Ellul Research

Jacques Ellul (1912-1994), sociologist, author and professor, frequently addresses the intersection of technology, morality and faith. EllulHis influential books include The Technological Society and The Ethics of Freedom. As social media advances and pervades entertainment, business and politics, Ellul’s predictions become ever more relevant. Several new books examine his prescient theories and research.

Vleet, Jacob E. Van. Dialectical Theology and Jacques Ellul An Introductory Exposition. Lanham: Fortress Press, 2014​. http://www.amazon.com/Dialectical-Theology-Jacques-Ellul-Introductory/dp/1451470398/

Shaw, Jeffrey M. Illusions of Freedom: Thomas Merton and Jacques Ellul on Technology and the Human Condition. Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, 2014. http://www.amazon.com/Illusions-Freedom-Jacques-Technology-Condition/dp/1625640587

Ellul, Jacques, Samir Younes, David Lovekin, and Michael Johnson. The Empire of Non-Sense: Art in the Technological Society. Winterbourne: Papadakis, 2014. http://www.amazon.com/The-Empire-Non-Sense-TecHnological-Society/dp/190650640X

The papers of Jacques Ellul (SC-16) are archived at Wheaton College (IL) Special Collections.

 

 

Through Winding Ways

BirdThe following text, describing Wheaton College founder, Jonathan Blanchard, and his son, Charles, is excerpted from the prologue to Through Winding Ways (1939) by Xenobia Bird (Laura LeFevre). This is one of at least three novels, including The Tower, The Mask and the Grave (2000) by Betty Smartt Carter and The Silver Trumpet (1930) by John Wesley Inglis, featuring Wheaton College as its setting.

A man stood looking at a lone college building, small, plain, but sturdily built — his citadel, and then he turned and gazed long and far into the distant future. The wide prairie, flat and treeless, stretched out before him. That huddle of houses was the nearby village, while here and there an occasional farmhouse with young orchard and freshly planted shade trees gladdened the view and broke the monotony of the miles.

He was not given to dreaming, this pioneer from rock-ribbed Vermont, but a mighty vision gripped his soul. He was a born educator and an evangelist. The low hill upon which he stood was consecrated ground, dedicated in prayer to the cause of Christian education. Others had chosen the spot and launched the venture, but God had called him to captain the enterprise and lead on to vaster endeavor. As he looked with kindling eyes down the vista of the years, in vision he saw them, a troop of young men and women trained in the college that was to be, and going out as laborers in the Master’s vineyard to win souls for Christ and His Kingdom.

A quarter of a century rolled by, and in his place stood another Valiant-for-Truth, his son. Part of the dream of father and son has been fulfilled. On the hill now rose a stately white stone edifice of noble proportions, not supplanting, but surrounding and embodying in itself that which first had been. In the forefront of the building a Norman tower of simple beauty and dignity overlooked all the landscape. The bell in the turret was cast for its own noble purpose and bore in Latin the motto of the college, “For Christ and His Kingdom.”

This man for long years labored indefatigably to build a great college that would honor and glorify the Savior of the world. With painstaking care he laid the foundation solidly on the Rock, Christ Jesus himself the chief cornerstone. Into the spiritual structure, as real to the builder as the college walls of cut stone, there was built with purpose sure the sincere teaching of the Word of God.

 

Breaking the Unwritten Rules

One need not be well-versed in the intricate details of rules of etiquette to know some basic truths about the unspoken rules of “polite” conversation. There are two topics that a polite guest never broaches at a dinner party: politics and religion.

Why might etiquette books warn people to steer clear of these subjects? Why are discussions of religion and politics so often taboo? It seems to me that the answer is quite straightforward: many individuals have very strong, deeply held beliefs about both.

Conversations about religion and politics tap into core values and beliefs, so these discussions can easily become deeply personal and polarizing.

Consequently, far too few people engage in open and honest communication that crosses religious and ideological lines.

As a scholar of American politics who teaches at Wheaton, I constantly examine the intersection of religious and political worldviews. Although tackling these subjects is not always comfortable and easy, such conversations are not only valuable—they are essential. To understand American politics today, one needs to understand the ways in which religious values and beliefs inform political behavior. To enter political debates about candidates and public policy, one needs working knowledge of the structure and limitations of American government.

I often hear people voice frustration with public discourse about Christianity and politics. From mainstream media portrayals that often fail to “get” religion, to the caricatures of Christians as single-minded ideologues, popular notions of faith and politics are often oversimplified and flawed. Compounding this problem, some churches preach ideology and single-issue politics instead of training parishioners to think biblically and theologically about politics and public policy. American Christians have very few resources to help them develop a thoughtful and informed approach to political issues and elections.

