Jacques Ellul was born on January 6, 1912, in Bordeaux, France, to a poor family. His French mother was devoutly Protestant, and his father, a Serbian aristocrat, came from a Greek Orthodox religious background although he was described by Ellul as being highly critical of anything to do with religion. While Ellul was attending law school at age eighteen, a year after his father lost his job and the stock market crash of 1929, he discovered the writings of Karl Marx and became enthralled with Marx’s explanation for the political and economic situation Ellul was personally experiencing. Marx’s basic affirmations—the centrality of the historical dialectic, the revolutionary function of certain groups of people, the emphasis on explaining the material reality surrounding people, and the overall identification with the poor—would become lifelong commitments for Ellul despite his disappointing encounter with political groups claiming to be Marxist, his disillusionment with the Communist Party, and most significant, his abrupt and brutal conversion to Christianity in 1932.
The Subversion of Christianity, like Ellul’s corpus of more than fifty books, manifests the enduring tension he experienced between the reality he saw in the works of Marx and the truth he heard in the life of Christ. He describes a series of historical and sociological transformations of Christianity that oppose the revelation of God in Christ. The first of what Ellul terms perversions is the sacralization of rituals, visual images, social spaces, and nature by Christianity after its originally subversive and antinature project of desacralizing all the existing pagan and natural religions, rituals, and idols with which it came in contact.
Christianity’s early success at descralizing and demythologizing natural religions was due largely to its willingness to translate the historical narrative of God’s people and Jesus into philosophical and legal ideas easily understood by the Greco-Roman world. According to Ellul, however, this successful translation became another perversion in the history of Christianity—the transformation...
(The entire section is 873 words.)