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Bringing One Another into Being

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.

6 Comments

  1. Thom wrote:

    I am adding that book to my reading list.

    That our ontology is centered around the ontology of others, that our life is lived to bring others into the great dance of God is a wondrous thought indeed.

    Thursday, July 3, 2008 at 11:20 am | Permalink
  2. John Rasmussen wrote:

    You’re right to call attention to Doug Knight’s amazing book; it’s a feast.

    As Philip Slater has written,

    “The notion that people begin as separate individuals, who then march out and connect themselves with others, is one of the most dazzling bits of self-mystification in the history of the species.”

    Knight takes that as far as he can in the opposite direction. Which turns our common notions of freedom on its head: freedom is not independence, but radical dependence, freedom is doxology.

    Thursday, July 3, 2008 at 1:23 pm | Permalink
  3. Jason Oliver wrote:

    Aside from the beautifully written reflection on Knight’s work, where did you get those funky pictures, Halden?

    Thursday, July 3, 2008 at 6:43 pm | Permalink
  4. Christopher Greene wrote:

    A fine summary of Knight’s most excellent book.
    This book deserves to be poured over by preachers and teachers of the church because Knight dismantles the premise of individualism on which most of Wester culture is founded. Beyond this book being brilliant it actually directs us away from being in our heads toward the freedom of Christian love and practice in the communities of faith where we are called to be.

    Friday, July 4, 2008 at 5:38 am | Permalink
  5. JBH wrote:

    I fear that in recent discussions of ontology, any word can be appended to “ontology” and it suddenly becomes profound. “relational”, “aesthetic”, “poetic”, etc. While I’m not denying the truth of any of these predicates, I do think the discussions need more precision. For instance, to say that “Being and doing are one and the same thing”, interpreted one way, is not only ostensibly false, but silly. Once again, I’m not saying there is nothing true there, but sometimes assertion is not back with arguement. Sometimes there is a wonderful poesis with no logos

    Saturday, July 5, 2008 at 11:42 pm | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    JBH, I actually agree with you. However, if you read Knight’s book you will find that he is rigorously precise about how he’s using these terms and the kinds of claims he’s making. Of course, blog post are, almost inherently it seems, very imprecise, so I understand your concern.

    Monday, July 7, 2008 at 9:25 am | Permalink

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