I seem to keep returning to Douglas Knight’s The Eschatological Economy. I certainly think that it deserves to be counted among the best theological books in recent years. One suggestive claim offered in the book involves, in a sense, a heightening, or a radicalization of what in recent years has come to be called a relational ontology. However, Knight moves beyond the tired (though true and necessary) assertions that “to be is to be related.” Rather he looks more closely at the relationship of being and action in the context of an ontology of communion, or what he refers to as a doxological ontology. Here he claims, rightly in my view that “Being and doing are one and the same thing. The work of each creature is the being of all other creatures.”
The crux of this issue, and what makes this ontology truly radical in its construal of sociality (and sanctification, which Knight discusses later in the book) is that it unites being and action, not in my own individuated selfhood, but rather in the community of the church in which we actively bring one another into being in and through our actions on one another. We “suffer” one another and as such are given ourselves. The action of all other creatures in relation to me is my being. It is not merely my well-being, but my very being. However Knight goes further. “It is not only the being but the freedom of other creatures” that is constituted by the action of others toward us. “The freedom of all creatures is the task of all other creatures, and it is sustained only by live relationship with all other creatures.”
All of this of course is ultimately from God. It is God whose action constitutes our being and sustains us as creatures. “The freedom of humankind is the task of God, and very subordinately it is the task into which God introduces human beings. Under God we bring one another into being.” This notion, of our action bringing on another into being and freedom is quite radical. It reorients our notions of growth and holiness, and their relation to our own disciplines and practices. The actions and practices we undertake ‘on our own’ are not so much for our own personal growth, improvement, or transformation as they are for the liberation of others. I pray, offer hospitality, and study, not so that I become a certain sort of spiritual person, but rather so as to be taken up into God’s work of bringing God’s children into being and freedom. As I pray I become part of God’s economy of growing us up into “the freedom of the children of God.” My prayer frees the other, just as their prayer and hospitality free me. Sanctification is not the development of the self, but the formation of the other. The ultimate aim of disciplines and practices, what Knight refers to as paideia, is the offering of doxology to the Triune God in the form of a community of holy agapeic love. I cannot bring myself to where I need to be to rightly participate in this doxological communion. I can only be brought there by the other. By the Triune God who through Christ and the Spirit re-forms us through a whole nexus of graced mediations, most centrally the church, who under the word strives as a body to bring all its members into the fullness of Christ. And that is the fullness of being.