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Elull on Prayer

“The person who claims to be full of hope but fails to lead a life of prayer is a liar. Prayer is the sole ‘reason’ for hope, at the same time that it is its means and expression. Prayer is the referral to God’s decision, on which we are counting. Without that referral there can be no hope, because we would have nothing to hope for. Prayer is the assurance of the possibility of God’s intervention, without which there is no hope. Prayers is the means given by God for the dialogue with him, that is to day, it is the very junction of the future with eternity, where we have seen that our hope is located. In its dialogue it embraces the past presented for pardon, the future defined by cooperation between the praying person and God, and eternity, which prayer lays hold of through the sighs uttered by the Holy Spirit.

“Without such prayer we can piece together a few false hopes to give the appearance of hope, but all that, even when arranged theologically, can only be illusory. That is why it is quite right to recall that hope is based on God’s promise constantly fulfilled and renewed. But how can we forget that, throughout the Bible, this promise is linked with the ceaseless outcry of prayer? It is man’s prayer which demands the fulfillment, and it is again his prayer which demands its renewal and its ongoing. Without prayer, the promise and its fulfillment are forces just as indifferent and blind as Moira (fate) and Ananke (necessity).”

~ Jacques Elull, Hope in a Time of Abandonment, 272-3.


  1. Robert wrote:

    This just made the case to me for posts that are nothing but quotations.

    “Without such prayer we can piece together a few false hopes to give the appearance of hope, but all that, even when arranged theologically, can only be illusory. That is why it is quite right to recall that hope is based on God’s promise constantly fulfilled and renewed…”

    Wonderful. I must read this book now.


    Wednesday, August 5, 2009 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
  2. erin wrote:

    ouch. Despite all my rhetoric to the contrary, my world is still pretty contained by the natural world. -really brings how much I don’t believe what I’m saying for the most part.

    Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 8:17 am | Permalink
  3. Skip wrote:

    Good one Halden. More!!

    Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 4:45 pm | Permalink
  4. Gabaon wrote:

    I’ve had not heard of Jacques Ellul before, but he’s definitely… so right!

    Reminded me of Augustine: “For in it is the fountain of life, which
    we must now thirst for in prayer so long as we live in hope, not yet
    seeing that which we hope for, trusting under the shadow of His
    wings before whom are all our desires, that we may be abundantly
    satisfied with the fatness of His house, and made to drink of the
    river of His pleasure”

    Friday, August 7, 2009 at 12:20 pm | Permalink
  5. An excellent quote, more serious than others I’ve read on prayer.

    You should post more about or from Ellul. I suspect he is relatively under-read these days, and I think his thinking, especially about urban and technological society, could be quite relevant.

    Saturday, August 8, 2009 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
  6. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    If folks are interested in Ellul, I am on the board of the International Jacques Ellul Society. We publish a semi-annual forum with Ellulian analysis and such. Also contains the single most comprehnsive collection of Ellul articles in English, anywhere (libraries or online). There is even a video of Ellul.

    Ellul’s analysis of the technological society if very important and if contemporary Hauerwasians would read Ellul more they would have to modify their analyses significantly. For example, most Hauerwasians are very into Wendell Berry and the back to the land agrarianism there (though I have not found very many who actually have tried to live that out, they just like the idea…I grow 75% of my own food). Ellul’s analysis draws on contemporary anthropology which shows that in fact the dawn of agriculture also brought the dawn of warfare, patriarchy, the division of labor. The move into a settled life had its advantages but brought these problems with it. Now we are living in an age of technology, which mediates not only the environment, but also social life (that is what we are doing right now on this technology). This also brings severe new problems, the most serious of which is that technology or more broadly “technique” tends to subvert Christian moral theology: once a technology exists, it is immoral not to use, case closed for most folks.

    By the way, in the Mennonite archives I found a translation of Ellul’s Money and Power that John Howard Yoder was working on. he had it almost done and then InterVarsity hired a professional translator and used that person instead. Too bad.

    Saturday, August 8, 2009 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  7. Chris Grataski wrote:


    Thanks for the comment. Which Ellul article should I start with concerning this point on agriculture? I have read much Hauerwas and nearly all of Wendell Berry (though I came to Hauerwas 2nd) and am only slightly familiar with Ellul. I would love to be stretched with regard to my theological approach to agriculture.

