Did French Theologian Jacques Ellul Express Interest in Becoming a Pentecostal?

Ellul

According to longtime Assemblies of God educator and missionary Dr. George R. Stotts, leading French Reformed theologian Dr. Jacques Ellul (1912-1994) inquired about becoming a member of the French Assemblies of God in the 1930s or 1940s.

When Ellul was 17 years old, he experienced what he believed to be the presence of God. The experience was overwhelming and unforgettable. This seed of faith did not develop, and he became a convinced Marxist while studying at university. In 1932, however, he converted to Christ and the trajectory of his life changed. He rejected Marxism and ended up becoming a French Reformed pastor and theologian. In Ellul’s early years, when he apparently inquired about joining the French Assemblies of God, he was sorting out his theological views. In Ellul’s later years, he adopted various theological stances which would have been at odds with most theologically conservative evangelical or Pentecostal churches.

The following is a transcription of a letter by Stotts, which he deposited at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center, recounting his interactions with Ellul.

Jacques Ellul: Something That Most People Do Not Know

The undersigned knew Professor Ellul very well. We lived in neighboring town when my wife and I lived in France. The French Assemblies of God Bible School, located in Leognan, invited Dr. Ellul as guest lecturer which gave him pleasure to accept. I have attended his French Reformed Church as well as a Bible study on the Book of Romans which he gave in his church. Additionally, my colleague, Professor Gerard Bachke, a French Assemblies of God pastor and a professor at their Bible school, was well acquainted with Professor Ellul. From time to time he invited us to his home where we had interesting discussions, some philosophical but most were religious in nature, particularly the spiritual state of the French Reformed Church.

It was during Brother Bachke and my last visit in his home that he recounted for us an interesting part of his religious past. It was either in the late 1930s or early 1940s when he approached the leadership of the French Assemblies of God. The purpose of the meeting was to inquire about his becoming a member in the Movement. His interest in the Pentecostal movement was based on what he felt was lacking in the French Reformed Church—for the most part it had become a cold and static part of a greater part of the Protestant Reformation. After a rather lengthy discussion about his interest in becoming part of the French Assemblies, he asked of the brethren to discuss his desire and then get back to him. Unfortunately, the French Assemblies’ delegation never re-contacted him. His comment to Professor Bachke and myself was “I don’t think that the brothers nor the Movement wanted me because of my education. Perhaps they do not know how to handle that.”

Professor Bachke and myself were very surprised to hear his comments about his desire to leave the French Reformed Church and to be part of the French Assemblies of God. After bidding him ‘au revoir,’ our conclusion was that he was probably right in his assessment, RE: his education and standing in French intellectual and academic circles would be too much for the French Assemblies of God. He taught for many decades at the University of Bordeaux, walking to and from class every day for he never learned to drive.

A personal comment: having talked with Professor Ellul, having heard his lectures to the Bible School students, and having heard him preach and teach the Epistle to the Romans, he never ever came across as some pedantic person; rather, he was one of the most humble men whom I have ever met.

It is important to state that in my research for my doctorate, The History of the Modern French Pentecostal Movement, I was rather surprised by what I found. Douglas Scott, the English Pentecostal evangelist who brought the Pentecostal message to France had one goal: not to start a new denomination, rather to take the Pentecostal message to the French churches, [including] the Roman Catholic church. Mr. Scot was successful in doing so. Quoting from my dissertation: “Important to the understanding the spread of Pentecostalism in France is the effect that the message [of Pentecost] had on Baptist churches in North France and on the French Reformed Church. Many of the Baptist churches, anticipating a spiritual movement, accepted Pentecostalism as that which they were seeking. In the camp of the French Reformed, Ax Bernoulli, pastor of the French Reformed Church of St. Chamond, Loire, expressed the sentiments of many Reformed ministers when he stated that our churches need revival and we hope that many of the pastors and church officials of France will stretch out a fraternal hand to our brother of the Pentecostal Movement. Scott had a close collaboration with many French Reformed pastors, and was asked on a number of occasions to address Consistories of the Reformed Church on the subject of the Holy Spirit and Pentecostalism.” [See chapter IV: Growth and Development: 1930-1939 of my thesis THE HISTORY OF THE MODERN PENTECOSTAL MOVEMENT IN FRANCE.]

One can only conjecture what might have been another chapter in the history of the French Pentecostal Movement if the delegation of French Assemblies of God pastors had only met with Jacques Ellul and to have invited him to be part of the Movement.

George R. Stotts
December 2010

____________________________

Do you have Pentecostal historical materials that should be preserved? Please consider depositing these materials at the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center (FPHC). The FPHC, located in the Assemblies of God national offices, is the largest Pentecostal archive in the world. We would like to preserve and make your treasures accessible to those who write the history books.

Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center
1445 North Boonville Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65802 USA
Phone: 417.862.1447 ext. 4400
Toll Free: 877.840.5200
Email: archives@ag.org
Website: www.iFPHC.org

2 Comments

Filed under Biography, Theology

2 responses to “Did French Theologian Jacques Ellul Express Interest in Becoming a Pentecostal?

  1. Interesting! Some of Ellul’s work has really helped me think through aspects of my faith.

  2. David Gill

    I can well imagine Ellul’s willingness to enjoy a warm fellowship with pentecostal fellow-Christians and for sure he was frustrated all his life with the resistance of the French Reformed Church to change (for example, his pioneering suggestions for seminary educational reforms were ignored). But converted through reading the Bible on his own (rather than in an emotional evangelistic meeting) and early on embracing the powerful neo-Reformed writings of Karl Barth, it is hard to imagine him making an ecclesiastical home in the charismatic or pentecostal environment. On a personal level, I recall a wonderful worship experience attending a 700-member Assembly of God in downtown Bordeaux in the 1980s during my time studying with Ellul. By the way, the International Jacques Ellul Society (www.ellul.org) has organized a conference on “Ellul & the Bible” at Regent College in Vancouver BC, June 28-30, 2018. All are welcome.

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