The Presence of the Kingdom

Jacques Ellul

Book cover

This book started off a little shakily but ended strong. It takes him until about halfway through the book to start talking about things in a way that is concrete enough for me to understand (which is not all that long, since the book is only about 150 pages). There are strong intimations in this work of the idea later advanced by Hauerwas that “the first duty of the church is to be the church”.

I also see Ellul as a precursor to Alasdair MacIntyre in his extended discussion of means and ends. One of his main critiques of modern society (in 1948) is that it has lost any concept of ends. Because of this, man has no pursuit beyond the infinite improvement of means, what Ellul calls “technics” and what I might call “efficiency”. Modern society judges anything good to the extent that it can be characterized as “more X”. With the very concept of ends lost, means lose their proper subordination and become dominant powers in and of themselves. In Ellul’s contrasting perspective, the one proper end is the manifestation of the Kingdom of God, and in an interesting twist, he also claims that the means to this end are identical with the end itself. We are called to love one another and to live as a church community not because this will hasten the coming of the Kingdom or because it will secure us a spot in heaven, but because these very things manifest the Kingdom of God that is not coming some day in the unspecified future, but is already latent in the world because of the resurrection of Christ.

As with the other Christian writers I have come to like (and the pastor of my church), Ellul’s focus is very much on the possibility of the Kingdom of God on earth rather than on reward in heaven/punishment in hell.

My Goodreads rating: 4 stars