During my sabbatical next year, I will be writing a book tentatively titled Before Left and Right: what Every Christian Needs to Know about American Politics. Instead of repeating dogmatic arguments from the political left or right, this project will describe key elements of the American political system and help Christians apply their faith to their voting and civic participation. Drawing upon themes from 1 Corinthians 12 and 13, I build a case for politics as a means of demonstrating love in action and building the body of Christ.

This book will not claim to provide the only Christian interpretation of politics and political issues; instead, it begins with two central assumptions: first, that we all “see through a glass, darkly” and therefore should exercise humility when discussing politics; and second, that the diversity of the body of Christ makes room for Christians to disagree on many political matters. My hope is to educate and inform readers so that they will be equipped to serve Christ and His kingdom in the public square.

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Dr. Amy E. Black, Associate Professor of Politics and International Relations, who earned her Ph.D. from M.I.T., specializes in American politics and currently serves as the vice president and president-elect of Christians in Political Science. She and her husband, Dan Treier, assistant professor of theological studies at Wheaton, have found that religion and politics can indeed make an excellent combination. (Wheaton Magazine, Spring 2006)

Michener on Buechner

James A. Michener authored more than 40 books, mostly massive historical sagas set in a particular geographic location, such as Hawaii, Poland and Texas. He published his first novel, Tales of the South Pacific, at 40 and continued writing until his death at 90 in 1997. His literary career is  noted for constant worldwide traveling and meticulous research, often incorporating history into his fictional narratives. MichenerIn his memoir, The World is My Home (1992), he reflects on certain novelists he admires and supports, including, somewhat surprisingly, Frederick Buechner.

In the lecture on the literary scene I reviewed the work of some half dozen writers but with special emphasis on two who had captured my imagination and for whom I had great hopes. I sold a lot of books for these two young men. The first had attended Princeton University and was either contemplating or beginning a career in the Presbyterian ministry in which he would later excel. Frederick Buechner had a style of great elegance, so highly polished that he reminded me of Wharton at her best. He liked long sentences dealing with, for example, the sensibilities of urbane parents who sent their sons to places like Princeton, and I used to read aloud with great effect several passages from his novel A Long Day’s Dying, in which single sentences ran on for half a page. At the end of each segment I would tell my audience: “I could not in a hundred years write like Mr. Buechner, nor would I want to, but I esteem him as one of the best young writers today and feel sure he will maintain that reputation in the decades ahead.”

Michener adds a footnote, “He has. From his industrious pen has continued to flow a unique mix of intelligent novels and masterfully argued religious essays. His reputation is solid.”

The papers of Frederick Buechner (SC-05) are archives at Wheaton College (IL) Special Collections.

 

Full Circle

FullCircleThe 1960s were years of dizzying upheaval for the United States. Its citizens wearied of the complex, seemingly endless war in Viet Nam. University students experimented with radical philosophies and mind-altering drugs. Racial tensions tightened in the inner city, often exploding. Popular music, particularly rock and roll, assumed an edgier attitude, reflecting the spirit of protest. As culture-shattering challenges shook the American psyche, the church did not remain unscathed. Amid the turmoil, David Mains, formerly assistant pastor at Moody Church in Chicago, with his wife, Karen, determined that the moment was right to implement a “creative” congregation on the edge of the ghetto, using all the gifts of its membership while aggressively reaching the socially disenfranchised and those disillusioned by local churches. Under Mains’ leadership, Circle Church began in 1967 with 28 people. Four years later Circle Church’s membership climbed to 500 congregants,  comprising students, high-rise apartment dwellers and ghetto inhabitants. Mains tells the story in Full Circle (1971). As the years progressed, however, Circle Church began to slowly unravel. Mains picks up the story in a 2004 Christianity Today essay called “Presumption at Circle Church.” He writes, “Today I am embarrassed about some of the attitudes expressed in Full Circle. I still have the same principles, but my comments seem cocky and presumptuous. I saw Circle Church as the tip of a new wave that would sweep across evangelical churches. That didn’t happen. Circle Church still exists, but in a smaller form and with more specialized emphasis.” Mains cites several reasons for the failure of Circle Church, expounding on each point. 1) I often allowed myself to fixate on issues. 2) I was naive about social problems. 3) In encouraging others’ gifts, I minimized my leadership role. 4) I held onto the church too tightly.

“The best thing that happened to me in leaving Circle Church was the breaking of my pride,” Mains writes. “During the breaking time, I felt rejected by the church that I had poured my life and soul into for ten years. For a brief time I questioned my faith in God. I wondered if I could trust him again.” He concludes,”More than a year passed after I left Circle Church before I began to feel like a man again. I have since sensed a new filling of the Holy Spirit, which was the result of a complete surrender to God. The process taught me to put confidence not in myself but in the Lord. As never before I identify with Paul’s words, ‘His strength is made perfect in my weakness.’”

