Two men

In The Eschatological Economy I compared two christologies. One is the Christian christology, in which Christ is the truth of man, and true man is in fellowship with God and with all men and creation. As Christ is the truth of man, so (Christian) christology is the truth of anthropology. I take this from Irenaeus.

But there is another ‘man’ and another, non-Christian, christology. This man is a titan. He is man without God, and without anything that is not himself. This is a christology of ascent, determined by man’s belief in his own autonomy. Man is ascending away from his fellowmen, away from bodies and earth. The great chariot of mankind roars down the track, gathering ever greater speed, zooms up the ramp, lifts off and soars into the air, leaving the earth and heading out – but then, looking around for some third party confirmation of its lift-off, the chariot hesitates, finds that it has peaked, and beginning to fall back towards earth, starts to fly apart. So it is that we find ourselves tumbling and twisting in ever smaller pieces, each making our re-entry alone. In this ‘christology’ without Christ, in which man decides to do without the confirmation of his fellows, man can have no idea whether he is in fact ascending or descending, gathering unity and permanence or breaking up and dissolving. I credit Kant with this anthropology.

So, just as there are two loves, that make two cities, so there are two men and two histories of man. One history crashes, the other is sustained by the call of God.

This is a great book

Colin Gunton in his The One, the Three and the Many (Bampton Lectures) sought to offer a theological analysis of modernity while at the same time calling Christian theology back to the heart of its faith, the Triune God. In The Eschatological Eschatology: Time and the Hospitality of God, Douglas Knight has similar goals, though here he follows the recent trend of eschatologicizing doctrine by mapping an eschatological ontology onto Gunton’s Zizioulasian trinitarian ontology. This book does a lot. Knight reconceives the task of theology, the role of Scripture, christology, the Trinity, pneumatology, Israelology, ecclesiology, hermeneutics, and so many other topics. It also redefines so much basic terminology such as time, being, person, place. But I think it is most expedient to view this book as a theology from the view of sanctification, for the goal is to better understand how God transforms us into participants in his life.

Essentially Knight believes that we need an ‘eschatological’ rather than ‘protological’ ontology because humanity is in the process of becoming human. This is Irenaeus’ vision of Christian transformation. He coins a ‘doxological ontology’, which employs the relational personhood theory, now so common to the literature (see two popular theologies that make this theory applicable Like Father, Like Son: The Trinity Imaged in Our Humanity; and Trinity In Human Community ), Knight believes that our personhood is constituted by our relationships. Likewise, our knowledge is mediated by the communities in which we participate. Thus, God transforms us by altering the formative relational structures according to his eschatological end for creation. In other words, God creates a new community – Israel/Church – and institutes new practices – temple, sacrifice, sacrament, liturgy, worship, etc. – so that humanity can become holy under his provision and grace. God teaches us to be human, and as we worship we become what we are doing.

This conceptuality allows Knight to engage in some anthropologically attuned biblical exegesis of Israel’s sacrificial cult and temple. Knight is very sensitive to the political challenge marked by Israel’s actions. As Israel becomes holy, the world is judged and demythologized. Israel’s sacrificial cult, for instance, teaches us not to participate in human sacrifice.

On the basis of this, Knight offers a suprisingly thorough criticism of modernity. For starters, Knight dislikes modernity’s static conception of ‘being’ (as a function of natura) and its ‘immediate’ epistemology. He also disdains the way it cannot account for embodiedness.

This is a great book. It makes use of much recent theology – Zizioulas, Gunton, Jenson, for example – but it does so in such a way so as to recover classical Christianity. Knight has an impressive ability to connect and assemble doctrinal themes. I hope to see him develop this portrait more. I’d be particularly interested in how his admittedly more Eastern view can cohere with Reformed theology, especially since he is a self-described ‘catholic-evangelical’…

James Merrik reviews The Eschatological Eschatology: Time and the Hospitality of God.

A ‘mini-dogmatics’? James really is an excellent judge of books. I am very grateful to him.

The Eschatological Economy: Time and the Hospitality of God

The purpose of this blog is to tell you about The Eschatological Economy. Reviews are beginning to appear.

In this ambitious book, Douglas H. Knight sets out to illustrate the way Christian theology can function not as one category of knowledge within a larger secular account of the world but as itself the site of open and rich thinking on anthropology, sociology, psychology, language, history, and politics. It is not the secular economy but Christian orientation toward eschatology that provides this openness to the new. Knight attempts to do profoundly theological work while renouncing the religious language by which theologians tacitly accept their marginalization.

