Dialectical Theology and Jacques Ellul

Dialectical Theology and Jacques Ellul: An Introductory Exposition

Jacob E. Van Vleet
Copyright Date: 2014
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    Dialectical Theology and Jacques Ellul
    Book Description:

    In Dialectical Theology and Jacques Ellul, Jacob E. Van Vleet argues that the work of Jacques Ellul is frequently—and deleteriously—misread on account of inattention to the theological underpinning that governs Ellul’s thought. In a penetrating analysis, the first of its kind, Van Vleet provides a substantive account of the theological structure of Ellul’s work and demonstrates the determinative role that theology, especially dialectical theology, plays in a proper understanding of Ellul. Van Vleet offers a major introduction to Ellul’s thought, his contribution to theology and philosophy, and how his philosophy of technology is both theologically informed and culturally relevant. As well, this work situates Ellul’s theological and philosophical thought within an important genetic context, from Kierkegaard to the dialectical theologians of the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-4514-7979-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction The Skeleton Key—Dialectical Hermeneutics
    (pp. 1-6)

    Throughout the eighteen-year search for the identity of “the Unabomber,” the Federal Bureau of Investigation compiled very little concrete information about the perpetrator. One conclusion they did come to: the Unabomber was very familiar with the writings of the French philosopher and theologian Jacques Ellul. In letters to newspapers and in work subtitledIndustrial Society and Its Future,² the Unabomber used an uncommon amount of Ellul’s vocabulary. Also, his critiques of modern technological society were oddly consistent with Ellul’s critique of technology.³

    On April 3, 1996, Theodore Kaczynski was arrested in his cabin near Lincoln, Montana for murdering three people...

  5. 1 Primary Influences on Ellul’s Dialectical Worldview
    (pp. 7-24)

    Before delving into the details of Ellul’s thought and works, we must seek to understand Ellul’s background and central influences. What sort of family life shaped Ellul? From whom does Ellul derive his foundational ideas? How does he differ from these thinkers? In this chapter I will briefly discuss Ellul’s biography as well as three main thinkers who influenced Ellul greatly: Marx, Kierkegaard, and Barth.

    Jacques Ellul was one of the first philosophers to devote his entire academic life to researching and writing on the effects of technology. Ellul published over fifty books in his lifetime and hundreds of essays....

  6. 2 Ellul’s Dialectical Worldview
    (pp. 25-44)

    After examination of the background and influences that shaped Ellul’s thought, we can now take a closer look at his dialectical method. Here, we not only find echoes of his past studies and experiences, but the many ways his methodology permeates his unique scholarship.

    Ellul’s philosophy and theology can be difficult to penetrate. Not only is he overly verbose and repetitive in many of his writings, he also occasionally contradicts himself. Ellul recognized these tendencies, but did not work to repair or clarify them.¹ After all, the very presence of these apparent stumbling blocks—of tension and contraction—holds the...

  7. 3 God, Salvation, and Freedom
    (pp. 45-76)

    In order to understand Ellul’s theology, we need to understand his place within the twentieth-century theological tradition. As stated earlier, Ellul’s theological methodology was primarily influenced by Kierkegaard and Barth.¹ All three thinkers are often referred to asdialectical theologians. This particular Protestant theology proceeds from six axiomatic principles that separate it from other forms of Christian theology.²

    The first principle of dialectical theology is theabsolute transcendence of God.³ For dialectical theologians, God is not identified with the natural world in any way, shape, or form. God is radically different from the earth or the cosmos. This differs from...

  8. 4 Technique, Necessity, and Consequences
    (pp. 77-126)

    We live in a world saturated in technology. Indeed, we are determined—psychologically and physiologically—by it. However, many people do not stop to reflect on technology, and continue to put their faith in it. The field of philosophy that questions and challenges the technological milieu is known as the philosophy of technology.

    Just as philosophers of science analyze the axioms and assumptions underlying the world of science, philosophers of technology challenge the tacit beliefs and presuppositions underlying the technosphere. The philosophy of technology deals primarily with such ethical and political questions as the following: How is technology changing human...

  9. 5 Propaganda and Politics
    (pp. 127-154)

    Ellul’s bookPropaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes, is an analysis of propaganda in modern Western societies. This work was the second in his trilogy, the first beingThe Technological Society, which primarily discusses the forms and characteristics of technique. The third wasThe Political Illusion, an analysis and critique of the machinations of modern political systems. A vital feature of this trilogy is that the first book describes technique (the realm of necessity), while the second and third books describe two realms that are entailments of technique. The spheres of propaganda and politics are separate but interdependent domains of...

  10. 6 Hope, NonViolence, and Christian Anarchism
    (pp. 155-212)

    As we have seen, Ellul views Christians as living in two realms, those of necessity and freedom. Christians cannot separate themselves from technique; they must live within its bonds and continually strive against it. That is, Christians are called to “break the fatality” that dominates the world.¹ For Ellul, this call does not imply that Christians ought to proselytize or to engage in apologetics. Rather, the true calling of a Christian is a “mission of which the natural man can have no idea.”² In other words, those who are ignorant of the realm of the spirit cannot possibly understand their...

  11. Conclusion Jacques Ellul—Dialectician and Prophet
    (pp. 213-220)

    As demonstrated in this presentation of Ellul’s thought, his dialectical method is the essential thread that interlaces his theology and philosophy. Ellul saw reality as a whole, comprised of various conflicting factors. This viewpoint is mirrored in his work, which often seems contradictory or incomplete, but in fact is coherent. A full understanding of Ellul’s thought is dependent on a solid grasp of his dialectical approach. Likewise, his dialectic can only be understood through a complete and intellectually honest examination of his distinctive writings.¹ This very task is what I hope to have accomplished in the pages of this introductory...

  12. References
    (pp. 221-234)
  13. Index
    (pp. 235-239)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 240-240)