Though Mains expresses a measure of remorse, his experiment in the Chicago ghetto, using liturgy, art and lively worship, waved a banner of salvation and hope for many, while providing a template for later generations of churches employing similar principles.

In 1977 Mains assumed the position of director for the Chapel of the Air, with Karen acting as co-host of the syndicated radio broadcast. Both have authored several books. Their papers (SC-118) are housed at Wheaton College Special Collections at Wheaton College (IL).

Memoirs of Africa

LosierAndrew Losier graduated from Wheaton College in 1934 and Dallas Theological Seminary in 1937. That year he was married to Dorothy, his college sweetheart. Under the umbrella of a faith mission, Dorothy and Andrew sailed for East Africa, arriving on December 5, 1938. They worked among the Kipsigis until 1940, then received an assignment to work among the nomads of the Masai Tribe in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. In 1952 they founded the Christian Literature and Bible Center. They distributed over a billion pieces of Christian literature in 50 different languages in East and  South Africa. After 43 years in Africa, they began their international distribution venture, “Around the World.” Losier very briefly recounts his Wheaton College days in Memoirs of Africa (1985),

During my senior year at Wheaton, I became engaged to a wonderful young lady, Dorothy Lehman, who was the ninth child of God-fearing parents of German-Swiss origin. For many years I had prayed that the Lord would direct me to the right woman for my future life partner. Unknown to me, Dorothy was praying in Indiana for the right man. I dedicated my life to full-time mission service in Africa and she dedicated herself to full-time mission service anywhere but Africa! But God worked that out, too. It was nearly five years before we were married and I thank God that Dorothy was willing to wait for me.

The Losiers had five sons and two daughters. Andrew died in 1998. Dorothy died in 1992.

Why Anthropology?

As a cultural anthropologist, people often find what I do very interesting. They like to hear about my time in the Philippines or subsequent travels to "out of the way" places. But even though it is interesting, many still think it is not terribly relevant.

I've come to believe that anthropological knowledge is more than interesting—for the Christian, it is imperative.

We can often see the benefit of anthropology for missionaries; but what's the relevance for "the rest of us"? The fact is, most evangelical Christians now live outside of North America or Europe. They are not to be relegated simply as subjects of mission, but our brothers and sisters in Christ. Understanding what God is doing in these places is not about "them," it is about us—the global church. Sure, we can live "good" Christian lives with no knowledge of other Christians whatsoever, just as we can come to a saving faith by simply reading Romans and nothing else. But God desires that we would know the richness of His Kingdom (Eph. 2.7), not just the minimum.

Moreover, increasing numbers of people are in contact with "cultural otherness," whether through short-term service trips, or among cultural minorities in the U.S. Can we demonstrate love to people if we aren't even sure how to communicate? A big hug and using first names are good ways to tell Midwesterners they are loved, but for a Christian in Zambia, or Hungary, or China, what is that big hug going to mean? More importantly, are we equipped to find out?

Most critically, anthropology has long held to the dictum that only in understanding others, do we understand ourselves. White Northern Americans are no less steeped in culture than the brown nomad living on the plains of the Sudan. Even our understanding of God's revelation is inexorably linked with our cultural context. Wheaton alumnus and anthropology major Billy Graham '43, Litt.D '56 once said that if he could go back, he would have gotten a Ph.D. in anthropology to understand race relations and inequality in the United States. (When students ask what to do with a major in anthropology, I love saying that it can lead to a career in worldwide evangelism.)

Understanding the relevance of anthropology to the whole church is coming slowly in Christian circles. Only five of 115 schools in the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) offer a major in anthropology. But when a student leaves my class understanding that the U.S. church is culturally unique, but not perfect; knowing why we should learn from those who, though they are culturally different from us, are still our Christian siblings; and realizing that culture is part of God's design, not a consequence of sin—I know again why He brought me to Wheaton.

Dr. Brian Howell, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, holds a Ph.D.from Washington University in St. Louis and joined Wheaton's faculty in 2001. He specializes in global Christianity and has published work from his research on Baptists in the Philippines in various journals in addition to presenting it at international conferences. He is often asked to address student groups on topics such as cross-cultural ministry, gender, and popular culture. He and his wife, Marissa Sabio, have three children. (Wheaton Magazine, Spring 2005).

