into the straitjacket of Greco-Roman thinking”(p. 26). When we decide to read Scripture to see, “what it says to me”, we do violence to that Scripture and elevate our own thinking above that of G_d’s revelation. It is the epitome of Chutzpah (hubris)! This is a long chapter. I think I’ll stop here. Next month, I’ll finish the end of Chapter 2 and review all of Chapter 3. Please feel free to email me with any questions or comments. I’d like to hear your take on this book. Cheryl@livingtruth.us