Thursday, 10 October 2013

Jacques Ellul

I've been spending the past two months on a bit of a Jacques Ellul binge... I've read The Technological Society, Propaganda, The Presence of the Kingdom, The Humiliation of the Word, The Technological Bluff, The Meaning of the City and On Freedom, Power and Love.

Over the years I've felt uncomfortable about many aspects of the modern world, from technological 'progress', to politics and economics, but without being able to articulate exactly why. Well, in his eventful life Ellul, a French sociologist and lay theologian, managed to explain exactly what it is that's wrong, and also the only basis for any hope that we could have in the face of all-pervading deception. You might not agree with all of his sociological analysis or theology, but I've never read anyone who makes you go 'yes, that's exactly it!' so often and with such insight.

My favorites:

The Technological Society is foundational to his thought. Very thorough, very dense, but worth it. 'Technique' - a set of procedures used to get a determined result - has become an end in itself rather than serving any human purpose. The result is greater efficiency... and less humanity. You'll never see things the same way again.

The Presence of the Kingdom lays out some ideas as to how Christians can be witnesses for the gospel in the modern world in light of a society dominated by technique. Suffice to say that for Ellul it doesn't involve any trust in politics, which would mean even more blind acquiescence to technique, although we can look for how God might be at work through politics.

The Meaning of the City is the most beautiful book Ellul wrote. A wonderful exposition of the city as a theological category throughout the Bible - the place of man's ultimate rebellion, and yet a place taken up into God's final purposes. Ellul demonstrates perfectly the nature of a Christian as the ultimate pessimist, humanly speaking, but also the ultimate optimist as someone raised to new life in Jesus Christ.

The Humilation of the Word impressed upon me even more the urgent need for us to find the right words to interpret reality - which can only ever be God's Word, a revelation from outside our own sphere. In a world dominated by images more than ever - images which can only ever show bare reality rather than meaningful truth - this is vital.