Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Several of the Christian themes Ellul presents are not new. The association of religion with power as it is used in the service of politics had been observed by Marx, if it was not already explicit in the Old Testament book of Isaiah. The distinction between Christianity as lived faith and Christianity as morality was already present in the works of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, as was Ellul’s observation of the inverse relation between the large numbers of people being institutionally identified as Christian and those actually living the difficult life of Christ: When everyone is Christian, no one is. The emphasis on revelation as the person and historical event of Jesus Christ—not the theological constructions and doctrines that emerge to explain the meaning of that event—is repeatedly affirmed in the writings of Karl Barth. Though Ellul knows such content has been voiced before, he creates a new mode for appropriating these themes. He cites Scripture in support of traditionally Marxist observations designed to undermine religion while simultaneously pointing out that such criticisms do not touch the revelation of God occurring independently of religion. When Kierkegaard discusses similar points, he heightens our sense of individuality as his reflections lead us to ever higher levels of introspection. In contrast, Ellul’s use of historical events and sociological descriptions of institutional shifts to affirm Kierkegaardian insights lead us not into...

(The entire section is 401 words.)