    Is it the Ellul influence on Jesus Radicals folks that leads to the substantial dialogue with anarcho-primitivism?

    Should I expect Ellul’s analysis be critical of all agriculture, even low-plow or anti-plow practices like Permaculture or Fukuoka? (Though he has not totally removed it from his life, Wendell Berry has also moved away from the plow and has taken up interest in forest gardens and perennial vegetables. This is due, no doubt, to the work of Wes Jackson.)

    Also, I’ll be in Memphis next weekend for the conference. I’d love to chat about this some there if you’d like.

    Saturday, August 8, 2009 at 3:48 pm | Permalink
  8. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Look me up at the conference. There will be quite a few others who ore fully subscribe to anarcho-primitivism, as I am not really convinced completely of that, though I think it is very valuable as a critique and vision, and has moved me to do things I would not have done before (I forage for food as well, for example…150 pounds of apples last year). Of course, John Zerzan, who will be there, is a good resource on that particular issue.

    As far as Ellul on Agriculture, we have the entire book “What I Believe” online as well. Read the three chapters on history. They are essential to understanding Ellul (and would be good for understanding what is happening to some degree at the conference with Zerzan and some of us). There is also a bit in the first chapter of Technological Society. Also, for the theological corresponding critique, read his book “The Meaning of the City,” which is not online, because it is still in print!

    I can give other examples of how Hauerwas’ students would benefit from Ellul. CAvanaugh’s latest book, “Being Consumed” uses a lot of practical examples of how to be different in economics. Many of these are simply fair trade. They don’t challenge the global market or the technological system. If Cavanaugh really wanted to subvert the economic order and cause us to move from being consumers to producers, he would advocate learning new practices more strongly, like learning to grow food, learning to recognize wild foods (even in our own yards), making our own clothes, etc. That would be more MacIntyrean in my opinion as well. Ellul’s critique of the technological society is more than just globalization is a secular nightmare. it is that the industrial revolution itself was a problem and even beyond that, the assumption that civilized western life has answers for the world’s problems is wrong.

    Have you read Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”? Probably the best book I have read in the bast 5 years. Devastating. It makes the anarcho-primitivist case extremely well, though he is not one.

    Ellul would not be in complete agreement with anarcho-primitivism (maybe ask Zerzan where he agrees and disagrees). I am not either. I do think they have very valuable points to make though that have not been widely heard outside of anthropologists.

    Saturday, August 8, 2009 at 4:55 pm | Permalink
  9. Agreed!

    Saturday, August 8, 2009 at 5:00 pm | Permalink
  10. I notice a distinction in the two paragraphs, as the “dialogue” in the first transforms into the “demands” of the second. The second paragraph reminds me of his description in Prayer and Modern Man of prayer as combat with God. I wonder if his thinking changed at all between those books?

    I personally don’t feel I have the right to fight with God about anything concerning myself, although I do like to make demands on behalf of others.

    Saturday, August 8, 2009 at 5:03 pm | Permalink
  11. Chris Grataski wrote:

    Thanks Andy. Though i enjoyed “Being Consumed,” I had been hoping that it would include some of what you suggested. From his experiences in Chile I’m sure he’s seen the sort of “real goods and skills” economy that you’re talking about. I believe he mentions it some in T&E, but I can’t remember with any accuracy.

    I’m part of a small new-monastic community that is looking to develop something like Maurin’s vision of an agronomic university for exactly these reasons. For the last few years we’ve been developing precisely the skill sets that you mention, with the hopes of being able to offer them to those looking to develop in their common life alternative economic practices.

    But your comments in this regard also give rise to another question for me. Do you think the church can get to a point where small communities are not complicit in the workings of capitalism? I’m thinking particularly of Halden’s insightful comments on complicity (“critics with blood on our hands”? i believe) and I wonder if you’d agree.

    No worries if you don’t have time to respond. Either way I’ll look for you next weekend.