This work offers much for theologians to celebrate, ponder, and engage. Knight’s attempt to out-narrate anthropology and psychology challenges other theologians to take their own training more seriously and rather than cursing the darkness of modern anthropologies, to turn on the theological lights. He makes bold attempts to overcome spirit/body dualisms, so that “our theological concepts always remain in touch with the biological, chemical, and physical” (p. 203). His section on Israel’s sacrifice as parody of the sacrifices of pagans was, for this reader, revelatory. His integration of Trinitarian theology with scripture studies (and the attendant argument about the nature of scriptural scholarship) deserves serious attention from scripture scholars and theologians alike.

Most significantly, Knight’s flair for refusing to allow theology to be trapped in its own jargon without ever sacrificing the fullness of theological content marks out new territory in the sad old debate over the coherence and relevance of theological language in public. He argues that theology can and must be public and engaged, not by becoming less scriptural or Trinitarian, but by embracing the story of God’s work with Israel and the movement of history towards its End. In academic accounts of the “human” as in politics, the job of Christian theology is not only to be faithful to itself nor only to be in service to human well-being, but to work for the well-being of all creation by being the people who know what God’s work in the world means. The world is not to be abandoned, but to be brought out of its narrow and self-deceived economy, its paralyzing dualism of nature and action, and into the mutual giving that God is making humanity to be.

But it is not all praise

Given that one of the book’s most interesting and well-developed themes is the modern inability to deal with the issue of unity and plurality, it is particularly disturbing that Knight’s attempt to claim the physical as a site of the work of the Spirit never mentions female bodies. He discusses the work of the Spirit in reproduction in Israel, develops Adam theology, expounds at length on the nature of sonship, and provides serious theological consideration of semen and circumcision while never mentioning Sarah, Hannah, or Mary. A reader can only wonder what sort of authorial decision led to such an omission. The oversight seems a bit too glaring to have been accidental.

Kelly Johnson Modern Theology 24.1 2008

To write a review of this sort is a major undertaking. I am very grateful for this one in particular. It is wonderful and extraordinary to see how readers discover widely differing things in one book. I have found it difficult to write reviews myself because I never know how far to criticise a book for what it does not contain. One obvious criticism of this book is that there is too much in it: in reply I would just get autobiographical and start telling you about the vanishing context of theology in the UK.

Female bodies? Obviously there is one female body I am very fond of, two bodies including daughter, and I am a member of a third – that of St Mary, Stoke Newington – but I presume that there is something else here that I don’t get.

Anyway, The Eschatological Economy. It is yours for $18.49 or £8.65.

The Eschatological Economy: Time and the Hospitality of God

Now and again, there appears in all fields of study a work that offers its readers a radical reconception of the basic subject matter in question. In the case of Douglas Knight’s The Eschatological Economy, the term ‘radical’ is especially apt because, rather than seeking something novel, Knight returns us to the roots of Christian theology, to the basic story of humanity laid out in the biblical narratives. By returning to the roots Knight’s intent is simply to lay bare the ‘main story’ of the biblical narratives. That story is, he believes, an Irenaean story about God’s nurturing and maturing of humankind, within which Augustine’s account of the fall of Adam is not the main thing but only a subplot (p. 14). The basic thesis of the book is that the divine economy is properly understood as an eschatological economy whose content is determined from the end, rather than from the beginning. It is determined, that is, not by what humanity does before God in its infancy but by what God ordains for humanity at its end. God’s purpose for humanity – the freedom and full form of the creature in relation to God – is established and made known in Christ the one true Israelite who takes up and fulfils Israel’s appointment as God’s servant. The good news, accordingly, is that God comes to humankind and in the course of this coming we are enabled to grow up in love for God and for his creatures. That process of formation is delayed though not defeated by sin and rebellion, while time is conceived as God’s gift to us allowing the process of formation to be worked through.

The reorientation involved in the conceptual shift from a protological to an eschatological economy opens up new vistas on the biblical story that Knight explores with impressive creativity and insight. Drawing especially on John Zizioulas and Robert Jenson, and in constant dialogue with the contrary assertions of modernity, Knight traces in the biblical narrative an account of human persons in constitutive relationship. Persons are fundamental, Knight contends, and are sustained only through relationship with other creatures and by the ongoing relationship of the Creator with the creation. Such relationship is not a status but a project and so ‘an account must be given of the place and work into which persons are to grow, and so of the ongoing co-labour of creation’ (p. xvi). The freedom of the creature is the work of creation. This is God’s work and ‘very subordinately it is the task into which God introduces human beings’ (p. xvi). Thus does Knight develop, in opposition to the pervasive individualist and monist ontology of modernity, a ‘participative ontology’ in which we learn and grow into fully human being. These themes will certainly be familiar to readers of recent work in theology.

