Jacques Ellul on being conformed to the world

by Kim on September 26, 2008

“Christians who are conformed to the world introduce into the Church the value-judgments and concepts of the world. They believe in action. They want efficiency. They give first place to economics, and they think all means are good…. They are defined by their sociological milieu. The Protestant thinks to adopt the means which the world employs. Since he finds those means useful in his profession, or in his leisure time, they stand so high in his estimation that he cannot see why he should not introduce them into the Church and make the things of the spirit dependent on them.

“He never faces the problem of these means…. They are effective. Hence they are good. Since they are in a sanctified world and are effective, why not make use of them in the Church? The criteria of his thinking as a Christian are so vague, and the demands of his faith are so ‘inward,’ that he is unaware of any contradiction between the world’s means and the life of faith.”

Jacques Ellul, in False Presence of the Kingdom (1972),
cited in Marva Dawn, Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2001), pp. 84-85.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }


Methodist Preacher 09.26.08 at 12:45 pm

Thanks for reminding us how daft some people can be.


Kim 09.26.08 at 3:35 pm



Kim 09.26.08 at 6:27 pm

Now to a couple of points more substantive than a winkie - though I know I’m probably wee-weeing in the wind.

(1) It is interesting that Dawn’s excerpt from Ellul about what would now be called “managerialism” comes in the context of a disussion about Paul’s “principalities and powers”, one of the chief characteristics of whom is so to colonise our minds that we are blind to their project of deafening us to the word of the cross.

(2) One thing that managerialists never seem to get is that they think they can spoil the Egyptians of their methods and apply them to the mission of the church as if they were morally and theologically neutral. They are not. The values of pragmatism, efficiency, productivity, etc. which drive the church growth folk, for example, rely on a modernist social scientific narrative for their legitimation that is conspicuously different from the narrative that drove Jesus and Paul. Thus you will find few managerialists who have time for patient theological reflection - where’s the action? - or radical Christian pacifism - where’s the realism? They are not comfortable when they are not in control - they are obsessed (as the young Mennonite theologian Chris Huebner puts it) with “putting [their] hands on history”, as if we were called (what nonsense!) to “build” the kingdom of God; and they are always so busy and in such a hurry - they would do well to heed Paul Virilio’s reflections on speed as the essence of violence.

Anyway, I quite concede that I am one of those “daft” people of whom David speaks. As daft as a brush. My only consolation is that I have always understood the gospel itself to be inherently daft, a nonsense, morian (I Corinthians 1:23).

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