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True Revolution

“This, then, is the revolutionary situation: to be revolutionary is to judge the world by its present state, by actual facts, in the name of a truth which does not yet exist (but which is coming) — and it is to do so because we believe this truth to be more genuine and more real than the reality which surrounds us. Consequently it means bringing the future into the present as an explosive force. It meas believing that future events are more important and more true than present events; it means understanding the present in light of the future, dominating it by the future, in the same way as the historian dominates the past. Henceforth the revolutionary act forms part of history: it is going to create history, by inflecting it towards this future…”

– Jacques Ellul, The Presence of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 38-39.


  1. Michael Harris wrote:

    Yes please. More Ellul. This is one of my favorite quotes from The Presence of the Kingdom. This was actually Ellul’s first book, written in 1948. Ellul remains for me the most incisive, prophetic christian voice of the last few hundred years. In The Presence of the Kingdom we have in germ form many of the points he spent the rest of his life on earth developing. As such it is one of the most dense works I’ve ever read. I’m afraid his voice has not been heard as widely as it deserves, or taken as seriously as it should where it has been heard. I think of him as the Jeremiah of our modern age. His life’s work, taken in it’s entirety, is most certainly a gripping Jeremiad. But of course, it’s still not too late, or is it?
    (I have in mind primarily Ellul’s work on la technique, and propaganda)

    Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 9:47 am | Permalink
  2. Dave Belcher wrote:

    This sounds a whole lot like Pannenberg to me. Especially the last bit: “it means understanding the present in light of the future, dominating it by the future, in the same way as the historian dominates the past.” There even seems to be an ontological ‘priority’ to the future: “to be revolutionary is to judge the world by its present state, by actual facts, in the name of a truth which does not yet exist (but which is coming).” But, I’m not certain how Pannenberg’s ontological priority of the future is not simply the inverse of the “tangential” revelation of Jesus in Barth’s Romerbrief — that is, a “horizontal” tangent rather than a “vertical” one…but both views are deficient insofar as they do not allow for the disclosure of the truth that Jesus is Lord (apocalypse) to be a full irruption that takes place within history, a singular event within history.

    Is not the point of “apocalyptic” in fact that this revolutionary truth which “judges the world” has in fact already come, and does in fact exist…though it is indeed yet coming, because the reign and rule of the Lamb is very much a part of Jesus’ historicity — in other words because there is in fact an eschatological thrust to what is disclosed as in fact true in the revelation of Jesus Christ as Lord from within the very singular event of Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection?

    Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 5:02 pm | Permalink
  3. e4unity wrote:

    This is great stuff, more like the true Biblical narrative. I love Ellul and his grasp of The Kingdom of God. Another writer I’m very fond of and for similiar reasons, is Paul Minear, who died last year after celebrating his 100 birthday. Minear’s exposition of The New Testament Gospel, The Kingdom and the Power is another greatly over-looked gem, first published in 1950.

    His understanding of the Old heaven and the old creation sharing the same time and space now with the New heaven and the New creation greatly inhances an understanding of how to read the book of Revelation.

    Thanks for the post an ensuing comments.

    Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 5:38 pm | Permalink
  4. Dave,

    I don’t think you really have the early Barth or Pannenberg quite right. In Barth’s Römerbrief, revelation does indeed occur within history, but Barth is concerned to preserve this revelation as an event which does not become a predicate of history — i.e., it does not become an object which we can analyze and manipulate. He only knows how to preserve this historical event by using the mathematical metaphor of a tangent to the circle. But it’s clear that revelation itself is an event in history. When Barth shifts to his revised christology, then he is able to make historicity and humanity constitutive of the revelation event in a way that he couldn’t allow in his earlier thought.

    Pannenberg, however, most definitely does have an event in history — the resurrection. The resurrection is so much within history that it can be assessed apart from the eyes of faith; it’s an objective fact. This, of course, is opposed to Barth. Moreover, it’s not that his ontology cannot incorporate history; rather, Pannenberg has a retroactive ontology in which the historical event of the resurrection has ontological significance for the past. While it is certainly creative, I find his notion of the retroactive ontological significance of the resurrection to be an incoherent return to mythology. It just doesn’t make any sense.

    Barth is quite a bit better, in my opinion. His earlier thought puts all the emphasis on the time-eternity dialectic, to be sure, but revelation is still an event within history, even at this early stage — though the Romans commentary is not nearly as sophisticated as his later theology.

    In any case, your overall view I agree with, but I don’t think your summary of Barth and Pannenberg is accurate.

    Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 8:41 pm | Permalink
  5. Mike Bull wrote:

    Great quote. I have a couple minor reservations.

    - The connotations of the word ‘revolution.’ The gospel is not a revolutionary but a regenerative force. It works like leaven, not like guerillas.

    - The New Jerusalem is a current reality. It is just not yet visible. What the church does, like Bezalel and Aholiab, is measure out this present, heavenly pattern (blueprint) upon the earth through God’s Spirit-filled craftsmen – us. On earth as it is in heaven. So the truth is not only coming, it already actually exists.

    Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 9:15 pm | Permalink
  6. Dave Belcher wrote:


    I sort of dissociated my single thought there a bit — unintentionally…I should have said that, “they do not allow for Jesus’ historicity to be the disclosure of the truth that Jesus is Lord (apocalypse) over history — that is, to be a full irruption that takes place within the historicity of Jesus Christ, that is itself a singular event within history.”

    Barth of the Epistle to the Romans is indeed conceiving of a Christology that is apocalyptically i(nter)ruptive, and eschatological as well. But, recall that the resurrection for Barth (of der Romerbrief, that is) — which is indeed an irruption into history, and it does indeed define or condition all of the rest of history — is a “non-historical” event, which is why it can only be conceived as a tangent touching a circle…Barth cannot affirm even the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth, because this irruption is like a lightning flash that conditions all of history (even Jesus’) as contemporaneous with the eternal and transcendent (and thus vertical) Now.

    My point is that the Barth of the Romerbrief, though he does have something like an “apoclayptic Christology,” he cannot think of the evental nature of Jesus’s own historicity (and historicity here includes ascension, session, and second coming) as itself the truth of history. It is only “the truth of history” insofar as it relates to a metaphysical, transcendent God. And Barth himself recognized this! He says as much in the Dogmatics reflecting on the Epistle to the Romans.

    I’ll demur on Pannenberg for now…my brain’s getting fuzzy because it is late. And I should add that I haven’t read the Romerbrief in 5 years — but much of what I am saying here grew from out of what I understood Paul DeHart to be saying about the early Barth in one of his lectures (which was five years ago!). Perhaps more in the morning. Thanks for the engagement. Peace.

    Thursday, November 13, 2008 at 9:24 pm | Permalink
  7. Dave Belcher wrote:


    Not sure if you’ll see this, but I should also add that what I said in my last post regarding Barth is pretty much exactly what Nate Kerr argues in his chapter on Barth from his new book….(though I have yet to read that chapter still)

    Many conversations with him over beers and in the classroom about Barth (et. al.) is no doubt the reason for my saying something similar here. “Apocalyptic christology,” though…I know that’s all his — I “borrowed” that one here.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2008 at 7:27 am | Permalink

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