    Saturday, August 8, 2009 at 8:01 pm | Permalink
  12. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Well, we are all part of the system and to pretend otherwise would be delusional. If the electricity went out for a week or two in New York, where I am from, hundreds of thousands of people would die immediately, and many thousands more soon after. We literally live on technology, and we literally breath technologically produced and changed air. If the grid went down or oil stopped flowing (which it will, probably in our lifetimes, oil has peaked), our entire way of life would collapse, and most of the population would die, perhaps most of us on this blog. So we are part of it, and invested in it.

    I am convinced, however, that the western technological civilization will collapse someday as all civilizations have (perhaps not in my lifetime, but it will happen, and it will not be the end of the world, only the end of our devastating lifestyles), and the environmental damage we have done will play a major role, just as it has in the past (see the Jared Diamond book I mentioned). How can we do the best we can to minimize the damage in the meantime? The central issue of our time in not health care, not even war, but environmental issues of all sorts. And that issue cannot wait. Martin Luther King Jr. said the world bends toward justice, and therefore he had confidence that black folk could out-patience the system. On this issue, the world bends toward heat, and physics does not negotiate or wait on our moral deliberations. Patience will only cause disaster. But here we sit…

    Cavanaugh’s book’s solutions are mostly classic anarcho-socialist solutions: decentralized, locally owned and worker ran cooperative factories. But what if you question the factory itself? Sure, a factory without a boss that is worker controlled is better than one with a boss and no input from workers. But the factory system itself produces people who are conditioned to obey orders, to conform to the clock, to develop habits of mind and body that do not develop critical thinking skills or general health. In no way shape or form will factories produce a revolutionary class as Marx predicted. Workers have a vested interest in keeping the system itself going (Marx was wrong, Bakunin was right about the lumpenproletariat) So the factory itself must be questioned, not touted as a shining example of Eucharistic formed economics. Cavanaugh does not do that in his latest book. Ellul’s analysis of the technological system would have pushed him into a deeper critique. (I was also annoyed by Cavanaugh’s overly easy acceptance of “humanely” killing animals for food, but that is another story). In his book, Cavanaugh pushed anarcho-syndicalism without naming it. Great. But anarchism is moving beyond that: green anarchism has a much more thorough critique and vision.

    The skills you and are want to learn are hard to come by because they have been eradicated by the technological system of quick fixes and easy access. It takes years to learn some of these skills even with a mentor. Without somebody who knows, for example, how to distinguish between edible mushrooms and poisonous ones, there is no way in heck a lone person can learn to find their own mushrooms for food foraging in the wild. I won’t even try it. Or how to build a shelter, and on and on. I take my little wild edibles manual out and think I am doing something great by collecting acorns and wild grapes and such. But it is only the tip of the iceberg (I know a lady who forages for all her food for her whole family…she has not been to the grocery store, she tells me, in several years. Those are skills she has learned over a lifetime though). And then there is the population problem….I’m going to sleep.

    Sunday, August 9, 2009 at 12:01 am | Permalink
  13. Brad A. wrote:

    Andy, you write: “The central issue of our time in not health care, not even war, but environmental issues of all sorts. And that issue cannot wait. Martin Luther King Jr. said the world bends toward justice, and therefore he had confidence that black folk could out-patience the system. On this issue, the world bends toward heat, and physics does not negotiate or wait on our moral deliberations. Patience will only cause disaster. But here we sit…”

    But what role does eschatological hope (returning to the quote) and patience have in this situation? I’m not suggesting we fiddle while Rome burns, but it seems to me such practices as you espouse would do better to flow out of the habits of a faithful people (demonstrating how the specifics of our reliance on technology are unfaithful and suggesting alternatives), rather than out of the sense of urgency expressed above. I have no doubt you agree and do this, but the notion expressed above suggests we must act according to the exigencies of the situation rather than the demands of the lordship of Christ. If, in fact, our job is not to make history come out right, how might this be reframed?

    Monday, August 10, 2009 at 6:18 am | Permalink
  14. Andy Alexis-Baker wrote:

    Sure. I wouldn’t want to use Yoder’s statement about not making the world come out right in the lazy evangelical way of “it’s all going to burn anyway.” Doubt you do either. We are saying the same thing, I just said it using patience to get a rise out of people :)

    Along with patience comes phronesis, wisdom to act rightly.

    Tuesday, August 11, 2009 at 5:48 am | Permalink

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