Knight’s fascinating contribution to our consideration of such themes consists in his development of them through sustained and detailed attention to Israel’s story. The election of Israel, Knight explains, is the means by which God introduces human beings to the co-labour of creation and discloses what it means to develop competence in the life that God shares with us. In communion with God, Israel learns and practices the life God gives and thus becomes, through liturgy and ministry, steward of and witness to God’s purposes for his creatures. Knight offers us a thoroughly trinitarian construal of Israel’s task. Israel’s role is that of the Son. The Father speaks to the Son and the Son hears and receives his speech. By addressing Israel in this way God draws Israel into the Sonship of Christ. Israel’s being is constituted by its incorporation into the life of the Son. All that goes on in the temple is the expression and demonstration of Israel’s appointment to Sonship. There Israel exercises the offices of story-telling, intercession and sacrifice. The high priest enacts these offices for Israel and, just so, all Israel enacts them too. Jesus Christ and Israel are thus to be understood together, the former, the one, determining the identity and task of the many. As Gentiles learn the character and action of the Son, they too, through the Spirit’s enabling, become members of his body and one with him. The Holy Spirit adopts all creation as the medium through which we grow into the being of the Son, while the event of the cross is our baptism into this new medium (p. xviii).

By virtue of this trinitarian construal of the divine economy it may be seen that God is not separated from his work (p. xvii). God plays both his role and ours so that we may come to play our role for ourselves (p. 100). This is the basic plotline of Knight’s imaginative and profound retelling of the biblical story. Along the way he offers provocative and arresting accounts of the Aqedah, of law and sacrifice, of the temple, of atonement and the cross, of the Enlightenment, of modernity and of the loss of mediation, all in service of a theological account of what our human being properly consists in.

Knight’s rendition of the explanatory and saving power of the gospel will restore confidence in theology’s mandate to understand the
world in the terms that scripture offers, and to address the world with the truth about the divine economy into which all the peoples of the world will one day be assembled.

Murray Rae International Journal of Systematic Theology 9.4 October 2007

Find out more about The Eschatological Economy

The Eschatological Economy: Time and the Hosplitality of God

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

You can find out more about The Eschatological Economy at or at or at Eerdmans

Modernity and the witness of Israel and the Church

The Eschatological Economy

God’s elect people, Israel, demonstrated in the public drama of sacrifice to the watching world that Israel’s God is the one true God. But when later Christians ceased to read the Old Testament as God’s witness to the world of the Gentiles, Israel came to be understood instead as just an example of primitive society, and Israel’s sacrifice was understood as just another form of primitive violence.

The result of this was first a smug account of the superiority of the Church over Israel, then (in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) a story about how far we have come since we were primitive, and then (in the twentieth century) a merely secular notion of historical change and cultural relativism. The result of this belief that ancient people sacrificed animals (and we don’t), and that the particular people of Israel are forever associated with this, means that Jews became identified as non-modern. Some of the best known champions of modernity, amongst them Kant and Hegel, wondered whether the particularity of the Jewish people was an obstacle to the unity and maturity of nations.

So the issue of sacrifice is linked to that of supersessionism (‘replacement theology’), and it has significant political consequences. To look ahead for a moment – is modernity is intrinsically supersessionist? Does modernity have a prejudice against the particularity of individual peoples? Does modernity mean simply homogenisation? These were some of the questions that needed to be asked.

You can find out more about The Eschatological Economy at or at or at Eerdmans

Learning to live with the time to end all times

The Eschatological Economy: Time and the Hospitality of God

Right from the days of Jesus’ mission between the Jordan, Galilee and Jerusalem, some have been embarrassed by the eschatology articulated in his message of the approach of God’s final reign. Some have not been able to avoid asking whether there is something shamefully mistaken or wrong hereabouts. Such embarrassment has persisted to this day. For about the last 100 years such concerns have become especially strong amongst some academic circles including theologians, historians, anthropologists and others. Complementing this, we are familiar with a recurrent cluster of embarrassments in encountering death or the dying, and topics such as guilt, sin, judgement, the worth and meaning of human life, authority, tradition, and related matters, in a wide range of contexts. The anthropologist Mary Douglas, most famously in her book Purity and Danger, explored insights concerning how we (as human beings) tend to find dangerous or dirty (impure) matters which we do not know how to make sense of, in terms of our conventional and established ways of trying to sort out our experience into various kinds and schemas. For example, is blood more to do with life or death, and how can we, how should we, keep these apart, or connect them, or both?

