Couldn’t be otherwise

Ellul at desk

Jacques Ellul remains a penetrating commentator on whatever is wrong with Western society in the modern world. Some of his references may have dated, but at the heart of his books is insightful analysis, and, seemingly contradictorily, a tendency to wisely avoid black and white choices, and a tendency to push logic to extremes. He will argue both the good and bad of a worldview – say, that of Marx – but when it comes to Christianity, will encourage the embrace of its potentially radical nature. In fact, Christianity for Ellul is nothing if not radical. There is no question of Ellul endorsing a bourgeois version of it. And yet, in a book such as The Betrayal of the West, he wisely cautions against the demonization of Western culture, as often happens on the Left (with which Ellul ultimately identifies), and which is a danger for Christians who sympathise (rightly) with the social justice aspects of the Left. Instead, Ellul suggests – well, insists – that we recognise what is good while simultaneously criticising where our Western society falls down on living out its ideals. He also manages to be consistently surprising, in the sense that what he says at first seems novel, as he simultaneously convinces you that it simply couldn’t be otherwise, such as how he argues that modern society, supposedly individualistic, actually suffocates the individual.

Wipf and Stock publishers are reprinting many of his works, and there are other things appearing, such as from the University of Toronto Press. Hopefully this will squash any temptation to think Ellul out-dated, and may draw in an intrigued new audience.

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