The King James Version reads, "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." The Revised Standard Version has it, "Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation." Footnote: "Or creature." Read enough commentaries, and they will probably convince you that the New English Bible translation is preferable: "there is a new world," a new creation — not "he is a new creature" or "a new creation." Here endeth the deep, scholarly analysis of the text.
I have an old book about newness down in my basement, where the deep, scholarly books about the Bible are kept. Roy A. Harrisville discusses "The Concept of Newness in the New Testament." On this text: "Paul writes that nothing avails but the 'new creation.' That newness, however, does not refer to the individual, but to the Israel of God which has now come into existence... It is not the believer as such but as a member of the Israel of God who is the "new creation."
There is a new world, a world of changed conditions. Outside the Israel of God, it does not look that way. When I was a little boy out on the plains of Nebraska, we used to come in from the plains to listen to battery radios. At that time there was a program called The Lutheran Hour. For all I know, it may still be going on. At that time everybody in Nebraska listened. The speaker — I think his name was Walther A. Meyer (Mayer? Meier? Meir?) — coined a slogan, "A Changeless Christ for a Changing World." He could not have appeared to be more wrong. The world seems changeless. Brutality - war - violence - selfishness - playboy-foldouts - Agnewism - thealmightydollar - itsstillthesameoldstorythefightforloveandgloryacaseofdoordiethefundamentalthingsapply - aggression - territorial - imperative - boredom: these, these are at home in any culture. Changelessly. Christ changes: he creates a new Israel, he is applicable to all, ahead of all.
Someone named Luijpen (I can't find his first name. Walther?) once said that the great man was the one who knew already what the rest of the world did not know as yet. Something like that is operative in "the new world," a world that looks changeless but in which the New Israel constitutes the reality of change already, before the rest of the world knows "as yet." Harrisville again: "It is clear that this new creation is one which has received the goods of the eschatological age, i.e., God's peace and mercy."
What does the reality of this new world mean for those who claim to be part of "the new Israel"? They ought to change some things, I suppose. Edmund Burke once said, "If it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change." This is the law of life of the silent majority, the middle American, and the Old Adam in general. I like to twist things a bit: "If it is necessary to change, it is really necessary to change." If the world as it is looks like the new creation, the new world, let everything alone. If you've been dealt four aces, don't ask for a new deal. But if the world needs rescue, see it changed.
What then becomes of our conservatism? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith. Oh, this does not mean that one cannot be conservative about the humane world; humanistic conservatism may be preferable to some alternatives. James Hitchcock, The Christian Century, January 7, 1970: "When almost all honest men are in severe doubt about their own values and beliefs it is folly to surrender willingly any genuine certainty or to identify oneself wholeheartedly with any movement or philosophy which claims to know the future or even merely to be 'creative.' Christians who are determined to be radical should at the very least not be naive about change, should recognize that under some conditions "speed kills." All right. So don't change anything in the old creation that is already fully like the new creation. As I read it, there is still a sizeable agenda. Humanistic conservatism, si. Christological conservatism, non.
This is to say that celebration of the newness of the Age of Aquarius is not theologically superior, per se or a priori or something like that, to celebration of the oldness of the Age of Agnew. Christian avantgardism is not necessarily always superior to Christian reactionism. The sign of the meaningful difference is Christ. He somehow gets left out of most of the analyses.
E.g. We are so happy to have Theodore Roszak, in The Making of a Counter Culture, compare today's in-people, the white bourgeois youth who represent, we are told, the new community, the new consciousness, the new mentality, the new sensibility, to the primitive Christian community. Roszak cites chapter and verse: "For it is written I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent... For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom. . . But God hath chosen, etc. I have been running around the country asking people to check what those last three dots in Roszak's quotation from Paul leave out: "but we preach Christ crucified, etc." The intact, integral text carries nuances that Roszak's people may possibly overlook.
So it is time for boasting. We have something they don't have, haha. We preach Christ crucified and they print three dots. Look at us. The new Israel. Nietzsche ff.: "Funny, you don't look redeemed." Arthur Cohen, as a Jew, arguing that there is no Judaeo-Christian tradition, says that Jews are experts at waiting and Christians are expert at redeemedness. Maybe. They don't look it.
Are they supposed to "look it"? Is "the new Israel" supposed to show up on any kind of map? Some say, no. A few years ago I wrote a book called The Hidden Discipline. On page one (which the publisher numbered IX, because it was a skinny book and needed padding) I said that the book asks, "What does the Christian life look like if I believe in the forgiveness of sins?" Some people from a synod in Missouri called this false doctrine, because faith is invisible and love is invisible and anything that matters is invisible. Jesus and John would have liked that, now, wouldn't they? "They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. . ." Some Missourians did not like that song either. They will know we are Christians by our faith, which is invisible, and therefore safe. What's more, faith can hold on to the old, if it's all invisible, so "the new Israel" never gets to be a sign of hope. Nothing changes. Death rules. No newness, no innovation.
Peter Gay on colonial New England: "The word 'innovation' was a term of abuse that everyone employed..." Cotton Mather confided to his diary: "I see Satan beginning a terrible Shake unto the Churches of New England; and the Innovators, that have set up a new Church in Boston, (a new one indeed!) have made a Day of Temptation among us."
I prefer Paul's version: the new has occurred, innovation is the principle of the new era, not Satan but God has begun a terrible Shake unto the Churches; a new Church, a new Israel is among us, and it is a day of temptation: a temptation that we might change and be swept up in its purposes, to show forth "the goods of the eschatological age, i.e., God's peace and mercy."
Don't salute every flag that says newness or change on it. (You can tell this is a sermon, because there are now some 'don'ts). Don't run after every prophet who announces the arrival of the new consciousness, the new sensibility, the new mentality. But if "the new Israel" begins to be announced as a reality already in our midst, "in Christ," it would seem advisable to give it more than a passing moment's attention.