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The Meaning of the City Paperback – July 16, 1970

4.6 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Jacques Ellul (1912–’1994), a French sociologist and lay theologian, was professor emeritus of law and of the history and sociology of institutions at the University of Bordeaux. He wrote more than forty books, including The Technological Society, The Humiliation of the Word, and The Technological Bluff.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company (July 16, 1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802815553
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802815552
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,449,436 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Terry Cornett on April 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
In this remarkable piece of original theology, Ellul convincingly argues that the city exists as a theological category in Biblical thought. True to his own dialectical approach, he contends that the city is simultaneously an instrument of human rebellion and also a Divinely elected instrument of hope for humanity. This is a prophetic, compelling and ultimately hopeful foundation for a theology with which to engage the modern phenomena of urbanization.
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Format: Paperback
"COME OUT OF BABYLON (Rome), MY PEOPLE". Revelation 18, Daniel 2

This book is so beautiful. It's the first book I've read by Jacques Ellul. If all of his other books are similarly written, I'm totally sold on them. This book is the best book I've ever read by a christian author. It's very substantive, and you can tell throughout each and every page, that the author is steeped in biblical understanding and wisdom. Babylon doesn't exist anymore, though within 100 miles from Baghdad, Babylon is a symbol for all that is wrong with human civilization. So what does Babylon symbolize? What is it about this type of city that G-d despises, and how can the city please G-d? The leaving of the city is also symbolic; getting out of the mob is no easy matter, though physically still in the city, one's previously good mob friends will more than likely kill you when you get out (my thoughts). So the leaving I believe, though Ellul does not directly say it is spiritual, symbolic.

My favorite chapter is the first, "The Builders", where Ellul speaks mostly about the first half dozen chapters of Genesis and how the first city was built by the first murderer, Cain, who killed his brother Abel. G-d told Cain that his brother's cries were heard by Him. Once Cain realizes his grave wrongdoing, G-d offers him protection by 'setting a mark' on him. Yet Cain seemingly takes no stock of this act of grace by G-d, and determined to secure eternity for himself, builds a city, and begets children.
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Jaques Ellul's book The Meaning of the City was both a great surprise and an exciting read. A sociologist and a "lay" theologian, Jacques Ellul was able to see both the city and God from a unique perspective. It is amazing to learn that he was more popular among non-Christians due to his sharp criticism of the modern, technological society, than among Christian for his theology.

Starting with Genesis and finishing with Revelation, Ellul presents an amazingly comprehensive theology of the city. He points to the repeating patterns of human sin and rebellion exemplified in man's conscious self-alienation from God that culminates in creation of the city - an alternative environment of false security and temporal support for himself. Ellul follows this attitude as it grows and becomes a symbol of wickedness and a sign of divine judgment epitomized in the autonomous world system that became known as `Babylon, the Great.' Paradoxically, God adopts the city and changes her meaning as a place for His people to live and as an arena of His salvific activity. But human creation is inherently and ultimately seducing and inadequate, and therefore doomed to the eschatological fall. Still, God in His loving mercy and through His grace will reconcile and rebuild everything in the end. Both the city of human aspirations, this time of divine creation, and the paradise of God will coexist together as a fulfillment of God's purposes and a pinnacle of His intentions: His abiding presence with man.

Ellul's vision of the city at the present age is pessimistic. The city is a "concentration of all condemned activities" (page 48), a "repository of sin" (page 52) that can not be reformed since "applying the balm of Gilead won't help" (page 57).
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This is a very good book and I really like the way he critiques the notion of the city, yet shows how that critiqued notion is transcended at the end of the biblical record by, not a notion of the rural, but by a new reality of the city - the heavenly Jerusalem. Very creative and thought-provoking; though, that is normal for Ellul. He was a great thinker.
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This book deals with the dilemma of the city. The basic flaw is human nature. The city is needed but the same corrupt principles or used over and over leading to it's destruction. As with other books by Jacques Ellul, it is stimulating reading whether you agree or disagree.
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Jacques Ellul is a master of prose and of theology. He beautifully weaves together themes from across the canon to produce a set of insights that kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end. Highly recommended!
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