If Knight is right, then he offers us a powerful paradigm, new yet with ancient roots, for living and working face-to-face with such matters, so as to make better sense of them and of our shared, shareable humanity, in the company of Israel, Jesus Christ and the Christian community. His account of the triune God articulates the grammar which guides this approach. Knight helps us, here and now, towards appreciating better the riches of the vision of Irenaeus of Lyons: the glory of God is a living human being: human life is the vision of the glory of God. This is a book to buy and re-read, to argue and struggle and live with.

Ian McPherson Amazon (UK) review of The Eschatological Economy: Time and the Hospitality of God

You can read the Introduction to The Eschatological Economy on this site (right side bar) and chapter 1 at Amazon

Now you can read chapters 2-6 of The Eschatological Economy at Google Book .

Humanity is one of the languages of the persons of the Trinity

The Holy Spirit is the medium of God for humankind. He makes a real and material place for us and supplies the whole resource of our creaturely life with God. The Father and the Son speak the Spirit. The Spirit is the language they speak. But the Spirit can speak and be many languages, without being less the language of the Son and Father. The Spirit extends their speech to create a new language, which the Father and the Son are content to speak. They speak humanity. Humanity is one of the modes in which they speak divinity to each other. Humanity does not give divinity something that it did not have before; it is not a reduction of, or addition to, their divinity. The Son is the first speaker and the native speaker. He speaks humanity perfectly and is at home in the flesh; and in the flesh of humanity he is perfectly at home with the Father. He is not impeded by or disguised by the flesh, for it is brought into existence by the speaking of the Son and the Father. The human entity and mode of being are spoken by that enfleshing word and utterance. This humanity the Son receives from the Father, by the Spirit.

Douglas H Knight The Eschatological Economy: Time and the Hospitality of God chapter 1.5

Sacrifice and Israel’s witness to the nations

The Eschatological Economy

It is time for another in the series of little pieces on the logic of sacrifice and atonement, which I set out in the central chapters of The Eschatological Economy.

The reason we find sacrifice, along with other accounts of salvation, hard to accept is that we tend to overlook the crowd watching the event in the temple. A sacrifice is not a deal done between just two parties, man and God, but between at least three parties. The third is the crowd of onlookers – made up the whole people of Israel. In fact there are two crowds – Israel is the first and nearest, but all the rest of the world is also there, watching Israel and her God from a distance.

But modern biblical studies does not find it easy to account for the public nature of performance. In The Eschatological Economy I wondered whether this is because we assume that writing is the only valid, because verifiable, mode of communication. Do we assume that what cannot be written down is not significant? Yet publicly enacted drama, played out before vast crowds and the world’s media in public civil occasions, is significant – think of the ceremony attached to Olympics, or public acts of flag-burning. If do not concede the meaningfulness of such large scale public ceremonies, or ‘ritual’, how will we understand what was going on in the public events of sacrifice that took place in Israel’s temple at Jerusalem?

In the theology of Israel, the nations were represented by animals: Israel was represented by the lamb. The presentation of the lamb in the temple in Jerusalem was the enactment of the promise of God that Israel would triumph over all the predatory gentile nations of the world.

Though this is not directly theological work, it does build the case that modernity is in denial about crowds and plurality, and about other more embodied forms of rationality than its own, and it helps show that sacrifice does make good sense as an account of the atonement. This will help us show that the atonement makes good sense as account of the relationship of God and us, and also that it makes for a better account of relationships between ourselves. Theology makes for a better sociology than sociology itself does.

You can find out more about The Eschatological Economy at or at or at Eerdmans

Sacrifice and Israel’s holy witness

The Eschatological Economy

To understand the theological concept of sacrifice we need to learn the connections between all the various parts of the theology of the Old Testament. The election of this people, the covenant, and the whole life of this people in obedience, and disobedience to God, is the key to sacrifice. This is what I wanted to explain in The Eschatological Economy.

Christian theology must proclaim clearly that God calls and forms his people, bring them up as a parent brings up a child, and that God makes his people holy. But when the narrative of God nurturing and forming his people is lost the meaning of sacrifice was lost. When this narrative is lost, so is the point of what Israel did in the temple at Jerusalem. There God’s elect people, publicly, before the watching world showed (and of course said and sung in worship) that Israel’s holy God provides for his people, is creator of all the earth and that all the gentile nations are wrong to believe that they have to please and provide for their various divinities. The Israel’s temple practices were publicly demythologising the violent cosmologies of the nations around. Israel is critic of the world of the pagans, and witness to the true God, who provides for and hears all who pray to him. Israel not only says this, but acts it out in the drama and ritual, that we call ‘sacrifice’ in the temple at Jerusalem.

You can find out more about The Eschatological Economy at or at or at Eerdmans