Jacques Ellul on ‘Christian’ Morality
I have been slowly reading The Subversion of Christianity by Jacques Ellul. I have to read it slow because it is full of amazing and complicated thoughts.
I have written a couple of posts here concerning the manner in which Christians respond to not-Christians when the not-Christians say or do things that Christians find offensive or blasphemous. My constant response when Christians get bent out of shape, for example when Kathy Griffin makes stupid statements about Jesus that are not funny, is this: Why do you expect not-Christians to act as if they are Christians? Well, I came across this amazing passage from Ellul that comments, in a round-about way, on this very thing. He is talking about a different scenario to be sure, but I think the application is the same.
We thus arrive at an astounding situation that has lasted some fifteen centuries and is only just beginning to be mentioned. People were being required to act as if they were true Christians when very likely they were not. This is the very opposite of biblical revelation. Here there is knowledge of the revealed God, faith in his love, acceptance of his will; and only on this basis is there any attempt to live in a way that corresponds to the love of God and his will. But there is no formulation of a ‘Christian’ morality that is independent of faith. The Bible decrees no universal morality. It summons to conversion, and it then postulates a desire to live in harmony with God. Constantly in what became Christendom, however, an effort is made to achieve objective conduct without reference to the spiritual life, without the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ. Once this enormity was invented, the next step was the intellectual construction of an identity between Christian morality and natural morality. This was the extreme point in the perversion of revelation. Such, in my view, are the consequences of trying to induct the masses into a relationship with God that was possible only for a little flock.” (41)
Well, I think he is absolutely correct. I don’t happen to think this means there is to be no such thing as morality generally speaking, but I do agree that Christians are wrong to assume that the level of morality required by God can be attained by the ‘masses’ and that we (Christians) have a right to sit in judgment when the ‘masses’ fail to achieve that level.