Charles Blanchard on the Bible

BlanchardThe life of Dr. Charles Blanchard (1848-1925), second president of Wheaton College, was nearing its end just when the Modernist/Fundamentalist controversey was heating up. These hotly divisive years presented stiff challenges to conservative Christians as traditional assumptions were routinely overthrown or mocked. Is the Bible flawed? Is evolution true? Is scripture merely a collection of fictional morality tales? These questions, then as now, plagued educational institutions across the nation. Eventually the battle lines were drawn – and Dr. Blanchard made it very clear where he stood, as evidenced by these words from the Preface of his book, Visions and Voices: Or Who Wrote the Bible (1917):

It is not strange that such a book should be assailed. We do not wonder when we read that its translators, teachers and followers have been strangled, beheaded, burned, drowned and by thousands have died for this wonderful book on bloody fields. It is, however, strange that today men who profess to believe the Bible and are paid for teaching it should join hands with the Paines, Voltaires and Ingersolls of our race to destroy the faith of the people in this book. I do not understand their motives, but I do know the deadly work they are doing, and I entreat all men who honor God or wish well to humanity to resist their desperately evil assaults on this the only hope of the human race.

Conflict Resolution

Mark Lewis

As the lights dimmed to black in Arena Theater’s last play of 2005, the audience was left with the image of a young couple gazing at one another across a divide, their future together suspended in the distance between them.

Discussions following this production, The Cover of Life, by R.T. Robinson, have been engaging. What happens to that couple? It seems that the playwright does not intend us to know.

Furthermore, as the director of the play I was committed to creating a final image that would leave all of us squarely in the middle of the question.

Why? I am sometimes asked why so many of the plays we produce in Arena Theater do not resolve neatly, or sometimes even positively. Why not offer our audience encouragement by doing plays that offer more definitive resolutions? Are we trying to discourage or frustrate the faithful friends who come to support our work?

No, nothing could be further from my intent in choosing and directing plays. But I am fervent in this belief—”theater” operates or works most powerfully at the level of our shared and ongoing questions. There is immense value in evaluating a play not only by what message or moral it might offer, but also by the quality of the questions it leaves us asking.

So much of what we call “entertainment” is not meant to affect us in this way. Questions, if there are any, are beautifully crafted to resolve completely. One can practically know what time it is in an hour-long television drama by the story’s proximity to its resolution, which is usually very simple. When we are fed a steady diet of this type of ending to a story, what becomes of our ability to trust God in a world where endings so often seem, from our human perspective, to be unresolved or ambiguous?

Theater is intended to land differently—to leave a different kind of impression. It relies absolutely on writing that demonstrates honest conflict springing from opposing points of view. If a play is to succeed, these opposing views must be brought to life by actors advocating honestly for their character’s choices.

Additionally, theater demands that an audience struggle with its own presuppositions. Unlike film or television, where a camera focuses our attention for us, we decide where to look and whom to incline to. We may disagree completely with a character’s point of view and the actions it leads her to, but a good play asks us to lend our attention to that character’s story, and to consider it, for better and for worse.

Hamlet says, “The purpose of playing was and is…to hold a mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image.” We need to be open to seeing our image in both parts of that mirror if an experience in the theater is to fulfill its potential to reflect and challenge us.

Wheaton Magazine (Autumn 2005)

Masked: The Life of Anna Leonowens by Al Habegger

A brave British widow goes to Siam and—by dint of her principled and indomitable character—inspires that despotic nation to abolish slavery and absolute rule: this appealing legend first took shape after the Civil War when Anna Leonowens came to America from Bangkok and succeeded in becoming a celebrity author and lecturer. Three decades after her death, in the 1940s and 1950s, the story would be transformed into a powerful Western myth by Margaret Landon’s best-selling book Anna and the King of Siam and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical The King and I.

But who was Leonowens and why did her story take hold? Although it has been known for some time that she was of Anglo-Indian parentage and that her tales about the Siamese court are unreliable, not until now, with the publication of Masked, has there been a deeply researched account of her extraordinary life. Alfred Habegger, an award-winning biographer, draws on the archives of five continents and recent Thai-language scholarship to disclose the complex person behind the mask and the troubling facts behind the myth. He also ponders the curious fit between Leonowens’s compelling fabrications and the New World’s innocent dreams—in particular the dream that democracy can be spread through quick and easy interventions.

Exploring the full historic complexity of what it once meant to pass as white, Masked (published by University of Wisconsin Press, 560 pages) pays close attention to Leonowens’s midlevel origins in British India, her education at a Bombay charity school for Eurasian children, her material and social milieu in Australia and Singapore, the stresses she endured in Bangkok as a working widow, the latent melancholy that often afflicted her, the problematic aspects of her self-invention, and the welcome she found in America, where a circle of elite New England abolitionists who knew nothing about Southeast Asia gave her their uncritical support. Her embellished story would again capture America’s imagination as World War II ended and a newly interventionist United States looked toward Asia.

The Kenneth & Margaret Landon Papers (SC-38) are cited as primary source materials and are housed in the Wheaton College Special Collections, available to researchers.

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Alfred Habegger is professor emeritus of English at the University of Kansas. His previous biographies are The Father: A Life of Henry James, Sr. and the highly acclaimed My Wars Are Laid Away in Books: The Life of Emily Dickinson. He lives in northeast Oregon.