In The Eschatological Economy, Douglas Knight avoids the defensiveness of much recent theology and presents the Christian faith as a bold challenge to modernity. He takes Kant and Hegel to task for down-playing the significance of the particular, and urges the Church to proclaim God’s eschatological promises to a world increasingly devoid of hope.
Knight begins by discussing the nature of personhood, making extensive use of John Zizioulas’ work on the subject. Then, in the second chapter, he addresses the issue of how a holy community can come into being by a growth in competence that arises out of relationship with God. In the third chapter, he examines the doctrine of the Trinity, arguing that this doctrine is vital for keeping Christians in relationship with Jews, and for pointing to the central role of worship. Chapter four then makes the case for a positive understanding of our creature-hood and for the transformative power of the Holy Spirit.
With this groundwork in place, the fifth and sixth chapters then question the view that the West was once religious but is now secular. He says, ‘It is not that the world is becoming secular, but that the world is always secular by definition.’ (p. xx) He then challenges the notion that secularization is about showing there is only one (natural) world whilst religious people claim there are two (the natural and the supernatural). Secularization assumes two worlds: those of nature and those of human action; Christianity, on the other hand sees one world, embracing the natural and supernatural, and this is all God’s creation.
What is especially striking about this book is the extent to which Knight makes his points with reference to Israel as God’s elect people. Personhood is to be understood from the relationship of the Hebrew people to one another under their gracious God. Their holiness comes from their being with this God and from his provision of sacrifices for their sin. And their self-understanding of being creatures of a God who made the heavens and the earth forbids a separation of the sacred from the secular. Christians therefore need to pay serious attention to the Old Testament if they are to faithfully proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Knight summarises his own work by identifying three themes: that Christian theology is not only about ideas, but about life; that it is about establishing community; and that it provides a means of saying who people are in a way that is lacking in secular society (pp. xxf). If those are Knight’s goals, this book is a great success. Theology is never allowed to lose its role as a guide to action. It is also seen as a communal endeavour, rather than something left to certain scholars. And it is not afraid of the secular ‘gods’, who seem so powerful and yet lack the ability to answer even the basic question: Who am I?
This book is a challenging read. It is bursting with ideas, many of them fresh or newly stated, and assumes graduate level knowledge of theology; it is, after all, based on a PhD thesis. But the effort is rewarded. Not only does it provide an eloquent response to modernism, it also engages postmodernism, offering many new replies to the challenges they pose, which will be helpful to pastors and apologists as well as to theologians.
Justyn Terry Trinity School for Ministry, Ambridge, PA Anglican Theological Review