Anarchy and Christianity

ISBN: 0802804950
ISBN 13: 9780802804952
By: Jacques Ellul Geoffrey William Bromiley

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Reader's Thoughts


I thought this book really failed to convince me, which is a shame because I'm respectively open to and practicing the two subjects of the book. Foremost, I think I disliked his attempt to reconcile anarchy and Christianity from almost legalist interpretations of Biblical passages. It's the same technique definitively-archist Christians use to justify capitalism, authority and the like. What five or ten or thirty passages *imply* seems irrelevant to me if it doesn't match the overall philosophy of religion. That's where I felt let down by Ellul... good arguments for the interpretation of passages, but too little talk of how it fits into the core principles of Christian thought.

Jared Schumacher

Very, Very Interesting. In many ways a way of speaking of the politics of Jesus from a slightly different angle. Mostly, this will be a good resource for interpretation of Christian's relationship to power.


I was surprised at how readable this book was, and it was very interesting to hear someone expand on a lot of things I've thought about myself. Ellul doesn't go too deep, and some of his exegesis seems a bit questionable, but for the most part it was interesting reading and gave me plenty of things to think about. He discusses nonviolence and nonvoting and devotes quite a bit of time toward demonstrating that Jesus and the early Christians did not support political powers and hierarchies. His intent is not to convert anarchists to Christianity or Christians to anarchy, but just to demonstrate that the two beliefs can be held simultaneously without self-contradiction.


Ellul is always challenging and insightful. In this book he tries to demonstrate the commonalities between Christian belief and philosophical anarchy. I think he succeeds in demonstrating some of the Bible's ambivalence toward human institutions, rulers and government. I don't buy his whole argument and would say that while he nuances some of the biblical witness he can also be reductionist. There are some great things here in terms of how Christians relate to power and government. There is also some thoughtfulness about the rejection of violence as a Christian option.


like other Goodreads reviewers, i didn't find what i'd expected in this book (though tbh i'm not sure what i expected). it was brief, engaging (most of the time), and for me charted unexplored interpretations of some of the most apparently State-validating verses of the Bible. at some points it seemed rushed, xenophobic, Islamophobic, Eurocentric, and oddly unconcerned with non-Christians and/or non-anarchists suffering exploitation and violence from existing nation-states. in addition, i found that Ellul made references to events, theories, etc without always citing or giving context to them- that made it a bit difficult to follow his train of thought.2.5-3 stars.


Not as detailed as I would have liked. But it's good introduction for those that might never have considered that anarchist political philosophy and Christian theology might go hand-in-hand.

Brad Belschner

I liked this book, not because it said good things, but because it talked about something important. Jacques Ellul's opinions are ridiculous, but at least they're different from the normal interpretations you've been exposed to. Ellul makes you reconsider...what does 1 Peter 2:13-25 really mean? What does obedience to Romans 13:1-7 look like? How did Jesus act towards the civil magistrates? What does "render unto Caesar" mean? Initially I rated this book 2 stars because Ellul's interpretations are so poor. (One small example: he concludes that the "king" in 1 Peter 2:13 can't be referring to the Roman Emperor, because the Emperor refused to be called a king.) But now I change my rating to 3 stars, because I have to reluctantly admit the book is helping me. Don't read this book for answers; read it for questions. And don't bother reading the first half. Commonplaces:"Marx was right to denounce religion as the opiate of the people. As it was preached by the church at this period, this is precisely what Christianity was." (pg 32)"[Engaging in politics:] is always a means of conquering others and exercising power over them." (pg 62)"Even though you are ready to rebel, instead pray for the authorities. Your only true weapon is to turn to God, for it is he alone who dispenses supreme justice." (pg 83)"The fact that we should submit means that we should not forget how wrong political calculation is as such." (pg 87)"By anarchy I mean first an absolute rejection of violence." (pg 11)"The struggle for an anarchist society is essential, but I also think that the realizing of such a society is impossible." (pg 20)"My own view is that the holy wars of Christianity were in imitation of what Islam had been doing already for a century or so. War become a means to win new territories for Christianity and to force pagan peoples to become Christian." (pg 25)"If Paul also tells us that we are to obey, not by constraint but for the sake of conscience, this means that our obedience can never be blind or resigned." (pg 89)


Kind of interesting. Not exactly light reading and certainly from a Protestant perspective. One erratum: He lists the date of Herod the Great's death as AD 4. It was 4 BC. His interpretation of the Paul's letter to the Romans passage about obeying our governmental overlords is unlikely to be correct. This is the problem of trying to harmonize the Bible. Really once you do the minimum of Christ's rendering unto Caesar, Paul's subservient position is historically interesting, but probably not prescriptive today.

Nathaniel Metz

This is a pretty good introductory book to Christian Anarchy. My favorite aspect of the book is how he shows that, to Jesus, human authority was nothing. Jesus continually promotes personhood over hierarchy, which I believe to be the heart of Christian Anarchy. However, I do think Ellul could have done better in his exegesis of Romans 13 and 1 Peter. It was not awful, but it could have been better. Here is a link to an article talking about Romans 13 if anyone cares to read it. I think it is essential for any fellow Christian Anarchist:

Joel Mitchell

another Ellul book - actually was able to find this one in french!


This is almost persuasive of the Christian anarchist position.

Zach Irvin

Very illuminating. Ellul is interested in showing that christians and anarchists are not as diametrically opposed as it might appear. Here, he makes very clear that he means non-violent anarchism. The word is broken down into its parts; an-arche (no authority/no domination). He constructs most of his argument by analyzing passages of the bible (Hebrew Bible and New Testament alike) that have traditionally been used to support state power. Ellul shows that most of these passages are, in fact, hostile to established political authority considering the context of the argument and the time period the pieces were written. It's hard to argue with him when he brings up 1 Samuel, and what God had to say about the Israelites' desire for a King. Or the fact that most of the prophets denounced the kings and rulers of their time. There are a great number of passages in which Jesus ridicules or expresses contempt for hierarchy. Ellul condemns the modern church that has become enmeshed in politics and hierarchies that only serve to oppress individuals and invoke fear. This is the church that has taken the commandment 'Thou shall not kill,' and tacked an 'unless' to the end of it. One that has oppressed the poor and sought to gain privilege and power instead of expressing the love of God. It seemed like a very personal book, and it sounded to me like he is imploring christians to consider a point of view that is not in favor of government or politics. Since this has become the norm of society, christians should be skeptical. Paul urged christians not to conform to the ideologies of the day. I think he might be right.


Ellul was maddeningly talented, so why he didn't develop the thoughts crammed in here a bit more is a mystery to me. He was certainly capable of going into more detail here, and I wish he had.


Ellul sets out to reconcile anarchy and Christianity, a noble task for a society that has largely allied the "archists" (governmental empire) with it's form of Christianity, and for the communities of anarchists that have been rejecting Jesus. I appreciate Ellul for his philosophical and theological insight on the matter. What I believe he lacks is a description of what a Christian/ anarchist reconciled community looks like/ acts like in todays world. Perhaps this is where Christian communities of like-mindedness with Ellul can help fill-in. Favorite quote (paraphrased): "the best definition of anarchy is a complete rejection of violence".


Great analysis of Jesus' message and pre-Constantinian christianity. Shows how truly following Jesus looks a lot like anarchism.

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