Jacques Ellul is one of the most important figures in my Christian life. A friend of mine gave me a copy of his book, “The Judgment of Jonah” in 1983 and I was immediately gripped by his passionate faith, filtered through a keenly analytical mind and heart. He introduced me to the subject of bibliolatry, which is taking the bible as an end in itself rather than a means to an end, worshipping the Bible in some sense rather than the One about whom the Bible is speaking.
Ellul was a French philosopher, sociologist, and lay theologian who was described as a Christian “anarchist.” This was because he was very much the iconoclast, approaching his faith with an intense analytical mind. He looked beneath the surface and then put things on the table which were very challenging. A primary focus of his was the “technological tyranny over humanity” that he witnessed during his life time in the mid to late 20th century. This “technological tyranny” contributed to what I have described as the “thingification” of mankind in which even God has become a “thing among other things.”I have here a quote from Ellul from The Ethics of Freedom on the subject of bibliolatry which reflects the impact of this thingification of the heart in which even Holy Writ is interpreted in a self-serving fashion, it being only a “thing” which one can employ to suit my purposes:
…Thus obedience to the letter of scripture can be obedience to Satan if the text serves to bring about isolation and independence in relation to the one who has inspired it. It can be a means of self-affirmation over against God in in repression of his truth and his will. The biblical text, and obedience to it, do not guarantee anything. They may be the best means of not hearing God speak. (Ellul here points out that the Pharisees were) authentic believers, faithful adherents of scripture, and rich in good works and piety. In reality everything depends on our attitude to the text of the scripture. If I seize it, use it, and exploit it to my own ends...then I am obeying Satan under the cover of what the Bible says.
Ellul had profound understanding of how culture influences our faith and how that it presents the temptation of letting our faith become merely a product of our culture, regardless of intense passions that we might have about it. The Christian faith, and faith of any spiritual tradition always face the temptation of taking themselves too seriously and then missing the point of their spiritual teachers. Faith then becomes a mere bauble in our life, a note on our “resume,” and not a grounding in the Wholly Other which is the only place that offers firm footing in this mystery we call life.
If this seems impossible, it is! But, there is hope and I will explain next time.
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